Wednesday, 26 August 2009

they want less words
more meaning
but it should not actually mean anything
or at least not so much
and it needs to say something
and say it differently
they are not quite sure what
and they are not quite sure how
except that this isn't it
and this is not how they would say it
but they never do say
what it is
they must make me say

so i sit here with a head exploding
with things unsaid
It's tiring, being a word processor with a rudimentary artificial intelligence. A part of me begins to hate words themselves, the little brats, and language itself, the sneaky tart.

Friday, 21 August 2009

This will sound angsty, but it is hard to work up the motivation to write when the stories I've already written still haven't been published. Specifically, two stories that I'm very pleased with. One is in limbo with a small press who seem interested but take their own time, to say nothing of the fact that I've just learned that the owner has suffered a personal tragedy that may delay all his projects even further. The other one...well I don't even know who to send it too. In India, that is. I can do the rounds of the western weirdness-oriented 'zines again, but arghh. Why is there still no home-grown market for home-grown weirdness? Economy the size of a festering wart on Meatloaf's backside, and we've still got no culture except the crap our ancestors made 70,000 years ago after blowing up Atlantis with an atom bomb.

In other news, I have had another children's story published.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Last evening, around 7, a friend called Yasmine to say he'd seen a dog hit by a car and lying on the road near Safina Plaza. He works as a driver, and could not stop as he had a passenger to drop. Yasmine and I rushed to the spot, where we found that another passer-by had moved the dog to the side of the road, outside the new Krishnaiah Chetty showroom on Main Guard Road (which thousands of people who drive through it everyday seem to know only as 'that road there...um the one between Infantry Road and OPH Road...er...'). For some reason a BMP van had also pulled over, and there were a couple of traffic cops on the spot as well. They were trying to arrange an ambulance for the dog. The police were talking to someone - perhaps CUPA itself - who would only agree to send an ambulance if someone would give them their address. Not the spot where the dog was, but their own home address. Odd rule, that.

Anyway, Yasmine called CUPA and arranged for their ambulance to come and pick up the dog. It was at Ramamaurthy Nagar (a little beyond Jai Bharath Nagar, a little before Banaswadi, if you're driving down from the former ITC Factory), so we knew we had a long wait ahead of us. The good samaritan who had earlier carried the dog to the side of the road asked if he was needed for anything else. Since there was nothing further he could do, he carried on. It isn't easy to decide stop your car and to pick up a strange dog from the road and carry it to safety in the midst of rush hour traffic. I wish I'd found out who he was, because he was the real hero of the evening.

I brought some water for the dog, a young female with vaguely german shephard-derived markings. Nervous, she tried snapping at my fingers. The BMP guys took over and tried pouring the water on her, which of course freaked her out and made her run away. She was too exhausted and wounded to get far though, and collapsed just around the corner, at the beginning of Bowring Hospital Road. We managed to get the BMP guys to get into their van and scoot. One of the traffic cops stayed with us for a while, pointing out various dogs in the area who were regular police buddies, and telling us about Kariya, a black dog at the Commercial Street traffic police station. Kariya is the pride and joy of that station. This is the second time a policeman from that station has told us proudly of the time he chased a criminal, grabbed him by the seat of his pants and apprehended. Each policeman makes himself Kariya's intrepid human companion in their version of this story. After a while, the policeman left on his rounds.

Time passed. Around 7.45, a teenage boy whose mother and sister were sary or jewellery shopping on Commercial street while he waited in the car with the driver came over to us. He said he'd been watching us looking after the dog for a while and wanted to know what was wrong with the dog. He was quite worried and suggested we call his vet. We told him we'd already organised an ambulance and chatted with him for a while.

The ambulance finally turned up at 8.45, around an hour and a half after we'd sent for it - not a bad response time considering they had to negotiate through the extremely congested Old Madras Road. The attenders, as usual, were needlessly brutal in picking up the dog, and then when it understandably reacted angrily, they started saying it must have rabies. I wanted to hit them with the stupid rod they were using the intimidate the dog with, but Yasmine was able to calm the situation down and they drove off with the dog. We still need to follow up with the vets at CUPA and find out how the dog, but I'm confident she is out of danger now.

And that was how we spent the evening of Yasmine's birthday.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A DEAD MAN IN DEPTFORD by Anthony Burgess

This was, I think, Burgess' last published novel, and a fine one it is, too. Years after his Shakespeare novel, NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, he goes back to the same era to tackle Christopher Marlowe, the wild, wayward brawler and Master of Arts who went one step further than Thomas Kyd in expanding the scope of English drama with his rollercoaster tales of doomed overreachers and his sonorous lines, like bells tolling in a tottering cathedral to a god or gods unknown. Burgess' immersion in the tone, ethos and language of the times is immense; the picture that builds of Marlowe is garnished with portraits of contemporaries famous and obscure, but at no point is Marlowe himself sidelined.

This is a historical novel that builds from the facts; we know that Marlowe was granted his MA only after intervention by the Privy Council. We don't know why exactly they intervened on his behalf. We know that he was on bail after being arrested for blasphemy and forgery at the end of his life; again we know little of the real circumstances leading to the accusation or his conditional release. That he spend a few days in Deptford allegedly carousing with three men, all of whom were connected with Walsingham's secret service is also a matter of public record. It's the hidden whys and wherefores behind these facts that Burgess invents.

