Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fragments of Our Literary Past

So before all my precious insights evaporate into the LA summer, let me write down my reflections on Indian fiction - verse and prose, that came as I read through Rodrick Beaton's "An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature".

I think what struck me when I read accounts of the development of a national literature after the independence of Greece from Turkish rule was the attempt to synthesize literary traditions existing in the nation with modern ideas and institutions. Hence writers and poets mine not only the classical metres and make allusion to their themes in a contemporary framework, but also draw on Byzantine literature, folk songs and myths, the dialectics of the emerging urban with the timeless rural traditions, etc. Granted the ethnic and religious homogeneity and a uniform sense of nationhood allowed for a comprehensive understanding of the subjects and purposes of national literature. At every point in its development, Greek literature seems to draw on ideas and literary movements that develop in other nations(primarily Western Europe), mediated as they are by existing literary conventions.

In my very limited exposure to Indian literature in primarily four languages, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and English, my contention is that we have not been particularly successful in either of the two tasks that have been undertaken by Greek literature. There is enormous variety in each of the literatures I'm familiar with, so generalizations can be absurd at times. However, it can be safely said that each has had a rather troubled and fragmented relation with the themes and conventions of our literary past.

In the case of Bengali literature, the early works in an attempt to develop a literary convention that's seen as a worthy successor of the classical literary works in Sanskrit, focussed on reworking themes such as historical romances and classical Sanskrit love poetry. This went parallel with the substantial Sanskritization of the language during this period, as Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay has noted. Later works focussed on documenting an idyllic rural landscape, even as the authors themselves have made the transition to an urban milieu. In this effort, they are not unlike the Greek authors of the 19th century, seeking to preserve what they feel would be trampled by inevitable modernization. However, in post-Independence Bengali fiction the scene shifts firmly to the urban, all that troubles modern life, work, love, the ennui of urban life. And somehow the past is not referenced as much, it ceases to exist in the present. Perhaps it peeks out, once in a while, in the works of writers like Buddhadeb Basu and Jibananda Das, but on the whole, the literary connection, the continuity in the world of ideas seems to have dimmed.

In Hindi and Urdu, the trajectory has been slightly different. What has been denoted Hindi literature drew initially from a fair bit of Sanskrit classical poetry and drama. Nationalism was a pet theme, and a lot of early work was quite rhetorical. But certainly the existence of the new emerging literature was justified with references to the past, as a successor to an established legacy. The legacy of Urdu though, and initially it was simply poetry, was different. Early Urdu verse draws heavily from Persian poetic conventions, employing the same tropes at times, drawing on timeless themes. Later works move to more familiar domain, life in the villages, oppressive, the world of women, the aspirations of the young. And yet, at this moment, somehow a reference to the past is no longer so apparent. The very rich and vibrant poetic traditions of the past, the poetic metres of Brajbhasha and Awadhi remain relatively unexplored. Traditions do not figure as literary language itself, rather only as encumberances that must be overcome. The structure and forms of the past are not engaged with. Unfortunately, not only is the link with the past loosened, but there is less incorporation of ideas and paradigms from other sources, whether other regions of India or other nations. The only Western idea that seems to make its presence felt is Marxist ideology. And of course it sits uncomfortably with a poetic form that revels in bourgeois imagery. Some of the worst poems of Sahir and Faiz are their overtly Marxist work.

But I think that the failure to engage with the past is most pronounced in Indian writing in English. Although there were Indians writing in English through the 19th century (Michael Madhusudan, Toru Dutt), and also at the beginning of the 20th century, the real surge in such writing came in the post-Independence era. A lot of post-Independence fiction in India deals with contemporary issues, mostly within an urban setting. The few books that do unfold in an historical setting are more often than not based in the British India of the 19th century. The past that Indian writing in English engages with is a very recent past, not only in substance, but in literary forms as well. How truly innovative it would have been if the forms that are strewn across our literary past, the ballads, the celebration of seasons, the odes, the metres, had been evoked by Indian writing in English, to internalize the literary heritage of the nation within modern variants. But I don't think that synthesis of themes and forms has taken place within modern Indian literature.

