Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's time to move on

Readers must have noticed that I haven't updated for a long while. I waited to see if it will pass, but it seems this blog will no longer pass muster for whatever purposes are, now. So - we must move on. To some other turf.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Beat Elegy

in memoriam Shakti Bhatt

Many times I tried to become a bard for her but found my tongue
                lost to the screams in the mouth
                of my last night’s dream —
the dream where I run to catch the sorrows singing on his homely wall
                & find them black with my own blood,
the dream where things happen without a reason, or logic, or forewarning,
                & towers fall with no more provocation
                than a breath of flat air,
the dream where I try again to run after & catch the japing sorrows
                but they fly straight into the premises
of a noble spirit, guarded by snakes of dust & sweat & fearsome tears,
                so I can only look at her cradled between the
                branches of parijat, wearing a band of 7-colour peacock
feathers & a rope of charcoal, & my entreaties to her to remember him
                go unheard, my summons to our commonalities
                of age, once love, to no avail,
my conjuring of that tangy summer evening disregarded where
                perfectly formed couplets were spoken &
                soared before our collective delighted eyes,
& I give up & think she has returned to her own species,
                or else the trace of blue
under her eyes will become one day a blue bird resting
                its head at the tips of the branches,
but the thought hurts so much I wake up in a shrieking silence.

May 2007

Also here

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Despisals by Muriel Rukeyser

[First heard on Poetcast; found the text here. I read this at the QueerFest yesterday, along with my own poems.]

In the human cities, never again to
despise the backside of the city, the ghetto,
or build it again as we build the despised
backsides of houses. Look at your own building
You are the city.

Among our secrecies, not to despise our Jews
(that is, ourselves) or our darkness, our blacks,
or in our sexuality wherever it takes us
and we now know we are productive
too productive, too reproductive
for our present invention – never to despise
the homosexual who goes building another

with touch with touch (not to despise any touch)
each like himself like herself each.
You are this.

In the body’s ghetto
never to go despising the asshole
nor the useful shit that is our clean clue
to what we need. Never to despise
the clitoris in her least speech.
Never to despise in myself what I have been taught
to despise. Nor to despise the other.
Not to despise the it. To make this relation
with the it : to know that I am it.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Different Beat + Ochre As The Earth

Tomorrow, I read at the Nigah QueerFest's performance evening - do come if you're in Delhi.

And if you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur on the 3rd of June, go watch the marvellous Sharanya Manivannan's solo spoken word show, Ochre As The Earth.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let's sing about the dark times

And there is much to sing about.

Especially the unspeakably outrageous.

At Baroda, a student of the fine arts faculty is arrested and its dean suspended. Why? Read Zigzackly's post giving updated information and sign the online petition here. NOW.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Delhi: Open Baithak, May 18, 6.30 pm

Dear friends,

Earlier this year, the British Council Delhi had organized a Spoken Word Series featuring performances and workshops by UK and Indian poets such as Anjum Hasan, Jeet Thayil, John Hegley, Lemn Sissay, Patience Agbabi and Vivek Narayanan. This culminated in an open mic evening at Sarai, where those of us present felt the necessity for more such spaces, which give an opportunity to poet performers to explore how performance and poetry can be brought together, spaces where words can come alive on the stage through ways and means ranging from music to rhythm to dance and beyond.

Introducing "Open Baithak", a space to experiment with words, enjoy them, delight in them and do risky and innovative things with them. A space where poet performers coming from different linguistic, literary and oral traditions can find and learn from each other. A space where new poets can try out their verses and voices.

The first five sessions of Open Baithak are being sponsored by the British Council Delhi. Come to participate, or as audience to good poetry and to daring, dazzling performances.

WHEN: 18 May 2007, 6.30-8.30 pm
WHERE: The Attic, 36 Regal Building, Connaught Place (see

To sign up, email or show up at the Open Baithak. Email the same if you have questions!

Look forward to seeing you there.



1. You get 7-8 mins on the mike. A bell will signal when your time is up.
2. Bring new material at every Open Baithak. You can perform the same material twice max, if you wish to try it in a different way.
3. You can bring poems or prose readings in any language. In fact we would love an active participation by poet performers in languages other than English.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

why sing the song of childhood?

Because when Joshua Bell played at the L'Enfant Plaza metro station (link courtesy Anand), only seven of 1,070 people passing by stopped for a minute or more to listen to him play; "[e]very single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away."

So I stop when Wenders and Handke sing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

In loss

Sometimes words are not enough. Someone gone from amongst you, so swiftly you don't know how to react. Someone with such promise and potential and joy for life. S, we'll miss you. Dear dear J, may all the prayers of the world be with you.

