Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Procrastination(ia), Melancholia and Nostalgia

I have a boatload of work. So obviously I am watching cat videos and scrolling through Facebook. That's how I came upon a Scroll article on what to watch out for (literally) at the Kolkata Film Festival. And reading through lists that included restored classics like Pather Panchali and Bicycle thief as well as latest offerings by Panahi and a bunch of really interesting international cinema (not familiar with other names, puncturing the Bengali ego which can no longer "name-drop"), made me long for home. Now I shall wax eloquent about growing up and bygone eras.

The winter in Chiang Mai with crisp sunshine and blue skies is almost identical to the one in Calcutta. Except Calcutta early morning would be misty and the days more balmy. And Chiang Mai is driving me mad with the smell of chhatim--in winter. In Calcutta that would be post/monsoon (unless this is really climate change and everything is changing their timelines).

The first ever film festival I went to was when I was 16. I watched two films sitting on the isle steps at Nandan. No Man's Land and Figli/Hijos. I did not know cinema could be like that, that stories could be told this way. My tender mind, to say the least, was blown. I was there with my father who felt I should learn about good cinema. It was evening, after his work and my school.

The next time I returned I was armed with a schedule and had managed to wrangle a guest pass. This was early college days so I hadn't quite switched to my silver jewellery-cotton kurta Jadavpur chic yet. But an acquaintance I met had apparently described my jeans and t-shirt clad avatar as 'dopka'. Anyway, I felt very adult, travelling in the metro and getting off at Rabindra Sadan early morning, marking myself as one of the festival goers. I think there was an Almodovar retrospective that year but ignorant me didn't watch any of his films. I believe this was the year I saw Machuca (loved it). I loved Les Choristes (ki mainstream, tch). The opening film was Mar Adentro.

Since then I have attended film festivals in Delhi and Den Haag (missed the Rotterdam International Film Festival, alas, alack!) Goa and Guyana (I've never been to Guyana but needed something with G). And honestly, last few times Kolkata's pretenshista aantels have really pissed me off. But it still remains a festival where you don't get berated for not standing up to the blasted national anthem. That is something. And Kolkata winter>>>>Delhi/Goa/Dutch winters any day. But even when I go back I will never be the 19 year old with my jhola and my guest pass, watching international films for the first time, on my own.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


The girl never sleeps alone. The girl might, if she's mighty pissed with the felines. But usually there's a cat or three in bed with her. Ah the joys of having a huge bed to oneself--only to have cat butts thrust in ones face, and cats occupying ones pillow EVERY.SINGLE.NIGHT. And of course their offended, guilt-inducing faces when one tries to take back enough of the usurped sheet to cover ones freezing extremities.

Oh well, the girl doesn't really mind, and butt-smell can really get you off the bed in the morning. It is kind of nice to listen to the patter of rain outside while spooning a warm furry purr machine and reading something nice. Admittedly it's less nice when the aforementioned p. machine tries to lick ones face with tongue akin to slightly moistened sandpaper.

But the ghost of the girl past (yes, even recent past) would have looked at the girl in askance, and calculated derision--she has become a homebody. Yeeesh! The girl cringes at that epithet. No she doesn't go out (much), finds dates tedious, and that music concerts tend to go on till too late and involve too much standing around. If one had known the girl long enough, one might find it a cause of concern. For after all, did the girl not lock herself up for days when she was depressed?

The girl doesn't know when she has been less un-depressed than this. The girl often cooks for herself. Sometimes the girl makes biryani, just for herself (and one of the three felines does like biryani-chicken though normally refuses to eat anything on their own but grass). The girl likes orchids and takes great pleasure in seeing chillis fruit. And an even greater pleasure when rambunctious pigeon fights over birdseeds result in the odd moong sapling taking hold here and there. The butterfly pea vine reminds the girl of luxurious tresses of mythical beautiful (and boring) women.

The girl cannot deny the aches and ague that accompany aging (but mostly bad posture) plague her often, but it's nothing that the Thai masseuses cannot beat the hell out of (thereby proving the truth in the ancient adage: extreme pain will take ones mind truly off the everyday pain).

The girl, with her characteristic negativity, tries to make successful #adulting all about eating inedible healthy things and going for a brisk morning run and then beats herself up for doing neither. But the girl secretly admits that nothing has felt as good--in forever--as starting the morning with kurkure and taking a post-breakfast nap with cats or going to bed early on a work night with a good book (instead of a bad buoy and a late night). The girl secretly raises one of the delicious cocktails at the local doggy bar to herself while crossing her toes in order not to jinx it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Learning to Say Goodbye to The City is Bloody Painful

The best thing about Thailand (nay, Chiang Mai) is certainly the massages, she thought, in third person, while rolling her crunchy muscle knots on an innocent, green tennis ball.

