Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Smile

The street was shrouded in thick mist when I first beheld it, after getting off the taxi. It was a little over seven in the morning, and we had just arrived at Zakaria Street to have nihari at the famed Sufia restaurant near the famous Nakhoda Mosque.
Across the veil of mist, life had just began to stir on the street at the other end of which, I was told, is our destination. The avenue was flanked on both sides by edifices which seemed straight out of Burton's passages describing towns to the west of the Indus. Calcutta prides itself on its heritage of colonial buildings of Indo-European architecture and yet the ones which I was looking at, were unlike any other I had seen before. The latticed windows, the ornate railings of quaint balconies, the sprawling courtyards of the buildings caused me to stop after every few steps to soak in the beauty of the architecture; I was perhaps marvelling at the altered skyline of domes and minarets when a voice suddenly boomed from behind, " Supreme Lungis. Are you looking for Supreme Lungis , madam?"
" Huh?", I started and I turned around. There stood a tall, lean bearded man in a maroon woolen jacket and brown pajamas. He was a young man and perhaps, even good looking with his gaunt, sharp lineaments, but I had no chance to dwell upon that for he smiled at me as he spoke to me again,                 " Supreme Lungis are the finest in Calcutta, madam and our store is right here."
And it was the oddest, little smile I had ever beheld on a human visage. His eyes crinkled into his long lashes, and his mouth, hitherto hidden in the jungle of his thick beard, fell open to suddenly become conspicuous. This simultaneous disappearance of the eyes, and appearance of a pink mouth gave him, this salesman, the looks of a child. A child who is trying hard to ingratiate himself to a stern adult with his most winsome smile and yet, the smile also gives away his irreverence for the same adult.
Meanwhile, this bearded child with a strange, little smile continued, " Our lungis are made from 100% cotton, madam. Maybe you would like to check them out to gift some to your friends; they make nice souvenirs. Won't..." He could not continue enumerating the immense advantages of buying Supreme Lungis because he was interrupted by the petulant ringing of my mobile phone. I reluctantly answered the call; it was from Alain, one of the friends I had come to Zakaria Street with. In a voice that evinced vexation as well as anxiety, he asked why was I taking so long to join them at the restaurant where they had reached apparently several minutes ago. I must have turned away from my waylayer while speaking to Alain because when I finally finished talking, I realised that he had left. All this while, I had been too startled to spare any thought about Supreme Lungis but now I looked around and did see a tiny shop with a red signboard that had Supreme Lungis written over it in white. As I hurriedly walked towards the eatery where my friends awaited me, I decided to visit the shop on our way back.
It was about 9 o' clock by the time we finished our meal throughout which rather than admiring the decor or ambience of the place, I had let the image of the smiling mien of the bearded child-man flash before my eyes. My friends, surprised though they were, when I told them about my interest in buying lungis, came along to the store. A small room housed the shop which comprised of several shelves on the wall with glass covers, and a divan underneath them where sat the shopkeepers and their customers. When we walked in, two men were sitting on the divan, and I felt a pang of disappointment on discovering that the man who resembled a child with his winsome smile, wasn't one of them. They both looked up: one was painfully thin and probably a septuagenarian, and the other was a rotund man in his forties. They both had hennaed hair and were garbed in spotlessly white kurta- pajama with shawls over them.
" Hmmm...", I said gingerly. "We would like to see some of your lungis, please."
" Of course, please be seated", replied the younger man. He then did the needful in showing us several lungis of different prints and colours. I knew that nobody I was planning to gift these to back home at Grenoble , would have any opportunity to wear these sartorial wonders, even if they had the interest simply because of the cold, Alpine weather there, and yet, I ended up buying five lungis, all the while hoping that the boy who had praised Supreme Lungis to the sky, to  me on the streets would make an appearance. A voice in my head was endlessly chiding me for having such childish hopes, while another was fervently encouraging me. The younger shopkeeper chatted with Alain and Jacqueline but I hardly paid heed. When he was performing the final customary ritual of thanking the customers for visiting, I suddenly blurted out, " You see, its your salesman who owes this thanks because he is the one who convinced me to visit your shop."
The men exchanged glances and then, looked at me quizzically. The emaciated, old man said, " But what do you mean madam? We have no salesman. It's a small shop as you can see for yourself and I run it with my son Aftab here".
I was rather taken aback and also conscious of my friends' questioning gazes. " But there was a boy, ahem, sorry, a man out on the streets," I said. " He was...", I wanted so much to, but stopped short of describing the smile to these people, and instead said, " He was most insistent that I visit this shop and I assumed him to be your employee. But maybe he was just a helpful local." Seeing an expression of disbelief mixed with suspicion creeping up on their faces, I stood up and left, bading them a hasty adieu. Out on the street, Jacqueline asked me if I had smoked up before coming out this morning.
A few steps ahead, on the pavement, by the walls of Hindustan Musafirkhana, another quaint, old building, an old man was selling tea. Jacqueline and Alain stopped by while I sauntered into the courtyard of the musfirkhana. There were flowerbeads lining the courtyard, and I was admiring them as well as the columns of the portico of the lodge when suddenly my attention was arrested by a painting that hung from the wall near the main door of the musafirkhana. It was a portrait of the bearded boy; and yes, he was smiling. A slackjawed smile beneath a pair of crinkled eyes. As endearing as it was mocking, it- the smile- managed to efface of solemn gravity of the dark, wooden frame of the portrait. He was dressed in the manner of an Englishman of Edwardian times, I thought, with a bowler hat, white waistcoat and shimmering black dress coat. Next to the portrait was a marble plaque that read, ' This Musafirkhana was built by Mr. Aaron Ainsworth and his wife, Begum Roshanara Husain, in the memory of their beloved son, Rizwan Allan Ainsworth, who passed away in 1905 in London, in his twenty sixth year.'

