Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Reading Books

To read books is to try to know oneself. There are obviously influences that play a part. Childhood, growing up, adolescence and the influence of peers and friends. Then a chance encounter with a book, a sudden revelation in a bookshop, a novel, a poem and one embarks on an unstoppable journey. The love grows, the tenderness for books matures, there is a longing to read, it is an appetite that is consuming at times.

Yet, there are readers who only read a particular genre of books and hold others in disdain. And there are others who assume a lofty position, seeking to identify with the writers or poets they read. There is a culpable amount of arrogance there, of falling in love with the idea and not the message, with words but not the odd music they could generate. This becomes an unholy habit and spirals out of control. One ends up standing for books that no longer seem dear, after the dust and grime of childhood has melted into awkward realism of reality.

The true value of books is not necessarily the exclusive leitmotiv of literature. The message or nirvana, if one is looking for that lies in the aftermath of much reading.......for the wine glass, emptied, could either look dirty or be a reminder of a happy heartbeat.
However, that said, it is in the domain of true literature that some find everlasting joie de vivre, of the words, ideas, loves, affections, crimes, dreams and desires that they wished they could or had perpetuated. True writing must be a reminder of our own thoughts and if it doesn't do that, then it fails.

On the other hand, the cheap romantic or crime novels that some consume like air also helps relieve much anguish for so many. Whether that too is true art is debatable must not be the question. The question must always be of one's own unhappy or happy affair with words.
I must end by saying that we gravitate to habits good or bad, loves requited and not, dreams dark and unrealistic and friends dear and deplorable. So too with books. We find them and perhaps, they too have decided to choose us.

Sylvia Plath and the Poetry Of Death

Sylvia Plath is the quintessential poet of death. She is the Poet Laureate of morbid thoughts, of every darkness on this earth. She cultivates darkness, gathers it, celebrates it.

The first Plath poem I read was the Daddy poem. It is different in tone, in nature, in structure and form from most of her poems. The present piece is not intended to offer a critique of her poems but to remind myself and the reader of Plath's self fulfilling prophecy of death.
She is not the angel but the queen of death and why not die? There are , she reminds us,'no trees or flowers in the world'. 'there is only a sourness'. and besides, she prefers 'horizontal', the feet are perfected, they say, 'we wont go any more'. she is 'lady Lazarus', come back from the dead.

'like the cat i have got nine lives', she warns. so, she will try to die again. And then, recovering in hospital, she finds the tulips malignant, 'eating her oxygen'.
In the suicide of egg rock, Plath writes a fascinating, stilted style poem that depicts a person walking into the sea. The sea, an abiding image is not a benign friend but an enemy, a kleptomaniac. It is thus necessary to leave because everything is scary.

But one must grieve again. In grantchester meadows, Plath sits uncompromisingly on seemingly benign grass and finds others with a malignant lack of knowledge about her loss.
'Dying is an art like everything else'. Plath must perfect this art and use all the available lives. There must be no mistake because she has suffered the atrocity of sunsets. She has to follow the call.

Sylvia Plath is a master act in celebrating morbidity and a love for Thanatos. But beneath the steely resolution to die is a desperate longing perhaps to survive. Beneath the gloom and the paranoia is a person who aspired to live. In that and in that hope, lives her poetry.


Literature is awash with insomniac and neurotic heroes and characters. In both popular and literary fiction, we come across these unfortunate characters, battling for sleep. In reality too, if fiction is not real, there are endless numbers given in to this affliction.

Insomnia is one of those misfortunes we seldom get to complain about. We fret and fume about other heartaches, but get tight lipped when confronting it. It seems a shameful and dark secret, an embarrassing wound, a curse, an unrequited affection.

Insomnia is a dark world, a desperate world, a furious one. Herein lies the essence of everything...parallel lives, the stream of consciousness, imagery, poetry, philosophy, you name it. It starts with an image and one seems seemingly in control. and then.....there is a revivification of memories, thoughts, words, images and thoughts. Thoughts start racing, memory swings on that swing, oh, what trouble the heart is!

One asks for mercy, for a hundred pardons from Hypnos, to cut this cord from days and thinking and let the Oneiroi take over. One would surely not mind death from that baneful misery of life then.

