Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Symbols of Prestige", a piece in the first (July) issue of Nat Geo Traveller India that starts off at Thanjavur and brings together my three great, all-consuming passions - my aunts, Chola temples and the Ramayana.  Thanks are owed to Niloufer and NGT for giving me the freedom to write this slightly crazy, all-over-the-place piece. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Or, What Proofreading At 1 Am Can Do To You.

Dedicated to a Bracket-that-was. 

Single bracket, you stand there at the end of a phrase, lurking by the round side of a full-stop. You are lonely. There is no opening bracket to stand guard and ward off the chill of an exposed clause. 

It's cold. You bend. You crouch, trying hard to curl into yourself --into a round period like the one that slumbers blissfully by you. You'd have better chance of passing unnoticed. Maybe you'd pass as part of an ellipsis and a third period would join you. Or the other full stop would get cut out.

As you wait, uncertain, you wonder at the careless, ungrammatical hand that created you. Is there truly no design or purpose to your existence? 

Single bracket, you pine. For another one that faces you from across the yawning clause and stands back to the preceding sentence. That blocks out the rest - the dashes that leer greedily at you; other paired brackets that scoff at you; commas and semi-colons that twitter; quotes that gossip and colons that gruffly face you.

You wilt. You wish for another partner. To be part of a pair of brackets. To enclose, properly, a clause. 
To face each other across all eternity.

It's then then you notice something else.


Staring at you. 

I hear the wind howling about me. The rain lashes down on my windowsill. The silent chill of an empty house creeps into the marrow of my bones. 
I know your pain. 

And for a moment, we face each other. Locked together in a tangle. 
Bracketed together. 
We're the same. 

And then-
A quick movement of my hand, a strike and -
You're gone. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Obliterary Journal

The Obliterary Journal Volume 1
Blaft Publications Pvt Ltd and Tranquebar Press
© Blaft Publications 2012
ISBN 978-93-81626-44-3
Rs 695
Pages 269

I've never had to work out algebraic equations in order to review a book - but Somdutt Sarkar's explorations of the twelfth century mathematician Bhaskaracharya's text "Lilavati" in The Obliterary Journal presents math problems that offer infinite imaginative possibilities – for example, the number of pearls that fall off a necklace as a couple makes love.

It's this spirit of imagination and experimentation that this anthology revels in. The Obliterary Journal is a compilation of miscellaneous visual material in a number of varying styles and forms - graphic short stories, collections of street art, and hand painted type. A one page visual piece, Farooq's "A Squid Vixen" - portrays a figure illustrated in the style of Amar Chitra Katha comics, with the head of a squid and an apsara-like body. "Squid Vixen" seems to suggest that stories are not necessarily full-fledged narratives, but are, for the compilers of this anthology, primarily ideas that present manifold imaginative possibilities. Another key concept - the conflict between visual and text is introduced in the form of a graphic short story in the foreword where pictograms and the written word face-off, with pictograms asserting the premise of this book; 'obliteracy' - to obliterate textual literature. 

Yet, in the pages that follow, the written word and the visual aren't always at odds. "The Nayagarh Incident" is worthy of special mention; a sci-fi tale featuring Transformer-like alien robots, and illustrated in the style of Patachitra scrolls (palm-leaf engravings from Orissa). Surprisingly, the odd combination isn't jarring. Similarly, Roney Devassia marries content with style in “Karuna Bhavanam,” a creative non-fiction piece based on interviews. Devassia's washed-out, grey-toned panels that blend into each other – is the perfect way to explore the fading, blurred memories of a group of elderly men living in an old-age home in Kozhikode. The excerpt from “The Hyderabad Graphic Novel”, by writer-artist duo Harsho Mohan Chattoraj and Jai Undurti is spectacular - not just because of Chattoraj's stunning, detailed black-and-white art, but also for Undurti's impressively researched, imaginative tale that ranges far across time, space and myth – featuring the mythic city of Aryan Vaejo, Egyptian Catacombs, Stonehenge, the Ice-Ages and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Not all the pieces in The Obliterary Journal work - "Nowhere to Run", an excerpt from Subrata Gangopadhyay's graphic novel in Bengali, centers on Janardhan, an anti-hero with superhuman strength, but offers a confusing narrative that contains too many characters and sub-plots. The textured, nebulous artwork of Amitabh Kumar's piece (which lacks a textual title, the title is visual - an airplane enclosed in a heart) is exquisite but the concept is too abstract to grasp – the piece begins with a goat claiming that “Airports make him nervous” and ends with the image of a smiley face drawn on a toilet. The collections of visual art from the streets "Autoraj" and "Street Art from Suriname" could benefit from more context. But these shortcomings don't detract from/mar the charm of this anthology - more than anything else, The Obliterary Journal, by subverting and breaking with narrative conventions, challenges the way we think of stories, and uses the full capacity of the visual medium to blur the lines between (among other things) math and literature, the real and the imagined, fiction and non-fiction.

A slightly different version of this review was published in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 14, 07 April 2012.