Monday, May 31, 2010

Horror, My New Passion

Relief floods me extravagantly only when I have managed to extricate the charger from the tangle of wires it lies perpetually in, plugged it into my laptop and switched on all the lights, banishing the eerie red glow of the clay courts of Roland Garros. A bag of chips, the comfort food of the Gods and the couch potatoes, sits plump and invitingly beside me.

When I stand at the door, rummaging for the key, something doesn’t feel right. The key isn’t where it should be-it is displaced by a considerable distance- and I turn it gingerly in the keyhole. I fumble for the light switch, invariably turning on all the others before coming to the correct one. A faint whirring sound comes from within. Bag still on my shoulders, I pass warily into the bedroom, its source, and find the fan turned on. The beds are empty and the curtains are drawn apart on the clear glass windows. The wind begins to rise amidst the trees and bicycles trundle ominously on the concrete downstairs. On dark nights, the most practical mind can conjure up implausible images.

Do I smell an intruder? I reach a hand out to turn the fan off- but maybe I should check the house for a break-in and missing valuables before I unwittingly rub some incriminating evidence off the switchboard. But I cannot think of anything valuable within the house, so I shrug and give up and turn off the fan, my bag still on my shoulders. It gives me a sense of adventure, this lurking around with my ‘knapsack’ through the ‘ruins’ (secure in the knowledge that the owners of this house are not reading this) of an abandoned- okay, empty- house, looking for a burly, muscled man who might have hidden himself under a bed or in the bathroom. No Catherine Morland was ever more influenced by Udolpho, and as the pictures get more explicit and graphic in detail, my imagination suddenly resents its hyperactivity.

I dump my bag on my bed and check the bathroom carefully. Clear. I go to the hall and turn on the television- and could this be the source of my inexplicable premonition, the gloomy sense of foreboding? Justine Henin and Samantha Stosur have won a set apiece in their fourth round match at the French Open, and are now trading breaks in the third. The Queen of Clay is on the verge of a historic loss, about to give up a crown she has laid claim to an astonishing four times. Could this really be happening, I ask myself in dismay. The refulgent clay court suddenly loses its charm and begins to look sinister, and I quickly turn the hall light on.

At this point, I have a sneaky doubt if my blatant derision of Paranormal Activity could have anything to do with the impossible flights of my imagination. I come up with a resolution:

I will not watch horror movies for a month.

And promptly chuck it out of the window. Tonight is a new night.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sparking Contemplation

If you knew exactly when you were going to die, and you had just enough money to treat yourself to something you’d desperately wanted all your life or buy presents for the people you loved, what would you choose to do?

This question arose out of contemplation of The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark’s novel nominated for The Lost Booker, ultimately losing out to JG Farrell’s Troubles. It isn’t what Spark is asking her readers to think about, per se- it is just one of those random, idle thoughts that creep into your head.

The Lost Man Booker Prize was thought of as a palliative to the injustice done to books published in 197o and considered worthy of one of the biggest prizes in literature, because the people behind the Booker had suddenly decided in 1971 that books published that very year, and not the previous, would be eligible for the prize. The Booker, too, of course, has been extremely susceptible to controversies like any other prize, and very often books winning the honour don’t seem to justify the hype.

Farrell has been widely spoken of as a worthy winner. Having not read Troubles, I haven‘t thought much about it, but I did enjoy The Driver’s Seat. It doesn’t lay bare the entire story in clear terms- on the contrary, Spark leaves a lot to imagination. While she liberally strews hints of the fate that awaits Lise, her protagonist, as the story builds up, she doesn’t invest in superfluity to describe a history that may be of no consequence. Of course, I’d like to know why Lise acted the way she did, but when a writer challenges her readers to use their heads and come up with plausible explanations for her characters’ actions, she connects with them in a special way- she makes them work for the pleasure of getting the most out of her writing. (The first story to challenge my imagination that comes to my mind is The Lady or the Tiger- a short story from my English textbook at school- where the fate of a man, condemned to death if he opens the wrong door, lies in his passionate, jealous lover’s hands. We wrung our hands in agony and complained about the author’s cruelty in leaving us in the dark.)

The minute details of Lise’s actions are beautifully described- you see her there, in her impossibly bright clothes, conspicuous on account of her jarring incongruity. The various encounters, leading up to the ghastly finale, though seemingly humane, have a sinister undercurrent running through them.

Spark is no ordinary writer. Her power lies in her storytelling and the consummate ease with which she summons it. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a brilliant study of human nature, and at different levels, you more or less begin to sympathise with the characters and condone their fallacies. Jean Brodie, a schoolteacher “in her prime”, creates a close-knit set of girls whom she hopes to impress her mark upon. She dislikes blind, unquestioning conformity, and anything that isn’t good enough for her will not do for the Brodie set either. Her ploy doesn’t succeed the way she hoped it would, and the “betrayal” brings to an end her prime, or so her girls think- but she lives on in several ways, loved and remembered well by the ones she nurtured. The characters are intriguing and human, and extremely interesting to study.

