Monday, December 31, 2007

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again and for once, I'm not going to mimble-wimble or fiddle-faddle my way through this post. Of course not, especially not since it's been such a decisive year, what with important dreams being put on hold yet again, taxing relationships and maddening work, and my finally making the break from an industry I intensely disliked. And I must admit, that the break is perhaps the best decision that I've made in the last three years.

You see, I love that I've got back in the groove of my life as I used to know it. Getting enough rest, reading, watching movies, writing... calling friends when I said I would. I've finally addressed the one great complaint of my life — Goa. I've consolidated some relationships and agonised and stepped away from others. I've drowned summery, buttery peace and wintery, slanting solitude. It all doesn't seem very different from any other year but in quietness, I've known that it is. Finally, I've known and accepted that this break cannot last much longer but I do not think that I will ever be able to be gainfully employed without needing to take a break for a few months, every few years.

I am back this morning from an enlightening (in far more ways than one) trip to Banglore, armed to face the New Year with a number of new books (yes, yes, I did it again — and my mother's ready to kill me again!) and enough movies to keep me busy till 2009. If only my break would last that long. But I will suffice to leave you with this utterly gorgeous poem and wish you a happy New Year, my dears. I do hope the year is as liberating and edifying as the last six months have been.

Year’s End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

-- Richard Wilbur

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Leader of the Free World and some Billy Joel

According to The Onion, when finally acknowledging the existence of carbon dioxide, Bush has this to say:
"Carbon dioxide, a molecule which contains one atom of carbon bonded with two atoms of oxygen, is a naturally occurring colorless gas exhaled by humans and metabolized, in turn, by plants," Bush told a stunned White House press corps. "As a leading industrialized nation, we can no longer afford to ignore the growing consensus of so many experts whose job it is to study our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is real."
The rest of this great article is here and you must check out the War on Criticism. I just love these guys!!


A request I couldn't ignore — not when a song asks as nicely as this one does. As someone's who's recently quit the IT industry, I found this hugely hilarious. Great script and a fantastic soundtrack! Also, all the people involved (from what I can tell) are in the IT industry — just makes it so much more fun, don't you know.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mumbai Unplug: Batti Bandh

A random acquaintance sent this along a while ago and I've been waiting impatiently for December to post about it! You see, Mumbai's finally going to be unplugged. Although I really wish they'd used Bombay!

In the organisers' words:

Batti Bandh is an entirely voluntary event taking place on the 15th of December between 7:30 & 8:30 p.m. This event is aimed at requesting all of Mumbai to stand up for a cause that is greater than all of us. All you need to do is switch off lights and appliances in your home, shop, office, school, college or anywhere you are for 1 hour to take a stand against global warming. Just 1 hour.
Inspired by the Earth Hour initiative in Sydney, the Batti Bandh initiative is run by Keith Menon, Neil Quraishy, Rustom Warden, Shiladitya Chakraborty, and some of their friends. And from where I left the website a few months ago, they've come a long way.

Currently, Batti Bandh is not only supported by a number of government organisations (including the BMC, BEST, and MSEB), NGOs (including Greenpeace and Helpage India), various corporates (including Philips, Vodafone, and the Mumbai Hoarding Association!!), and media organisations, it is also supported by the UN and the WWF.

Admirably, the good people at Mumbai Unplug have managed to involve the students of Sophia College (my alma mater!), Bhavan's College, SIES Nerul, SIES Matunga/Sion, KC College, and HR College with various activities like human chains and campaigning outside college premises with eco-message placards. Even the Oberoi Hotel, now the Hilton Towers, will switch off their facade lights for the event. You can read about all the support Batti Bandh's garnered here and here.

Check out the entire website actually, there's information available not only about the event but also about global warming and what you can do to combat it. In addition, you can find about the people who have driven this fantastic idea, and how to get involved with it. Very helpfully, the website tells you what you can do for that one hour with no lights on. :-)

It might seem like a silly and inconsequential thing to do for an hour but it's important that we each make this stand. For all the nay-sayers who might say how this cannot really help, it cannot possibly hurt to try, you know. It's easy to say that one hour might not do anything in the bigger scheme of things but it's really about taking the first step. Earlier, where I was only marginally concerned about my bit for global warming, I'm now militant about plastic bags and things like unplugging all appliances and phone chargers that aren't in use. They may be small things but they all contribute. You can't always solve a problem entirely at the first go. Sometimes, it takes a lot of small steps.

Especially true of a place like Bombay. As much as I love my city, I know that it can sometimes be very apathetic. A number of citizen initiatives have enjoyed a great deal of support initially but have fizzled out just a little further down the road. This once, many different parts and people of Bombay will come together to make a difference. If on the 15th of January 2008, even an infinitesimal percentage of these people remember why they pledged their support to Batti Bandh and continue to do so in their own ways, Mumbai Unplug will have been an unqualified success.

Right then people, spread the word, blog about it, tell your friends and family — do whatever you can to support Batti Bandh. And most importantly, switch of your lights on Saturday between from 7:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m and help Bombay unplug. Finally, as part of Batti Bandh, there is going to be a concert in Bandra, at Carter Road, where the ex-reviewer will be performing. This isn't just my bias but he really is a pretty great singer. Check the website for more details on other events.