She will make many typos in this post as she's typing this in the nearly dark bedroom of her teenage years. But she's in a strange mood.

The bed, narrow and old (perfectly spinsterly) is more comfortable than the king sized one shared with three pugnacious felines back h- in Thailand.

The room, the arrangement of books, the profusion of cat+dog medicines on one shelf, never seems unfamiliar, in a city which sometime catches in her throat in lumps of nostalgic tears, sometimes tears apart any attempt to feel at home. Increasingly unfamiliar, increasingly unlike a refuge.

So she tries to cling to refuge of tastes: the perfectly fried and boiled aloo in mutton curry, the smell of roadside biryani, the teak and glass display cases of the old Jewish bakery. All grand plans of tasting and visiting all the sights and sounds of this dwindling-teeming city always turns to ashes in her hands. 7 days too long, too little. 

No certain certainties anymore, for she refused to put her foot, her roots down. Or maybe living with chronic pain erodes away a lot of romanticism, peels back the ecto strata to reveal the seething mess of nerves and blood and muscle. The pain and the pleasure are impossible to separate and she loves writing like the most swollen-headed pompous ass. Still, it is, she would like to belive, the twat, occupying a male bastion.

Friday, August 3, 2018


I no longer need the fan at night. All three cats sleep with me and occasionally have catfights on the bed. Mangosteen is in season. It's been long since I had a monsoon in a city: the petrichor characteristically a mix of wet cement along with wet earth and a dash of diesel. Meanwhile, the plants are growing fast, the curry leaf sapling from Kolkata is dressed in new tender green shoots everyday. The butterfly pea bush is attracting neighbourhood aunties and random passers-by: they all pick the profusion of flowers that they can reach (so far I haven't seen anyone trying to climb the electricity pole to get to the bigger bunches). The aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and ants are feasting on the basil and papaya plant. The latter has grown taller than me from a tiny sapling in just  three months. Cats sit and watch rain downstairs, but are always perched on something, even cardboard boxes. Clearly the floor is becoming too cold for comfort. It's been raining and cloudy(ng) several days in a row now. Clothes refuse to dry and smell musty. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Permission to bring Hyde out of Hiding?

I have been reading books like my life depends on it. In the past 6 days I have read 4 novels. Maybe my life does depend on it. Sometimes, suddenly, out of the blue, I feel tired and my bones ache. They physically ache all the time anyway. But in some of those times I become hyper aware of the pain, every pulse of blood through the veins a throb. Chronic pain is pretty shitty. And my back has been really bad for at least the past 7 years, and it is getting worse, or maybe my pain tolerance is going down. The garden variety hypochondriac that I am, I obviously have a gloom and doom explanation of pain tolerance going down: undiagnosed mayofascial pain syndrome transforming itself into fibromyalgia. There, take that doctors with degrees.

I have no explanation for the demons sitting on my shoulders though. The ghost of the future past: all the things that could have been, perhaps should have been, come back to me with vividity especially when I need to sleep. Between the pain and the vengeful past, sleep is rare. It does not help that I cannot stare slackjawed at a screen for hours till I snooze onto the laptop. And it doesn't help that I am largely just feeding the cats and cleaning their poop: not playing with them wholeheartedly or petting them. They know, and they are attention hungry and taking out their frustrations as only cats can do. But I am cocooned in my fug, too lethargic to muster the energy to reach out.

It's difficult to reach out, as some have pointed out. And I am not even depressed, just a maladjusted, perennially anxious person, playing at being a fierce independent adult. Or so I'm telling myself. Maybe I am just a drama queen (I mean I am, I know but is there anything more to what ails me than that?) Everything that had been easy 8 years ago seem so difficult now, as if the taint is in my blood (dramaaaa!) Well, my oldest friends are here within an arm's length: I have been reading books like my life depends on it, maybe it does.

PS: I have challenged myself to read 50 books this year on goodreads (it's not real if it's not on social media, people) and have managed to read 12 so far as far as I can recall. Goodreads informs me I'm 12 behind schedule. I have started reading Hide and Seek by Rankin this evening. Apparently he originally wanted to name it Hyde and Seek. Do I hide my Hyde well, dear reader?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Writing for the sake of writing: aka crazy cat bots

Somehow blogging gives me a lot of pleasure. Over the last few weeks I've been going over the reading list of blogs on the right hand side. Only one or two blog (v) with any regularity. But even rediscovering Kobindranath's dirty ditties from half a decade ago was much fun. Facebook has largely replaced our interactions on the blogosphere. And with it attention spans have shrunk. I was afraid I won't have enough to say: specialising in instantaneous clever/angry/sarcastic opinions on current events or weepy confessions does limit you (me). Though I'm increasingly seeing longer prose pieces akin to blogs on Facebook, and even more creative ways of journalling and sharing on instagram.