And even if the speculation is debatable, the picture he plays of the foul-mouthed, boozing, buggering, tobacco-smoking Kit Marley, or Merlin or Marlowe is convincing. We come to know the author of Tamburlane and Doctor Faustus as a man whose clear-eyed quest for truth and knowledge were out of sync with sectarian politics of his time and whose penchant for free, profane speech and homosexuality didn't help either. A free spirit, in an age where wisdom lay in discretion. Not necessarily an over-reacher himself but one whose age perhaps was too constrained for his spirit.

An excellent novel, then, and a nuanced, satisfying portrait of its subject.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A CASE OF EXPLODING MANGOES: MOHAMMED HANIF

This is an extremely cheeky political satire that purports to look at the events leading up the death of General Zia, the man who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, and a great target for satire in any case - he always struck me as what it would be like if Groucho Marx were to do a sketch about a military dictator. It alternates between an omniscient narrative that largely focuses on Zia and his premonitions of doom and various Zia insiders and associates, and the first-person narrative of Ali Shigri, a military cadet whose father, a general in the Intelligence Service, was assassinated, and who in turn seeks to assassinate Zia.

Hanif weaves together a complex chain of events, from the machinations of Shigri as well as members of Zia's cabinet, to the curse of a blind woman imprisoned on death row because she has been raped, the seasonal migrations of an ordinary black crow, crates of mangoes and more. In the process, he paints an irreverent and remarkably thorough picture of the complex Pakistani political landscape in the 80s, a landscape that continues to evolve on the same broad lines and is not lacking in interest to other inhabitants of the subcontinent, although possibly less so to people from other countries, irrespective of their governments' repeated and often misguided experiments in this region. There is a distinct difference in tone between the two threads, with Shigri's narrative being the more racy and cinematic, but at all points there is a deep vein of satire running through it all, and an irreverent spirit that makes me wonder at Hanif's failure to run afoul of fundamentalists. This may not be the Great Novel of modern Pakistan - perhaps it is both too arch and too informed by the thriller genre, and a little sloppily paced (lots of build-up, an over-quick resolution), but in my opinion it's a superb political satire, a witty and engrossing novel and certainly superior to several, more succesful, subcontinental offerings from the same year.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN by Peter Ackroyd

Now this is more like it.

Peter Ackroyd makes Victor Frankenstein a student at Cambridge, which enables Victor to make the acquaintance of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his various associates, including a certain Mary Godwin, and also lets Ackroyd find a way to shift the bulk of the action to his own home turf, London. There's an interestingly Dickensian overtone at times. Ackroyd's narrative is substantial, but poised, without waste and enriched with excellent secondary characters, real and fictional. The horrors, once they start unfolding, are truly creepy - few things I've read lately are as chilling as the resurrection scene here. The climax or crux of the story is unexpected and satisfying. Certainly one of Ackroyd's better efforts in recent times - I'd even say that he's back in form now, after the post-Milton In America slump.

The Stoner's Library

The stoner, no doubt you've met him, comes in various shades, shapes and sizes, but we shall imagine him as lean, rather shorter than his lean-ness would suggest at first glance, large-eyed, large adam's-appled and given to standing about with a vacant look while clad in crumpled jeans, rockband t-shirt, vaguely militaristic jacket, outdoor boots that belie the fact that the most greenery he sees is just before he smokes it.

He was in a hostel, during college, anything from a year to seven years ago, and it has fried his brains to the extent that he has been unable to form long- or short-term memories since and winds up telling anyone who will listen about those kerrazzy hostel days. He used to listen to rock and metal then, these days it's mostly electro and trance and a smattering of world music. He has a variety of friends whom he greets with hugs and participates in a complex economy of sharing, swiping and cadging Stuff. His most constant companion is not much of a stoner - he's more of a whiskey man - but he hangs out with stoners because they are easy to manipulate. Unlike the stoner, he has no intellectual pretensions, but he likes to borrow books from the stoner's library because they look cool. He never returns them, which is okay because the stoner rarely remembers to read them.

This is the stoner's library:

The Doors Of Perception and Heaven And Hell by Aldous Huxley, because, like, Jim Morrison, y'know?
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, he loved the movie. Depp is so cool!
Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. He's flipped through it, has vague memories of Venusians and manlove and freeform trippiness. That's so awesome.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, because cheap foreign thugs who become wise are so, like, wise, man.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, because the movie was so trippy.
Mr. Nice by Ron Marks, coz dealers are so awesome man
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: Tom Wolfe, which he has never been able to read because the prose gives him headaches, but is so cool, it's all about the hippies and LSD and stuff, man
On The Road: Jack Kerouac, he's flipped through it, the bit about the brothel in Mexico kinda turned him on. He wants to hit the road too, one day.
The Lord Of The Rings: JRR Tolkien, which he has never read through, but is really trippy too, loved the movies
Food Of The Gods: Terrence McKenna, most of which he has actually read, and it's fascinating because it's, um, about how mushrooms, like, made us conscious, and that's so real man.
The Teachings Of Don Juan: Carlos Castaneda, which he mostly doesn't understand, but there's some trippy stuff there.
The Third Eye: T. Lobsang Rampa, which is again really trippy
The Occult: Colin Wilson, which is like, whoa, man. Really trippy and really awesome to flip through when stoned
PiHKAL: Shulgin & Shulgin, which he likes to daydream about
Chaos: James Gleick, he hasn't gotten beyond the fractal-art cover, but, man, chaos is so scientific, now where are my papers?
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: Robert M Pirsig, is um, bikes and ... zen. Very deep!
Helter Skelter: Vincent Bugliosi, about how some hippies were into some really bad shit, but man, what a dude, that Manson...
The Godfather: Mario Puzo, which is the only book in the lot he has read from cover to cover, one day on a train journey. It was easy to follow because he has seen the movie.