*Image courtesy the version of the Mumbai Unplug website I first saw.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Eating Poetry

I don't read as much poetry as I would like to. To my excuse-making mind, it is the unfortunate fallout of not being in an academic space any more. I completed my Masters in English nearly five years ago and it's been at least that long since I've had proper access to poetry. You see, most good libraries — actually, make that all — are well across the city and too far for regular use. And should I, by some fortuitous circumstance, come across a good collection of poetry at Landmark, I know without looking at the tag that the book is beyond my meagre means. Thus, I am abysmally ill-informed about recent poets and their poetry.

So while on this break of mine, I set about attempting to rectify my ignorance. I imposed on a fellow blogger's kindness and asked for the addresses of the best houses of poetry. The said blogger was very patient and promptly sent back an e-mail full of directions. Ever since, I have diligently jumped from rooftops, discovering entirely new halls of beauty. But yesterday, randomly picking a new route across unknown alleys, as I am wont to do, I came across a poem I knew. A poem that has never lost a constant meaning in my life — not for the last seven years at least.

It was a crackling winter afternoon in Hyderabad, when the sun had bleached everything ashen: a day when I felt ready to break, overwhelmed in the still agony of a beautiful melancholy. I remember that time: that was a rickety year. I was away from home in an almost alien environment and culture, a first, real relationship was crumbling, and friendships were shaky. And how did one begin to negotiate, or even interact with, the unbearable lightness, the intellectual turbulence, that came with devouring the sort and the amount of writing that I was exposed to then?

That afternoon, as I walked past the mail tray on my way up to my hostel room, there lay in it a letter for me. Even in a time of e-mail, there were still a few people with whom I exchanged that special pleasure of handwritten letters. This particular one was from a professor that I was quite close to through my Bachelors. She'd received my letter a few weeks ago, she wrote, but being preoccupied with exams, she hadn't had a chance to reply. In fact, her letter was written on an examination answer booklet: she had written to me while invigilating an exam.

She wrote me the loveliest letter: full of a faith that I did not have in myself. She told me what I knew but could not believe, that this, too, would pass. She also reminded me of the reasons I'd come to Hyderabad for, of the things I wanted from my Masters, and where I'd hoped they would take me... In the very last paragraph, she wrote that she was enclosing a poem for me. She hoped that I'd be able to identify with it and know that there was equilibrium in my trembling.

Copied out by hand, this poem is amongst the most precious, steadying gifts I've ever received.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

-- Theodore Roethke


One last thing, yes? One of the things that was so special about poetry, and indeed literature in a classroom, was the very different sense of discovery at being introduced to the writing — as opposed to discovering it myself. I've spent many days in a white/yellow classroom listening to, and often watching, the rhythms and layers of a poem surprise me from over the shoulder of an oddly-placed word on a grey, photocopied page or in a small office at the back of the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad. Seeing my pleasure in a poem mirrored in a favourite professor's eyes and their pride in me — certainly one of the more profound rewards of my Masters.

Friday, December 07, 2007


It's finally done. An entire journey chronicled.

This is the last of the Goa posts. I can't quite believe that I've managed to finish the tale, especially after my last attempt with a chronicle. Nor can I quite believe that you've actually read so patiently through all these posts, listening to ravings, rantings, and some observations. But now that it's come to this, I'd like to finish with this story, the product of a perhaps too much fine, fine feni drunk watching sparrows on a mellow afternoon at Brittos.

You see, sometimes (very, VERY rarely) being high brings out a bit (only a VERY LITTLE BIT, I will have you know!!) of the "cutesy-chick" in me. Hence, I am given to laughing dementedly and some other stuff that's best reserved for over a vodka. Whenever it is that you and I meet, hmm? Well, on this particular occasion at Brittos, while trying to get the sparrows and my hand to stay still for many, many MB of photographs, I couldn't stop saying "Birdy Num-Num"... followed by a highly embarrassing giggle. And not for the love of anything at all could I remember where — or when — I'd heard the phrase. But irritatingly stuck it was in my head anyway.

Some more feni later, I was convinced that Birdy Num-Num was a song I'd heard in the far reaches of the distant past, I gave the bloody words a tune, don't you know. I sang it all the way back to the hotel room and until I finally gave into the high and promptly fell asleep, much to the mirth of the ex-reviewer. Unfortunately, I came back to Bombay only to realise that the phrase wasn't my hitherto unsuspected but sublimely brilliant musical talent shining through.

Tch, tch, and tch but the photo is cute anyway!

Birdy Num-Num

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dil Chahta Hai

While it may seem that my time in Goa was spent either being a beach bum or exploring Panjim, it should be known that it wasn't. You see, the minute I found out that Charpora Fort at Vagator Beach was where they'd filmed Dil Chahata Hai, it was on the non-negotiable list of things to do. No, no, I don't have any great love for the film, don't you know. But the place looked so incredibly lovely in the film, not to mention inviting, representing all that I’d ever thought Goa would be: being still, connecting with myself and friends... about newness and susegaad.

