Kolkata is getting its own literary festival, courtesy the Oxford Bookstore and our very own Maina Bhagat. I’m going to be on a panel for this on the 16th morning, titled rather dauntingly Sex and the City. There’s Ruchir Joshi, Sonia Jabbar, Anita Roy and me, all at the Roxy in the morning, talking about, well, sex and the city, presumably with literature happening somewhere between the sheets (of paper, you dog).
There’s something subtly debauched about being in the Roxy in the morning. It makes you wonder subconsciously what you were doing the night before (are you SURE?)
Here’s the full and nearly final programme (a few names are missing, but substantially this is it): put this in your brand new diaries for 2010.
Also note that the very interesting Atiq Rahimi will be here just after our panel.
Friday 15 January
Igniting Young Minds: event with underprivileged children.
Percussionist Bickram Ghosh & danseuse Jaya Seal will entertain kids with music and dance, andÂ accompany them on a tram ride in the special branded Festival Tram
Venue: Anand Library
Animal Magic by author Subhadra Sengupta and Anita Roy, editor Young Zubaan.
Fun with puppets, dramatised readings and more fromYoung Zubaan/ Apeejay press titles
For kids at Oxford Junior Bookstore
Reading Kolkata… and the World
Panelists: Amit Chaudhuri, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sam Miller + 2
Moderator: Sujata Sen
Venue: Princep Monument
Venue Sponsor: INTACH
Publishing Associate: Penguin Books
Music by: Calcutta School of Music (CSM)
Saturday 16th January
Sex and the City
Panelists: Ruchir Joshi, Sonia Jabbar, Anita Roy, Rimi B. Chatterjee
Moderator: Bachi Karkaria
Venue: Roxy, The Park
Publishing Associate: Westland Tranquebar
Talk with Atiq Rahimi, a French Afghan author and winner of the Goncourt Prize for Syngue Sabour, or Stone of Patience.
Venue: Oxford Bookstore
Publishing Associate: Purple Peacock
Presented by Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival in association with Bonjour India Festival & Embassy of France in India
Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists: Paintings and Drawings from the V&A 1790-1927
British Council and Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival present a panel discussion on India through Western Eyes
Panelists: Pheroza Godrej, Shrabani Basu + 1
Moderator: Sangeeta Dutta
Venue: Victoria Memorial
Followed by dinner at Bengal Club with British Council
Sunday 17th January
Telling Stories: The Graphic Novel and Original Music
Panelists: Sarnath Banerjee, Subhadra Sengupta, Debjani Mukherjee
Mderator: Abhijit Gupta
Original Music by Five little Indians, directed by Neel Adhikari
Venue: Oxford Bookstore
Dreamtalker: Songs, Poems, Essays by Peter Pannke
Readings accompanied by the music of Pt. Prem Kumar Mallick, and Nishant
Venue: Fountain Court, ICCR
Presented by Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival in association with Max Mueller Bhavan, India
Launch of Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond by Rta Kapoor Chisti
Indian Classical Music performance
Display ofÂ vintage saris
Venue: Rosewood Hall, The Park
I know my blog has been rather boring of late. Just to spice things up a bit, here is a post on Savita Bhabhi. Enjoy!
Savita in her first appearance
Dearest Savita Bhabhi,
My most respected bhabhiji, I am writing to say that I miss you very much. It’s been a long time since I last saw you in your home environment, and all I have now are the memories and downloads of your wonderful memoirs.
Don’t worry,Â I don’t blame you for your absence. I know you’re not just being capricious and that it isn’t your fault that we can’t visit you any more. It’s those silly men who’ve put a stop to your appearances, not because they couldn’t take your awesome hotness (though they couldn’t, it’s a fact) but because they couldn’t take your sassy attitude and your power. This is a familiar scenario, and we, your sisters in desire, know all about it.
Savita in Shimla. Lara Croft, eat your heart out
Personally I think it was envy that made them block you and forced you to voluntarily disappear from our screens, though not our hearts. How could they not envy you? You had it all: you had a house, a husband, and a secret life full of adventure and fulfilment. At your high point you spoke ten Indian languages including English, though some of them perhaps not very well.Â With your tiny blouses, chiffon saris, figure hugging churidar kurtas and explosive lingerie, you were a style icon. What more can a girl want? Every day we’d log on to http://www.savitabhabhi.com to find out what you’d been up to during the night, and you always unfailingly entertained us. Yes Savitaji, you were all girl.
That is, we could see you every night until June 3 of this year. That was when the axe fell. For all those who weren’t fortunate enough to know you when we could walk into your bedroom any time, let me give the poor things a potted biography. My friend Savita Bhabhi was the wife of Ashok Patel, and appeared on her website www.savitabhabhi.com (since pulled offline by the prudish Indian government) as ‘a hot Indian bhabhi’. And boy, was she hot.
The episodes of her story saw her start out on her career of ‘saving the world one dick at a time’ by seducing a bra salesman, where a door left fortuitously open while she’s trying on his stuff gives her an idea.Â The second issue saw her get jiggy with two boys whose cricket ball smashes through her window. She goes from strength to strength, ending as far as I know with the two part Miss India issue. As time passes, she becomes more assured of her powers, getting down to business sometimes in the next panel, and trying for ever more daring conquests.
Savita with the two boys who lose their ball in the second issue
For a notice of the ban, see this DNA article, which also alleges that a ‘consumer goods major’ invented a Savita-like character to sell its products in the villages. This turned out to be Procter and Gamble, who invented “Sangeeta Bhabhi” to sell Tide and Head and Shoulders in rural areas. The online gaming site Contest2win also came up with “Kavita Bhabhi” to promote their games. These characters apparently kept their clothes on.
