Wednesday, September 20

For You, Cherry Crest. 

I know it wasn’t the latest of trends. Then again, aren’t you people daubing all sorts of colors on your hair these days? Okay, I would perhaps have fared well had there been a Halloween costume extravaganza for bookmarks. But there aren’t any contests for bookmarks, except maybe, the implicit race that takes us to the end of one book, and onto the beginning of another. And that’s not even a race, as we are, in essence, competing with you, and with your books. Anyhow, I digress. I was talking about my good old faithful pelage - the cherry-red, fuzzy crest I proudly sported all these years. She complemented my washed-out canary hue rather well, and I always thought we looked good together. And now she’s gone.

She had quite a life --- wouldn’t you say? Fancy at times, with spells of plain pensiveness stretching into grubby expanses of time, like say, when I was left squashed between sides of Either and Or. I may well have been sheathed in warmth, but she had to endure being exposed to the cold, floury air, while the void, or occasionally, the night lamp, peeked at her mercifully, as she merely dangled in despair. I always knew when she was jovial - she sent an electrifying buzz down my spine. It was on those special occasions when you stroked her lovingly, or spiffed her up by brushing her gently, to rid her of all that dust. It’s a pity she didn’t get to learn much like I did, but she was just grateful to be there. However, she saw more of the world than I did, albeit transitorily, in airports, parks, buses, trains, stations, cabs, rickshaws, cars, on rooftops, and just about everywhere. And knowing her diligence, that must’ve done her a lot of good.

And so we cruised along our life’s journey, even though we would be stuck in eerie, unfathomable places for exceedingly long periods. There have been some mishaps along the way too, and I was never going to recount them if it hadn’t been for her passing. There was a time when we were traversing the great Abandon, and you accidentally spilled coffee on her. I’m sure the Iyer man could’ve waited till you sponged her up, but he continued to relate his tale and you kept stepping forward. Finally, when you retired that evening, and relocated me, she was taut with the grip of the desiccated stain, and the most I could do was commiserate with her. That night, my thoughts drifted between Sufism and self-reflection, and I decided that it would be best if I remained your loyal servant, especially considering I was a rather recent (a decade old) acquisition, and you hadn’t otherwise mistreated or abandoned me. And then I began to ponder about what you owned before my time, but I gave up because I didn’t want to feel blue anymore.

Then we re-visited some tomes, like Siddhartha, Jonathan Seagull, Swami and His Friends, and sauntered around for a while in the endearing folds of the Wodehousian classics. I especially liked embracing the sweet fragrance of those dried, pressed rose petals in Tuesdays with Morrie, and I’m sure they mean much to you, for reasons I shall not delve into. And then we were in a poignant mood for a while, navigating the likes of Orchard on Fire, The Bookseller of Kabul, and that made me reminisce similar feelings evoked by the likes of Cast Two Shadows, Possession, or say, Amsterdam, in the past. But we kept going, and we laughed with Meera Syal, Townsend, Bombeck, Barry and so forth. We traversed places with the Iyer man, Ms. Bird, Tania and Bernadette, Naipaul and a few others. Of course, we had our edifying stints with the APA Manual, HBR editions, Deal and Kennedy, Rourke, Wimmer and Dominick, and several others. We also went on poetic quests with Brosky, Bogan, Dickinson, Atwood and scores of others, and I must make a special mention of Speech O’er Spilled Milk here, it was something else. And somewhere along the way, I had mustered a competitive spirit, what with that fashionable fuchsia-toned, leather-bodied, shiny new adversary entering your life.