Kenya Photo Diary: Malia Kitty

She stole into our apartment night before yesterday. Had obviously been a pet of the previous owners, the way she rubs herself against the furniture, the way she looked quizzically - almost accusingly - at us in the beginning.

She is curiously familiar, her color exactly the color of Frodo, and this makes me foolishly fond of her. I think I remind her how to play again, hiding a lolly stick behind slippers, with a rolled up newspaper, tap-tapping on chairs till she goes quite bananas. This morning, the chair was strangely warm when I sat on it, and then I saw something padding by. Kitty, now called Malia ("queen" in Swahili) walked nonchalantly and settled herself on the verandah.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Zubaan's 21 under 40: New Stories for a New Generation.

It includes some of my favorite writers: Mridula Koshy, Annie Zaidi, Anjum Hasan, Nisha Susan, a few whom I yet have but a cursory familiarity with -- and the editor packs quite a punch herself. I heard extracts from a couple of stories at the IHC today; can't wait to read the collection.

Yes, you can sense there's something new happening in this anthology. Let's hope as many or more publishers in India become willing to take risks, as writers!

What's happening in Nandigram?

Were the killings, the disappearances, the terror justified? No way. Follow updates and analysis at Nandigram Lal Salam.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

poetry reading tomorrow

My first reading before an exclusively junior audience! Fifth graders, sixth graders, and even a few middle and high schoolers at the American Embassy School will be attending. Others reading/performing are Annie Zaidi, Taru Dalmia and Jeet Thayil.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Face (the truth) time

I'm giving you, here, just the introduction to a piece I wrote for Delhi City Limits in Nov 06 -- the very introduction which did not appear in the mag because of its length limit, and the very piece which I am slightly embarrassed to have "reported" (it was a chocolate facial, man!).

'Well-meaning salonistas always seem to know more about your skin and hair – or how to make it more beauteous – than you do, or want to know. Having apologetically mumbled “Umm, yes, but I don’t want blonde highlights” enough times, I thought I had perfected a fairly impregnable and strict Persona for Parlors. Sampling a chocolate facial, for the cause of brides who read City Limits, undid it all in a matter of seconds.

Before I begin, here are some tips. First off, ye brides young and old, remember to schedule your facials at least 24 hours before the big day, which is when their wonders are said to become most apparent. To be on the safe side, start making rounds of your salon a month or two in advance: Figure n Face in Jangpura Extension offers a complete bridal makeover spread over two months. Second off, don’t be intimidated by the unrelenting scrutiny of people you have entrusted your skin with. Thirdly, and also to counter the effects of this scrutiny, choose things with comforting words like “chocolate” in them.'

(Read the remaining sections, "An Ingénue and a Chocolate Facial" and "Verdict", in CL)
The story has two postscripts. One, I left for Bombay and then Goa soon as I had sent it off to the editor, where my aristocratically-inclined, very sensitive skin peeled.

Two, I went to F&F a couple of days ago (mainly curiosity) and found the printed story framed and hanging from a wall, with my byline prominent.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

There's something about pigeons

In moments when your heart is so blue it can barely hold itself upright, if you see a shadow pigeon walking on the other side of the glazed window, and then a pigeon on each of the three lamp posts you can see through the clear top half of the same window, and then, in the evening sky, flocks of pigeons flying home -- some light, some a darker grey -- I bet you lighten up a jot.

We've all been through a phase of clicking pigeon photographs, or are still there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dear blog

Feeling a rush of tenderness and affection for you.

Wince / Review of Water

Because DesiLit Magazine in its 2nd issue has not only reproduced a paragraph thrice of my review of Water, the editing of the original text (see below) also does not satisfy. But, sigh, that is a complaint freelancers the world over have.


A palette of lotus greens and dusk blues lights up the frames of Deepa Mehta’s widely acclaimed Water. There is a town by the river, tranquil and green. The river is the town’s artery and shapes the life of its dwellers. It is revered. A group of widows lives out their lives by the river, in piety, penury and hopelessness. The camera silently captures the dramas and inconsequence of their lives.

The case of Hindu widows and widow remarriage has been taken up time and again in Indian literature since the late 19th century, particularly by Bengali writers influenced by social reform movements. Mehta’s last film in the trilogy with Fire and Earth is not, in that sense, new. It did not deserve the controversy it raked.

What Water does manage to do is to make vivid our knowledge of the world the widows lived in. The set of their house – spare, grey, closed – is a visual masterstroke. It has been used to stunning effect too, especially in the scene where the widows play holi.