And so, in the pursuit of the closed-for-the-off-season Lila Café for a much recommended breakfast, we found ourselves indolently following the green and blue back roads of the Baga river down to Anjuna and Vagator. I don't think that we intended to ride as far as we did, but accompanied by the sparkling, twinkling Baga river, following these roads became very special and much fun. You see, they're where I finally learned to ride the Activa without falling apart like unmoulded jelly. They're also where the ex-reviewer began to take a fledging interest in photography and for once, allowed me to take the lead, without heckling me at all!

We arrived in Anjuna first, and I must be honest, I didn’t like the vibe of the area much — although it may also just have been my eagerness to get to Vagator. Over a beer and some beef, I cajoled my way into Vagator and twenty minutes later, we were at the smaller Orzant beach. But seeing that it was too crowded with people and their buses, we went down to the main Vagator beach. It wasn’t much better there because there were at least a million people milling around too little beach.

In the hurry to escape the crush, I completely forgot about the wonderful Shiva face an unknown artist sculpted out of the rocks on Vagator. Check out the missed photo-op
here. Sigh...

A short distance later, we sat down at a place called Willy's Shack, only to walk right out because the man didn’t serve Goan food. Without much of a choice, we settled on a restaurant called Tintin’s right opposite the road. It was still opening for the season and turned out to be one of the better food decisions we've made in Goa.

Along with what were most certainly the best beef chops in creation, Tintin's had the saddest dog ever imaginable hanging around. The little mutt kept looking at the ex-reviewer and I miserably throughout our meal! He must finally have made away with a decent portion of my chop but there was just nothing you could do to chase him away. No matter what, he'd just keep coming back and giving us that hungry, mewly look from under under his heavy, sorry brows and we'd be lost.

After firmly refusing to share my beef curry and languidly finishing my King's in the mild afternoon light, to Chapora Fort it was. Having looked at it from the beach and having watched Dil Chahta Hain, you know that the fort is perched atop a cliff and can be approached directly from the beach. The guidebook is kind enough to warn you that this is a route only for the seriously fit. Right then, we were off to an access point that's further uphill. It's still a decently vertical climb and by the time I got into the fort, I just needed some water, of which there was none, and some sitting... and staring.
The Ex-Reviewer at Chapora
Chapora is gorgeous — and peaceful — in its green, gold, and red colours that are so beautifully encased in blue. Instead of the hordes infesting the beach below, small groups of people dot the ruins, sitting around, sharing the sea. There's not much noise — only you, the sun, the sea, and this great hunch-backed lizard of a hillock protruding into the sea. You can climb a good distance down the lizard, almost to the sea but I contented myself with the broken ramparts. It's an interesting experience, visually, to stare out endless, open ocean on one side and a waving golden meadow nestled admist ancient ruins on the other.

From the northern ramparts, you can see across a small creek to Morjim Beach (the photo below), part of the stretch of the non-touristy, northern-most beaches. The view is terrifying in its beauty and scope. I cringe while writing this but there is nothing more magnificent than the sea. And watching it at various places in Goa, I've realised just how much I've missed it these past three years. I've missed all those nights spent at my window watching the lights from Madh Island (or from the bays down to Bandra) dance tantalisingly on the ominously dark water. There is something about standing on a cliff, watching the sea swell and break, the vista stretching as far as your imagination, that reinforces its uncontrollability and untamed nature... that reinforces how small we seem in comparison and how incredible it is that we can actually do the sea real harm.

Chapora Fort II

Remember how I used carry on about being the only 27 year-old who’d not been to Goa in 23 years? How all my memories of Goa were a four year-old's? Well, all of these said memories revolve around the Taj Beach Resort at Fort Aguada. We’d go in a large group of my parents’ friends and their families, all of us waking early for boisterous walks on what I now know is Sinquerim Beach. Those were mornings spent fighting over shells and walking the ocean's edge to come back to a sumptuous buffet breakfast. We'd spend the rest of the day at the resort, venturing only to the beach in the early evening or at sunset. We must have made a few trips the Sinquerim Lighthouse because I've always recognised easily it from other people's pictures, but I don't think we explored any more than that.

Unfortunately, I don't have very clear memories of the Fort, despite living at a hotel built into it. I cannot remember if we ever climbed up the completely intact northern rampart or went down to the southern-most, but ruined, boundary of the fort. I can only remember seeing a huge building outlined in the distance while walking on the beach. My memories now are coloured with the ancient red-black beauty of the northern parts of Fort Aguada and of the views it offers. It is, I think, worth the time to stand facing the fort and watch the waves beat ceaselessly against the resolute rampart.

Fort Aguada IV

In retrospect, I think my reaction to Utorda was based on a childhood memory of Aguada: quiet, almost entirely deserted, and strewn with fish and shells. Today, expectedly, Aguada is more touristy and commercial, infinitely more than the Charpora Fort. It’s also too crowded because of all the water sports and the fact that you can take cars up to the southern end. I tell you, there are just far too many cretins in this world that want to drag their Scorpios up a path, not even a road, meant at best for two cycles riding abreast. But I suppose the view is worth it, no?

Fort Aguada II

More photos on Flickr if you'd like to see them!