Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Novel Ideas

In November 2006, in honor of National Novel Writing Month, NPR asked fiction writers to explain the essence of creating a novel, from how they write to their approach to writer's block. For me though, the most entertaining part of each interview was when the author was asked to contribute a favorite sentence. Here are some of the delightful responses.

They were in one of the 'I' states when Zeke told Isaac he had to ride in the trunk for a little while. (Laura Lippman)

Ice is the past tense of water. (Rita Mae Brown)

All parents keep secrets from their children. (Scott Turow)

The sun broke golden on the surface of the pool, a thousand floating coins. (Lewis Buzbee)

Lyle is aware that he isn't right, and sometimes he feels his jaw, his face, making sure it isn’t becoming elongated in a cruel caricature of a sad man. (Kaui Hart Hemmings)

She stood, the water up to her ankles, and turned toward the sandy beach, toward the green sea grass and colorful umbrellas and blue smoke swirling from a beach fire and a boy selling cups of lemonade with ice chips, a woman in a purple bathing suit, and turned back to the blue water and pine trees on the far side of the lake, and behind that the green hills and white clouds against blue sky, the contrast a singular beauty; and now, somewhere behind her, a man was singing a song. (Nina Schuyler)

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. (M. T. Anderson)

Petra loved the stories filed neatly into the flow of train windows –- she had seen arguments in profile, mouths open with laughter or horror, noses squashed against glass. (Blue Balliett)

Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third. (Jodi Picoult)

By now she knew that this life, despite all its pain, could be lived, that one must travel through it slowly; passing from the sunset to the penetrating odor of the stalks; from the infinite calm of the plain to the singing of a bird lost in the sky; yes, going from the sky to that deep reflection of it that she felt within her own breast, as an alert and living presence. (Geraldine Brooks)

And wasn't sorrow a kind of slow death anyway? (Gail Tsukiyama)

It was late in the fall and the trees lining our driveway had turned red like a row of burning matches. (Jess Walters)

In the end, the survivor gets to tell the story. (Nancy Werlin)

To Jane's surprise, a grilled cheese sandwich with chocolate milk was exactly what she wanted right then. (Jeanne Birdsall)

In 1954, the summer before I entered third grade, my grandmother mistook Andrew Imhof for a girl. (Curtis Sittenfeld)

Leaves of Grass saved my ass. (Gayle Brandeis)

The boy had probably been praying to a distinctly conceived God not to lose courage; he must have been simultaneously aware of the rush of time transporting him to the explosive instant; the patrons were sprinting along the lines of their own thoughts and personal dramas, their love affairs, their work conflicts, their sporting enthusiasms; the youth probably found his field of vision tightly narrowing once he made it past the guard into the pizzeria; inside they must have known immediately why a youth dressed as an Orthodox Jew would be rushing past the guard; he shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" reported the wounded, failed, severely questioned guard; they didn't see him press the trigger; the boy pressed the trigger (in his pocket, beneath his black coat?); this was followed by an ultima of total clarity in which the bomber and his victims saw every detail of every aspect of their environment crystallized into that minute and second of that day in the month of August in the year 2002. (Ken Kalfus)

Fall in love whenever you can. (Alice Hoffman)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!

A poem composed entirely of spam (including the title), assembled in a last minute wave of pity before I finally hit the delete button on my junk mail folder.

In finite

my friend, you are in trouble
your girlfriend is very angry
breaking the ordinary things

stop fighting
open something new for yourself
we can change it

enjoy life
feel younger
be younger

get your ideal weight
do anything
watch your body change

this is the most modern and safe way not to cover with shame
it will take your breath away
make her worship you

this night will be the best in your life
it's a wonderful day
believe it

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bulging Trousers

Few things can be funnier or more entertaining than really good bad sex writing: robustly and lecherously purple, and valiantly, if somewhat unintentionally, hilarious. The shortlist for this year's Bad Sex in Fiction award (established by the Literary Review to celebrate truly cringe-worthy erotic writing and mark "the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel.") was impressive, but debut author Iain Hollingshead scooped up the prize for his novel Twenty Something, beating established writers including Irvine Welsh, Will Self, David Mitchell and American literary maverick Thomas Pynchon.