Two novels down, I am still unable to slot Muriel Spark into one particular category as a writer- and I look up with eager eyes at the two thick volumes of her collected writings that stand on my bookshelf.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Of Abnormality

Why are horror movies hardly ever terrifying?

Contrary to all the hype about scary movies leaving their audience white-knuckled, scarred for life, traumatized and sleepless for as long as they live- exaggeration intended- not one horror movie has given me any creeps.

We turned out the lights and sat down to watch Paranormal Activity two nights ago. Time passed, the clocked ticked the minutes away, we waited- and waited. Nothing. A little further on, a door creaked as an invisible gust of wind- or paranormal activity- shoved it. The burning Ouija board didn’t scare us, nor did the billowing of the sheets and the sleepwalking young woman. The screams seemed contrived and the man’s occupation flabbergasted us- did he really watch all those hours of tape all morning? When did he go to work, after all? The murder took place imperceptibly. All that was left behind was a bloodied knife and a murderer who sat down against the bed and rocked for hours, oblivious to every biological need.

We did add to our woes, of course. We had subtitles which were about as accurate as a meteorological department’s predictions. Sample this- fetching blankets became “seeking coverage”, day trader was maligned to “dates the traders”. Liberally sprinkled among the English words were some incomprehensible ones crowned by umlauts. Randomness prevailed, and the room was soon ringing with ghoulish laughter in the dead of the night.

It is another matter that I heard squeaks and creaking noises in my room the next day when I was all alone at home.
Poetry at Wimbledon:

I shudder to think of a song for the Commonwealth Games. Or wait- is there one already?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Little Thank You Note

Funny as it may sound, this is only the second time someone has given me a book for a present (and that's after fifteen long years)- and for one that I've been hunting up and down for- thank you, Airborne, for the volumes of Muriel Spark.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

God has gone and done it again.

A hundred and fifty-eight lives have been cruelly taken, an aeroplane that could well have landed safely like so many others, went over a cliff and left behind mangled remains and charred bodies. People who came to the airport to receive their relatives were faced with the unenviable task of going home to break the news of the death of a loved one. Tragedies beset us. The Libyan plane crash, the Deepwater Horizon incident, cyclone Laila- the magnitude or the geographical location doesn’t matter- what hurts is just how insensibly lives are lost, when perhaps one act of precaution, a little care exercised, could have saved them. Why must whole families be left in the lurch, to fend for themselves against adversity, to mourn the loss of an only daughter or son? When people come home to celebrate success, why must their families have to grieve for them? It doesn’t make any sense to me. More often than not, I am brought back to the basic questions that we all ask- the purpose of life and the reason for evil and sickness, if God is merciful and kind.

As usual, people are offering to resign in the wake of this massive tragedy. On the contrary, as the incumbent officials, isn’t the onus on them to fix the loopholes and participate actively in the investigation that will follow? Walking away from mistakes never helps- as the people in power when the incident occurred, they should know what went wrong if they have been doing their job properly. Prompt offers to resign are an act of cowardice- large amounts of time and money will inevitably be wasted in bringing a new person to manage affairs at short notice, and the efficacy of such measures is also dubious. However, considering that people with little experience often do occupy some of the positions with high responsibility attached to them, perhaps it wouldn’t make much of a difference- not here.

When Nature is on a rampage, we can only hope to minimise the damage. However, when the causes of tragedy are human, we have several lessons to learn- starting with humility.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Things can go awry with inexplicable adroitness. Going wrong. That's what they do best, when you least expect them to. And that, of course, is when the most irrelevant questions come coursing through your head. Like why Laila is in Vizag when you're miles away in Bangalore. Vizag, like Singapore, won't get out of my head. Some places grab those lofty pedestals in your head that you save for the best things- they slide in smoothly before you even know it- and then where do you slot the other memories? Do we choose our memories? I don't think so, or the more embarrassing, hot-flush-on-the-cheek moments wouldn't be the ones that came to mind most easily.

If only I could pick and choose the songs and the stories I wanted in my head. I'd leave the stinging ones behind and keep the ones that gave me that delicious thrill of ecstasy. But that would probably make me appreciate the better moments less than I otherwise would.

On second thoughts, I like my memories as they are. And life, in general.

PS: This is just one day we're talking about.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rain on the Expressway

A strong gust of wind blows a fine spray of rain into my rapidly cooling coffee. People break into a run past me and unfurl umbrellas as the drops begin to fall faster and harder, drumming out a staccato on helplessly flailing leaves. I walk steadily on, bareheaded; I want to feel the rain. A Cappuccino can be easily bought anytime; the fragrance of moist earth and the numbing sting of a heavily-falling raindrop cannot.