That is to say, I'm enjoying blogging just as I'm enjoying reading. And I'm not plagued by need to speak to an audience or agonising over the mediocrity of what I have to say and how I say it anymore. I might ache at joints and get acidity after every pint of beer, but aging does have its benefits.

Blogging is also an invitation to nostalgia of the college days. Somehow, I always need a powerful catalyst to reminisce and remember the times (like physically meeting friends: rare in these rarified times of international scatterings). Blogging was very much a college thing, reading each others blog, a social currency of sorts, as it perhaps can only be in a literature department obssessed with words and ways to express oneself.

Towards the end of MA many evolved into photo blogs with the access to Dslrs. I now wonder why I always took such dark photos with my point and shoot bought off Insiya once sge saved up and got her first Nikon dslr. Photos are/were also why Facebook became a preferred medium I think. In my case, it was also tactical use to politically mobilise. It is, indeed a big deal, before digital marketing and social media manipulation became a thing, to have formed communities of political affinity online. Before Tahrir Square or green revolution, even. The immense promise, no matter how naive or criticised, have turned to ashes and how.

Metaphorically speaking we are now living through the nuclear holocaust of internet and social media. The aftermath, I feel is yet to come. The sci-fi fan in me sort of fearfully hopes (if that is the correct word) that it will be a bot uprising. As long as Siri and Alexa become more like L3-37 we are all good. At least I hope they learn to take care of and love cats. Crazy cat bots will be quite something.

Friday, June 8, 2018


The Lost Bookshop run by an old Irish man with a penchant for winking has been the best find ever. Irish guy has been to Calcutta and the book fair and chatted amiably about it and recommended Scandi crime fiction to me. He also gave me a 130 baht discount. So far I have finished Shepherd's Crown, started My Brilliant Friend, and am halfway through Bryant and May Off the Rails.

Reading Shepherd's Crown was bittersweet. Afterword from Pratchett's agent says he hadn't finished tweaking the book and that, among other things, he had been planning a second installment of Maurice, this time aboard a ship. Geoffrey and Mephisto have so much potential, they should have had a series to themselves. Now for slowly re-reading the entire Discworld, especially the ones not very well remembered. The first one I ever read from Srin was Soul Music and possibly Wyrd Sisters.

The Mankell I bought isn't a Wallander mystery: I am a little scared of buying a Wallander and finding it had been part of the first series that I watched (the Swedish one not the Kenneth Branagh one). Incidentally I fell asleep during the climax of Murder on the Orient Express, even though I hadn't fully remembered it: it was that boring.

I was reading In the Light of What We Know (Zia Haidar Rahman) earlier but found it a but dry and never finished it. So the last book I read (with gusto) was Left Hand of Darkness. Wish I had read Ursula Le Guin more when she was alive. The first ever sci-fi story that I consciously remember, read out by Baba from a collection of translated sci-fi from around the world (mostly USA), was Daddy's Big Girl by Le Guin (Jewel Anne in translation).

The same day I discovered the second hand bookshop, I also found a very touristy place near Sunday Walking Street Market which served local craft beer. What the Pug Citrus Bomb is a rather hoppy pale ale from Cambodia: really quite nice. The absence of feni and urrak has nearly rendered me a teetotaler and I am only getting back in the beer game slowly. Acquired tastes can also become lost in just about 2-3 years it seems. Next is getting back into whiskey. Thing is feni is the only thing that's so easy on the stomach--even good whiskey unsettles my stomach. Old age, hah.

The point of the post is a supposed joyful return to reading: but wait and watch we must. It's true that I cannot binge watch TV anymore, and most series, no matter how well-crafted, seem insipid and annoying (case in point: Westworld S2, Legion S2 and Elementary S6). I have started and abandoned a bunch of Korean and Japanese tv shows (all quite good: Aggretsuko, Craving, Midnight Diner). Hell I haven't even finished watching End of the Fucking World (which is pretty fucking good, and exactly my kind of show). I feel no urge to watch the many movies saved in the hard drive. I only watch Hollywood blockbusters in theatres now. Going to watch Jurrassic World today.

Meanwhile I have even stopped exploring, photographing and feel no urge to. It seems like a chore. Reading though, I am looking forward to with joyful anticipation. Maybe I should carpe moment and read as much as I can with broken attention span. The large bundle of books, and reading 2 at once reminds me of post Bookfair haze of happiness from oh-so-long-ago. Books, are you here to stay in my life and occupy the central position you had before internet and smartphones? I certainly hope so because apparently it's one of the best anxiety combatant activities: possibly why I always sleep better when I ditch the phone an hour or two before bed and read.