"I hope to win it every year," said a delighted Hollingshead (the prize's youngest-ever winner at 25), who received his award, a statuette and a bottle of champagne, from rock singer Courtney Love at a London ceremony. His use of clich├ęs and euphemisms, and his description of "bulging trousers", sealed the win, the judges said.

So, here, without further ado, is the incriminating passage (you will find the complete set of shortlisted extracts here):

She's wearing a short, floaty skirt that's more suited to July than February. She leans forward to peck me on the cheek, which feels weird, as she's never kissed me on the cheek before. We'd kissed properly the first time we met. And that was over three years ago.

But the peck on the cheek turns into a quick peck on the lips. She hugs me tight. I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly, She slides one of her slender legs in between mine. Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair. She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I'm inside her, and everything is pure white as we're lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

100 Years of Solitude

1. This is really just my own Blogger's 100. The contents of this post has almost nothing to do with the title.

2. I have an irrational and extreme fear of birds. I sometimes try to explain it by saying that I was attacked by a herd of swans who knocked me down to the ground and tried to peck my eyes out when I was a toddler.

3. I enjoy popping bubble wrap way more than I should.

4. When I was an infant my aunt used to have a dog called Katie and I have been told that I used to feed her (the dog, not my aunt) fistfuls of dirt. I don't remember any of this.

5. I have attended six different pre, elementary, and middle schools.

6. I am mediocre at many things. I think I would rather be really good at just one.

7. I have wet my bed exactly once as an adult.

8. I have been told a few times that I was found sleepwalking.

9. Driving, shaving, and shopping are the three things I hate most in life. And maybe having to wake up early in the morning.

10. I have never owned a house in my life and I am occasionally worried that I will become homeless when I am old.

11. All four of my grandparents are dead. I remember three of them fairly well. My mother's father passed away before I could have precise memories of him.

12. I have the worst allergies in the history of the Universe. My eyes are always watery, I have extreme anosmia, and I cannot remember the last time I could freely breathe through my nose. This is really unfortunate because, of the five senses, smell is my most favorite.

13. I am fluent in three languages: English, Bengali, and Hindi. I also know a smattering of words and phrases in Tamil and Japanese.

14. I find it physically extremely difficult, actually almost impossible, to cry. I remember crying just once due to an emotional reason in my entire adult life. However, I will easily sob at the movies, or while reading a book, or sometimes even listening to a particularly evocative piece of music.

15. I have a friend who used to say that tapioca is better than sex. But he was single then and may have changed his mind since.

16. I don't drink alcohol and drink very little soda. I don't smoke tobacco.

17. I believe that one has to be cleansed of all earthly desire before one can move to the next level after death. This means that you will get to indulge every single one of your unfulfilled fantasies in the afterlife.

18. I am not entirely tech savvy. I don't own an iPod or a digital camera, and my car does not have a CD player.

19. Many of my friends tell me secrets they would not easily tell anyone else.

20. I am excruciatingly self conscious. That's why I almost never sing or dance in public.

21. It is not at all easy to hurt me or make me angry, but I can hold a grudge forever if I am indeed actually provoked.

22. I adore children and am very good with them, but I am not certain if I want any of my own.

23. I think I would enjoy being a stand up comic or a movie director or have my own late night show on television.

24. My favorite cuisine would have to be Thai or Malaysian. I like Indonesian and Burmese food too.

25. I find it difficult to truly enjoy most things if I cannot share them with my friends.

26. I was born in the city that is now called Kolkata and grew up in various small towns. I have also briefly lived in Tokyo and the city that is now called Chennai.

27. I have lost contact with most of my high school classmates.

28. My coworkers and I frequently play the 'would you rather' game with death not being an option.

29. I can browse for days in a good bookstore. For the longest time, that was my idea of heaven.

30. Reading an elaborate recipe will usually lift my spirits if I am depressed.

31. I don't lie very often. I feel that lying requires a lot more effort than just telling the truth and sticking to it.

32. I find physical positions in which I lose my balance deeply unsettling. That is why I get sick on roller coasters and cannot do any inversion poses. My yoga teacher once told me that this is probably because of an experience in a previous life.