Monday, March 28, 2016

How I flirt with elan and make myself irresistibly attractive

At a really cool party, in the wee hours of morning:
" All my friends want to be married to rich men, and settle down. Isn't it kind of sad?"
"Why? What do you wish for?"
"I don't know. I don't wish to be married. I guess I am only waiting for a soul mate."
"Soul mate? Like Casper the friendly ghost?"
"Oh you are so funny. Where do you get your lines from?"
" There is a book, actually."
"Your humour is very British."
" The book is American."
"Oh by the way, I am sorry. Really sorry for asking you out last week..."
"No, but I am sorry that I like you"
"Ahem...I meant I am sorry that I told you that I like you."
"Oh relax. Hahaha."
" I am so sorry. I always act like an awkward oaf, a blithering idiot around you."
" Do you think you might be interested in having lunch with me at the Spanish cafe next Saturday?"
"Hahaha. No."

Friday, July 03, 2015

twin preoccupations

I am pursuing Kant through his 'Logic' and Abdul Alhazred through the 'Call of Cthulhu' simultaneously. Let's see where they together lead me to.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pain, Holmes, Dupin, Byomkesh and the missing women

I woke up this morning with a disconsolate, restless heart-I was experiencing, I realized within moments, an after-effect of the terrifying nightmares of the previous night. Strangely, the nightmare was populated with authors and literary characters I have endlessly daydreamed about since childhood. How did I come to be terrorized in a dream by my beloved protagonists and their creators, I began to wonder. These were my first thoughts this morning. I spent the weekend reading Monsieur Pain by the late Roberto Bolano. It is a slim volume and hence, when I began reading it on Friday evening, I had confidently told myself that I should be able to complete reading it by Sunday afternoon. I have read the author’s 2666 and Nazi literature in the Americas-both had driven me to the edge of reason, filled me with menacing premonitions and mocked my strong sense of propriety and morality. The texts in a manner jeered me for attaching so much value to liberal ethics and consequently, exhilarated me! Naturally, when I saw the title Monsieur Pain on the shelf of a book store in Calcutta last week on a rainy afternoon, I found myself being chocked by the same sense of exhilaration. The jacket stated that the novel is a ‘noir conspiracy’ evocative of the works of Poe and Borges; I immediately knew that I had to buy the book and that I had to read it soon. There are few people I have pined for as much as Edgar Allan Poe and there are few authors whose works I re-read as many times as those of Borges, painstakingly trying to make sense of every sentence he wrote but with so little success. So, I knew I had to read Monsieur Pain at the earliest yet I needed the right ambience as well to read a work like this one. I did not exactly know what would constitute a suitable ambience but when I looked out of the window next to my desk this Friday evening and saw that it was raining heavily, I knew I could begin reading. The narrative is rendered dark and mysterious by the nimbi which gathered over Paris sky in the week of 1938 in which the story unfolds; the eponymous protagonist is confronted and unsettled by downpours often and so would I be, I decided watching the sheet of rain which shrouded the evening. I read it in a state of bliss throughout Saturday and Sunday and when, I finished reading it not in afternoon but sometimes, around 11 pm in the night on Sunday, I was feeling strangely vexed. “It is all right,” I told myself. “Works of Bolano always perplex you. You would begin to enjoy it soon.