Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Martin Amis - words fail me

I really wish Martin Amis would just shut the fuck up. But no, he continues to spew crap. Sample these gems:

And he has always loved this multiracialism, he says. "At that time, I had a Pakistani girlfriend, I had an Iranian girlfriend, I had a South African girlfriend, all of whom were Muslim. It's interesting. The Iranian one – this is 1969 – was into mini skirts and discos because she was not an inhabitant of an Islamic republic but of a decadent monarchy 10 years before the revolution. The Pakistani girl was just beginning to kind of Westernise. You would – I don't know – just look at her and just feel eons between you."

"I know it's a great tradition of the British left to support Palestine, but when you come up against this question, you can feel the intelligence and balance leaving the hall with a shriek, and people getting into this endocrinal state about Israel. I just don't understand it. The Jews have a much, much worse history than the Palestinians, and in living memory. But there's just no impulse of sympathy for that... I know we're supposed to be grown up about it and not fling around accusations of anti-Semitism, but I don't see any other explanation. It's a secularised anti-Semitism. Do you want another drink yet?"

What a fucktard.

And this from Dalrymple's review of Amis' new book The Second Plane -

Amis is at least aware of his weaknesses: “Geopolitics may not be my natural subject,” he writes in the introduction, “but masculinity is.” This is the basis for the most crass of all the arguments made in this book: that bombs are going off because Muslims are not getting enough sex.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

To say "I Lived"


Bu dünya soğuyacak,
yıldızların arasında bir yıldız,
hem de en ufacıklarından,
mavi kadifede bir yaldız zerresi yani,
yani bu koskocaman dünyamız.

Bu dünya soğuyacak günün birinde,
hatta bir buz yığını
yahut ölü bir bulut gibi de değil,
boş bir ceviz gibi yuvarlanacak
zifiri karanlıkta uçsuz bucaksız.

Şimdiden çekilecek acısı bunun,
duyulacak mahzunluğu şimdiden.
Böylesine sevilecek bu dünya
"yaşadım" diyebilmen için...

Nazim Hikmet, Şubat 1948

In English

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet -
I mean this, our great earth.

This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space...

You must grieve for this right now
- you have to feel this sorrow now -
for the world must be loved this much
if you're going to say "I lived"...

Nazim Hikmet, February 1948
Translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

The poem in full here.

There is much that I want to write...half written posts are all around, but I haven't had the time or space to clear my head and actually organize my thoughts. Faiz has been a constant every single night (and during the day - all I seem to be listening to these days is a mix of Nayyara Noor and Iqbal Bano). In between there have been bits of Hikmet.

I do mean to finish my half written post on (my struggle with) reading Faiz in Urdu, but till then Nayyara Noor singing Aaiye Haath Uthayen.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A tag of sorts - Pencereler

I was tagged by Madhuri quite a while back. The tag goes something like this: All you have to do is select and upload one photo that you have clicked this year that is special to you. Could be anything…aesthetic, technical or personal. Also, put in a short note why it is special.

This has been quite difficult; partly because I travelled so much last year (which is when I was tagged - eight countries, by the way), and also because I have taken so many pictures that I love dearly. A lot of them I have already been put up here! As it happens, the one that I kept going back to has already been uploaded - it's the lovely green door in İstanbul.

Still, I decided to use the tag as an excuse to post two pictures I took in İstanbul that haven't made it here. My fetish for doors (especially green ones) has already been documented, so this time its all about the windows. If İstanbul has lovely doors - and it does - it also has lovely windows. And just like everything else in the city, you can look at its windows and imagine all sorts of stories and marvel at the contrasts.

The old districts of İstanbul further west of Fatih don't really figure on the tourist maps as such, but I adored them dearly. A lot of the old Turkish houses survive - but just. Some of them look like a gentle prod would reduce them to a heap of rubble and splinters. Like this wooden house in Edirnekapı. Catching a glimpse of it from the side I was convinced that it was abandoned ... it looked too dangerous for someone to be living in. And then, one look at the front and I couldn't help but smile. No matter how unsafe or unstable this was clearly someones beloved house. You can just tell just looking at those lovely flowers that adorn the windowsills, can't you? It might not be much, but home is always home.