Others marked her passing with some grief. Amit Verma of the India Uncut blog commented on your silencing here. In fact Amit, you’ll be pleased to know, Savita, is a great and early fan of yours, and commented on your first appearance way back in April 2008.Â So is Pritish Nandy. Other fans also weighed in to help: Save Savita (savesavita.com) was set up but shut down a few weeks later, reported due to family pressure on “Deshmukh” the creator, who also revealed his identity as Puneet Agarwal, a 33 year old businessman based in the UK. There was a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but house no 323 remained resolutely locked.
Why did the moral police go after you? You were a good wife, Savita, you did everything your husband asked of you, when he remembered your existence. You always, no matter how naked you got, kept on your thick streak of sindoor in your parting, and most times also your mangal sutra. In fact your mangal sutra, cut and pasted from some photograph onto drawn images of you, was in a sense more real than you: it was a piece of the real world on your imagined body. Interestingly, your cover art above is the only picture I’ve been able to find where you aren’t wearing it. Any special reason, or did the cover artist not read his brief well enough? And don’t ask me which brief.
What really strikes one about the situations you are in is how Indian they are, and how you turn them to your advantage. Every girl has had men lech at her in these circumstances, and every girl has dreamed of getting the better of them, throwing off victimhood, being sexually and socially powerful in the face of challenges. But you did it. You just went ahead and took what you wanted and damn the consequences.
You were the brain child of “Deskhmukh” who wrote most of your scripts (certainly the good ones),Â and you were mostly drawn by a guy or girl called Clank and coloured by a guy or girl called Mad. At first you were described as a ‘hot Guju bhabhi’ but soon your pan-Indian appeal was recognised and you became the darling of the whole country. In your heyday, you had an Alexa rank of 1,078 and your home was the 85th most visited Indian website. Your site was banned on June 3 of this year under regulations that give the Indian government sweeping powers to pretty much do away with any site it doesn’t like. Why were you banned? I draw your attention to this quote by a lawyer, cited on Fish Pond:
“Cartoons are a more participative medium. Videos donâ€™t do as much damage. When a child is watching a cartoon, he imagines himself as the character. This has a deeply corrupting influence on our youngsters. This, apart from the fact that an Indian name was being used in such an obscene cartoon, is what led me to make the complaint,” Vijayashankar said. “A child will see a Savitabhabhi among his relatives.”
Excuse me? Who says cartoons are for kids? Has this man ever watched South Park, and would he understand it if he did? Also, does he have anything to say about the fact that you, Savita bhabhi, in your twelve episodes, are never once raped or molested? That you usually initiate sex and give come ons to the men?
Savita agreeing to save her country
Or is the point that cartoons and pornography don’t mix? I differ with the learned judge on this point: I think porn videos do more damage than comics, because where live people are involved there’s always the risk of exploitation. You can’t exploit a set of lines on paper (whether the artist is being exploited or not is a question of different quality). Well, in the UK as yet, drawings cannot be outlawed as pornography: a very sensible attitude which is in danger of being reversed (see the controversy over Alan Moore’s Lost Girls).
I would have thought the principal objection to pornography is its exploiting of the actors. If porn stars were given equity cards and had union protection that prevented them having to do things they didn’t want to do, I would have no objection to it. Child porn and porn where starving people have no other option but to take their clothes off in front of a camera is not ok in my book. Aside from that, if consenting adults want to film themselves having sex and sell it, let ‘em, and let the people who want to watch it do so, preferably in private and in silence.
OK, a website is hardly private, but it could be. Who is affected by your escapades? The readers? Well, why not have people sign up with age proof to read about you, then, rather than just ban you? Or is that too permissive for Aunty Government? It’s interesting that in your stories there is never a mother-in-law. Perhaps the government and the good people who moved it to act felt they had to step in and play the role. Where would we be without mothers-in-law, anyway?
I think part of the confusion is that some people think SEX IS BAD, and pornography, which is primarily about sex and little else, is therefore also bad. See this interesting post, written by someone who clearly doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for Savita Bhabhi and her ways. This commentator sees the cricket story as close to rape. Yes it does have a line or two that could be interpreted as hostile to Savita (there is no credit for the writer so I don’t know if Deshmukh wrote this one: I suspect not. ) but this is an early aberration and never occurs again in the Savita canon. Then the next point which many have objected to (including Dr Tara Tatiana Pandey: this post is now only available through google cache) is the ‘subaltern’ status of Manoj the servant and possibly the bra salesman, neither of whom are hip urbanites. Dr Pandey makes the point that in te edialogue between Manoj and Savita, the trope of servant master is repeatedly underlined, such as where Savita tells him ‘do your work well’ or that she will work him hard. Here of course the learned doctor has missed the double entendre behind ‘work’ — unsurprising, because she seems to think that the story of the lost virginity in Episode 6 (not 4 as she says) is Savita’s not Chhaya’s. Close reading is clearly not her forte. See also Arvind Gaba’s comments on Deshmukh, including an ‘interview’ with him which may or may not be genuine.
In any case, Savita my dear, you’re not a person. You are gloriously free from the corporality we all suffer from: you’ll never sag or go wrinkly, you lucky thing. You can be as ethereal or as fleshy as your artist wants to make you. That’s why you’re everyone’s favourite bhabhi. You can be as perfect as the sweaty dreams of man (and woman) can make you.
Coming back to the non-exploitative nature of your stories. Had they chosen to, the writers and moderators (going by the collective name “Indian Porn Empire”) could have told such stories of rape and pain, which we’re only too familiar with from B-grade Bollywood stuff. In the chat room that was attached to your original website, readers posted scenarios they wanted to see written up. These included stories where you were raped on trains, gang-banged by robbers, by the police and other uncomfortable situations. I don’t know why Indian men wanted these things to happen to you; maybe you can tell me why?