I roughed it out, and experienced, on many an occasion, the wretchedness of being disregarded. I was left moping desolately in a shell of lovelorn Haiku for eons, and had no sense of time, or word. The only way I could tell dawn from dusk was when my pelage glowed in distinct lights. Finally, you took me to a place filled with magic and mystery – the depths of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but before I could revel in my new-fangled destiny, you bequeathed me to the librarian who seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. She noticed me, and beckoned to you, but in a scuffle with the drop-box window, she rived me at the pelage. You nursed me, and tucked me cozily inside the Brand Positioning layers of Semenik, and I had my first encounter with Miss Magenta. I pored over her every pore, and noticed the tiny pair of doves she had etched on her in gold, like a gleaming Monsterrat amidst an isle of pristine pink. She wore a pretty ponytail, bound stylishly with a band of jagged-edged pelt. I must confess I was a trifle edgy and gauche being around her – she was soft, supple, and fresh as a daisy in that summer garden you took me to, bound in Marquez. But a tightening seized over us, which may well have been the work of your dainty fist, and I suddenly felt snug and secure (if you discount, of course, the fact that I was overwhelmed with feelings of being rather archaic).

That night, I bore an ache in my heart that no words can explain. My dearly beloved pelage passed - I had to let her go; it was inevitable, almost. She had endured a mutilation that was beyond repair, and the glue would perhaps have made her more and more discomfited. And the fact that there hasn’t been much of a breakthrough in paper surgery only made it worse. Today I recalled all those precious moments we shared, and I miss her a lot. She was my true crowning glory, and the little verse on friendship I carry on my hunch, I shall dedicate to her.

And now to us - we have many more words to imbibe and many more opuses to peruse. I really hope we can remain friends for a long time to come, and I have no qualms in letting Miss Magenta steer you through when I need some respite. I may be old, freckled, and wilting, but bear in mind, I have many friends (all your books are my friends), and I know more than you think (in my clan, age does bring some wisdom). Those Glimpses by Nehru, or say, those perplexing insights by Russel that you’ve passed up, I know them all. I know all about the beautiful russet woodpecker feather you had slipped in The Selfish Giant, and forgotten about. You need to allocate some more rapid movements and workouts for me, to help me stay fit; besides, learning, like hope, is a good thing. Well, I actually don’t mind staying here momentarily - Julie Ross is a delight, as are babies.

I’m not one to pompously display favoritism for genres, but I want to share one of my well-veiled secrets with you - I’ve really liked Ring Lardner, Bo and Albom, and needless to say, I like sports (I know you’ve been on and off with this). Do you think you could take me out to the ballgame, sometime? Oh, and you need a manicure.

Thursday, September 14

Facing the Music 

Raked this one up from the archives of a certain 'Humor Month' theme. Don't come telling us how to behave, now! Har har!

The act of crooning into an unsteadily set up microphone, for an audience of bespectacled, burned-out forty-plusers in the community was not exactly my idea of shooting into stardom overnight. Sure, there’d be other kids, but the most they’d get up to would be booing. Even at the tender age of six, I had it all neatly schemed out and strategized - there would be a red carpet, an audience of hundreds, a panel of the most esteemed judges, and of course, apart from a glittering tiara studded with diamonds and rubies, the grand prize would be an elegantly wrapped gift box with hordes of pricey goodies in it. I would be dressed in the snazziest, trendiest outfit, Cinderella shoes, and shimmering stars would cascade on me as I took stage, not to mention be proclaimed sole winner. In retrospect, I don’t think I pictured there would be other participants at all.

So when my mom proposed the idea to me, I refused downright. What infuriated me further was that the only judge they’d chosen was my friend’s dad - who, in my six-year-old mind, hadn’t the faintest knowledge of music, because, as I knew it, they seldom listened to any. In fact, he had once chided me for humming a perfectly melodic rhyme, as he was listening to a commentary of what he’d claimed to be the most crucial cricket match yet, on radio. And I certainly didn’t want someone like him, who couldn’t tell a donkey’s gun throat braying from a cuckoo’s sweet cooing, to call the shots. Besides, I was cut out for bigger things, and couldn’t care less about petty, local contests held in the vicinity of my own house.