33. I think it's perfectly alright to ask for a doggy bag in a restaurant, even if one doesn't have a dog.

34. I cannot whistle or do a somersault, and this will occasionally upset me a lot.

35. I believe that I am anti-photogenic. There isn't a single photograph of myself that I like.

36. When dining out with a group of close friends, I would rather order family style than get individual entrees.

37. I love to cook, but not just for myself.

38. I like taking afternoon naps, but I feel very melancholy if it is already getting dark when I wake up.

39. I enjoy eating almost everything, but for the last couple years I have been making a conscious effort to cut down on meat and eat more vegetables.

40. I sometimes feel that some people take advantage of me.

41. I am quite fond of a good bargain. I may be persuaded to buy something that I don't really need if the price is attractive enough.

42. Every now and then I will have a strong desire to just quit everything and go work at the post office or at a grocery store or at the library.

43. Till recently, I was naive enough to secretly believe that all great artists and authors are also wonderful people. But then, I also believed that love was more important than sex.

44. My coworker Louise has a tiny little Michel Foucault finger puppet fridge magnet and I think it's the coolest thing ever.

45. If I ever went back to school again, I would probably want to study linguistics or social and cultural anthropology or cognitive sciences.

46. There have been a few times in my life when I have narrowly escaped almost certain disfigurement, and these moments haunt me constantly. I would strongly prefer death to becoming physically dependent on someone.

47. I once poured a cup of boiling oil on my hand by mistake. The scars have almost vanished now, but you can still see them if you look really closely and know where to look.

48. I don't remember having a favorite toy as a child. I think I was way more into books than toys in any case.

49. While I was often a very enthusiastic participant, I was never actually any good at any sport growing up.

50. Right now, I cannot even imagine my life without a cell phone or the Internet.

51. When I am driving alone I prefer to listen to talk radio, usually NPR.

52. While growing up in India I would listen to a lot of British and American pop songs, but now I almost exclusively listen to Indian music.

53. I am extremely clumsy. None of my movements are naturally graceful. (I suspect I am socially somewhat clumsy too.)

54. I believe luck is quantized; be careful how you use it because you only get so much. Good and bad luck cancel each other out.

55. I often try to be tongue-in-cheek with a straight face. Sometimes I succeed.

56. My first real relationship was a complicated, protracted, and painful affair. We no longer speak to each other.

57. I have had light crushes on some of my teachers in high school and seniors and classmates in college.

58. I expect my lover to know exactly what I want without my ever having to say a single word. Of course I also realize that this is impossible.

59. I don't believe in saying 'I love you'. I feel that having to actually say it completely defeats the purpose in the first place. The fact that I love you should be abundantly clear from my behavior, and not from my speech. Ditto for sorry. And thank you.

60. I have a burning man poster in my bedroom and a Marc Chagall print (an office-warming present) at work. That's all.

61. Every time I visit a University campus I come away depressed for days, with a strong feeling that I am trifling away my life.

62. I watch very little television, but if I had to watch only one channel it would have to be the food network.

63. I am deeply and constantly in awe of women. I cannot even imagine going through pregnancy and childbirth.

64. Even though I have many good friends, I think I am a loner at heart.

65. Cruelty towards animals and the elderly enrage and depress me.

66. I am fond of Junior Mint candies and Milky Way Midnight bars. I also like Jelly Belly jellybeans. Juicy pear is one of my favorite flavors.

67. Seems like at any given point half the people in my life feel that I am too enthusiastic, and the other half feel that I am not enthusiastic enough.

68. I suck at ironing clothes. That is why I only wear jeans and tee shirts.

69. I can never say the word immediate entirely to my own satisfaction.

70. I always feel that I am talking too loudly when I am on the phone.

71. I am overly fond of making lists, probably much more than I should be. Even though I realize the innate futility of limiting my favorite movies, or books, or songs to just 10, or 15, or 20, I often feel oddly compelled to do so.

72. I usually don't have too much trouble falling asleep. Waking up is not always as easy though.

73. I can make a popping sound using my right index finger and my right ear that some of my friends find entertaining and amusing.

74. People who are constantly completely indecisive irritate me; however, people who always know exactly and precisely what they want intimidate me too.

75. I have road rage. A lot of it. I use profanity and a hand signal involving a certain finger all too often while driving.

76. I have never formally learned to swim, but I can manage to stay afloat by randomly thrashing my limbs every which way in the water.

77. I am severely directionally challenged; it took me more than a year to figure out that San Francisco was north and San Jose was south, and not too long ago I left work in the peninsula one evening to go back home to the south bay but drove into downtown San Francisco by mistake.

