Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poetry and Bookstores

I encountered Carol Ann Duffy during the first year of my Masters when a professor read out selections from The World's Wife. Unfortunately, I've not had a chance to get very much better acquainted with her since then because all her books at the British Library are almost always out and I'm yet to come across her at a bookstore in Bombay. To boot, the ever-dependable Internet has too few of the same poems all over the place.

The real, if hidden, moral of the story is that if one of you feels generous enough to want to send me any of her work, please don't hesitate to ask for my address. :-)

So here's an utterly gorgeous poem I came across here. There's another one posted there as well but I liked this one better. Also, you'll find a pretty comprehensive profile of Duffy here.


I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.


I've always thought there are few places as incredible and intriguing as a book store and that there are too few of that variety in Bombay. On a recent trip around Europe, Plain Jane and K spent a few evenings in Paris during the course of which they explored Shakespeare and Company. The both of them generously thought first of me while they were there. Even more generously, they brought back a wonderful print of a lovely painting of it for me.

An iconic English book store in Paris, Shakespeare and Co has flourished under Slyvia Beach and George Whitman and is quite an important place. For example, did you know that it was Beach who first published Ulysses? From all of K's photos and the ones on the Net, it seems like the most delicious hodge-podge of a place. It's dark, crowded with books in a seeming mess, and looks intriguingly inviting. The best part is that in exchange for working two hours a day in the book store, reading a book day, and making your own bed, you can stay in the upper part of the store as long as you like. And as far as I can tell, while I'm unemployed, I'm definitely in the wrong city!

P.S The Wikipedia article led me to Jeremy Mercer's top 10 book stores. All ten sound really, really delectable, I tell you! Sigh...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Monsoon of Mangoes

Longing is a terrible, terrible thing. A longing that can be satisfied only ten months later is enough to drive a sane woman mad in her fingers. On a rainy evening, by not wanting pizza, it began like this.

On the way to and from some pretty brilliant Goan curries is a little market. It spreads in a clumsy diagonal cross that seems to spill from a round main square into small squiggly lanes. It's a fascinating place because in the evenings, under naked bulbs shaded by waterproof paper plates sit more than one fruit and vegetable seller. The wonky circles of light from under the shiny plate always make the produce look so appealing. Add small beads of rain and there's a beautiful shot.

Knowing that I was going to get out of the cold, out of the rain, and go home to a warm and incredibly delicious meal made me want dessert. And in that moment, the only thing that seemed enticing and desirable, far above even a bar of Galaxy chocolate, was a fruit that wasn't even there — a mango. And with that one thought, I was utterly lost... and still am!

You see, mangoes are nearly a religion in my home, especially with my mother and I. As far as we see it, the only conceivable riches of summer are carton upon carton of mangoes, dozen after dozen of lush aphus and juicy pairee. Each season starts with the usual discussions of how odiously expensive they are, what unconscionable thieves the mango sellers are, and how it will still be a while until we can have the first lot home.

Among my earliest childhood memories is sneaking into the kitchen well past my bedtime to raid the mangoes. It is an achievement beyond most five year-olds, I'll have you know, to be able to identify a single ripe mango from a great, ugly carton of them by smell alone. That in the darkness I could leave the mess of ripped skin and seed in one corner, clean my hands on a towel, leave it lying around, and waltz back to bed qualifies me for prodigy-hood. In fact, it's the only story my mum still tells about me — with pride too!

Many seasons later in Hyderabad, I discovered benishaan, himayat, and rasaal on the crowded streets of Mehdipatnam while scrambling for the 216/217 that took me back to campus. Back in dingy hostel rooms, crowded around the mango-cutter designate, I learned something of the useless arrogance of Alphonso. I learned the new shapes, colours, and textures of an old beloved and fell in love all over again.

Indeed, something about the taste and texture and even the colour of a mango infallibly evokes a sense of well-being. The intermingling fragrance of the fruit and the hay in the carton always speaks of summer holidays and childhood. There is also something so guiltless about a mango. Yes, yes, I know it's got the calories of the world and it makes you break out. But the guilt attached to a chocolate rum mousse cannot begin to compare to the lightness, the simplicity of one, two, or even five mangoes — at a single sitting!

Sigh... only for the mangoes, I tell you. Summer, anyone?