Savita taking on Jwala
To your and their credit, your writers and editors never did any of that to you. Even in ‘The Interview’, where you apply for a job and end up having a threesome with your friend and the portly manager, it’s still all consensual. And what’s more, you get the job. You’re a porn star, not a slab of meat, for chrissakes. The whole point of the story is that you’re a horny woman who does what she wants. That’s the real turn on.
In fact, you’re even a spy for your country. You agree to go into the dangerous camp of Daku Jwala Gadar, somewhere in Himachal Pradesh, to spy on him and lure him into the clutches of the Indian police force. And why not? Even dakus have a softer side. They need excitement and pleasure just like everyone else.
Savita giving Jwala all she's got
Never mind that this is one of your daydreams: you would have done it if the country had the balls to call on your special skills. Instead of banning you, the Indian government should have taken up your offer of help, and seriously thought of using your courage and your power to make India safer. If they had been so farsighted, this is what would have happened.
Savita was not your average porn hottie. If she was, us girls wouldn’t have wasted any time on her. She was brought to my notice by another turbo babe, who told me to look beyond appearances and pay particular attention to the thought bubbles hovering over Savita’s head as she plays out her fantasies with the men she encounters.
Is Savita, as the men often think she is, the submissive good girl conditioned to take orders, preyed on by rapacious men’s appetites? Or is she the puppetteer who makes them dance from her manicured fingertips? Can you tell us this, Savitaji? Are you powerful or powerless? I think I know what your answer would be. The men you encounter have no doubt of who is the stronger: they’re all in the palm of your hand. If you want to make them feel strong and manly, they feel so, if not, they don’t. It’s up to you.Â Reality was whatever you wanted it to be, because you were always desirable and desiring.
And furthermore, isn’t there something transgressive and redeeming about your cross-class, (and maybe cross-caste) relationship with Manoj, your servant, lover and masseur? Again, purists will object that he is your servant and therefore you are in a position of authority over him, which you abused when you took him to bed. But where else is a woman hemmed in by the categories of middle-class life going to get her thrills? And what about the story he tells you, of how he lost his virginity in the village, to a girl who was to be married to a rich old man. This girl, Chhaya, wants to taste the pleasures of sex once before she marries, and Manoj obliges. Having assured her chances of bearing a child, she gets married, and all is burfi and rosepetals.
Savita meets Jeet. Any resemblance is purely incidental -- or is it?
In between, Savita takes on a beauty contest for married women. Deciding to teach a lesson to an ex-model who is giving the other girls a hard time, Savita enters the contest. Of course she’s going to win: no one is as hot as she is, but to make assurance doubly sure she decides to convince the judge up close of her charms.
Savita on Highway 69
The judge is none other than the famous elder filmstar Jeet Kumar, he of the dapper French-cut beard and the erratically dyed hair. His resemblance to Amitabh Bachchan (specifically the character Sexy Sam in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna) predictably sparked off a controversy, with Karan Johar, is a fit of brain sickness, actually threatening to sue Indian Porn Empire for character theft. Thankfully better sense prevailed. In the West in any case, parody is protected by the First Amendment in the US and various laws in the UK.
She drives off with Jeet Kumar, and they converse. Savita doesn’t believe in beating around the, er, bush, so she gets down to it on the highway. Realising they’re having too much fun to keep driving, they turn off onto Highway 69 and Savita arranges herself winningly on the hood of the Honda City. As she’s making her presentation to the judge regarding her suitability for the title, a truck driver happens to pass. Savita is gratified. She’s made two men happy in one fell swoop.
The contest concludes and Savita awaits the results. As she sits in a back room, she worries about her prospects. Should she have done all three judges, including the woman? That would have been fun: she fantasises it in detail. Her daydream is broken by the arrival of another judge, who has ‘heard a lot about her’ and wants to see if it’s all true.
Of course, it is, and Savita obliges, necessitating a further outing for the famous red panties. Needless to say, no one can resist her. She is crowned Mrs Burgaon (sic), and rightly so.
Savita on the kitchen counter
But forgive me, Savita, I have been talking about you in the third person. Very remiss of me: no one can do that when you’re in the room. I haven’t yet got around to celebrating your resourcefulness and your cool nerve.
Who else could have sex with Ashok Patel’s colleague Lata’s bored and neglected husband in the kitchen on a tiny counter while Ashok and Lata sit in the living room, twenty feet away through an open door? That takes guts.
The classic fork trick
The session on the counter unfortunately concludes prematurely, but nothing daunted, Savita has an idea during dinner. After all, the poor man (another Manoj) looks so bored and neglected next to his fat wife. She tries a little footsie, but this isn’t enough. She wants ‘more of what Manoj was giving me inside the kitchen’. and to that end, she employs the time honoured oops-I-dropped-a-fork trick and heads south. Under the table, she blows him, then reappears to say ‘That was a delicious meal. I would love to have some more, but I am so full.’ Corny, yes, but all the best lines are.
Savita, you were so much bigger and rounder than their wildest fantasies. You liked everyone who was willing to play the game, whether they were ugly or good-looking, thin or fat, young or old. You were a true democrat, and God knows there isn’t enough of that around in the claustrophobic, overdecorated little flats of the middle class.