78. A friend once told me that he had seen me in a serious mood only once in his entire lifetime, and that was right before our Linear Algebra final exam in college.

79. I have gone kayaking in New Zealand and dog sled riding in Alaska.

80. I absolutely adore the ellipsis and tend to italicize words far more than I probably should...

81. I have an occasional tendency, especially when talking with strangers, to speak almost entirely in impromptu and half-baked aphorisms that I make up on the spur of the moment. A recent example: Oftentimes people insist on a decision when they should be happy with just a possibility.

82. I am inordinately fond of blue cheese. My friend Ryan makes a cornbread crust pizza with Romanesco broccoli topping and blue cheese in every bite that is completely out of this world and to die for.

83. I have, on multiple occasions, been on the verge of complete panic thinking that my car was stolen, when, in reality, I was simply looking for it in the wrong part of the parking lot or even the wrong street.

84. I often wish I had the courage to drop everything and take a year off to see the world.

85. One Halloween, faced with a street full of enthusiastic trick-or-treaters and no candy at home, I turned all the lights out and pretended to be away for the whole evening.

86. I am rather fond of watching James Bond movies. However, I consider them to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure, and would be quite embarrassed to publicly admit that I enjoy them.

87. I was once at a Christmas party that went on till almost new year's day because no one wanted to leave.

88. A couple years ago my then room mates and I decided to go without television for a year, and now I don't miss it at all. (Of course I do have a set for watching movies on DVD or VHS, and the occasional late night Family Guy or Futurama rerun.)

89. I often listen to npr's Song of the Day while at work. (Thankfully, my office mate seems to enjoy it too, and hasn't complained yet.)

90. I try to go to the gym a couple times every week, but I don't enjoy it at all, so it helps that my room mate and I workout together.

91. When I was in elementary school, all of the students were chosen to be extras in a fairly big budget Bollywood movie. For about a week we had no classes; we would travel to location every day, and have to lip-synch with the stars as they sang. As far as I can remember, the picture, when it came out, didn't do very well at all.

92. I am usually always reading a couple books at the same time; that way, I can keep switching between them, and I actually end up finishing them much faster than if I just read them back to back.

93. Even when I know exactly what to get, I always end up spending way too much time just browsing at the video rental store. Or the book store, for that matter.

94. I am not sure if complex thoughts are possible without language.

95. I will very occasionally urinate in the shower if the urge is just too great and I cannot be bothered to dry off and walk to the toilet.

96. I often enjoy (and look forward to) the previews that precede the feature presentation more than the movie itself.

97. Even when things turn out really well, I am faintly dissatisfied that they didn't happen in some other way. The white noise from all the alternate realities are forever distracting me.

98. My fingers are not even the lightest shade of green. I feel that a plant left solely in my care would almost certainly wither and die.

99. I will sometimes turn the subtitles on when I am watching a DVD (even when I know the language the movie is in) so that I don't miss any of the dialogue.

100. This must make me some kind of a pathetic loser, but coming up with a hundred things about myself has been far more difficult than I had imagined it would be. It has taken me precisely 126 days to complete this post (and much of it was written while I was at work), but now I am done!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

One of the World's Last Great Secrets

In the following passage from The Glass Palace, a rich, layered, epic novel set primarily in Burma and India cataloging the evolving history of those regions before and during the fraught years of the second world war and India's independence struggle, Amitav Ghosh lovingly describes a meal.

Ilongo left and another place was laid at the table, next to Alison's. Arjun seated himself and Alison began to pile his plate with food.

"We call this ayam limau purut - chicken with lime leaves and tamarind; and here's some prawn sambal with screwpine leaves; and these are belacan brinjals; and over there is some chinchalok with chillies - shrimps, pickled in lime juice; and this is fish steamed with ginger buds..."

"What a feast! And this is an everyday dinner?"

"My mother was always very proud of her table," Alison said. "And now it's become a habit of the house."

Arjun ate with gusto. "This food is wonderful!"

"Your aunt Uma loved it too. Do you remember, Dinu? That time?"

"Yes I do." Dinu nodded. "I think I even have pictures."

"I've never eaten anything like this," Arjun said. "What is it called?"

"It's Nyonya food," Alison said. "One of the world's last great secrets, my mother used to say."