The bus drives out as sheets of rain sweep the freshly tarred roads; I wipe the vapour off the glass and create myself a little window to the world. Is there dust on my palm? I don’t give it much thought and the hand sanitiser stays in my bag for a change. The tiny restaurants by the road lose the relative normalcy of daylight and take on the semblance of nondescript roadside shacks (populated by burly, moustachioed truck drivers drinking glasses of steaming tea, if you choose to imagine them into your fancies as well) that materialise amidst nothingness on mostly deserted highways. On the curving expressway, high above the sprawling city, a smattering of water-smudged lights appears in the distance. Sudden flashes of lightning streak the brooding sky and startle decrepit dark buildings into momentary life. A tube light flickers on half-heartedly inside the bus, like the watery smile on the face of one trying to tell a lie while doubting its efficacy.

The rain slows down, comes to a complete halt- and when the bus takes a turn off the expressway, nothing remains but the sweeping curves traced on the dust of the window-pane by impatient fingers- yes, there was dust on it, and I look hesitantly at my hand. The road is bone-dry but for a few slushy puddles and water collected in some crevices, like memories left over from a well-remembered past. The romantic fancies evaporate rapidly, too- the warm lights of cosy homes dispel curious thoughts of adventure and mystery with consummate ease- the illusions of overworked minds craving for a few hours of solace.

Nature, though, continues to contrive her spells, leaving us blissfully ignorant of her machinations as we sleep the tiredness out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Hope

There was once a time when the clouds in the sky merged and pulled themselves apart into the shapes I wanted to see. When lines of ants scurrying with their burdens to their invisible hideouts evoked immense curiosity. When colours were associated with what the eye saw- birds, flowers and trees- and not with the meanings attributed to them by religious and party flags. Chocolate was just the kind you found at the neighbourhood store- white, 80% cocoa, liqueur would have been high-falutin terms for something as simple as a slab of pure happiness.

And then, one day, someone decided that a bitter concoction of reality and pragmatism, garnished with a distasteful lust for money, must be thrust down people’s gullets as they grew older. Hypothetical it should have remained, but it was incorporated with great zest into the business of life, and so we stick to it till we’re sick of it.

You cannot keep childlike amusement away forever, though, try as hard as you may. You have to marvel at the big-bellied fish under the rocks in the pond on your way back from lunch (and ignore the cell phone displaying your boss’s number) and draw the last of the lemonade out noisily with your straw (while a group of sophisticated people look down their noses at you scornfully). Not pure, untarnished pleasure, the kind that existed before you knew of life outside comic books and marbles, but rainbows will once again hold hoards of treasure at either end.

Hope is a beautiful thing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Open Window

The wind has decided to make peace with the forsaken. It comes to the city and its people despite the sins against it.

It has flirted with shameless regularity with the sand dunes, the waves of the ocean, the grass in the hollows of lonesome valleys, the straggling growth on quietly majestic mountains. Nature never boasts of her prowess, she merely humbles with it. And now the wind comes to the city, to roar through the mazes of concrete and steel, to ruffle the blankets off foolishly snug bodies.

People revel at the breeze's homecoming. Dogs are roused from their disturbed slumber and trains hurtle from darkness, into darkness, shrill whistles piercing through the night, as the wind dances in through open windows and carries along the smell of dust and metal- of the small, nondescript towns where you spend five minutes that will soon be forgotten, but recalled suddenly in an unexplained moment of senility sixty years on.

Palm fronds brush against the lone mango in an unusual show of intimacy. They source their kinship to a much higher plane than our petty thinking can fathom. Clouds hover low, eager to partake of earthly conversations and add their own bit to them- isn't this where they come from, after all. The moon, happy and placid, shines down from unknown perches- it flits effortlessly, its broad silver beams casting an ethereal light upon the trees, setting them softly aglow in the midst of their night-revelry.

Give up your soliloquy and your silly fetishes, says the wind, and come dance with me tonight.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Window to the 'World'

A Tale of Two Cities

Off I Go

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

This is happening much too often now, this dissonance between thoughts and words. There is no earthly reason to be melancholy, not one that you can easily lay a finger on. This isn't a night for your words, you tell yourself, and prepare to bury your nose in a book about a Swedish immigrant in the US- a book that you picked up because it was about the only bit of non-fiction you found in a library that overflows with technical books (when it chooses to overflow). You're spoilt for choice- your shelves at home brim over with good, intriguing reading- but perverse that your mind is, it will pick the one you are least curious about- just because you took the trouble to carry it home and have had it three weeks without bothering to open it.

The sleep that you long for is fraught with nightmares; instead of a reluctance to wake up, you're only too ready to jump out of bed next morning. How unnatural. But it's only temporary- these phases are all too familiar, when you wake up thrice every night, wondering what really triggered those unrealistic flights of imagination, if you can call it that, those dreams in the colours of bleak winters, as devoid of pleasant fancies as a sere strip of land in a season of drought.

No more words, rein your thoughts in. The power is gone, thanks to the rain you were craving for, and is the very reason why you first started writing this night. The battery is low and will die out soon- and the thoughts will begin their mad rush in your head all over again. Hush them, like the flame of the candle that went out peacefully, painlessly, in that strong gust of wind.

The curtains are still and the night is quiet. When will the wind blow hither?