“ This is what I had consoled myself to sleep that night, that Sunday when I dreamt a most terrible dream. I dreamt that the cadaver of a young woman in men’s clothes has been discovered on a pavement of a grimy, narrow street in a seedy neighbourhood of a city, I do not know which one but it was most probably, a European city. I dreamt that Monsieur Pain had stumbled upon the body and in a state of nervousness, he requested his friend and compatriot Monsieur Dupin to find out who the woman was and how did she meet her death. It was palpable that she has been murdered. But the newspapers got whiff of the matter and people wanted Mr. Sherlock Holmes to investigate the case as they were not familiar with the skills of Dupin. Both found that the woman was an Asian and most probably an Indian. Holmes and Dupin both agreed that they should also seek the assistance of the ‘bhadrolok’ detective from Bengal, Byomkesh Bakshi. I dreamt further that the woman was found to be a book collector; the detectives found that she was an aficionado of detective fiction. They found that she was an amateur detective herself and I saw them looked utterly bewildered when they discovered that she was killed when she tried to investigate a murder mystery herself, dressed as a man. I saw the dead body and to my utter horror, found that the body was mine. I was the murdered amateur detective! I don’t remember anything more about the dream, the nightmare. Perhaps there was nothing more to it; perhaps, I imagined some bits of it the next morning, this morning, to make it coherent but the visages of Holmes, Dupin, Pain and Bakshi-a beak nosed face with a pipe hanging loosely from its lips; an emaciated face with sunken eyes; a bespectacled faced with a mop of curly, unkempt hair; and a well-groomed, brown face-had all expressed sheer astonishment on discovering the cause of the murder. And I was reminded of the expression intermittently throughout the day. Why did they look so confounded, I wondered, on discovering that a woman wanted to follow their foot-steps and not merely admire them for their acumen but be like them? This might sound a wee bit melodramatic but the nightmare was a turning point of my life. I found myself asking questions which mattered to me as a lover of literature, as a fan of classic detective yarns, and as a woman. Why are the most celebrated, best loved votaries of the intellect in the universe of detective fiction invariably men? Why are Holmes, Dupin, Father Brown and Brother William so conspicuously lacking in female friends? Why do they hardly ever have women as adversaries or as collaborators? Why did these men not confront women in their adventures, more often than they did? (Of course, there have been innumerable attempts by all save Doyle himself to depict Irene Adler as the love interest of Holmes and Guy Ritchie did show Ms. Adler making her way through the underbelly of late 19th century London with remarkable finesse). But why could women not be found at the scenes of the crimes showing active interest in solving them? I heard a feeble voice inside me saying, “There is Nancy Drew of course and the girls in Famous Five.” But another stronger voice retorted harshly, “ But George behaved like a boy and Nancy Drew was well, the stereotypical American ‘chick’ who solved cases in between enjoying male attention and parents’ adoration. Remember how you despised her as a kid?” I suddenly found myself looking for the answers to my questions in the essay Feminism and Philosophy by Jean Grimshaw . The author draws attention to the proclivity of Western philosophy towards binarism-male-female, rational-emotional, natural-cultural, production-reproduction. She states how there is a hierarchy in the binarism and the privileged terms are always associated with men and treated as male characteristics. The qualities of rationality and reasoning have therefore been treated for very long as male traits whereas women were constructed to be irrational, emotional and incapable of intellectual endeavours like search for higher truths of life and at a more base level, of maintaining sang-froid in difficult situations. Is that the reason as to why not one woman was featured in literature as a gifted ratiocinator? I realized that if all my fantasies of meeting Dupin or Holmes ever could come true perhaps, these men would treated me with indifference if I expressed my admiration for them and with alarm or even disdain if I expressed a wish to work with them. Maybe, it is time for me undergo another crisis of faith. Maybe, I will emerge with new idols to worship at the end of it. Maybe, I need to initiate an internet search on women ratiocinators. Maybe, I will begin to read The No.1 ladies detective agency. I certainly need new heroes.