Suddenly Saya John spoke up, catching them all by surprise."It's the flowers that make the difference."

"The flowers, Grandfather?"

Saya John looked at Arjun with eyes that were fleetingly clear. "Yes - the flowers in the food. Bunga kentan and bunga telang - ginger flowers and blue flowers. They're what give the food its taste. That's what Elsa always says."


Burmese food has always fascinated me too, and the following recipe (adapted from Under the Golden Pagoda by Aung Aung Taik) has become a recent favorite. Almost childishly simple to cook, it nevertheless results in a deeply satisfying dish bursting with subtle but complex flavors.

Nananpin Ngakhu Hin
Catfish Curry with Tomato and Cilantro

One 3-pound catfish, cut into 1-inch-thick steaks
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup chopped tomato
8 sprigs fresh cilantro

Rub the fish steaks with turmeric and salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large, 3-inch deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, paprika, and tomato and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the water, cover, and simmer until liquid is reduced by three quarters, about 20 minutes.

Lay the fish steaks flat in the pan; do not overlap the steaks if possible. Spoon the pan juices over the fish. Cover, and cook until the fish is done, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with the cilantro, and let stand, covered, for about 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The heart's deliberate chambers of hurt

It is Frank O'Hara's birthday today according to The Writer's Almanac, but a little research uncovers a different reality: O'HARA, Frank (27 Mar. 1926-25 July 1966), poet, was born Francis Russell O'Hara in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Russell Joseph O'Hara and Katherine Broderick, who both came from strict Irish-Catholic families. O'Hara always believed he was born 27 June 1926, but his parents apparently lied about his birthdate to hide the fact that he was conceived before their marriage. Well, birthday or not, I still wanted to pay tribute to this "urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny" poet with one of his poems that is particularly close to my heart. O'Hara felt that poetry should be "between two persons instead of two pages" and sought to capture the immediacy of life, describing his work as "I do this I do that" poetry because his poems often read like entries in a diary. And yet, as Kenneth Rexroth noted, O'Hara's speech often manages to rise above its own colloquialism and is "moving in the way that only simple communication can be moving." This poem is from his collection Meditations in an Emergency published in 1957 and I can still recall the effect it had on me when I first read it in my freshman year of college; here was a voice that was at once urgent and wistful and I felt an immediate connection.

Poem

The eager note on my door said "Call me,
call when you get in!" so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

Friday, June 23, 2006

42

It would be difficult for me to accurately describe exactly how I felt the first time I realized that rearranging the letters in ELEVEN + TWO would give TWELVE + ONE, but it is sufficient to say that the experience almost momentarily made me believe in a personal version of some kind of intelligent design. I have since then often pondered on what it is exactly that fascinated me so much then, and still does now; I mean, obviously, it's not just the case that we are looking at a particularly smart and surprising anagram, and I have come to believe my sense of wonder may have something to do with the delicate and elegant way this curious fact seems to tie up all of the three R's and attempt to bridge the gap between literacy and numeracy for one blazing moment.

In fact, I have always found puzzles that related words and numbers in unexpectedly intelligent ways particularly engaging. For example, try to explain the pattern and find the next number in this sequence:

3, 3, 5, 4, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, ...

As you can probably guess, you will be wasting your time if you try to find a purely mathematical rule because all I have done is simply list the number of digits in the words:

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ...

Now, interestingly, 4 is the first number whose value equals the number of letters in it's name. But is it the only one? I suspect so, but I don't know if one could establish a rigorous proof for this assertion. In any case, it only makes sense to claim that the value of a number equals the number of letters in it's name as long as we talk about positive integers; the number of letters in the names of nonpositive integers and non-integers can never equal their value. I am certain this is a somewhat profound statement that will eventually lead us to the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but I am just too tired to go down that route right now.

And besides, it's almost lunchtime.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Transamerica


Wonders will never cease. Who would of thunk it would be so easy? But... umm... I have a question. So why is it a gender changer if it is female to female?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake

E-mail from Louise, followed by immediate response from Ben.

From: Louise
Sent: Tuesday, June 13, 2006 9:58 AM
To: Ben; Ryan; Krista; Amanda; Donald; Natalie; Jennifer; Partha
Subject: Ben's b-day

Hey guys,

Shall we do cake for Ben's birthday today? Does anyone know what kind of cake Ben likes? I figure we can't really go too wrong.