Going home from Highway 69
What endeared you most to us was your innocence. Nothing could ever harm you, in the jungles of beauty contests and very odd office interviews, in doctor’s chambers and lingerie stores. Through situations that would have curled the hair of us real women, you sailed through with such savoir faire as took our breath away. Now here some might say that in so doing, you made the world a more dangerous place for us, that because of you the wolves would see a Savita Bhabhi in every woman and treat us accordingly. But I prefer to see it differently. Perhaps your radiant hedonism will make us less uptight about our own desires. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Even when artists drew you badly and made your titties inflate and deflate like barrage balloons from panel to panel, you were so confident of your appeal and your desires, unlike most of us on this fallible, more-than-four-colour earth. Even when the ghosts of Sridevi, Amrita Singh, Amisha Patel, Sushmita Sen and a dozen starlets from a handful of decades flitted across your features from stuttering pencils, you were still indefinably yourself. Maybe someday you’ll come back to us. I’ll drink to that. Here’s to the little red panties! May they go up and down like the Bombay stock exchange.
STOP PRESS: I’ve just been told that the ban on Savita Bhabhi has been lifted. You can read episodes 13-16 on a number of sites, for example www.kirtu.com. I see that episode 14 is the train story, but in it Savita seduces Jai, a young virgin, the brother of Roshni and friend of Shobha (Shobha is the girl who gets Savita into the “Miss India” cvontest.) Shobha watches Savita have sex with Jai, is turned on, and decides that she has a lot to learn from Savita.
Episode 16: shower action
Clank has drawn the series again from episode 14 onwards, with only episode 13, ‘College Girl Savi’, being drawn by ‘Many Face’. In ‘College Girl Savi’ she’s supposed to be in college but wears a uniform: this seems to be influenced by manga. Rather predictably, she seduces a professor who had threatened to fail her, with chair-trembling results. This is also the frist time we see a condom being used, although more as a sex toy than as safe sex precaution. But then this is about fantasy, and condoms don’t appear for the same reason that characters in Hollywood movies never lock their cars.
Episode 15, ‘Ashok at Home’ is hilarious: Ashok is at home for once instead of Savita, and an unending train of suitors turn up looking for her, from the cable guy to the kulfi wallah. Their memories and fantasies appears as flashbacks. Ashok is very puzzled as to why they press their services on him for free, saying they will ‘settle the account’ with Bhabhi later. Poor Ashok is the only person Savita never sleeps with, deservedly, since he’s a pompous ass.
To continue my thread of posts on games. As you can see the debate is hotting up, and Deepak has weighed in with his considered opinion. Deepak Sharma, for those of you who don’t know him, is the artist of Kalpa as well as a dedicated gamer, and he shares my conviction that games aren’t just jumping pixels with raspberry sound effects. He says that the best games are now on a par with cinema. I haven’t played any of the really new games, in fact none of the ones on his list, so I can’t comment from my own knowledge. But I do agree that one can feel for the in-game characters, whether playing or non-playing, as if they were real, provided the story gives you the scope to do so. The crucial element, the factor that raises the game (or the film or the graphic novel) above the status of perfect but soulless shell is the story.
if you look at the trajectory of cinema (or the graphic novel for that matter) you’ll see that both forms very quickly attracted master storytellers, much before they acquired technical gloss and refinement. With games, development has happened in the opposite direction: technical gloss has arrived ahead of the stories. You can see why if you look at the history of the form, especially at the communities that gave birth to the gaming world. The comparatively slow catch-up by four-colour printing and cinematographic technology was determined by the general rate of development of world technology at the time.
But technology did not drive the evolution of cinema: conceptually cinema grew out of photography which grew out of figurative classical painting. Till the modern photographic camera arrived on the scene, artists trained themselves to produce realism, or hyperrealism, on canvas. The moment photography became widespread, you got a revolt against realism in the arts, because there was no longer any glory in doing what machines could do. The same thing happened to song lyrics. When music became a mega-industry, the written lyric or poem (as opposed to the sung one) immediately tried to disappear up its own ass. Hence most of what passes for poetry these days, with a few heroic exceptions, is plain shit.
Because cinema and the comic book, as art forms, came out of ‘high’ art, they could draw on the narrative traditions and resources of the older aesthetic. The philosophy of epic poetry isn’t so far away from the Hulk or Wonder Woman (the latter traces her lineage to ancient Greece). Frankenstein’s monster is David Bannerman’s brother. But the gaming world grew out of a substrate of scientific experiment, statistical modelling, military intelligence and machine coding, with a smattering of Cold War-era sci-fi and Commando-type sojer-stories, most of which promoted a simple, Manichaean worldview in which the White Hats battled the Black Hats until the White Hats won or at least destroyed the world trying (Game Over/Play Again?). It had no older tradition of art which it could cannibalise, react against, transcend or re-form.
So the gaming world grew out of a technophil community that understood the how much better than the what. The expertise of gamers and game-makers quickly pushed the tech horizon far out into hyperspace, but the stories were neglected. Storytelling isn’t easy: you have to have natural aptitude honed with brutal training, just like coding. (Remember: code is poetry.) The gaming community weren’t trained in telling stories, and if they did come from a background in the arts it was more likely to be in the graphic or the plastic arts rather than literature. So because it wasn’t what they did, they thought it was easy, boring and not worth wasting effort over (don’t ask me why, but techies always think this about things they can’t do. It’s a major mystery.) Hence the rather pathetic excuses-for-stories you sometimes get in games. To be fair, there are plenty of B-grade movies which display exactly the same defects, for the same reasons.
