It’s been quite some time since I last saw that face. A few wrinkles and a permanent scowl.

The electronic display wasn’t working in the bus stop and I didn’t want to whip out my android to get on to nextmuni. It was then I saw that face. She was sitting on one of those uncomfortable seats fitted in the bus shelters here with her eyes closed. Before I could say anything, the little boy sitting next to her started tugging on her sleeve. I didn’t notice him till that moment. And I anticipated her irritated expression very well as she opened her eyes and turned to him. I had not anticipated it as a sign of mere discomfort at being disturbed. I knew that it’s been her reaction to everything for a long time now. That is when it occurred to me that it’s been quite a while since I saw that face.

Why is it that I don’t see it on the faces of  the women pushing prams around in the suburbs?

How does the little boy see this impotent exercise of limited power?

Saw a man practice tai chi with his baby strapped on and facing panhandle’s mise en scène. Imgaine being the baby, watching the world dance by on it’s cars and jogging shoes.

It’s been a while since I read Calvino‘s delightful rant about books. It goes something like:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading,… With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They Are Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If  You’d Read Them, Too. (…)

So we are talking about choice here. The freedom to chose what we want to read. I read what they said I should be reading when I was 10, when I was 13, and when I was 16. But somewhere between 16 and 19, it all started to change. Obviously, I didn’t see it then as I do now. I’d begun reading books that I thought I should read, that I thought would help me shut that one up and impress this one more, that ostracised me from one bunch and endeared to me another. I was reading books that gave me sentences to build my bias of the world, I was reading books that I could recycle and regurgitate at will. Twenties came and gave me the gift of aesthetic and ownership. I stood before those books that had a glorious jacket, only to be dissuaded continuously by the good sense (of? No, I shall not digress there). I wanted buy the books I’d read and loved with the cover that I thought suited them. All the while validating and vilifying my choices.

I’m still doing some of all of the above.

You see I don’t trust my judgment. I don’t go to a bookstore, stop at the fiction rack, pick up a book- unheard of title (by me) and unknown author (to me), read the blurb, and go to the counter to pay for it. No, I don’t sink into the convenient chair or the low stool to read some more of the book, get a sense of what I would be in for, and then decide to buy it if I like what I read. I go to a bookstore, browse the incredible display of graphics arts manuals/guides, illustration copies, travel books, photography magazines, literary reviews, how-to books on gardening and recycling, and a few of those glossy coffee table spreads. I know I will not buy any of those, or at least not entertain the thought with my current financial status, and happily drift around as the clock ticks by. Oh, I do buy books. Online. Cheap paperbacks or second-hand… I also get them from garage sales, library sales, moving-out sales… And, I have a fetish of buying a book from every place I visit.

Coming back to my judgment, or the lack of it. I buy books that I know I should read. Time-tested classics, as Murakami’s Nagasawa would believe in. Books that a friend suggests would be wonderful. Books that authors I love recommend. Books that are referenced to in those that I’ve read. Paradoxically, I’m averse to the bestseller’s lists. I’m perpetually catching up with books, I do not find myself staring at the space wondering what to read next. I’m not a big fan of critical dissection either before reading the book and rarely find myself running to buy the recently discussed.

None of this, though, is to reflect on my experience of the book.

How would I fare then with this new world of self publishing, its experimental literary fiction, it’s liberating Social Disease, underground tweet marketing, and indie movement? There are times when I wonder if I can ever be one of this generation; on top of my rss feed, bedside books, magazines in the loo, and running for more.

P.S. Literary agent Nathan Bransford on the silent rejection in future.

I caught myself wondering if there was ever a mainstream Indian movie whose narrative allowed a woman: a) to have a sexual liaison before marriage, b) or being ‘accepted’ back into the marriage after a sexual affair.

Yes, the sexual in italics. Now there are a lot of Indian movies, and a host of Hindi cinema titles pop in my head, where sexual interest is hinted at- perfect segue for a dramatic song of unrequited passion or a montage of pining love- but not consummated. Without listing out specifics (like everyone’s favourite example of Nandini-Sameer from the Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam extravaganza), ‘shaadi ke baad’ or ‘after marriage’ has demonized non-marital sex for generations. Hundreds of glossy-maned and starry-eyed young (yes, no matter which -wood you pick your movie from, they are for physically-abled and young; the other side of thirty is saved for awards-only scripts and as for LGBT, you will have to look for a different genre in Netflix hon, it doesn’t fall under ‘regular’ romance) men and women have exemplified relationships based on chaste love and a shelf-life of eternity on silver screen. You don’t find the loud chest-thumping of masculinity of yester years anymore. It’s contemporarily the subtext now.

For women on screen sex comes with entertainment tax – guilt. Whether it’s Shikha in Metro or Aditi in Astitva, everybody is pregnant with guilt. And it is unplanned, they don’t seek it. Neglect from their husbands makes them vulnerable to mortal cravings.  Otherwise, they are to possess a nefarious streak like Mrs. Sonia Khanna from Jism or be deliriously vacuous like Kaya from Dil Kabbadi.

This is not female infanticide, the government will not have to drum out a policy. Just another gruesome subjugation continuing among us.

This is not honour killing, the politicians will not have to genuflect before vote banks. Just an extremity of patriarchy.

We will live with it. Appropriated well by popular culture. We will live with it.

In order to write, it seems, one must lose. Or, art and pain have a story of in-separation. Or, as Byron said several hundred moons before, “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”

In my re-reading jaunt, this dear old EB made me smile, curiously.

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


Oh, and look what the cat found rummaging on the Internet:

SF
little hexagons in tiers and tiers
honeycomb rifled by the bears
and left uneaten on the hills
and all the bay windows unconnected
with the bay really, coincidence

(/incomplete)

P.S. EB, who taught me windrows.

not in that strict order

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