The actors are all sincere and competent. With her thick ankled, round dimpled cuteness and a natural aptitude for acting, little Sarala impresses as a seven year old by turns watchful and mischievous, precocious and generous. It is heartbreaking to watch her accept her fate at one point. Still, it does seem as if the script is placing too much burden on Chuyia’s character, to be the symbol of unending goodness and hope in the film. The film would have been richer if it had lingered awhile on the dark heart of Chuyia.

Chuyia’s ally and counterpart in play and goodness, Kalyani, is played by the glowing Lisa Ray. She, along with the other widows, make compelling characters. From the tenaciously devoted and industrious Shakuntala played by Seema Biswas; to the larger than life and villainous Madhumati played by Manorama; to the doddering-at-death’s-door widow who lusts after laddoos, gulabjamuns and rasagullas day and night – each one is an unforgettable role, enhanced by good acting. John Abraham, however, does not ring true as a classically educated idealist who can spout Byron and Meghdoot with equal ease. He doesn’t look 'Gandhian' enough. It’s a pleasure to see Waheeda Rehman, as always, even in her garishly dressed cameo.

Sri Lanka gives us a perfectly acceptable Varanasi circa 1938. We see one section of the society responding ardently to the call of Gandhi and dreaming of freedom, while another is all too happy with the colonial rulers, their punctuality and Shakespeare. This conflict was during this period rippling through many parts of India. In the film, it is represented by Narayan (John Abraham) and his buddy (Vinay Pathak), and its glib treatment makes for its weakest moments. Gandhi is invoked almost as a stock phrase, and expected to stand in for everything that was changing in the socio-political landscape of the country. The script makes him out as an answer to all ills, giving the story that faint fairy tale whiff. The addlebrained-ness of Munnabhai was more credible. The spread of political ideas through a people is a complex process, and should have been handled better since it is such an important subtext of the film.

Water’s rather unnecessary moralistic tail can perhaps be traced to 2000, when hordes from VHP and RSS set fire to the sets of the film in Varanasi. No doubt, Hindu widows continue to be ostracized, thrown out of houses, and discriminated against in places. Many widows still live in Vrindavan and Varanasi in horrific conditions. But quoting, at the end of the film, the number of widows present in India as per the 2001 census seems to be slightly manipulative. This statistic seems to want the audience to draw a slightly misleading parallel between all the widowed women in India in 2001, and the life of the widows depicted in the film. Water tells a simple enough story, and it should have been left alone as that.

The dialogs, translated into Hindi by Anurag Kashyap, are rather stilted. The songs and the background music, scored by A.R. Rahman and Mychael Danna respectively, are lovely and add to the film’s sensuousness. Sukhwinder Singh’s lyrics are as idyllic as they come.

Despite its flaws, Mehta’s film serves as an important reminder of how religion can be misused to perpetuate injustices against the powerless in the guise of devoutness and self sacrifice. Kudos to her for asking questions that are disturbing for many, such as whether to choose religion over moral obligation, or vice versa.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Have been trying to get my picture up on my blogger profile, but whatever URL I type (I've tried posting the image via the blogger image uploader, picasa2, on flickr, on another friend's flickr) I get the message, "Cannot find file at specified URL: link is broken (failed request)". What's going on? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Speaking and Not Speaking

"One of the first times I felt empowered this way was while walking down a crowded Brigade Road with my parents in 2003. A man pinched me and started walking away. Totally unrehearsed, I turned and grabbed his collar. Just a few minutes later - yes, fair Bangalore has its fair share of roadside romeos who all seem to be on this road - there came along another guy. I communicated some pretty unflattering things to him too. But what I remember most is being drunk on the knowledge, for hours after, that I had done something. The exhilaration heightened since this had happened in front of my parents, who had possibly never before seen - whom I had possibly never before allowed to see - me as a sexual being - being harassed, giving it back."

I’ve been harassed and I’ve protested the harassment several times since Sep 2003, yet this incident stays at the top of my head, perhaps because it was one of the earliest incidents of my being vocal. In fact, come to think of it, most of the incidents since this one are a blur in my head, indistinguishable from each other. I can’t remember distinctly how I was harassed or how I responded, and that is a little scary, because it could mean I’ve begun to normalize the violence in my own head; begun to treat it as a matter of course! (Note to myself: Get outraged about every incident of harassment, “small” or not. Talk about it with friends, lover, mum, brother, fellow writers, fellow activists.)