But the question isn’t why games have bad stories, it’s whether they can have good ones. The short answer to that is: we don’t know. No one has definitely proved this one way or the other. However, there seems to be a definite upward curve in the complexity and sophistication of the stories in games, if only because individual game-makers want to give the competition a black eye, and the arms race with the physics and the gameplay is starting (perhaps) to slow down. Also there are new kinds of customers out there, such as my seven-year-old niece who has now completed a respectable percentage of the Barbie games and is playing Pyjama Sam (no relation to Serious Sam). Little girls, by and large, don’t like shooting things and are unreasonably addicted to pink (actually all kids like pink but the girls take the rap.) What sort of games will she want to play as she grows up? She already talks to her characters. She also writes stories and has made a comic strip using a rubber stamp set of bird pictures, so she doesn’t seem to see any genre disjunct between the three (or four) modes: games, graphic novels, books and cinema. She’s the first generation for whom all four modes are equally present and available.
So will the market, as it diversifies and changes, drive a hunger for more and different stories? It will if people listen to it, as late capitalism likes to think it does. (But does it really? can you really buy the products you want? Ad hype aside, do the manufacturers really care what you want and will they really sell it to you?) Storytellers are generally underpaid whether they work for print, film or pixel-crunchers, and it may be cheaper to hire one than to get another state-of-the-art 3D wraparound theatre or hydroponic Venusian wonderworld for the quicktime stimulation of your creative team. These lowly proletarians of the artistic world will then drift about looking dreamy or lock themselves in the staff toilet and after some time and toilet paper, come up with the narrative skeleton for a genre-breaker. If they can then push it past the sphincter of the company’s editorial board, we might just see the game that will change everything.
Until then, all bets are off.
All is not lost: ISRO is reaching out to you. The Telegraph carried this story on 1 November.
Special show on moon mission
MP Birla Planetarium is planning a special show dedicated to Chandrayaan-1 by the end of 2009, inspired by the interest generated in the city by Indiaâ€™s maiden moon mission.
The planetarium authorities hope the programme will enhance their academic and public outreach initiatives and provide a boost to their existing shows on space and the solar system.
The content of the show will include information released by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) after it analyses the data collected by Chandrayaan-1.
â€œNot just the launch, we also want to show the successful working of the scientific instruments as soon as Isro publishes the data,â€ said Debiprosad Duari, the director (research and academics) of the planetarium.
Duari will soon meet ISRO officials for using their findings for the special programme.
The show will present high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface and clear video footage sourced from Isro. The visuals will be described in a language that can be understood by people of all ages and academic backgrounds, Duari said.
â€œThe show will also discuss the next moon mission, Chandrayaan 2, which will place a robotic vehicle on the moon that will analyse its chemical and geological structure,â€ he added.
The mission has captured the imagination of city students, who have been asking Duari about career opportunities in space science and allied subjects.
â€œThere was a lot of curiosity among students at the Childrenâ€™s Science Congress in Jorhat earlier this month, as well as at the Haldia Institute of Technology. They didnâ€™t just want to know about the launch but also about what they should study to join the moon mission,â€ said Duari, who will hold a lecture on the spacecraftâ€™s explorations at BITM on November 4.
Chandrayaan-1 is scheduled to reach its final orbit on November 8, after which it will start mapping the lunar terrain, scanning the surfaceâ€™s mineral content, searching for sub-surface water and ice in the polar regions and performing a chemical analysis of the moon and its environment.
This should be worth seeing when it’s up and running. Provided it actually does have new data. If you can be at BITM tomorrow, worth going to the lecture (I have classes and a meeting with Kriyetic).
I should also add that I earlier misrepresented ISRO as a quasi-defense organisation. It is not, although like any governmental body it has close links with other arms of the government and carries out work on contract for DRDO (as does my own university and a number of other respected civilian bodies). It also generates fundign for many of its programmes by hiring out its launch vehicles to other countries and putting their satellites in orbit.
A number of commetns circulated in online chat forums and doing the rounds as email memes have criticised the Chandrayaan mission as ‘wasteful’. I am tempted to use Michael Faraday‘s of-what-use-is-a-newborn-baby retort (about electricity) in response (if he actually said that). Satellites have already revolutionised communications, the media and weather-watching in this country, the last very important given our predisposition to natural calamities. You could say that, if we know so much about weather from our satellites, we should be doing a better job of preventing floods like the Kosi disaster and the recent flooding in the northeast, but that only means our on-the-ground measures remain poor, and we don’t utilize our information to the maximum.
No one can tell right now what good (or otherwise) Chandrayaan will do. But it’s already making ordinary people talk about space and the moon. Surely that’s a start?
Anjum Hasan, Lunatic in My Head
Anjum Hasan, Lunatic in My Head, Zubaan Penguin 2007, paperback, ISBN 8-18-988405-0, Rs 295/-
To continue my review binge.
Anjum is my fellow shortlistee from Crossword, but we were friends before that. She and her partner Zac* came to the 2005 creative writing workshop that I conducted with Amitav Ghosh, where she read out what I later recognised as a part of the opening sequence of Lunatic in My Head. reading the book now, I get a sounder appreciation of what she was trying to say then.
The book is a careful portrait of the society of Shillong, its oddities, tensions and quiet epiphanies. It follows a number of key characters around the town, recording how thier destinies meet and intertwine. Shillong is a palpable presence in Anjum’s poetry as well, as you can see from her collection Street on the Hill (Sahitya Akademi, 2006). She herself grew up in that town, though she now lives in Bangalore, so there is more than a bit of autobiography in the work. This is a perfectly valid premise from which to write, but it does run the risk of being tyrannised over by the hegemony of the real. I would have preferred her to be bolder about the fictional validity of the space she creates, to claim for it a more metaphoric and resonant significance than she asks for it from the reader.