Though certainly, Indian writing in English has succeeded where the others have been inadequate. It has engaged more vigorously with the world of ideas and literary trends outside national and linguistic boundaries, if only because the state of translation into other Indian languages is oh so dismal. But certainly none of the contemporary literatures succeed very well in integrating the concerns and themes of the past with ideas and frameworks that ar brought forth by a global literary community.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Odysseus Unbound as the Sirens Call

Here's a catch-all post, merely to record my weekend persona so a year from now, I can look back and see what triviality held me in its thrall in the last few days of June 2005.

Friday: Fairly laid back. I was craving a restaurant meal, and practically badgered S into taking me to Ambala Dhaba (actually I drove us there). It seems that Ambala has morphed into a sort of hangout for the UCLA desi students. When we walked in all I could see were groups of desi men. All men, and for a while I thought I and the servers were the only women there. But then I heard some feminine laughter from a corner and realised there was another woman sitting with a group of 5 other desi men. The sex ratio is utterly hopeless, for a desi woman looking to snare her kind, no better place than grad school. Every woman is fawned over and feted like she was the last of the female of the species. The food was very competent, as always.

As we walked out, I thought I saw a familiar frame, with his back turned to us, talking on the phone. I realised it was Steph, a French guy we knew from the European Students body. Steph's really sweet and polite, but for some peculiar reason, is way more attentive to me than S. Actually, this is a fairly common thing. Many women do this as well. They'd be utterly charming to S, but almost obliterate my existence out of their line of sight. Umm...hello, here I am, in flesh and blood, waving and smiling frantically to you, and you continue laughing and talking to S, ignoring me completely. Nowadays, I don't mind it at all, and think of it as a sort of hard-wiring. Even when there is no intention to proceed romantically, the instinctive response is to concentrate all energies on whatever gender you fancy.

And so of course, Steph was all adorable and warm to me, but five minutes into talking to me, turned to S and said, "Excuse me, have we met?". Duh.........zillions of times! I don't think Steph has ever met me without S being by my side. Selective memory :). So after talking to Steph, we returned home and called it a night.

Saturday: When it rains, it pours. So we had invitations to a BBQ, a party, a birthday dinner and made plans to see a movie with Urmi. Ultimately we realised that squeezing everything in would be impossible, since we had to run some chores as well. So the movie was postponed to Sunday (sorry Urmi!) and the BBQ was ditched. So then we went the birthday dinner of C where we met G and Beck and her Pumpky (that's what she calls her boyfriend). Em was also there. The dinner was at Olive Garden, my least favourite place to have a meal. I have no idea what the appeal of a place like Olive Garden is to my friends, when there are scores of great restaurants in this town. Actually there are so many great Italian restaurants, that going to Olive Garden is a freakin' shame.

So G & C told us all about their trip to Greece and Turkey. G & C are always taking trips together, and these are usually package trips with tour groups and all. Not my idea of a vacation, but they seem to be happy. Of course the joke is that they might be lovers, but I've known more than one woman take vacations with her best female friend, without anything sexual going on between them. The conversation was appropriately bleh, centred on work hours and vacation time. I guess when friends start working, the idea of a life of routine consumes them initially.

Anyway, post dinner we headed to the home of Ken, a friend of S, for a party. E-M was there as well, and so was Soto. It was a nice laid-back party, with lots of conversation, and some amusement, as one of Ken's roommate, very very obviously gay, tried to pick up Soto. The boy's a peach, very sweet and feminine, but I think he managed to freak Soto out with his attentiveness and affection. I think men are far more apprehensive about such things than women are. A few days ago a friend of E-M's a therapist was telling us about how some of her female patients try to ask her out. She didn't seem overly concerned about it. But for most straight men, even the slightest bit of gay flirting seems to ring alarm bells. Anyway, at some point we were treated to a great swing dance performance by two of the guests, after which we took off.