So, passing the tag on...and since many of you continously post lovely photos... which is (are) the photo(s) that you have clicked over the past year that are special to you?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pakeezah (پاکيزہ )

This trip back home I bought a truck load (quite literally) of books and movies to bring back. Most of the movies were old classics that I had seen a while back but wanted to own. Pakeezah was one of them – it’s a beautiful collector’s edition DVD. I had mentioned the movie in an old post, more than anything it’s the music of the movie I love.

Watching it after a a few years now, I was surprised at how I had almost completely forgotten how clichéd and cheesy the movie really is. It didn’t make me love the movie any less, however. Pakeezah, for all its flaws, is deeply endearing.

Tawaifs have been fodder for Hindi movies since forever [1] and Pakeezah tells the story of one such courtesan. The movie has Meena Kumari in (something of) a double role – she is the blonde haired, light eyed Nargis whom Shahabuddin (Ashok Kumar) falls in love with and decides to marry. When his family rejects her, she runs away and starts living in a cemetery where she gives birth to a daughter before dying. The infant is raised by Nargis’s sister in the world of kothas in the Chowk district of Lucknow and by the time (a number of years later) Shahabuddin finds out he has a daughter she has already become a famous as a tawaif called Saheb Jaan (Meena Kumari again). When Shahubuddin confronts Nargis’s sister about his daughter who he wishes to take back home the aunt hastily shifts to Delhi (I think) with Sahib Jaan.

It’s while the train stops at a station (named Suhag Pur(!)) en route to their new destination that Salim (the wonderful Raaj Kumar) enters the Sahib Jaan’s compartment by mistake. It is this moment that gives us one of the most famous moments of Hindi cinema – taken in at the sight of the sleeping Sahib Jaans feet, beautifully adorned and coloured, peeping out of the sheets, Salim writes her a note that says “Aap ke paon dekhe, bahut haseen hai. Inhe zameen par mat utariyega. Maile ho jayenge” [2]. For Sahib Jaan the note becomes a hope of a life different from the one she is living, of a man who might truly love her. When circumstances do reunite the two, Salim wants to marry Sahib Jaan and she faces a whole new set of questions – should she acquiesce and sully her beloveds name and reputation? She is, after all, a courtesan.

The deep irony of the movie is encapsulated in the note that Salim writes Sahib Jaan. Don’t ever put your feet on the ground, he says. This when her livelihood comes from dancing for clients. The tawaifs of North India were famous for the high culture of dance and poetry, being companions of rich nawabs and teaching them etiquette and manners. And yet, they were never respectable. As the movie has it, it is for the man, then, to rescue the courtesan from ill fate. It is not surprising that when Salim accepts her, he renames Sahib Jaan Pakeezah – the pure one. (This is not a movie that was out to make any revolutionary point.) Sahib Jaan herself is strangely passive; she seems in some cases to want to be more miserable, making proceedings somewhat frustrating.

All that said, this is a very romantic movie. Over the top romance. That, despite the many contrivances and inanities of the plot the romance doesn’t fall flat, rather comes off as truly captivating and charming, is what really makes the film. (Did I mention that I really love Raaj Kumar as Salim?). Pakeezah is not a subtle film – eye popping colours, massive over the top sets, gorgeous clothes, melodrama – so I think the magnified sense of romance goes with that. It adds to the charm of the movie in that it hints at a world that no longer exists. The movie also captures the decadence of the time – no wonder decline was just around the corner.

Finally, Pakeezah would not be the movie it is without its utterly gorgeous songs. This is probably my favourite Hindi soundtrack of all time. There is not one bad song here. It’s not surprising that Derek Malcom calls it one of the most extraordinary musical melodramas ever made. Ghulam Mohammed died after composing only a few songs following which Naushad took over. If I am not mistaken, Mohammed finished the background score, which is especially lovely in some parts, such as some of the scenes set in the Chowk areas. You can almost imagine a tawaif across the building practicing before her performance, in the background.

The songs are almost sub stories in themselves. The wonderfully flirtatious and telling Inhiin Logon Ne (le liina dupatta mera) [3] – these are the people who have taken away my modesty. Sahib Jaan singing about the chance encounter with a stranger in Chalte Chalte. Or Teer- e- Nazar Dekhenge, where Raaj Kumar breaks my heart. And my absolute favourite Chalo Dildar Chalo about travelling together to the far side of the moon. The video below (and picture above) is of Thare Rahiyo [4], wonderfully choreographed, and where Meena Kumari looks her loveliest in the movie [5]. Watch and enjoy.