Aman Moondy is a young man obsessed with Pink Floyd, who is trying to organise one of those institutions of the seventies, a Happening. He’s backed up by a motley crew of part-time musicians and oddballs, but he has to reckon with Ribor and his supercool, going-nowhere bunch of bully boys. Firdaus Ansari is a youngish college lecturer with mild obsessive complusive disorder, trying to teach her unimpressed students the intricacies of English literature (I admit I felt a pang of sympathy) while also coping with her dependent and authoritarian grandfather and her inscrutable boyfriend. Sophie is a somewhat neglected, sensitive child, whose wayward moods and knack for getting into trouble bring together two disparate families. The characters are carefully drawn, in spite of the odd inconsistency here and there; for instance Firdaus’s final redemption is a little unconvincing. But the pettiness of staffroom quarrels, the posturing of young boys trying to out-cool each other, the wide eyed hopelessness of the town drunk, the beautiful and slightly formidable Angel War, all these things stick in the mind long after you’ve put the book down.
Street on the Hill
The book sets itself modest objectives: to show these lives in the setting where they have their being, and in this is succeeds admirably. It also refuses to let the northeast lie down in its marginal box. Aman Moondy writes his hopes and fears in letters to Roger Waters; he becomes convinced that Waters is soaking up his ideas and working them into songs. On the back cover there is a playful glossary which glosses not only ‘dkhar’ (Khasi word for non-tribal) and ‘kwai’ (what we would call paan) but ‘Jane Austen’, ‘adopt’, ‘Pink Floyd’ and ‘pregnant’. No Orientalising intent can be read in such an artefact.
However, the book’s low key approach leaves the reader in danger of missing the significance of its quiet amble through the scenes of this town. Anjum has deliberately shied away from the dramatic and the spectacular, perhaps to show the reader that this is a place seen even by its own inhabitants as a place serenely resistant to change. The Happening fails to happen (although it takes place), but nevertheless the characters confront and overcome despair, loneliness and death. Firdaus is the primary referent for these emotions; her deliquescence and rebirth drive the action that is resolved when she realises that a woman she knew in a mundane, everyday way was in fact at the centre of a tragedy of passion ending in death. The story of Aman Moondy and his friends also brings out what it’s like to be young in this small, self satisfied static community and the frustration and rage that comes with it. The story of Sophie is, however, weak and overlong, and does not link very well to the other strands of the book. The intention here is to show the social underside of this world — the unsaid social conventions, the strange things adults do — through a child’s eyes, but Sophie never quite develops beyond her role of reference point.
As such, the book is an interesting study, but seems more like the book Anjum had to write before she could get her past out of her system and really create some stories. Many writers begin like this and it’s not necessarily a disadvantage. But it has its risks: relying too heavily on the autobiographical means you may find, once you’ve written the book of your life, that you have no more to tell. The transition from testament to storytelling is the next step, and it can be a tricky one, as I’ve said elsewhere.
Anjum is also an accomplished poet, and her poems turn her formidable powers of observation into her strengths. The reticence and the stillness that sometimes bog down the novel make the poems shine all the more with plangent images. I absolutely have to quote one:
Families like ours from the plains who think ‘plains’
is a naked howling word, a treeless stony word.
We could get killed — casually — and all our reading
(fat books, fragile wisdom squeezed from intersections
of English and feeling, encounters on the page that
shaped, quickened, instigated) would come to nothing.
We could get hurt and it just wouldn’t be meaningful –
our suffering — no blow equal to a sentence of history
but just someone taking graffiti literally,
soemone who thinks of giving and receiving pain
in ways far too primal for literature’s kind of cunning.
And then the thingless families who nevertheless
move solid through the suburban air:
straw-haired children who build
their make-believe home in a disused jeep trailer,
the bare-footed woman who pulls clothes
from the line and goes in quickly
when the clouds come down.
Maybe at night the woman’s mouth softens when
she sees the children asleep, their dusty legs
tangled with each other’s on the narrow bed.
Maybe she just sits like that for a long time
in the one-bed empty house, not thinking of much
though the frogs set up a harsh croaking
from the ditches, and the drunkards pass by in pairs,
explaining things to each other on the wet road.
Announcement: Anjum Hasan will be reading from her work at the Srijan rooftop (120 Lenin Sarani) on 19 October at 5.00pm. Please send a mail to srijan2000ATgmaildotcom if you would like to attend.
* Zac writes in Swedish, which he says regretfully is ‘not yet an Indian language’.
Yes, the world of the cricket fan will never be the same again.
Once was that people would actually come to a stadium/switch on their TVs NOT to watch Bollywood stars in muscle tees or halters, NOT to ogle at young white women in miniskirts, and NOT to while away a couple of scant hours before dinnertime. No, instead they watched a mythical thing called cricket, designed to test the moral fibre of fan and player alike. Back in the day, it didn’t matter if your telephone didn’t work, if your passport took two years to arrive, or your roads were designed for square wheels. You were still part of this great nation called India, a word which was also the name of a cricket team. So what if the five days of play were meant to be working days. So what if commentators specialised in stating the obvious at dictation speed. One was meant to spend every waking hour being there, participating — electronically or in person. It wasn’t enough to go about your business knowing that the team, like Ma Durga, was using its five days fruitfully to defeat evil. You had to cheer.
The business of cheering is now the subject of a contract with an outfit improbably named the Washington Redskins. This epitome of American jock culture, as politically incorrect as the day is long, is bringing a little bit of wholesome, Barbified, milk-fed, middle American kitsch to the TV screens of the Indian middle class. Cheerleaders and halftime routines (albeit a little wobbly) have been imported by main force from non-cricket-playing-nations, but the lolling tongues that have greeted them here are totally Indian. The cameras oblige with at least one up-skirt shot per dance routine, and if you’ve noticed, every time the game comes back after the ad break you get a little glimpse of the girls and the tail-end of an erudite conversation between the commentators before the camera is whisked away, suggesting that while TV audiences were busy watching happy families buy life insurance, our friends were getting an eyeful.