Sunday: A very lazy day. Got up late, had an elaborate meal at home, fish and assorted veggies Korean style, and then went and saw a movie with Urmi and her friend. Post movie, we ambled along on Third Street Promenade, and couldn't resist the siren call of Zara sale. Ah, the lure and lyre of consumerism is oh so sweet. Anyway, Zara did succeed in emptying Urmi and my pockets a bit, after which we walked over to the pier, which seemed way more crowded than usual. I guess it was the first real summer weekend, very sunny and pleasant, and everyone wanted to be at the beach. Sometimes I wonder when the transition happened. I spent an entire lifetime in a landlocked city, and now the sea calls me all the time, and I heed.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ey Iran - ey marzeh por gohar

Just got a phone call from Em. The unbelievable is happening. The hardline mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is set to become the next President of Iran. Details of the ballot counting can be found here. Apparently, the poorer provinces voted in large numbers for him, highlighting something that many Iranians had already suspected: that there is a deep ideological and economic divide in the country. After all, behind the veneer of homogeneity Iran is a multi-ethnic society, where value systems differ immensely across regions. To believe that the arid, poor South-east of the country would have the same views on religion, politics and the economy as the relatively more affluent central-west is foolhardy. A similar situation exists in India, where there are a complex set of causes leading to religious fundamentalism in certain pockets. And yet, this still seems hard to explain. What happened?

Did the corruption allegations against Akbar Rafsanjani prove a deciding factor in alienating the poor working class?

Is there a substantial silent majority in the country that is deeply Islamic and would prefer no division between religion and state?

Is the dominance of Tehran in cultural, social and economic matters treated with such resentment that a vote for Ahmedinejad is seen as a vote for the reassertion of the provinces within the mainstream discourse.

Whatever the reasons may be, Iran has to deal with the reality of four years under the Presidency of Ahmedinejad. And the next six months would be crucial in unfolding the direction of the new government.

The word meme

So I've been tagged again, this time by Kaashyapeya, for words. I thought his post was great, and expressed many of the same opinions I have in my relationship to language. I delight when a word presents itself weaving rhythms in its cadence, profound in its effect. Big words thrill me, but some little ones are charming as well. I know this will horrify linguists, but some languages and their words are definitely more pleasing to me than others. Even something as mundane as "I want to eat" can sound oh so sweet in Italian, "Voglio mangiare". And over the years I've committed to memory so many words from different languages, that have embodied this musical quality, even though the sentiment they express is utterly ordinary.

One of the first words to fascinate me was wanderlust, and I would be so eager to use it in a sentence, anything that could remotely express my fascination for distant horizons.

Since I started learning Greek, I realized that many of the words that I so love in English have Greek origins, and perhaps I prefer the Greek version, there is less abruptness and more of a flow, compared to the English version. So ephemeros over ephemeral, epiphaneia over epiphany, chasma over chasm, etc.

And then there are words in languages I grew up with, words like aador in Bengali that have travelled far from their Sanskrit etymologies to produce meanings that are so subtle, so delicate as to render almost untranslatable. There are other Bengali words that fascinate me, taan, which implies an attachment a longing. I love the many words in Bengali, some onomatopoeic, that convey the texture of food, khasta, muchmuchey, tultuley, etc.

Many words in Hindi/Urdu are delightful, with their subtle shades of meaning. Like the word chaahat, again implying attachment and more. And none more evocative than the phrase saundhi khushboo, attempting to capture the fragrance of wet earth as it quenches itself in the first rains. There is the gravity of Sanskrit, where abstract concepts are invented before they are morphed into their practical associations. The word shunya, nothing and everything at the same time. Or spriha, implying a striving for excellence. Pragya, wisdom itself.

There is the refined elegance of Farsi, where the language seems to have be devised for poetic purposes. How could Rumi and Hafez not use words like aatesh, mai-parast, ishq, kahkashan.......

In a world of such riches, it's a shame not to be polyglot. How I wish I knew more. But I do know palimpsest, a word listed by Kaashypeya in his list, and I do hope that what is erased deserves to be lost and what is written is an improvement. And now I need to pass this along, so here are the usual suspects:

Urmi
Kathryn
And some more

JabberwockWakaw

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Talk is not cheap - it involves painful form-filling

It's 10:30 a.m. and I want lunch. I've been struggling with the confounded human subjects research clearance form by the Internal Research Board of the University for the past two hours. All because I want to go ask some harmless questions of some individuals who are used to answering them on a daily basis. No testing hair-loss cures, no studying the effects of marijuana consumption, nada. And I have to fill a humungous form for this privilege. Ah, the contemporary university, the ultimate in bureaucratese.