Yet, sometimes, the merciless, relentless march of the clocks goes on and on. There is no stopping this awkward prolixity of time, this dull tom tom of the heart.
Day light, enemy and foe now, breaks in. These are terminal times now, surely there will be some release? The aching eyes, tired eyelashes, unforgiving hands, oh this tireless heart, must give in now. And as the day progresses again, as it always does, it brings on night.
But these are scary nights, because they bring in the relentless confetti of the sky, bright black, bright blue spread of your nights, your eyes, your shimmering voice, the aching mist in your eyes, the unsaid words on your lips.

My silence, your silence, my insomnia and your silence.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Case Of the Jezail Bullet

In the study in scarlet, Dr Watson informs us that it was during the Afghan campaign, when he was posted with the Northumberland Fusiliers, that his shoulder, the left one, was hit by a jezail bullet in the Battle Of Maiwand. We got lucky that he was, otherwise he might not have been discharged and become late of the Army Medical Department, thus allowing him to return to London and then meet the great detective afterwards.

However, I endeavour here to refer to an entirely different matter, which is the nature of the good doctor's injury. Watson quite often moans about the weather and we are made aware that he likes heat better than the wind and cold. On some particularly cold mornings or evenings, Watson often complains of pain in his leg....where a jezail bullet hit him. It seems that Watson is referring to the same wound, albeit in a different limb. The reference is more evident after the affair of the reichenbach falls and more so after the good doctor had lost his first wife. There is no mention of a leg wound in the adventures or the memoirs and it is the latter cases where Watson starts to mention it. If my memory serves me right, he makes a reference in the second stain and in subsequent cases.

Is it the good doctor's memory or is there something else? From his clear and lucid accounts, it is clear that Watson never hesitated to run either towards or from danger. He never complained of an impediment preventing him from doing so. Thus clearly, the injury was not in the leg.
It is also abundantly clear that Dr watson had a fascinatingly accurate memory, otherwise we would never had been able to be privy to all the conversations and the events that he has so faithfully recorded.

It seems something else is at work. Was Dr Watson merely inventing his injury? If at all he was ill in Kandahar, was it an infectious disease that Watson felt was too trivial to be announced? Did he feel that a serious injury might win him more than sympathy?
There is no doubt in my mind that Watson was quite economical when it came to mentioning his numerous encounters with the fair sex. Did he observe the same economy here too? Surely, the great detective himself never mentioned Watson's injury in his conversations nor in the two accounts that he himself wrote.

As our good doctor aged, so too his memory and perhaps in that might lie a simple explanation. Else, future students or present experts of the Canon must try to unearth fresh evidence to try to solve the case of the jezail bullet.

Mahmoud Darwish and the Poetics of Resistance

If poetry has to celebrate life and also depict its darker nature, if poetry must decide not to absolve itself of social responsibility and if it should, perhaps take sides, then there is no better name to mention than that of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet par excel lance.

With Darwish, the poetry of resistance reaches new heights, for he tells us how he lives and feels in exile, what it is to be in exile and above all, the moody brooding of a homeless man.

The images he evokes are seldom the cliched laments for a lost land. He recreates the smell and the aroma of loss. For Darwish, mere land is not enough. It is the wind and the rain, the flowers, the trees and the sands and always the wind and smells. He longs for the 'aroma of bread at dawn', the longing for first love. These are universal longings and such desires are never ephemeral. His longing is at once for the seasons and for the 'hour of sunlight in prison' In his prose poem 'Memory for forgetfulness', Darwish extols coffee, the aroma of coffee and celebrates the art of coffee making. Amidst exploding shells in unrecognisable places, the poet in a dour act of resistance, enjoins us to live amidst death. The coffee becomes a metaphor yet the language is never tiresome but elegiac and poetic.

He reminds us the dual nature of exile, for home and land, for memory and desire. The poet asks for the right to 'love autumn' because the exiled poet is afraid all rights have been lost.'The last train has stopped 'and 'there is nobody there'.
Yet he never forgets the configuration of his political landscape, the division of love.

'Between Rita and my eyes,' says he, 'there is a gun'. Darwish never absolves any one of blame and lets us know that the sensitive poet need not be just sensitive but objective. He says he belongs there because he has 'memories' and thus has 'a panorama'. He loves 'to travel so that he arrives'.