Then there are the times I haven’t spoken up, times I’ve walked past, pretending to not have heard a sleazy comment thrown my way. Because it takes energy to confront, abuse the bastards, look daggers even; because I think, “It’s not worth it.” Isn’t it? Am I just being pragmatic and getting on with life with no-fuss, or am I selling out? Am I turning into a cynic? Am I letting down my feminist + BNP sisters and brothers? Am I letting down the harassers by taking away an opportunity from them to engage with a reaction? (Note to myself: Talk back.)

Sexual harassment is so pervasive and institutionalized in our societies that we have to make a conscious effort to treat it as a singular incident in our day, to not fall prey to the notion that it’s “normal”, to not brush it aside, to notice it, to commend ourselves when we talk back, to tell stories about both the harassment and our fighting back. Which is why it’s fantastic that the Blank Noise Project is asking women to tell their stories about the times they got their own back. Hurrah, BNP!

And I’ve just remembered the last time it happened to me: Last week, it’s ten pm on a weeknight. I’m in the park next to my house, the same one I’ve bragged is safe to walk in even at three am. A man enters the park from the flyover side through a gap in the fence. He stands in the shadows and mutters something when I pass him. I ignore him for two rounds, but on the third round my blood boils and I yell at him. He says something incomprehensible but menacing, drunk to high heavens. I’m quaking a little when I return to the spot on my fourth round, ready to take flight at the slightest provocation and to call the neighbouring guards. But he’s disappeared. I suspect because I yelled.

Friday, February 23, 2007

We vegetarians can laugh at ourselves

And clearly, so can others :)

And when Rajneesh Kapoor laughs, we laugh with him, because he is so sharp, witty, political, and funny. I follow his comic strip in the Hindustan Times - not very religiously, but enthusiastically. Just discovered his website and have been grinning for the last twenty minutes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Anything But Static Icon

I heard Gloria Steinem talk on “Secret Censors, Public Solutions” yesterday. The grand old lady of the feminist revolution, she has been around since the 1970s, but the significance of this did not register with me until she spoke of how astonished she was the day (two years ago) she turned seventy. Steinem does not look seventy two or behave seventy two, and photographs (recent or from way back), even though in them she is beautiful, don’t do her justice.

There was, perhaps, nothing in the substance of her talk I did not already know/had not already read: women, and men, are censored in a far more insidious fashion than we realize; it is not just the well-recognized censors like government diktats, court judgments and religious fiats, but more often, we who secretly censor ourselves, our speech, our words, because of the way we internalize gender constructs.

It was Steinem herself who made the difference. She spoke, carrying with lightness, grace, and humor an awareness of her role and responsibility as a universally familiar icon of feminism -- revered and assailed in equal parts. She spoke out our deeply held first truths with authority and conviction. She did not shy away from inspiring us. She was not postmodern. Ah, those days of early feminist consciousness… Ah, hostel life stacked with books and bad coffee…

Delhi’s old hands at the battle, battle-axes, bottle-gourds, and the newly embattled had turned up at the musty IIC auditorium in full force and regalia. They had also brought their cell phones, which rang incessantly, each tune different in tenor and timbre and texture from the next. The cell phones rang till I got seriously alarmed about the state of our future – a future holding movie, play and music evenings filled with extraneous chimes, buzzes, peals and tinkles. Or wait a minute. That’s our present.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Really Dismal Delhi

We wake up one day and find the city we live in has changed. Many years ago they had promised us a “world class city”, with the dark and dangerous stuff, the lost and forgotten people, all waved out of sight to a Delhi Below. We had marveled at the vision and gone on with our lives for we had things to do. I remember the day.

I open my newspaper a couple of days ago to the news that the ASI has, after thrice earlier rejecting a tunnel road project linking NH-24 to Lodi Road, finally approved it. The tunnel would pass under Sunder nursery and Neela Gumbad, ending near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Commonwealth Games Village would have faster access to the stadium, so who cares about the heritage zone.

The same day, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) razes a Mughal era monument in Gurgaon to acquire land for the Delhi Metro. The same day, the Delhi govt unveils Master Plan 2021, which imagines, improbably, endless skyscrapers and pedestrian and cycle tracks. The same day, in a readers’ forum, people from Chandni Chowk trash as impractical the Delhi govt’s plan to ban cycle rickshaws from parts of the walled city.

The next day, the Residents Welfare Association of my area is given the Best Citizen Group Award for successfully demolishing a thousand jhuggis. Feeling depressed, I drive along Tito Marg to a friend’s house. Along the way, I count at least eight other cars with lone drivers. On either side of the road something is being built – HCBS? The High Capacity something something? I have no idea what and why, and I don’t care.