So S started work yesterday, and it still feels strange. I think he likes it so far, but the commute's a bummer. He wants to move closer to work, but that means being engulfed by the dismal expanses of San Fernando Valley. The only thing to its credit is being the birthplace of the world's largest porn industry. Otherwise, it is afflicted with the worst sort of suburban bleak landscape. There are pockets of interest though. There's a fairly good Iranian grocery store and some good Vietnamese restaurants in Reseda. The Santa Monica National Park is close by and great for hikes. There are some cool rock formations in Chatsworth that are good for climbing. And a drive to Malibu is not too far. And yet the Valley is not a very appealing place to be in. Anyway, if the commute's too much, the move would have to be made.

I'm fast losing patience with the form. Electronic forms are the worst, they leave out all discretion from the exercise. Nearly 70 per cent of the questions do not apply to my research, and yet I have to fill in some bullshit values to prevent error messages. All because they have a single form for all kinds of research, medical, social science, engineering, education, art history. Yes every single bit that involves any human interaction. I'll just distract myself with lunch.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Boat

"The blood of my ancestors is thicker,
than the water you set down for me,
when I ask for it, nay command"

Love of mine not selfless, it demands presence
Theirs entices through the threads that weave your flesh
Not the weathered surfaces of Parian marble
The love glues boats that bob on ink-blue
And sometimes tilt in reverence to the storm

When the sea calls, women must be left behind,
To mull over all the glasses of water proferred,
Dots of nervous energy on their tongues that excite you
Yet, the sails must be raised, the buoys lifted the anchor secured
Blood of your ancestors that swells the planks,
washes all memory

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Buying Pistachios from Rafsanjan in California - Way for Iran to Move Forward?

And today (on Saturday, it is still Saturday night) I spent most of my time wandering around the house doing nothing, and then went to Target with Em and discussed the Iranian elections with him all evening. Well, the results are out, in incredibly short time I must say, and it is a hardliner against another now being charitably described as a pragmatic conservative.

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is the current mayor of Tehran, a very different political character from the former mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossein Karbaschi. His position as the candidate with the second-highest votes have surprised many, given his relative obscurity compared to the the others in the race. For many liberal Iranians it is a disappointment, but it is perhaps a grim indication of the hold of conservative ideology in many parts of the country and the effectiveness of the conservative mobilizing machinery.

The dismal show of the most liberal of all the candidates on offer, Mostafa Moin is also surprising, given that he was predicted to be a front-runner by pre-election polls. Perhaps the disappointment and disillusionment with the inability of the liberals and reformists to push for reforms have been responsible for his rejection by the electorate.

But the man who will probably decide Iran's destiny for the next four years is Hashemi Rafsanjani, President for 8 years in the aftermath of the devastating Iran-Iraq war. Despite his Khomeini association, and socially conservative outlook, there are some positives to him. For one, he has a businessman's perspective, not a bazaari type, but someone with his sights set on greater prizes (dogged by corruption allegations for a while). Hence certainly not averse to the idea of greater economic cooperation with the West, and a more open market oriented economy for Iran. Also, he has clout with the conservatives, hence his ability to pull through reform of any kind is far greater than anything Khatami ever possessed. The man's not much of a war mongerer, and is willing to deal with the West. And certainly the terrifying prospect of Ahmedinejad as President is enough to bring voters by the droves in the second round of voting to elect him to power.

Whatever, the results, let's hope they bring better prospects for Iran and its people. As BBC reporter Gavin Esler says: "But Persian culture is 2,500 years old. Twenty-six years of the Islamic Republic has been a blink of the eye." Indeed.