From: Ben
Sent: Tuesday, June 13, 2006 9:58 AM
To: Louise; Ryan; Krista; Amanda; Donald; Natalie; Jennifer; Partha
Subject: RE: Ben's b-day

Hey dudes,

Let's like, totally ask him.. maybe we could include him on a group email?

And, for those of you who were looking for a more nutritional post, here is some food for thought.

Friday, June 09, 2006

One Hand Clapping

Ben Neely, the extraordinarily talented inventor of the false rip, you are, like, totally my superhero, dude!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Spoonful of Sugar

Time does not have quanta, Ben tells me, and I have to admit that it sounds quite deep at first. But then, how can we tell? How can we tell if anything does not have quanta for that matter? For isn't human perception, and even consciousness, quantized, just by definition? I mean, everything eventually boils down to that one synapse inside the brain, and that is a discrete, individual unit; which then, in turn, quantizes pretty much any and every human experience.

In fact, as I think about this, it seems to me that this is a version of Zeno's third motion-is-impossible paradox, which basically claims that an arrow cannot move from point A to point B because, in order to do so, its motion has to be both discrete and continuous at the same time. Examined at one instant in time, an arrow in flight would appear to be no different from one that is stationary. What is it then that gives one object motion and the other one stillness?

Which actually brings up what to me is one of the most fundamental and profound problems of human philosophy and science: the reconciliation of the basic dichotomies of the Known Universe. Discrete and continuous; particle and wave; body and soul; matter and energy; form and content. Diametrically opposite and yet irrevocably linked.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Prolix, Pretentious, Shapeless?

Mark Haddon has followed up his heartbreaking work of staggering genius, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which was named the 2003 Whitbread book of the year, with a collection of poetry, and the Guardian recently carried a scathing attack (I almost hesitate to call it a review) on it. Now while I will certainly be among the first to admit that The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea is at best a minor work, not much more than a hurried sketch done in a somewhat playful but pensive mood by an acclaimed master, I was nevertheless not a little surprised by the amount of vitriol in the aforementioned piece by Ranjit Bolt. I, for one, being firmly of the opinion that the possibility of genuine nonsense should surely be a cause for celebration, would like to respectfully disagree with Mr. Bolt. I definitely do not regret the time I spent perusing this slim volume, and I believe that admirers of Haddon's stark and sparse prose will, at the very least, discover in this book a voice that is rather different from the one that had so pleasantly surprised and delighted them.

Here are two poems that I have selected from the book. Tongue-in-cheek? Yes. Occasionally somewhat affected and sometimes mediocre? Perhaps. But tendentious and ghastly? I think not.

Dry Leaves

Horace
Odes 1:25

Young men stumbling home from parties

don't throw pebbles at your windows now.

You sleep till dawn and that busy door

of yours now hugs the step. No one


asks how you can sleep when they are dying

all night long for love of you. Times change.

You're old and no one gives a damn.

You'll weep at all the men who have deserted you


as gales from Thrace roar down

that empty lane on moonless nights.
The hot lust which sends mares mad

will flare around your ulcerated heart


and you'll cry out at the young men

who love the ivy and the dark green myrtle

but who throw the dry leaves

into the East wind, that bride of winter.


The Facts

In truth, the dwarf worked at a betting shop

and wore an orthopedic shoe.

The ugly sisters were neither sisters nor, indeed, women,
nor were they remotely interested in the prince.

The plain librarian looked better with her glasses on,

the bomb had not been fitted with a clock

and when the requisitioned farm-truck shot

the as-yet-uncompleted bridge it nose-dived into the ravine
and blew up
killing both the handsome sheriff
and his lovable but stupid sidekick, Bob.

Karma Chameleon

Ryan snapped his Achilles tendon last week putting his leg temporarily out of commission; he has already had surgery and is hobbling around on crutches with his leg in a cast, and it will probably be months before he can start putting any pressure on his right foot again. He is in excruciating pain, and even a little movement tires him out. So I am picking him up on my way to work every morning, and the plan is for me to also drop him back most days starting next week, when he will be able to manage a longer workday without being exhausted. 'Think of all the karma points you will be earning', he told me.

So that got me thinking. About those points.