In case the girls didn’t turn you on, the bad boys of Indian cricket put up a little Fight Club type show (Sreesant and Bhajji slugging it out), followed by the floods of tears normally seen in saas-bahu serials. Now that they’re on opposing sides, they clearly feel duty-bound to act like playground bullies.
What does all this mean for us, the audiences? Well, to get a perspective on the whole thing, let’s separate the issue of the IPL and its media circus from the issue of twenty20 generally.
Regarding the IPL’s tasteless and over-the-top razzmatazz, you have to remember that the ICL just concluded, sans razz and big bucks, and the IPL is desperately playing second fiddle while trying to make people forget that there would have been no IPL had not private enterprise called Sharad Pawar’s bluff. The fuss around it will die down as soon as the BCCI decides that they’ve made enough of an impression on audiences to have upstaged the ICL and safeguarded their credit with sponsors. The cheerleaders are useful not only to give the audiences something to watch when a boundary is hit, but also because the dust raised by the outrage will camouflage the other glaring shortcomings of the BCCI, so that they can creep quietly away. Already Maharashtra has obligingly changed the subject by proposing to ban the hollaback girls like the bar dancers before them. As the state which hosts Bollywood, most of whose hot properties can be seen on screen wearing rather less than half of what the cheerleaders wear, Maharashtra clearly has a problem with indecent white females.
Instead, let’s look at harsher questions about the game itself. The format: people are still asking if this is a good idea or not. Let’s remember that of most games, you can’t even ask this question. Cricket must be the only game that can be played in such a wide variety of formats. Yes, you can play five-a-side or nine-a-side football, but you can’t really make it any longer (the players would die of exhaustion) or shorter (you’d blink and it’d be gone). Cricket is a protean game, shapeable any way you want. Since the possibilities exist, and as we’ve seen there’s no loss of entertainment value, why not try them out?
In the very short period of twenty20 being in the world so far, we’ve seen that it really is a new kind of cricket. If you’ve been watching the matches closely, you’ll have noted that the one factor that really makes a difference now is strategy. This is so crucial that is could be called the make-or-break factor now. In a longer game, an individual has a chance to play hero, to wrest the initiative away from everyone else and take hold of the game. Egos, therefore, could operate. Ego in a twenty20 game is a recipe for disaster. The teams that have done well have been ones with strong cohesion and canny leadership (I’m thinking here of Shane Warne’s team); the teams overloaded with stars but without a clear idea of what they’re about have tanked. Players who have trouble controlling their emotions and who always want to hog the limelight have been treated very unkindly by the game. Player will have to evolve a new way of playing to deal with this. Individual performances will still be important (like Brendan McCullum’s) but they will not be match-breakers unless they’re also backed up with a well thought out strategy. With so little time in hand, the team will have to play as thought thirty overs of their game are already over, and with the same firm decisions as to what they must do next.
It’s also wonderful that we who earn our livings can now actually watch a match from end to end without casual leave and cricinfo.com. On the down side, the popularity of twenty20, whether ICL or IPL, has probably killed forever any faint chance we might have had one day of an Indian football league.
Finally, is ‘Brendan’ likely to become a popular Bengali name?
…Three TV channels catch a cold. This is the scene on the day after the student election results in the Arts faculty. Yes, the day after. Honestly, there must be hapless people whose beat is this university. Their bosses must tell them every morning, ‘Go to JU and take pictures of people who look vaguely interesting. Or have faces. Or can focus both eyes at the same time.’ Unhappily for them, they got nothing but some footage of rong-khela, which by now is old hat.
Sometimes I think this is really too much. Are we here to teach people or to provide entertainment to the masses? Of course I admit that we are on occasion highly entertaining. but nevertheless…
Today is Holi, Fateh ud Doaz Daham, Navroz and Good Friday. It’s also the Spring Equinox, the big mama of all festivals which most of the former are designed to represent.
The movable feasts of human time are the result of a fundamental incompatibility between the lunar and the solar calendars. The earth takes 365 and a bit days to go round the sun, while the moon takes roughly 350 days to complete 12 revolutions round the earth. If you count months (in the sense of ‘moons’) then you’ll complete your lunar year before the earth has returned to the same position in its orbit. This means the seasons won’t come at a fixed time every lunar year: a huge problem if you’re trying to work out when to plant crops or move to new pastures. Only cultures which never made a big deal of agriculture, such as those that have developed in the various desert places of the world, can afford to ignore the solar calendar.
This bizarre behaviour on the part of the two biggest lights in the sky must have been a major pain in the butt for the religions of the past. It’s hard to argue for the harmony of the universe and the benevolence of the Creator if he goes and messes up something so basic. The lunar calendar is more obvious than the solar one, because the changes in the moon’s shape happen daily and are hard to ignore, and to discover the solar calendar a culture must be sophisticated enough to work out that there is a pattern in the heat-and-cold of life, and this has something to do with the way the sun moves up and down in the sky. Again, one usually has to live in one place, or not move about very much, to make this discovery. Usually in human history this discovery has heralded a huge jump in the sophistication of the culture concerned. The most famous of these were the Babylonians, traces of whose system still survive today (we still have sixty minutes and seconds).
The Babylonians didn’t trust the universe at all and kept close tabs on what all those heavenly bodies were getting up to. It took humanity a long time and much observation to arrive at this scepticism. For even if primitive peoples noticed that the sun moved about, they still had to work out WHY it did this. Why should the sun go away and then come back again in this inconsiderate and inconvenient way? Was it trying to make people miss it? Were they supposed to be grateful when it came back? what if it didn’t? Cultures are usually not so insecure about the sun’s rising, since that happens regular as clockwork and you’d have to be really paranoid to think it might not. But winter and summer are far apart enough to stretch the unlettered human memory and cause the odd crisis of faith in a bad year.