Anyhow, my poor mother had to cajole and coax me into it one way or another - primarily because it was her way of encouraging me to showcase my talent, although it did occur to me that she cared more about being accepted in immediate social circles. So she made many promises - and the one that eventually lured me was the prize - she said she’d taken a peek into the stock, and the winner would get a stainless steel (it was the rage then, mind you) compartmentalized snack tray, a tall, sleek glass with my name etched on it (to drink Complan out of, she said), and a box of expensive chocolates. I couldn’t resist the offer, and so I jumped right in.

As fate would have it, I was the first contestant, and my entry had to be melodramatic. First, I tripped over those precariously connected wires, nearly fell off the rickety dais, and after I’d finally pieced myself together, the mic made an earsplitting, screeching noise and I was asked to move aside. I was sweating profusely and was feeling so intimidated that I wanted to flee. But they somehow managed to put things in order, and I finally had my chance. Sparing minor hiccups, I’d performed rather confidently, given my parents’ apprehensions, and couldn’t wait for cricket-crazy crackerjack to announce the results. Of course, I had declared all the other participants void, and my mom too had nodded, seemingly in agreement, when I had called a couple of them unmusical and plain raucous.

After what seemed like a yearlong wait, the results were finally announced, and I had won the second place. I was morbidly disappointed, and marched up rather hesitantly to accept the prize. My mom was waiting for me with open arms and a bar of Cadbury’s. I, on my part, was way too eager to rip the pack open - and when I did, I found a compartmentalized tray all right, but only with a few junky toffees scattered carelessly about. And before my mom could realize the enormity of the situation, I was back up on stage, demanding the organizers why I hadn’t been handed that glass to swig my daily dose of Complan from. My poor mom had probably gone underground by then, and even as I looked around with tear filled eyes, I noticed that crackerjack was laughing his head off, and then, of an abrupt sudden, my priorities shifted. And all I wanted was to hurl that tray at him and howl ragingly into his ears till he turned deaf.

A New Leaf Turns 

Our first attempt at a Sestina...ahem.

I watched as twilight hummed its way about,
draping itself across bittersweet skies.
I sat with my ear to the howling winds,
as trees fought them, effete and uneasy.
Blowing callously, tweaking leaf by leaf
they teased - heralding fall, or swaying clout?

Even as I wondered about this flighty clout
the trees, to imperious tunes waltzed about;
lured by the fallacy, each flailing leaf
they ceded to skulking vows of the sun
Like reflections of missions uneasy -
countless hopes, dismissed by destiny’s winds.

Sewn to life’s lubricious subtleties, winds
of change, seizing our lives with a brazen clout;
stippling our fates as we rise and fall, uneasy,
their ploy leads us to contemplate about
ephemeral triumphs under the sun -
the same light that nourishes every leaf.

Thus, it must take many a trusting leaf,
to deem fine, the spite of the gusty winds,
akin to our naïve Geoid, about the sun,
as He quells Her tenderness with much clout,
leaving little for Her to muse about,
as she smolders in His splendor, uneasy.

In this carnal cycle, albeit uneasy,
trees evolve - in spring, turning a new leaf;
in summer, they flourish and go about
life, unbeknownst to the infernal winds,
possessing upon their resolve no clout;
unto autumn yielding, under a waning sun.

Like a sudden stir, a flash of the sun,
vagrant leaves beetling on trees uneasy,
had deciphered the syllogism of clout.
When one heeds there’s much to learn from a leaf;
while drifting aimlessly in shifty winds,
embracing change is what life’s all about.

To wake each day to the clout of the sun,
to go about life like impetuous winds -
timeless quest - like an uneasy fall leaf.

Friday, September 1

What Do You Suppose Buber Thinks? 

It seems like such a terrible shame that innocent civilians have to get hurt in wars, otherwise combat would be such a wonderfully healthy way to rid the human race of unneeded trash.
~ Fred Woodworth

One may well adapt the connotation of combat in the above wise precept to cold wars, so to speak, in the light of some recent appalling occurrences. An online network of aspiring, extremely gifted writers that functions perfectly well, sparing the occasional hiccup (seldom, unfortunately, brought on by the creative, mad spark; and rather habitually, by basic human vices, like ego, jealousy, and insecurity), was contaminated with unnecessary flotsam and jetsam. Hence the allusion to combat, which, I’m happy to report, has successfully expunged it all away.