Monday, April 30, 2012

To the Stranglers

This is a sad day-I am struggling to save myself from getting drowned in a quagmire of indignation and disappointment today. I still cannot overcome the sense of disbelief which gripped me when I discovered that the press had accused you of writing a sexist song. Why did that have to happen to me? I have already spent two hours in the morning listening to the song over and over again trying to analyze its lyrics and mulling over its semantics in a desperate attempt to detect misogyny in it. But I still cannot fathom what was there in the song which made so many consider it to be disrespectful towards women-maybe, that’s because English is still an alien language for me; a mystery which tantalizes and teases me every evening that I meet her in the company of Joyce or Woolf or Banville or Poe but remains nonchalant to me every time I try to have a rendezvous with her by myself. But it is equally likely that I have been in love with you for too long to be willing to admit even to myself that you could write a misogynistic song, though there is certainly something sexually evocative about it. Well, did you intend the lyrics to be sexist? Strolling along minding my own buisness/ well there goes a girl and a half/ she's got me going up and down/ she's got me going up and down/ walking on the beaches looking at the peaches/ well i got the notion girl that you got some suntan lotion in that bottle of yours/ spread it all over my peelin' skin baby/ that feels real good/ all this skirt lappin' up the sun/ lap me up/ why don't you come on and/ lap me up/ walking on the beaches looking at the peaches/ well there goes another one just lying down on the sand dunes/ i'd better go take a swim and see if i can cool down a little bit/ coz you and me woman/ we got a lotta things on our minds (you know what i mean)/ walking on the beaches looking at the peaches/ will you just take a look over there (where?) there/ is she tryin' to get outta that clitares?/ liberation for women/ thats what i preach/ preacher man/ walking on the beaches looking at the peaches/ oh shit/ there goes the charabang/ looks like im gonna be stuck here the whole summer/ well what a bummer/ i can think of a lot worse places to be/ like down in the streets/ or down in the sewer/ or even on the end of a skewer… Well, yes I just listened to the song once again and it is indeed laden with sexual innuendos but I still cannot feel anything save perplexity as I try to understand why did it outrage women and journalists who acrimoniously alleged that yours was a band of male chauvinists and the song was distastefully sexist. It also won’t be easy to try to quit being in love with you. I have spent so many Sunday afternoons downloading your songs from the internet, reading your interviews available online and watching videos of your songs on Youtube that nothing seems to be of gloomier prospect than weekends without you. Ah! Those afternoons have been a veritable feast for my senses. Every time I listened to Hugh Cornwell sing ‘Golden Brown, texture like sun…’ I found myself being transformed into a lotus-eater enjoying the melancholia, the day dreaming which languor invokes. I on the other hand, found that my heart was replete with an ineffably exciting energy whenever I watched JJ Burnel croon ‘Something better change’; can listening to a song ever lead to the release of endorphin in the body? I am not sure; my knowledge of biology has always been rather poor. As I discovered more and more of your songs, I so much wished that I was a young woman living in England in the 1970s so that I could attend your concerts, admire your irreverence, despise the mainstream media for being hostile to you and investigate the revolutionary potential of your songs. I don’t know if I like ‘No more heroes…’ better than ‘Get a grip on yourself’ but I listen to both of them whenever I need to reassure myself that my solitude does not make me lonely. I am not sure who I think was hotter-Hugh Cornwell, the lead singer with a maddening, haunting voice or JJ Burnel, the bass player with disheveled hair but I know that their sensuality laid in the eccentricity which they exuded as they performed. I have been so madly in love with both of them along with the astonishingly strange songs which they created with Dave Greenfield on the key board and Jet Black, playing the drums that I almost loathe myself for not discovering them earlier and for allowing myself to let my taste in music remain weak due to listening to too much of Bollywood music as a child. Yet the question shall always chafe me, vex me if you actually have a sexist song or two-I am too scared to listen to ‘London Lady’ lest I should actually discover that you had, in your enthusiasm to portray yourself as bold and menacing, allowed yourself to do something as banal and commonplace as write a misogynistic song- in your otherwise brilliantly original oeuvre. It is excruciating a discovery that you who composed a song like ‘Strange little girl’ could have referred to us as a ‘piece of meat’. But then JJ Burnel said in an interview in 2011 “I think probably politically we f@@@ed it up. We made so many enemies we screwed up a lot of people…. I never got the sexist thing.” I think I will believe him. He thinks that you are still a viable band; maybe I shall get to attend your concert some day in near future. Maybe, I can meet JJ Burnel and clarify for myself if lyrics of ‘Peach’ and ‘London Lady’ actually had sexist connotations? Were you ever a votary of male chauvinism?

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Raven and the rain...

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.

I wish I could encounter and engage with the raven perched on my chamber door more often than I can. I wish I could devote myself to reading Poe more frequently than I do. I wish I could read 'quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore' for a living. I wish, I do wish.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I had checked the meaning of 'errata' in Chambers online dictionary only a little while ago but now, i can only vaguely recall the meaning. It has something to do with making errors.
Yesterday, I had began reading Pessoa's 'Death of Ricardo Reiss' and had learned the meanings of a number of words associated with the sea-prow, gangplank, quay. I have already forgotten how to use them in sentences. English is increasingly becoming alien to me; the language baffles me more and more, it disappoints me. Do i suffer from Dyslexia?