How does this whole point system work, anyway? Do I get more or less, depending on how I go about it? What if I drive him to and from work, but don't hide my irritation at the time and distance it adds to my already long work commute? What if I feel the irritation, but don't quite make it public? Or, on a different note, what if I really, truly, sincerely want to help him, but can't, because of some genuine reason? Do I still get karma points?

I guess almost every belief system tries, in one way or the other, to get its followers to do good; but to what extent does the actual purpose factor into the calculation? What is the difference, if any, between doing good just because it is the right thing to do, or in the hope of a reward, or to avoid some kind of divine punishment? Can we just be happy with the action, or do we need to explore intent?

I will have to mull on all this for a while. But in the mean time, if Ryan (or some higher power) is reading this, I need to make it perfectly clear that my motives are completely and purely altruistic. So bring on those points!

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Shadowy Path

In A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri, Sandeep, an only child living in a Bombay high-rise, spends a summer visiting his Uncle's house in Calcutta with his mother. On Sundays, his uncle sings aloud to himself during his leisurely preluncheon bath, the notes echoing in the enclosed space of the bathroom 'like rays of trapped light darting this way and that in a crystal'.

He usually sang old, half-remembered compositions that had been popular thirty of forty years ago in a Bengal where the radio and the windup gramophone were still new and incredible machines breaking the millennial silence of the towns and villages:

Godhulir chhaya pathe
Je gelo chini go tare.


Knocking on the bathroom door, Sandeep made a pest of himself by asking: " Chhotomama, what does godhuli mean?"

Lost in the general well-being of cleansing himself, his uncle replied patiently: "The word go means 'cow',and the word dhuli means 'dust'. In the villages, evening's the time the cowherds bring the cattle home. The herd returns, raising clouds from the road. Godhuli is that hour of cow dust. So it means 'dusk' or 'evening'."

As Chhotomama explained, his voice emerging from behind the steady sound of water, Sandeep saw it in his mind like a film being shown from a projector - the slow-moving, indolent cows, their nostrils and their shining eyes, the faint white outline of the cowherd, the sense of the expectant village (a group of scattered huts), and the dust, yes the dust, rising unwillingly from the cows' hooves and blurring everything. The mental picture was set in the greyish-red colour of twilight. It was strange how one word could contain a world within it.


Strange indeed! What is a word but a seemingly random arrangement of letters of the alphabet (which themselves are seemingly random shapes), or a seemingly random modulated sound? And yet, one single word can encompass whole Universes and more. The word godhuli does not just indicate a time of day, but conjures up a complete way of life.

Understanding words and phrases and the concepts they encapsulate brings us a long way toward understanding the people, and societies and cultures, who employ them. It's just amazing how, long after the dusk has given way to night, the dust from the cows' hooves has settled, and even the village itself has crumbled to dust, this word will remain, yielding its secrets to the deserving.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Finest Hour


I realize that it would be both unnecessary as well as futile to use this forum to sing the praise of public radio to the handful of amazingly awesome individuals known to occasionally frequent this corner of cyberspace; however, I do feel obligated to talk about a new show that I recently discovered almost by accident on KQED, which, along with KALW, is one of my local public radio stations. Radio Lab (from WNYC) is 'an investigation': each episode is usually designed to tackle One Big Idea which regularly turns out to be fairly ambitious in terms of its breadth and scope, and not only do they almost always succeed, the Radio Lab team actually manage to do so with verve and wit (and enough digressions) that keep the hour both engrossing and informative. From questions like 'How does the brain make me?' to exploring the nature of stress, from looking at the staggeringly complicated societies formed by bees and ants to examining the history and nature of time, Radio Lab is one fascinating journey where 'science bumps into culture' and 'information sounds like music'.

Season One of Radio Lab is archived here, and Season 2 begins April 14, 2006. I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Cycle of Love and Longing

Will it work? Or will this day too pass through what, for lack of better words, we call memory, and end up blurry and sepia circa somesuch AD (crumpled and faded, like those receipts in the wallet that went in the wash, the bar codes barely showing, the merchants' names all but vanished)? Will this weekend combine with a dazzling blue sky in an as yet unrealized future and bring tears to the eye and settle uncomfortably in the throat? Or maybe it will work. Maybe we will slip into the domesticity we dread and desire, growing old and fat and bald. And on a wet and gloomy day in an as yet unrealized future we will look at each other and sigh, wondering what it must have been like then to be thinking about what it is like now.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Another Nice Normal Family


The Singhsons. Check them out here. (Or, in case that link is dead, they are resurrected here too.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A nice normal family


Finally, we get to see what Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie would look like if they were human. This promo, filmed over 18 months in Britain, re-enacts the title sequence, and has been approved by Matt Groening to be broadcast on Sky One as its viewers gear up for the The Simpsons' 17th season.