[1] The other movie on a similar theme I dearly love is Umrao Jaan. I have wanted to read Mirza Mohammed Hadi Ruswa’s novel Umrao Jaan Ada and I finally have it. A reviewing of the movie after I finish might be in order

[2] “I saw your feet; they’re very lovely. Don’t set them down on the earth—they’ll get soiled.”

[3] A clip of the initial shooting of the song, in black and white,

[4] I haven’t seen the 2006 version of Umrao Jaan (I am loath to) but the song
Salaam has a lot of steps that seem very inspired from this song (and many more from the other tracks in Pakeezah, though that could be due to the similarity in the themes of the movies). Meena Kumari was not really a dancer, but I find Thare Rahiyo very subtle, graceful and suggestive. Aishwarya on the other hand is, I think, very jumpy and there’s something about some of her movements in the song that irritates me but I can’t put a finger on what. Views may vary of course, but what do you think?

[5] Pakeezah famously took more than a decade to complete. Director Kamal Amrohi and Kumari’s marriage broke up soon after the filming began. By the time Kumari came back to finish the movie she was already an alcoholic (she died of cirrhosis of the liver soon after the movie released). It’s not very difficult when watching the movie to figure out which parts had been shot earlier. In some scenes Kumari looks significantly older and puffier.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


How do we decide where we feel at home? It’s a slightly strange concept isn’t it? I have always considered myself a vagabond. I do seriously doubt my ability to settle down someplace and live there for what, the rest of my life? God forbid. All of this stems from the fact that I have been, pretty much, a vagrant since childhood. I was born in Ranchi, but never really lived there. By the time I was done with school I had been through six or seven schools and soon after I left India for university. Nowadays, there’s this insane restless again – to pack up and leave. But this isn’t about that.

Delhi. It’s the city I’ve lived in the longest - albeit in intermittent gaps. For a few years as a child, before we shifted to Calicut (where I spent what I still think were my happiest years) and then Trivandrum (one of the most wretched cities in the country). I returned to Delhi after that to finish school. When I think back at my final school years I can’t help but wince. There aren’t very many memorable memories. Indeed, mostly forgettable ones. I think I would never ever again want to be a teenager. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen – what awful years. In any case, in those days I never really thought much of Delhi. I hardly even knew the place.

You know how people always say you become more interested in and nostalgic about your cities and countries when you don’t live there any more? Well, my sister does. It probably applies to me. When I would come home during term breaks I would itch to travel and increasingly to photograph (the bug grew slowly now its kind of its own being). When not outside the city, as has been the case these past few trips, I would happily roam around Delhi, dragging my mother along for company. She is the best companion on such excursions – never tiring, always knowing some interesting fact or the other, telling me perhaps you should take a picture from that angle…

This trip was hectic and tiring and not really a vacation. My grandmom was unwell (she is better now) and the extended family was in town – what bizarre circumstances get everyone together. Strange then, that in between all this crazy rush and getting my wisdom teeth operated on, the realization of a growing fixation and affection for the city. Dear E was visiting and stayed with me for a few days. It was the fist time I had ever shown anyone around Delhi, the fist time I felt I actually had some – not much I would think, but still some - sense of the city.

Now, I am not in Delhi. Homesickness abounds. It might be because I really don’t feel like working; maybe I just miss my mom. But I think a huge part is that I really do miss Delhi.

I do think I will always remain a vagabond – I like it like that. It’s in part what makes me senile enough to fall in love with a city halfway (quarterway?) across the globe. In this matter, I am convinced, that like Shirin I had no choice. I had stared at pictures of Istanbul for way too long beforehand. As of now I am desperate to go back. Haziran’da inşallah.

But there is now this feeling of finally feeling at home in a city in India. Of feeling that this is the place I would like to come back to between things. Not because I have to, but because I want to. And that if I had to choose to live in India, this would be where.

I got the new camera, by the way. Went with Canon.

Friday, January 04, 2008

From Delhi...

Belated new year wishes as well!

Vacation (though it was hardly one) ends in a few hours and I'm already depressed.