Shakespeare & Company is more of a religion to those who belong in it, and less of a ‘network.’ The fact that it is run by two highly qualified, and proficient Indians notwithstanding, we’ve come together as one, leaving our ethnicities and qualms behind, to read, write, experiment, take risks, break rules, make mistakes, learn from each other, and most of all, to have fun doing so. And I’m sure Mary Lou Cook would be happily perched atop our groupthink fence on this (and enjoying a tea too, perhaps, as art, unlike creativity, is to learn which mistakes to make, as well as keep, and can certainly be discussed and comprehended over a cuppa; ah well, don’t be bemused to see Scott Adams by her side). Some of us write for a living, some don’t; but we all share a common love for the English language. We write on specific themes, we offer and receive critiques (some helpful, some not-so-helpful), we revel in our own little puddles of glory and we take pride in our creations as a general rule. And given that we are first a group of humans, before we are wordsmiths, there’s bound to be a tiff here and a spat there. But we live, and we learn. (Of course, the callow, unmilled ones have taken the proverbial walk out, leaving much to be desired). And being a group of humans, first, as it were, we possess (we are not taught these things at a special school on the slickly scythed lawns of the Queen’s parlor) a basic idea of courteousness. And once we lose sense of that, we lose ourselves and everyone around us - no rocket scientist cipher this - you behave insolently and you’re damned - just a way of the world. For those of us that have been fortunate enough to be closely associated with our dear leaders, it is not untrue that we have, at one point or another, imbibed their values, and whetted our own. We all have our bad days, and we all wrestle with our writer’s blocks, and so forth. But, at the end of the day, we’re all just contented to have read something that touched us, stirred us, inspired us, amused us, or plain enlightened us. Some of us have real names, some acquired, and some taken on, but it hardly matters, given that we respect the written word and do not disrespect the pen that slings its ink. To create and fashion a work of (he)art is not to let the body or the soul suffer, nor let the hourglass define its bounds and beyond, but quite simply to let joyful labor orchestrate the path for it. (At least Gyorgy believed so, and he was super successful).

Well, before we take the high road [JJ - no, we’re not stooping to abominable levels, but I think a little snickering wouldn’t hurt, so let’s indulge a wee bit before we grapple with the kink :)] I would like to forewarn the unapprised about some mysterious, new-fangled facets of this group:

1) If you’re a student, a mother, or say, a banker, already in the USA, go to the nearest Starbucks and grab your Tazo Chais before logging on to the network. Also, leave a dime behind, which will eventually go towards funding a stealth Shakespearean pocket money scheme.
2) If you’re elsewhere, and have a keen interest in the workings of the American Embassy, google the term “Green Card,” for, google is what can turn you into an instant scholar of all things. Then write a pantoum, or say, a sestina about it. If you cannot, too bad -- so blame it on the complexities of composing such verse forms, and join the devil in a conga in the abyss of your idle mind.
3) For everyone else -- all poets, thinkers, readers, and writers of prose in general -- come and get free publicity for your work on the network -- the internet and its walls have ears, and well, eyes, a nose, and a mouth too.
4) If you’re any of the above, and are, for some queer reason, taking a jab at a quack Sherlockian expression, it is important that you gauge your proximity to the fire -- it could wuther and burn you down to a crisp.
5) Last, but not least, if you are even remotely aware of the meaning of the word literature and how it relates to civility, do not, under even the severest of conditions, heed the Zoetropes, or the wares they endorse.

Har har, har-de-har. Onwards now to the pair of what-nots, and many more fun, creative things to come. Here’s to Shakespeare & Company, and a jumbo group-hug awaits Pragya and JJ for conceptualizing, building, and nurturing it. Here's also, to new beginnings, and new successes.

That said, I believe that one is never too young, or too old, but can get by, and can indeed be glorious if one hasn’t unlearned how to begin. And I wonder what Buber thinks.