Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A piece of apple floats in a sea of absolute delight.

So much I've been eating, so much I've been eating. Mygawd.

Dhansak and custard and bread pudding and tender coconut icecream and chunky chocolate icecream and mango lassi and Philadelphia cheesecake and molten chocolate birthday cake and red velvet cupcakes and carrot cake cupcakes with a little carrot drawn in cream on top. 

How can people not enjoy food? How can people not want to roam the world and eat all the pretty and exotic and interesting things in sight?

I have discovered scones. Contrary to all expectations, they do not look like cones. I always imagined them looking like those cheap cream puffs with orange cream in the hollow centre. They are so good boss. I want to wear a hat made of one large scone and nibble away gently at it whenever the mood strikes. If I could do this, I would turn my milliner into a millionaire.

So Tea Centre has been next to my office for some 8 months now and I never stepped into it because I always thought "Meh who's going to pay so much money for chaaaaaaaaaai." I have now eaten my words and a large portion of their ridiculously good menu.

They have this wonderful nonsense thing called hot buttered apple tea and it is like wholeseome happy warmth in a cup. It is what cuddles are made of. It is the tangible version of the feeling you get when you glance at someone and catch them looking at you with gentle unwavering affection and a promise of many beautiful things to come and see yourself reflected in their glasses looking puzzled and so very happy. 

I'm leaving this office in a few days and this makes me sad for the sole reason that I want to be  able to pop next door and spend several Bombay monsoon days in Tea Centre's chairs with a book and a pot of this tea.

Cannot wait for the monsoon. This weather makes me want to go bald and then throw my hair at the sun in a desperate act of frustration that would achieve absolutely nothing but make people stare at me in astonishment and maybe buy me a cup of tea to calm me down?

Friday, April 26, 2013

On the beautiful absurdity of Douglas Adams.

If someone asked me my favourite author of all time, in a heartbeat I’d say it was Douglas Adams. I regularly have a good natured yet heated debate with a friend who dislikes his books. “They’re too smug”, she complains, and I’m always taken aback that anyone could feel anything but overwhelming affection for this man and his work.

I read the Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently series when I was 16 and they instantly struck a chord with me. At that age they taught me to stop taking myself too seriously and to appreciate the value of the bizarre; to give free reign to my imagination and let it leap and wander into fantastic places it had never been before. Absurd was not a pejorative anymore and logic was no limitation to anything. It might have just been due to fortuitous timing, but I would gladly attribute all of my imagination, lateral thought and humour to having being shaped by Douglas Adams.

In the foreword to A Salmon of Doubt, Stephen Fry has expressed a perfect perfect sentiment. He mentions that Adams’ work appears to speak to you, the reader, and to you alone. That although everyone else might admire him, you feel like you’re the only person who truly understands and connects with what he is saying. You feel chosen, special.

"It's like falling in love. When an especially peachy Adams turn of phrase or epithet enters the eye and penetrates the brain you want to tap the shoulder of the nearest stranger and share it. The stranger might laugh and seem to enjoy the writing, but you hug to yourself the thought that they didn't quite understand its force and quality the way you do- just as your friends (thank heavens) don't also fall in love with the people you are going on and on about to them."

It’s as though Fry was reading my mind. As irrational as it may seem, words cannot describe how irreparably hurt I was when I read this. To learn that exactly what I felt was shared by countless others, to hear this emotion described as the result of a clever writing style, it stung. I was terribly jealous of everyone else in the world who had felt this connection; I wanted to be the only one. Such is Adams’ genius, he really has communicated so strikingly, as though he was speaking to you individually and appealing to your taste without even trying. And not with evidently deep insights either, though his over the top humour and zaniness have an underlying truth about the world and its people. You read what may seem like a sci-fi story about maniacal aliens and might not immediately realise you have read a book on existentialism and the human condition.

Adams’ style is simple enough that the lack of structure in his stories is a plot device by itself. His metaphors and similes are unparalleled; many have tried to replicate his style of description and always fallen short. The leaps of his imagination would’ve put a Kentucky Derby horse to shame (see, I just tried and failed) and not once did he seem to let sanity be an impediment to his expression. He’s used unfathomable comparisons that you’d never think could work but are absolutely spot-on. A few remarkable sentences stay with you long after the books are done and gone, which is what makes them so eminently quotable. None of it makes a whole lot of sense, except… it all does. The characters are all extreme parodies of their type, the situations they find themselves in are utterly ridiculous and yet everything comes together in a harmoniously chaotic way that no one could have foreseen.

You’ll see I haven’t bothered to describe any of the books in detail. They’re too implausible, too rich in wit and humour to be successfully summarised. Every time I reread any of them, I find something fresh and new and marvel at his brilliance, at his turns of phrase, at his strange thought process. The inexplicable worlds created by Adams will always be something you’ll wish you could experience for real.

“The Galaxy's a fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear.”

Pushkar: There will be a show tonight.