So you have the birth of magic: a set of actions designed to make the sun jolly well come back, or else. As Sir James Fraser pointed out, magic usually predates religion, and it shows a confident belief that if we just know which buttons to push, we can make the universe work. Religion happens when magic fails: either because pushing the buttons fails to get a response, or because one forgets to push the buttons and the thing happens anyway. That’s when people realise that saying ‘Do this!’ isn’t helping. Perhaps they ought to be saying, ‘Please, please, please do this, if it isn’t too much trouble, and we’ll promise to be good and give you lots of nice virgins.’ Or similar. At this point the forces of nature become gods.
The sun and moon are popular gods because they’re always there and they clearly do things. Indeed, most of the current top ten of established divinities show signs of originally having been gods of sun or moon. Frequently they have as their symbol, or are associated with, one or the other. Jesus’s birth and death day were observed by his earliest converts, who were usually followers of the sun god Mithras, a popular god among Roman soldiers and the same as the Vedic Mitra. Mithras died at the winter solstice and was resurrected at the spring equinox, as were many of the fertility gods of the ancient world. With a kind of conservation of religious belief, Jesus merely replaced him in the calendar.
Thus Christmas coincides with the Solstice and Easter (the name of which comes from ‘Austron’, a goddess and distant relative of Astarte) coincides with the Spring Equinox. The Ka’aba was originally the Place of the Moon, and the crescent moon of Id is reborn. Holika, the demon whose death is commemorated in Holi, is burnt is a bonfire of old things, symbolising a cleansing. The original meaning of Holika Dahan has been obscured by later traditions which assert that she was the aunt of Prahlad and assimilate the story to Vaishnav lore. Certainly the burning of a woman with a child in her lap is a very odd custom. The use of red powder in the playing-with-colour is probably a stand-in for sacrificial blood. Note that on Bijoya Dashami people are also marked with red as a sign of victory: a metonymic combat and bloodshed.
Death in early magic and religion was the ultimate way of getting the gods to listen to you. The victim, who was usually a particularly courageous and virtuous member of the clan, was sent to be an intercessor with the higher powers, and more often than not went willingly. Later, as religion became more ossified and people lost the easy faith of earlier times, human sacrifice was evaded or devolved onto less choice members, finally becoming animal and then vegetable sacrifice. But traces and relics of earlier ways persist as metaphor and symbol. However, sacrifice is more common at the Autumn Equinox and at the Winter Solstice, when things are going badly; so the Spring Sacrifice probably was commuted very early in human history. Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, suggests that the Spring Sacrifice might have been the occasion for the appointment of a new king and consort to the goddess-queen (and a sacrifice of the old).
So today is the non-denominational occasion of the Rites of Spring. It commemorates humanity’s first encounter with time. All the rest is just the shed skins of dead belief.
Can anyone tell me what this is all about?
This ad has been appearing in the Telegraph for some days now. It’s a promotional for Jhuma Lahiri’s latest book of short stories. In case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says, ‘Guess the name of Jhumpa Lahiri’s new collection of short stories and you could win an autographed copy of her new book slated to be released on the 4th of April. SMS the title of the book (BOOK(space)name of book(space)your name) to 58569.’
Given how random book titles often are, this seems rather like a cruel joke. How the hell are we to have a clue as to what the damn thing is called? Could be anything, for no enormity is too great to be strained at by a marketing department. So long as it looks like it’ll hook readers, practically anything goes. In fact the weird book title is something of an in-joke in publishing, and the Bookseller magazine even runs an annual competition for the oddest title of the year. Not many of us have the good fortune to author a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers) or The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification (Julian Montague).
Oh I see, it says at the bottom of the ad that a sample of the work is to appear in ‘Graphiti’ tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sample is in fact the title story. Because there’s no point in setting people a puzzle like this and offering them a measly autographed copy and not a holiday in the Bahamas or five BMWs, unless the question is a sitter. It’s like those game shows that are basically gambling with a fig leaf of contesting: Guess how many feet you have and you could be the lucky winner of a small crystal Ganesh and a lifetime supply of Rasna!
No one is surprised when airconditioners or hampers of shampoo are marketed on this principle, but this is the first time anyone has tried it for books. Is it likely to work? Somehow I doubt it. Perhaps this sort of thing is routine in the west, but even so, surely they could have come up with a more intelligent and interesting contest idea? This is so boring it’s like the prizes you used to get for elocution at school. With all due respect to the writer, somehow a book with her name written on it isn’t quite the reward you would want for duplicating the titanic efforts of her publisher’s marketing department.
There’s also something slightly offensive about the copy of the ad. These days turning the tables on the West has become something of a fad. The implication of the offer seems to be that we Indians can now ‘name’ something produced in the West rather than have it shoved down our throats. Although of course we can’t since the book is already done and dusted. What’s more, there’s an obscure air of grovelling about it, as though the owner of an Indian takeaway in New York were to beg the Indian public to authenticate his Chicken Balti Masala. He knows perfectly well that the New Yorkers don’t give a damn, but it would make him feel better about selling the stuff, as well as avoid alienating any Indians who might stray into his establishment and be appalled at it. Similarly, that other great Indian export, fiction, sometimes betrays a weirdly manipulative nostalgia for the good old kitchens of home. Witness the endless gushing about food in the writings of the hopelessly diasporic: sure sign of inappropriate sentimentality about a place they left at near light speed.
I think the promoters of this book have misjudged how desperate people might be to get hold of a copy of it. I’ll be interested to see who wins.