Thursday, 31 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Long Distance II by Tony Harrison

In the last few years, I feel Tony Harrison’s poetry has left me both stirred and shaken. Further, what I feel is that he does not mean to shock the reader but his use of language is such that it is kind of raw, haunting and diverse. When I read this poem for the first time, I was filled with wonder although it is not a delightful poem. It is very unique; the first stanza speaks of his mother’s death, the pain and the memory of her. This is a lot of anguish though not colored by sentimentalism.

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

The following stanza is very personal. It describes a lot of grieving that is sacred and personal to a person. The father is discreet about keeping her memory alive and he is very conscious about it.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

Although the following stanza is yet again, there is a tone of not being able to let go from the poet’. There is a refusal to accept her death.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

Harrison describes the acceptance of his mother’s death. There is this cold and sinking feeling that she will never return which is what most of us feel. It is discomfortingly and disconcertingly real.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Travel Reads: Guggenheim Museum, New York City

It was near darkness although it was about 4 in the evening. It had rained and one of my mittens was lost on a hop-on coach. My hands froze and I was more obstinate than ever that I had to be at Guggenheim. Time was limited and I would leave the following day. Of course, Guggenheim was on my list of priorities even before I traveled to the city. My reason to be there in the first place was to see some of the works by Andy Warhol. Warhol mesmerized and continues to mesmerize generations of art lovers with his depictions of pop art. Unfortunately, all that I happened to see was just one piece of work on display and that was a dampener. However the whole experience of being at Guggenheim was exhilarating and fresh. It had exhibits that oozed a flavor of the cool, zany, artistic, bizarre and breath-taking. It includes an assortment of the Impressionist, Post-impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, widely known as Guggenheim is situated at the Upper East Side of Manhattan in NYC. Established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, it was named after its founder Solomon R. Guggenheim after his death in 1952. He was an American philanthropist, art collector and entrepreneur. He was guided and advised in this venture by his friend and artist, Hilla Rebay. The museum referred to as the ‘temple of the spirit’was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The building from the outside is white and modern while it appears spiraling up to the top; uniquely enough, it is wider at the top. On entering the museum, one just walks up the spiral while a lot of the display of contemporary art is exhibited at the center. One must not miss out on its roof. The whole place appears spacious.

I remember seeing the works of Vasily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and of course Andy Warhol. There were several others and I was a novice to a lot of the exhibit and artists. Having said that whatever constitutes education, fine arts, civilization and evocative of thought, Guggenheim is a splendid example of it. It is no wonder that it is an icon of culture and art.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Art Corner: The Runner, Athens

Yet again, I write about unforgettable Greece. I had never heard of The Runner until I saw it in Athens for the first time. A unique body of sculpture, it is made from shards of glass and it appears green in colour. It is a colossal piece of work situated at the Vassilissis Sofias Avenue in front of the Hilton. The Runner or the Dromeas is 30 feet tall and when one looks at it, it feels like as if it were running against the wind. It was created in 1988 by Costas Varotsos, one of the renowned Greek sculptors. He is known for creating large works of sculpture for natural or designed settings.

Undoubtedly, The Runner will hold you in awe of it if you see it for the first time. If you sight it past more than once, it will still enthral you against a harmonious setting of trimmed lawns and greenery and architecture. Simply marvellous and I can’t wait to see it again.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: The Rage and the Pride by Oriana Fallaci

I just completed reading The Rage and The Pride by Oriana Fallaci. First things first, I was struck by the candour of her thoughts; most importantly, she had the audacity to write this book. Deemed outrageous, there is the quintessential spark of courage for which she was known. In the wake of the devastation and mayhem caused in the September attack of America, she broke her ten-year silence. 

The Rage and Pride reveals sides of Italian history (its unification, ethos, culture, people of courage, painters, sculptors, philosophers and scientific inventions), the birth of America, the Inquisition, the timelessness of the relevance of ‘liberty’, ‘democracy’ and ‘republic’, the rise of fanaticism and intolerance and the September catastrophe. She talked about how she was vaccinated against war and nothing about war shocked her. Yet, it revealed a side of her that was very aware of the plight of women and women in retrograde backdrops: the account of the shooting of three women in Kabul who dared to go for haircuts, the 1975 incident in Dhaka and she being asked to hide in a garage filled with ammunition during a shootout so that if it caught fire, she would have been torn to bits and contributed to some mirth among the soldiers there. With tones of the acerbic and the quirky, she highlighted the positives of what must constitute a culture: architecture, poetry, music, philosophy, fair politics and administration, justice and education. She also talked about what her parents believed in and how she imbibed their fair ideology. Her narration is such that one feels as if one were listening to her talk. It is no wonder why it is such a compelling and stark read.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Book Excerpts: Jim Corbett on the Tiger

We dwell here on Edward James "Jim" Corbett (1875-1955). A British Indian Army colonel at a time when India was under imperial rule, Corbett's transformation from a game hunter to a wildlife conservationist fits well into the adage - Truth is stranger than fiction.

Corbett's writing endures, engaging as the narration of his adventures is, most of which concern hunting down man-eating leopards and tigers around the villages of  Kumaon and Garhwal. An Oxford hardbound omnibus edition that includes Man-Eaters of Kumaon, peppered as it is with well-placed illustrations comes recommended.