Watching Pantelis Voulgaris' "Brides" framed between two giant Oscars

The bad thing about S sleeping in our one and only room (it's a studio) is that I cannot read my books there. The good aspect is that I have unlimited access to the computer (which is in the kitchen! yes I know, weird). And at this hour I don't have to worry about blocking out calls by hogging the dial-up connection. Hence a post at such an ungodly hour. Oh and I had some espresso, so I'm unable to sleep. I had been thinking of posting on a bunch of topics, including my potentially earth-shaking commentary on wine-snobbery and my over-generalized, sweeping, non-nuanced take on the state of contemporary Indian literature.

But let's be done with nitty-gritties first. So yesterday I dragged S over to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for volunteering for a special screening of a Greek film, "Nyfes"(Brides) that has apparently generated quite a buzz in the homeland. No we are not overflowing with camaraderie and the milk of human kindness, the volunteers got to attend the screening for free. So we arrive to find organizers in some disarray, and I think I had a better appreciation of Christina's directorship of the Indian Film Festival and the smooth volunteer coordination. Anyway, things got sorted out and we were incharge of managing the VIP entrance and allowing in people on a VIP list to a pre-screening reception.

So a VIP/Guest list is a strange beast. Under normal circumstances, people might care two hoots about some cheap wine and nibbles and mingling with folks they know well enough already. But attach the exclusivity tag to it, and watch the fun as folks try to lie, intimidate, finiegle, and sweet talk their way in. So we had all sorts of "I'm the producer's buddy", "The Greek consul-general is my tennis partner", "I cannot believe you won't let me in", etc.,etc. Two women huffed and puffed and told us that they were the guests of Father Bakkas, the Bishop of the biggest Orthodox Greek Church in LA. Well, Father Bakkas was not on the list, so I don't know if he was planning to attend. There were some frantically calling friends inside to come down and rescue them from the infamy of VIP list rejection.

So after manning the gates for more than an hour, we finally went in for the screening. The film is long by European standards, more than two hours long. The subject was the tale of mail-order brides from the turn of the century (around 1920s) who were sent off to marry men in America whom they had never met and hardly seen pictures of. The film focussed on women from Greece, and there were some from Russia and Turkey as well. The heroine of the story, Niki is one such bride, from the island of Samothraki, journeying to a distant land to fulfill a filial obligation to a man she doesn't love, but then she has never loved anyone. The focus of the film is the relationship between her and an American journalist Norman, whom she befriends on the ship she travels in. I liked the film, a simple story well told, with competent performances and some breathtaking shot selection. At times it verges on the maudlin and indulges in caricature, especially with the character of a Georgian immigration agent, but never really goes over the top.

After the screening the director of the movie, Pantelis Voulgaris, and the screenwriter, his wife Ioanna Karystiani were present to answer questions. Mr. Voulgaris spoke exclusively in Greek, and his wife spoke in English. I really liked both of them, because they seemed to come from another era of filmmaking, serious, refined, reflective about their art. They reminded me of some of the left-leaning intellectuals I knew in India, quietly determined and yet liberal souls, not imprisoned by ideology. Even though I understood very little of what Mr. Voulgaris said, I felt that he spoke well, choosing words carefully, in lucid, yet erudite Greek.

After the Q and A ended, as always there was a general mission to push E-M to get acquainted with the couple and give them her resume. E-M is so shy when it comes to networking for potential work. After she overcame her hesitation and walked upto Ioanna with her demo DVD, Ioanna was so warm and generous to her. It was really obvious that she inhabited another world of filmmaking, far far away from Hollywood.

Speaking of which, gossip of the night was that we finally got to see the woman rumoured to be sighted doing some heavy duty making-out with Mr. Director, now that he is wife-less and free to scope out other women. She's attractive and intelligent (a professor at an LA university, not one of the big two) and if she's able to take this through, we just might see her at the Oscars next year. Her dress for the night sure did look like an Oscar night dress rehearsal, billowing fabric, lots of beadwork and totally over the top.

The night ended with nosh at a Thai joint (bless the Thais and their nocturnal lifestyles), with more gossiping about the night, and then off we went home.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Here's a Glimpse of My Book Universe

So now, finally, is my chance to insert myself into the self-referential loop of blogging. Thanks for the tag Vishkanya, I rarely take a expansive view of the books I've read, but I guess here's my chance to do so in a nutshell.