Darwish is a literary rarity because few write like him. Like Lorca, he writes elegies because he is an elegaic poet, because someone must lament.
Darwish writes with a metaphysical sensitivity and an aesthetic quality that few can hope for.

For those like me who can only read his poems in an English translation, like myself, i wonder what the flavour and aroma of his arabic must be like.

In the collection of poems called 'unfortunately it was paradise', the excellent translations by Carolyn Forche and Munir aka sh have helped us in getting to know a poet of the best calibre, of exile, longing and pain.

Pessoa and Negative Capability

The original name for this diary or blog is Disquiet Thoughts and it is only fair that the inspiration be acknowledged.

The book of disquiet, written by Fernando Pessoa remains as one of its kind among literary masterpieces. Not meant for publication at first, it is a celebration of melancholy.Pessoa elevates it to an art.

At times brooding and dark, it is a recollection, a collage of memory.Each chapter so to say, reflects the author at his most pensive. It is difficult to describe the almost morbid languishing nature of his thoughts.Suffice it to say that each chapter carries forward a mood, a memory, a mix of memory and desire. one finds it hard to actually distinguish between memory and desire as both get wrapped under the inconstant fog of time and as it usually happens, one finds asking oneself and questioning the validity of all memory.

Memory is not always what happens. most of it is also what could have been. It is in this territory of mist, fog and dense desire that Pessoa pens down a remarkable anthology of melancholy. I find it hard to actually describe the impact of his thoughts. The book is an invaluable document of Lisbon, of life, of a kind of thinking and an attitude towards life.
it is a great book, one that needs to be read again and again. it never tires, it is never tiring. Some images are explosive and the sombre ones are the most decisive. It elevates to new heights the artistic attitude that Keats extolled, one that he called negative capability.
It is this negative capability, this gloomy and unhopeful cup that Pessoa holds to capture life's rain that should prompt the reader to celebrate and live a life of sadness and disquiet.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Satantango, the movie by Bela Tarr is a piece de resistance, a tour de force of modern cinema. It doesnt matter that the movie is Eastern European, even though it could only have generated out of the changing climate of that place.
Based on Laszlo krasznahorkai's novel of the same name, the movie captures or rather shows the doings and actions of a few villagers near an unnamed town in hungary.The events unfold from different perspectives of a few characters and the plot obeys or follows a tango movement, back and forth. The clever camera movements also mimic a tango sequence and there is constant oscillation, constant change.
The movie is of long duration but never boring and things to come are made clear in the first scene. I found a constant tension in every scene, a pervading aura of sinister things having happened or about to happen, which , we as observers are not somehow aware of. The atmosphere is of gloom, of intrigue, of decay and death. The imagery is similiar too...a catastrophe has been borne and felt and the after effects are of simmering but obedient acceptance.
The vision and the message of the movie is of existential and political concerns. The villagers bear the tireless rain, unending desperation and a hopeless belief in the power of hope. Everything has been undone and things might yet work out. And then....more betrayals and more rain.
Rain, endless rain, wind, litter, mud, pools of water, men walking and walking are some motifs of the movie.
Satantango is a movie about the futility of trust and the presence of unending betrayal. It is about the loss of hope and the depravity of men and nature. It is about the stark tango of men under a merciless sky.
It does not end with hope because there is no hope ever. It ends where it started from. The movement begins again. The dance or tango starts anew.
Some scenes in this movie are cinematic rarities. There is a deep, unfathomable melancholy about this movie. However it is not a portrayal of sad events. At its very heart is a sinister, dark and inhuman tango of lives, lies, hope, death and an almost dreary negation of life.
Satantango is an important movie and its reverberations and its music will haunt the viewer forever.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ricardo Reis, Pessoa and Saramago