Five years of college in Jodhpur meant five years of hunting for free weekends so we could hop on a bus and be off to Pushkar. We travelled all over the state back then, but kept coming back to Pushkar.  

Pushkar is dusty, Pushkar is crowded, Pushkar is the most charming place in Rajasthan.

The main part of town is one long winding street. Wide and calm in certain places and impossibly narrow and raucous in others, walking the length of the market is the best part of any trip there. Quaint roadside cafes with cows brushing by you as you eat, people of all nationalities dressed in outrageous clothes, shopkeepers selling stuff ranging from clothes and jewelry to antique swords and metal lingerie, who seem to enjoy haggling more than making a sale, there are always way too many things to look at.

The place we usually stayed at had a lovely green lawn where we’d spend our nights, sitting in a circle with our drinks, playing the occasional bawdy game of charades. There were 2 gentle tortoises on that lawn. We once had to convince someone not to use one as a pillow. The tortoise seemed to appreciate our efforts.

Pushkar is a fully vegetarian town. Contrary to all expectations, it doesn’t actually matter. The food is so good, even the most seasoned carnivores don’t miss the meat. Though most of the places serve excellent food, Israeli and Italian food is what should be given priority.

Once we set out for a proper food trip. We started at one corner of the town and ate our way through it. Various dishes made with hummus and falafel, the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever eaten, a strange wrap called a Mars Bar Roll, the ubiquitous popular dessert called Hello to the Queen, we ate so so much. After all this, we couldn’t do much but lie down on the grass and give those tortoises some company.

The town is actually alcohol free, so you need to source your liquor from nearby Ajmer or look for people who peddle it on the sly. Most people however, prefer to have the local bhaang drinks that are sold everywhere.  Any food item with the word “special” in the name means it contains bhaang. Special juice, special lassi, special Nutella pancake anyone?

A friend once told me a fun fun story once about how his parents went with him to Pushkar to see the Hanuman temple there. They unknowingly had a lot of Special Mixed Fruit Juice and gave him hell for it later. It’s probably best to keep your adults on a tight leash when you’re there with them.

The people here are very friendly. Also, slightly batty. Sadhus lurk near the lake to spot couples and immediately bless them with a future that has marriage and several children. Waiters go out of their way to give you food recommendations. Shopkeepers start chatting with you if you linger at their shops, and make surprisingly accurate guesses as to where you’re from.

I remember being offered a pinwheel by a stranger in a tiger mask who then saluted me and ran away. Another time, someone stopped us, handed us flowers and told us that if we threw them away, the apocalypse would be upon us all. Yet another time, a Tamil waiter in a café gave us all free drinks because he heard one of us speaking in Tamil and claimed to feel a special bond with us.

I miss going here at every possible opportunity. Sitting by the lakeside, eating truly spectacular food, watching the sun set over a wall featuring the work of the local graffiti artist, Kikasso (oh yeah), with friendly stray dogs at your feet, I miss that. Stepping out after dark into the empty streets dotted with sleeping cows, joining a group of stoned foreigners quietly playing cards outside a tea stall, I miss that.

Being in Pushkar is like being inside the video of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. It’s easy to imagine that a circus is set up exclusively for you, every single time you visit. The performers dance, the crowds entertain and when you leave it shuts down and packs itself away, waiting for you to come back and take part in the show.

“As Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don't be late.”

Random out of place book review

No, really.

A while back I wrote a couple of articles for an online magazine that seems to have shut shop in a rather dramatic manner. (See! Whatay.) I'm going to put those articles here because clearly I'm a hoarder and life will fall to pieces without proper categorisation. 
Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox

Picture a stack of Russian dolls; each doll being of a different colour, each having a different countenance, each enveloping a drastically different smaller doll. One with a face so angelic that you want to caress it gently, the next with blood-stained fangs bared, ready to pounce and rip out your soul. That is Mr. Fox.

Mr. Fox is mystical and magical and is a handful of utter confusion. It revolves around an author named St. John Fox, his wife Daphne and the woman he loves, his closest friend, his muse, a figment of his imagination, Mary Foxe. What begins as a narrative between St. John and Mary, in which she berates him for conveniently murdering all the female characters in his books, quickly turns into a furious challenge in which they weave each other into stories they make up; some poignant, some gruesome, all entirely touching and fascinating. As this game progresses, St. John and Mary grow closer and closer, and Daphne begins to suspect her husband is having an affair.

The novel has a rather sparse main plotline. The bulk of the book is made up of the fantastical stories that the characters create for and around each other. It’s hard to always tell who the narrator is of the one you’re reading and what possible implication it could have on the main plot, but it makes you want to figure it out. What slowly develops is a tangled web in which you realize you don’t fully know what is real and what isn’t. Your grasp on the thread of the story may seem tenuous as times, as it darts dizzyingly between fantasy and reality. Could Mary actually be real? How much does Daphne know? Could it be possible at all that the main characters are just losing their minds?