And, incidentally, this is how they would look if they were made of Lego blocks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Spamalot!

It is not every day that I open up my inbox to find such entertaining unsolicited commercial e-mail. This guy had me hooked right from the subject line; and the delicate wistfulness conjured up by the combination of his message and the date it was sent was endearing, to say the least. I have to be honest, I am almost tempted to buy something from him...

Sent: Wednesday, February 15, 2006 6:33 AM
Subject: Fucking St.Valentine

What are you to do if you have bad erection? Especially
in the forthcoming Saint Valentines Day???
Don t worry, it is not the last of pea-time...
The most simple way is to visit our site, order the
medication and that is all you are to do!

Do not kill the clock!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bosom Buddies


What can I say? I just love how, at work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day; and there is at least one other person who encourages my development.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tell Me Where All Past Years Are

Revisiting a theme from a previous post, further thoughts on the somewhat tricky nature of the relationship between space and time. OK, so it seems to be intuitively obvious that while a movement in space will have to be related to a corresponding movement in time, multiple distinct spatial co-ordinates can (and indeed, do) independently exist at precisely the same time. In other words, pick a specific point in time, and different locations in space can all exist at that very same moment. We don't find any intuitive gap in logic here, even though it is physically impossible for one conscious entity to verify this fact by simultaneously being present in all these different distinct locations at the same time. However, doesn't the same line of deductive reasoning then bring us to conclude that different co-ordinates in time can simultaneously co-exist at one precise spatial location, and as a result, don't we start moving towards intellectual territory that is far more unstable? The thought that distinct points in time can co-exist (and there may be a paradox hidden right here: if we are talking about different points in time, exactly when do they co-exist?) in one accurately determined location is somewhat challenging, and gives rise to many more questions; not the least of which is: Do all these different points in time correspond to the same version of reality, or are we getting ourselves into even more rocky terrain? I don't know, and it makes my mind boggle to think of the possibilities. Gibson will definitely scoff again, but this is certainly more than my limited intellect (bolstered only by a smattering of high school Physics) can handle on a somewhat slow and gloomy workday afternoon.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Million Little Pieces


P.S. This picture is not a fake. It is an accurate visual representation of an actual found object.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Colours of Dusk


Outside my window
Pink spills into blue and grey
In the horizon.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

An Unexpected Rainbow

Between the green and the grey, a sudden muted explosion. Already faded, but persistent; not going away anytime soon. Following me on my morning commute.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Indecision

Ever notice how rearranging a single letter in a sentence can make a universe of difference? Like, You are a f***ing genius! and You are f***ing a genius! don't quite mean the same thing, really. And problem is, I am not entirely sure which one I would personally prefer. Yeah, it is one of those mornings...

P.S. No, I am not a prude. But when I was spell checking this post, Blogger would not recognize the word fucking, and suggested, among other choices, bucking, fusing, fussing, faking, puking, and picking. So I decided to find a way to trick the spell checker, but apparently that was not so easy either. Because when I added this postscript, it would not recognize Blogger, and wanted me to use blocker instead. So, I guess the moral of the story is that, whatever you do, don't f*** with a genius.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

An Accidental Oxymoron

Pretty Ugly! (Arguably, a somewhat similar case could be made for Microsoft Works.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mug Shot & Bowl Model



More amazingly awesome favorite people sharing intimate moments with their favorite utensils.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Picture Perfect


Here is one of my most favorite people in the universe, holding what is definitely without doubt my favorite piece of china. (Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the answer is no, at least last I checked.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Food for Thought

I was quite pleasantly surprised to notice that my lunch order today was in haiku!

Teriyaki bowl,
Hot miso soup with tofu,
Spicy tuna roll.


Isn't it wonderful how two of one's favorite things (food and poetry) can unexpectedly come together? And it was also quite appropriate, given that it was Japanese cuisine.