The year of the death of Ricardo Reis, written by Jose Saramago is a rambling, brooding, melancholic and and a long novel. One must clarify first. Ricardo Reis is one of the many heteronyms used by Pessoa and Saramago wrote about this one.
The scope of the book, the atmosphere, the singularly dispassionate rain of the book, the mornings, afternoons and evenings and the walks that Reis walks are simply unrivalled as far as pure writing is concerned. Saramago is not the best prose master around. His concern is with the mood, the pain, the unhappiness of his characters. If Reis is so cynically cold today, the prose is simply descriptive beacause Saramago assumes the role of the observer and simply says that it happened perhaps because Reis might have had one of those bad headaches.
This is not the place to write about Fernando Pessoa because this is about Ricardo Reis. The disquiet anthology, the semantics of that is too well known to Pessoa lovers. Saramago's triumph, if indeed one can ever do that is in building up an atmosphere of gloom but not decay. This is somehow contradictory because it is the dead Pessoa talking to Reis, who was his own creation. the creator being dead, the normal relationship is thus turned upside down.
The dialogues between the two are fabulous. Here is no grappling , no sinister defeats or scoring of points. how can Pessoa do that anyway, as he is already dead. the quality of the conversations is in the atmosphere, the melancholic darkness of those passages. Right from the first page, when the initial descriptions of the sea and the land set the scene till the last pages, we join this desperate world of life and death.
This novel will live so long as we decide to live.

Lolita and Love

Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita is an example of the prose-stylist at an epic height. That this book was followed by Pale Fire and Ada amongst others is a testimony to his writing genius.
Lolita has been too profaned for me to profane it, too disdained for me to disdain it and so loved as well.
My main captivation with this novel is not the story itself. If a middle-aged man falls in love with a twelve year old girl, is it my concern to read that or not? My preoccupation is with the language, with the style of his prose. In other words, i am doing what Charles Kinbote of Pale Fire did not do. I am judging the style and not the content. Hence, I find myself a step ahead of Kinbote and do not also judge Humbert Humbert.
One can perhaps get offended by Lolita but then one can get offended by anything. In this case, the anatomy of a love affair, dissected through the endless tableau of the United States, lends more credibility to it. That the affair is torrid and was always going to be so is not beyond us, even though we lack next door relations with Humbert Humbert.
The imagery of his love is desperate because he is a desperate man but then love is mostly desperation. His Wanted Wanted poem is an ode to road love and this is an expression I just coined. Road loves produce intense thoughts.
I have always admired the Wanted Wanted poem for the relentlessness of its desperate music, unhappiness and perverse love. It also is a self-goading annihilatory experience.
Lolita is a great book because the love portrayed is no ordinary one. And the great music it generates has happily found resonances, at times muted though.

Deja vu'

What exactly is this experience of Deja vu? I didn't know that it could actually exist till i found out, years ago, that it had a name. Unless experiences are given names or people share the totality of their fears with others, it w'd seem a burden to unleash them on others.
I think Deja vu occurs in stages...the first being of a vague unease, followed by patterns falling in place, quickly, and then these new elements seem oddly familiar and a wave of relief surges past oneself.
Sometimes the experience itself is protracted, for what seems like ages and then it quickly dissipates. At other times, the light and shade of it is mixed all in shadows and one finds it hard to differentiate one from the other.
Scientific explanations range from the dark to the unclear. It is considered to be the aura of an epileptic process or the precursor of one. It may also be part of an altered state of consciousness, a kind of a detachment from oneself and this world. It could herald unhappy things in the brain, commonly called tumours.
Deja vu means a state of experiencing new happenings as if they had already happened. Who knows why it happens unless it is a reminder of us not forgetting that the past and future are a mixed bag of things and that in one is a reflected mirror of the other. I struggle to find anything poetic about it apart from the mystic solitude it brings. There is a remoteness, a deep unease about it and in this all is a silent lesson.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Feelings and Emotions

These emotions and feelings..........what are they? How does one know, how can one know, ever........what if, even after having lived, we wont have the answers?
I know I will not ever know. And yet, one cannot ever live without these either.
Life as a general condition wd have been unbearable if we as a species had not have been able to understand each others emotions and feelings. The quality of great art is to let each one of us recognize the other music, even if, even if, it does not lead to actual heart effusions.
The sincerity of feelings is in their very existence, not in proving that they exist in some kind of nameless vacuum which is either generally called a heart or is also labelled as sensitivity. When we say that art transcends culture, we perhaps mean the universality of pain and feelings, even though the colour of tears also depends on the name of the wind that stalks your native town.
Yet, the very existence of these thoughts proves that they exist in a real world of time and space, not in some useless or weak domain of exaggerated reactions. When we live, we feel.and in the lucid recognition of that emotion lies the very essence of life.