Total Number of Books I Own: I have a modest collection in Delhi, and a fairly piddling one in LA. This is a rather dangerous confession to make and would invite the wrath of every budding author who ambles by my blog, but I decided at around age 17-18 to make libraries my primary source for the bound written word. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t buy books on a regular basis, just that I avoid buying books I can easily access in a library. Hence, I have read far more than I have owned, but if I were to count what I have at present (and they are all boxed up as a consequence of moving), they’d probably be around 50 odd in number. They are fairly eclectic, a History of Numbers, Lorca's poetry, bunch of cookbooks, some self-acquired, some gifted, and of course a copy of Tagore’s Gitabitan.

Last Book I Bought: Actually I bought two together, the two volumes of Marjane Satrapi’s Perspolis. They were a fantastic read, a great buy. Highly recommended. I have friends who lived through the early years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and it was incredible to see all of their experience brought forth in such vivid visual detail.

Last Book I Read: I finished reading two this morning. One was about the development of the Indonesian language and the other about the Batak people of North Sumatra. Part of my procrastination plan as I figure out how I worm my way back to going full throttle on the theory part of my dissertation. The first book was interesting as it provided a glimpse into the Indian influences on language in a part of South-east Asia, though it was riddled with inaccuracies with respect to meanings and translations of Sanskrit words. The second was a great overview of the history and society of a significant ethnic minority in the nation-state of Indonesia. The similarities between them and some of the tribes of North-eastern India are striking (not the cannibalism bit though) and in the past I have read speculation regarding their common origins.

I’m also reading A History of Modern Greek Literature by Rodrick Beaton that provides a fantastic introduction to some amazing Modern Greek authors (thanks for getting me on this Kathryn) and a poetic translation of The Iliad.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me: Oh dear, this is so hard – can we not do this please, pretty, pretty please? Alright, this is really tentative, and of course I’m free to retract whatever I say now at any moment I choose. So here goes:

Diwan-e-Ghalib – A collection of the extant Urdu canon of Ghalib. Some of the most sublime and sophisticated verse written in any Indian language. The fact that many of them have been set to music as well enhances the joy of lingering on every exquisite line, metaphysical at one moment, utterly irreverent at another.

Gitabitan – Rabindranath Tagore – Selections from the Gitabitan were what fetched him his Nobel Prize, but of course the emotionally ornate verse looses its character in the English rendition. This is what makes me eternally grateful for facility in the Bengali language, the pleasure of reading Tagore’s poetry/songs in the original.

Homer’s Odyssey and Jon Elster’s philosophical treatises, Ulysses Unbound and Ulysses and the Sirens – It’s been more than ten years since I read a prose translation of the Odyssey. In hindsight, I don’t think it was a particularly competent translation, and yet the power and the imaginative hold of the work were tremendous. The episodes that mark Odyssey’s journey back home revealed to me a mythical universe that was unfamiliar and yet enticing. Two years ago, when I sought theoretical direction from Elster’s political philosophy, his reworking of Odyssey’s encounters alerted me to the moral and ethical questions embedded deep in these mythical tales. I look forward to revisiting the Odyssey in the next few days, hopefully in a far superior verse translation.

Delhi Between the Two Empires by Narayani Gupta – This was the book, along with David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity that got me interested in the idea of exploring urban spaces. I have all but abandoned any ideas of becoming an urban historian of any kind, but love Gupta’s work for presenting me with a sophisticated, urban milieu that shall perhaps never return to the city of Delhi.

I reserve the final space for my dissertation, which by the time it takes any recognizable form, would have preoccupied 6 wonderful years of my life and have given me experiences and adventures that are very valuable to me.

So let’s see, who should I tag? Here are the obvious candidates:

Urmi

Kathryn
Would love to know what they come up with!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A reunion to beat all reunions

I was supposed to have submitted a paper to my advisor last night, instead I went off for one of my dinner with Emil nights. I was supposed to attend someone's birthday celebrations in a nightclub, but got ditched by a bunch of persons in succession so decided turning up solo wasn't worth it.