Though the book raises more questions than it provides answers for, you realise you don’t actually care. As each short story laid out by your trio of fictional narrators envelops you, you are drawn into their twisted world teeming with wonder, intrigue and chaos. The initial short stories are quick and light and are satisfying on their own, but as the book progresses, the stories get deeper, more intricate, more complicated. You’re disoriented at times. You actively, desperately hunt out the significance they could have on the main plot of the novel.

Mr. Fox could be construed as a quirky take on violence against women, it could be an innovative rehashing of Bluebeard and various folk tales, it could just be a tale of a great love that could never possibly be. You could choose to see this novel as a whole and take it to your heart or if you prefer, you could ignore the main plot and view it as a series of unconnected whimsical and compelling short stories. Either way, if you like books that make you think, if you don’t mind sifting through a little confusion to get to some beautiful nuggets of prose, give this book a read.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I love me some .mobi

I read my own blog yesterday, the dusty old posts forgotten by all, hiding in the aether. Words buried in old web pages, unseen by anyone except the odd spambot.

I am simultaneously embarrassed and jealous. Embarrassed because I was an idiot. Jealous because, well, I used to be a fun idiot. I used to think of such strange and wonderful things that just do not occur to me anymore. As though the little spinning pinwheel that is inside my soul, powering my imagination and coherence, is slowly being worn away. Soon it will be but a little pile of confetti.

The bright inquisitiveness and exuberance of the youth of yesterday and all that.

I have started reading the Sandman series. I LOVE IT. It took me long enough to make my way to graphic novels. They never appealed to me. What story can be there with drawings yaar, even though the drawings are pretty awesome, I used to think. Whadda fool whadda fool I was.

The WORDS. Are amazing. The illustrations, the expressions on the faces, the intricate little details that most people might just miss, it's all so yummy.

The actual thing is… Tangible things I have to DO that seem to have no end in sight seem daunting as fark to me. This is probably the real reason I never gave comics a go. From what I can tell, the first in any series was published a million years ago, there are an infinite number of comics in any given series and an infinite number of series. With no end. None. They all stretch till forever. When most of humanity is dead and gone, new issues of comics will still be churned out because that’s just what’s done. The feeling of beginning something I can probably never hope to end is unpleasant. And of course I have to end it, I’m not a philistine.

In fact, that is my one and only grouse with my darling Kindle. When I read a book, no matter how much I like it, I am comforted by the solid feel of the remaining pages. I happily burrow through the book, looking to emerge at the other end, always feeling an irrational reassurance in always knowing how much remains to get through. With my kindle, the information that I have 47% of the book to get through isn't as encouraging as the feel of the real thing.

But SO. I am getting over it. More comics shall eventually be read.

I go through phases in which I read like a woman possessed and phases in which I feel repulsed when I so much as think of beginning a new book and go for weeks and months without reading. I've come to realise that I'm happiest when there is a new chapter to look forward to, new sentences to feel awestruck about, new authors who I want to hug and/or maul.

I now leave you with one of my (many) favorite concepts from Sandman.

PS- I luvvit and all but Gaiman is good at being a sexist pig from time to time. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Stud of the month

The train tracks in Bombay are like a strong gushing river, flowing along mercilessly. You, my little rivulets, may branch off from the river and try to make your own path, but after wandering in a pointless little circle, you will be drawn back. You will ride the current, you will go with the flow. It's at the centre of your existence. So scurry along, you who think the trains are just a means to facilitate you, should you choose to take it. 

You'll see.

It seems that over the past year, I have lost 10 kg. That I am not remotely skinny after all this stands testament to how blimp-like I was earlier. Hooray for meeee. But there are, and have been, impediments galore, the main one being my willpower which is so weak that it would topple over mightily if a nearby puppy sneezed.

I ran a 10 km race 3 weeks ago, but I've been so euphoric about it that I've stopped running and started eating to celebrate. Chocolate? Hey I ran 10 km! Ice cream? 10 km baybeh! Dirty Chinese food? Hey, I'm the stud of the month.

I miss college. She would wake me up every morning and force me to run with her. Or she would display a startling amount of bitchiness and shame me into running while she sat and ate salted Lays chips by the kilo. I'm now looking for a friendly pain in the ass to push me to exercise regularly. Kindly send me your applications.

I imagine all the witty retorts that came to you too late, all stored in a little filing cabinet in a corner of your mind, all crying at the wasted opportunities. 

All the emotions you frantically typed out and poured into depressed emails you thankfully never sent but kept in your drafts are there too, on the next shelf. The crying doesn't really bother them.

Right next to this is the final sentence you will ever say. Your very last words, as it were. It sits there, waiting for the day it will sprint towards the outside; hoping that when it does, it leaves its mark on the world, hoping to dwell forever in someone's memory, hoping to forevermore cause a spark of affection tinged with loss . Till then, it sits around. The crying in the general areas annoys it so it hopes to get out as soon as possible. 

Uh oh.

Stupidity rules in leaps and bounds
Rhyming things make fun-fun sounds