I refuse to go to the sprawling, 55 year old Sunder Nursery to buy plants for our office. I also cannot bear the sight of the gracious, wide, tree-lined Lodi Road. I resolve to avoid that entire area till the tunnel is completed – Dec 2009 according to the PWD website – so I can more calmly accept things as must be.

In the evening, we drive up to Patel Chowk, park the car, take the metro to Chawri Bazaar and a rickshaw to Jama Masjid. This is one thing I cannot give up. I even spiritedly propose a spin around the Chowk, for the days we can no longer do it. Our rickshaw wallah gives us a fine potted history. “This is the town hall,” he says. “This is the fountain.” “This is a machine where they put in plastic and get money.” My friend contemplates getting a bicycle to ride around in the city. I laugh till my eyes water, and he drops the idea till the Master Plan comes into effect.

In the morning, as I drive to work with chaos and honking and thousands of other cars, grey pigeons are seamless against a background of grey concrete flyovers. If they disappear, we might not even notice.

(For the tunnel road plan, see story in HT dated Feb 6, 2007: Suffering from tunnel vision? by Aruna P. Sharma. To stop dismal-makers in Delhi, leave your email on this post or email me.)

(links coming soon)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Deal with Sexual Harassment

(Had put this note together when at Breakthrough)
(And I'm still around and well, but getting over this blog, a bit)

Whether at the workplace, school, street or university, sexual harassment can cause the environment to become hostile, intimidating or offensive. Learn how to deal with it!

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is primarily an issue of power, not sex. It occurs when a person with power abuses that power and brings unwanted attention of a sexual nature into what should be a sex neutral situation.

Abuses of power in the form of sexual harassment can come from people in authority positions in formal settings, for example:

* Supervisors
* Employers
* Professors

Or, it can come from colleagues, peers, and even people who see you as a source of authority.

Harassment also occurs in an informal setting. Informal harassment is often a play on existing power structures such as gender. Gender is a source of inequality and subordination, particularly for women. Men’s whistles, remarks, and stares are an assertion of power and can feel threatening or embarrassing.

Sexual harassment differs from consensual flirting or voluntary sexual relationships because it usually is unwanted, occurs in a power relationship in which the parties are not equal, and/or contains elements of coercion and threat.

Harassment can be men against women, women against men, women against women, or men against men. It may be a repeated unwelcome behavior or an action that only occurs once. All are equally unacceptable forms of behavior.

In short, sexual harassment is coerced, unethical and unwanted, and amounts to violence.

Types of sexual harassment


Things such as unwanted touching, fondling, patting, hugging, pinching or kissing.


Questions and comments about a person's sexual behavior, sexually oriented jokes, comments about a person's body, conversations filled with sexual innuendo and double meanings.


Displaying sexually suggestive pictures or objects, ogling in a sexually demeaning manner, gesturing and making lewd motions with one's body.

What to do if you are being sexually harassed
(Adapted from Sexual Harassment: Things You Should Know)

1. Do the unexpected. Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific. For example: Why did you brush up against by breast?
2. Hold the harasser accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Take charge of the encounter and let people know what he did. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them.
3. Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding). Be serious, straightforward, and blunt.
4. Demand the harassment stop.
5. Make it clear that all women have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Objecting to harassment is a matter of principle.
6. Stick to your own agenda. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics.
7. His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists.
8. Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance. Don't smile. Timid, submissive body language will undermine your message.
9. Respond at the appropriate level. Use a combined verbal and physical response to physical harassment.
10. End the interaction on your own terms, with a strong closing statement, "You heard me. Stop harassing women."

When harassment occurs within an organizational setup, such as a school or company, there may be an existing sexual harassment policy and a process for handling complaints. Here documentation is the keyword. You should:

1. Photograph or keep copies of any offensive material.
2. Keep a journal with detailed information on instances of sexual harassment. Note the dates, conversations, frequency of offensive encounters, etc.
3. Tell other people, including personal friends and co-workers if possible.

You may also be able to access outside legal remedies. Get in touch with a lawyer to seek detailed advice.

What to do if you have been sexually harassed

* Don’t be silent. Talk to people about your experience. Help create a social climate where sexual harassment is not tolerated.
* Educate yourself and others. Discuss what can be done if you are being sexually harassed. Discuss how myths, such as women who dress provocatively are asking to be harassed, are dangerous and perpetuate violence.
* Offer support to others when sexual harassment occurs.
* Remember: harassment is shameful for the harasser, and not for you.