We went off to Ambala Dhaba in Westwood, a fairly decent Indian restaurant in a city where even fairly decent is a rarity. There's a quirk in the menu though. The place sets itself as a dhaba and then has an extensive wine list, which seems fairly mediocre just by glancing through (and if a wine-illiterate like me can figure it out, well then no one should even look at the wine list in Ambala). My puzzled reaction would be - why? I associate dhabas at the most with country liquor, or that peculiarly Indian creation, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) (smells and tastes just as nasty as it sounds). So of course the natural substitute would be beer and some sort of hard liquor - rum, vodka and whisky at the most. Well, they do have beer, but wine? Superfluous, and impresses no one.

It was another quiet night as Em and I discussed the impending visit of his brother and his nephew (and perhaps Em's father too) to the US. This is quite a momentous visit, the two brothers would be seeing each other after almost 25 years. They have been caught in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, since the elder two brothers went off to study in England in pre-Revolution times and decided not to return in post-Revolution Iran. One of main reasons was fear of being drafted in the long-drawn Iran-Iraq war, a fate Em was able to escape as he was too young to be enlisted. He did have to do his compulsory military service later, but those were more peaceful times.

So in England have the two elder brothers stayed ever since, their fraternal relations restricted to regular telephone conversations. Given that Em's elder brothers have not visited Iran in 25 years, it is amazing how thick the eldest brother's Persian accent is. And yet, England is his home now, where he lives with his English wife and children. It is not exile, and yet there is no reason to go back, which is sad enough. What revolutions and wars do to ordinary people. And me, growing up in my little South Asian corner of the world used to think that life was chaotic. Perspective is a good, sobering thing.

I hope more Indians read about the modern history of Iran, about the revolution, the war, about where fundamentalism and warmongering can ultimately lead a nation and its inhabitants. We Indians are much too oblivious, about others, about ourselves, about both the home and the world.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Another laundry list as another week went by

This post will probably be just as barebones as the last one, just to make sure people don't get the impression I've been devoured by piranhas. I'm just a little cyber-challenged in the entertainment capital of the world. And the last few days have been truly hectic. Trying to settle into life in the new apartment, having to share the phone line and the dial up connection with S, who hogs both with a vengeance. Trying to write a dissertation chapter that just refuses to get written.

So today, I dropped off S at the airport from whence he braves an 8-hour Amsterdam layover to go spend two weeks in Greece. Most people would jump at the thought of having an entire day to amble around in Amsterdam, not S, who thinks the hours have been unfairly lopped off from his stay in Greece. The man thinks of summer time in Greece as sacred, so there's no talking him into going anywhere else. I feel a lot more settled than I did last week, so perhaps I'll be able to write more regularly.

I've decided to immerse myself in Greek literature for my leisure reading for the next month or so. And to start, I have a copy of Iliad, which I'll be reading after a bazillion years. Next is Odyssey, and then a massive volume of Odysseas Elitis' poetry. Unlike the dread that "classics" inspire for many, The Iliad is a breeze to read. Which is not to say that the poetry is not amazing in its subtle depths, sophistication and powerful rhetoric. But the picture that it paints is so vivid, so mesmerizing, that it is a compulsive read.

And finally, gossip update:

After five years of dilly-dally and will she-won't she, my friend Beck decided to take a very very long hiatus from her PhD studies to go work in San Diego. Now the long hiatus from PhD usually means no comebacks, but you never know. But as things stand, I don't think Dr. Beck would be an option anytime soon.

And after five years of blood, sweat, toil and tears, Suze is all set to be reunited with her boyfriend in a month's time, and set to finish her PhD in a few months. Great to see both of her desires finally coming to fruition, kudos to her.

Top secret gossip, which I'm apparently not supposed to know and have to play dumb when I meet E-M. But apparently, Mr. Director gave her a call, and no, not with the altruistic motives of giving her a helping hand in the movie business. You see Mr. Director is newly single, and ahem, ahem, looking around quite a bit. E-M has a boyfriend so any monkey business is ruled out. Damn it, there goes my one chance to be interviewed by a gossip magazine as a "reliable" source ("So, did you see them kissing?")!

And such is the status quo for now.