Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anatomy of a Summer's Day

Stops and starts. Jagged edges, none too smooth. Half begun, mostly undone. Unease about easy lassitude. Books picked up and put down. Music feeling easier than it normally does. Verse read so abruptly it reads like staccato.  Extended naps casting day-long trances. Sitting and staring. Thoughts that miss the train to somewhere. Good intentions come to nought. Long lunches and unhurried conversations. Snippets only peripherally absorbed. Minutiae that consumes hours. Plans unspooled. Semi-articulated ideas fashioning and unfashioning themselves. Tall drinks of water we forget to sip at. Bare feet in band-aids. Everything going nowhere, exactly as it should (not). 
Small excesses that slip through our cracks when it's really truly summer.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Heavy and Halting

I have mixed feelings about Hindi. Is that because I've grown up in a place that has concocted its own coarse, bent-out-of-shape version of it? Is it because my classes equipped me with grammar and a vocabulary, but with no ear for or appreciation of the language? Did it all start when I heard a girl from my school use the word 'parantu'  when asking a sandwichwala to make her a sandwich without butter, and realized that I probably sounded exactly like her when I spoke Hindi - awkward, correct but lacking any sense of context? My pronunciations were always off, my handwriting too spiky, my comprehension one step removed.
Hindi was a foreign land and the syllabus that was supposed to help me navigate it only seemed to reinforce this sense of alienness. Short stories and plays that were filled with unfamiliar names, references and words; poems written by heavyweights that quite literally crushed our tentative interest; and everywhere the omnipresent theme - women in society, dowry deaths, the travails of the dark-skinned, religious unity, the importance of striving to be a better person, national pride. Confronted by a Hindi text or even an essay topic, we knew we'd have to weave in or decode a lesson somewhere. The way things were (and might still be) even the most competent teacher couldn't have helped us. And truth be told, some of my Hindi teachers were a type in themselves - stern, thin-lipped, forbidding. Hindi seemed to be a language that took itself too seriously, and when the mandatory exams were done, I chose to let it ebb almost entirely from my life, cultivating my study of English and my facility in my mother-tongue. Looking back, it's no surprise that I ended up speaking Hindi only when I was engaging with strangers. I've dreamt in French when I briefly took lessons, but never - ever - in Hindi.
Why bring this up now? Because in watching a Hindi play this week, I felt all the associations of awkwardness bear down upon me again. I understood most of what was being said but yet it felt as though I couldn't get to the bottom of it - the language, gestures, expressions and ultimately the plot coming together to articulate an aesthetic that was for some reason, faintly but undoubtedly - and annoyingly - impenetrable.
This is partly the fault of the play, whose conventional plot and none-too-subtle metaphors had me wincing as I recalled my textbooks from years past. But it's mostly mine. Hindi is, after all, the language of our government, our popular movies and songs, of much of our public discourse and I'd like to engage with it in a more active, meaningful way. I'm on a quest to watch more plays, more movies, and read more texts but am struggling to find those that don't come across as stage-y or stilted. One braveheart has volunteered to conduct an introductory tour of Hindi theater, and more recommendations are welcome.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Thing About Things

Why do people like stuff quite as much as they do? What about 'things' strikes a silvery-tinsel-spangled chord in our brittle and blase 21st century hearts? Let's be honest - most of us have been there. Coveted, lusted, longed, schemed, plotted, mulled - not in pursuit of an ideal or an idea, but something much baser than that - a representation or an approximation of a thought or desire. Beyond the boring connotations of status and the projection of self, what stuff does is erect fortresses. Stacks 'em up and builds 'em high. Enough so that we don't have to see or consider the unseemly, ugly and difficult. Stuff is the psychological ballast we buy, the defenses we employ, the fun we have. And lest this be seen as a lamentation, it isn't. It's exactly what some of us do with our constructs and arguments. As effectual, or ineffectual - depending on the kind of day we're having, or the mood we're in.

Stuff can make the living of life a little pleasanter, easier, brighter. Ideas can sharpen edges but stuff softens them. Stuff is the tangible, corporeal proof of quality of life, in some ways of material progress and accomplishment.

When it comes to it, if I had to choose between a democracy of ideas or a democracy of stuff, I'm not sure which way I'd go.
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