What we feature now is a 1944 quote that was reproduced in a newspaper some ago that tells much of Corbett's foresightedness and his degree of concern in conserving wildlife: 

The tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated - as exterminated he will be, unless public opinion rallies to his support - India will be poorer by having lost the finest of its fauna. 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Poetry Reads: The Shield of Achilles by WH Auden

The first stanza from The Shield of Achilles by WH Auden is a contradiction to what Homer had described in the Iliad. Achilles’ shield was supposedly a work of remarkable beauty and craftsmanship as described by Homer. However, in this poem, on seeing the shield, Achilles’ mother Thetis expects to find a work of art on the shield. However she notices ‘an artificial wilderness and a sky like lead’. In juxtaposing a story from the ancient epic, Auden tried to reveal a contemporary world that was bereft of emotions and intelligence. He also tried to show a world that disregarded individualism and individuality.

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.

Auden drew on the futility of war unlike the ancient folks. The kingdom has been described as a barren land where there is absolutely nothing. It is the meeting place of an ‘unintelligible multitude’ that ‘congregated on its blankness’. This is an imagery of soldiers who cannot think and wait for further instructions to go to war.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

The blankness and muteness of soldiers are highlighted in the following stanza. This is a sketch of Auden’s views towards war and the state where individuals and individuality cease to exist. People merely exist as numbers to the populace.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

The following stanza focuses on Thetis and what she expects to find for her son before he goes to war.

She looked over his shoulder
For ritual pieties,
White flower-garlanded heifers,
Libation and sacrifice,
But there on the shining metal
Where the altar should have been,
She saw by his flickering forge-light
Quite another scene.

The following stanza conjures images of borders, fences and soldiers from any part of the globe. It also reveals a note of apathy to war and killing.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The following reveals a sight from the modern world where people seem to accept their fate to suffering and death.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

The following stanza concentrates on the ancient and mythical world of Homer where Thetis notices sportsmen, dancers and lives livening up to music. Auden drew a ‘weed-choked’ field which is a premonition of grief in the modern world.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

The next stanza reveals the indifference of a ‘ragged urchin’ towards rapes and murders. It is a revelation of a deceitful society where one can only expect the worst ‘who'd never heard of any world where promises were kept, or one could weep because another wept’.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

The next stanza reveals Thetis’ coming to terms with the fact that ‘Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles’ would not live for long.

The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Jaipur Literature Festival: 2012 Rewind

No, we are not at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year, but I, Wolf was there in January 2012 and had posted articles about a couple of sessions on my blog back then, the links of which I would like to share here:
Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: The Inaugural & Keynote Address 
Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Listening to Gulzar 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Poetry Reads: A Standing Meditation by AK Ramanujan

AK Ramanujan (1929-1993) was quite simply, a man of many talents. An Indian literature scholar, Ramanujan was a bilingual poet, writer, translator, playwright, folklorist...we cease to catch our breath and zero in on the poetry. So here's a minute bit of his oeuvre. You will note how much design is critical to the poem's effectiveness even as words form the appropriate attire.     

A Standing Meditation
by AK Ramanujan

a spinning top
motionless and still
spinning on one leg
at top speed like
a crane at rest
awake now
and then
likely to


(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Poetry Reads: When I Dance by James Berry

The second-hand book market in Pune has its share of hidden treasures. All one needs to do is linger in such surroundings, engage in some scouring, back-bending, explore untouched stacks and dusty corners, and who knows what you may come across?

It was on one such lingering expedition that I happened to grab a copy of the (now puzzlingly out of print) James Berry poetry collection - When I Dance

Swinging in Caribbean rhythms of endearing broken, accented English and emanating in addictive visions of Britain's city interiors, the poems are a celebration of the exuberance, vitality, energy, bruises, dates, bicycle rides, love, toothless grannies and the impossible, innocent fantasies that childhood conjures.

In its congregation of illustrations, meter, rhyme and celebration these are poems that cheerfully exude everything that youth is in its follies and grandeur. Extracts will tell you more, here are scraps from the title poem: 

When I dance it isn't merely
That music absorbs my shyness 
My laughter settles in my eyes, 
My swings of arms convert my frills 
As timing tunes my feet with floor 
As if I never just looked on 

It is that when I dance 
O music expands my hearing 
And it wants no mathematics, 
It wants no thinking, no speaking, 
It only wants all my feeling
In with animation of place. 

Bear-hug cosiness is apparent in poems such as Seeing Granny. The extract follows: 

Toothless, she kisses
with fleshy lips 
rounded, like mouth
of a bottle, all wet. 

She bruises your face
almost, with two
loving tree-root hands.

Sample this perspective of a father, the criticism is not biting, it is more like a family reaction to overheard adult dialogue. The extract is from the poem Girls Can We Educate We Dads?

Listn the male chauvinist in mi dad ---
a girl walkin night street mus be bad. 
He dohn sey, the world's a free place
for a girl to keep her unmolested space.
Instead he sey --- a girl is a girl. 

Finally I conclude with a paragraph that tells of a bubble-making childhood of soap lather dreams from What We Said Sitting Making Fantasies:

I want a talking dog wearing a cap
who can put on gloves 
and go to my mum when I'm playing 
and she wants a job done. 

A winner of the 1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance is a 59-poem gem that is begging for a reissue. Are the people at Puffin Books listening?   

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

I recently read The Dorobo by Elspeth Huxley from Clive King’s compilation of Adventure Stories. The Dorobo, a chapter from her book titled The Flame Trees of Thika has been my first exposure to Huxley’s writings. This chapter is based on an incident of adventure set in former British East Africa (current-day Kenya). Elspeth Huxley spent her childhood there. The Flame Trees of Thika is a memoir of growing up among the Masai and Kikuyu people.

The descriptions from The Dorobo are amazing. These reveal a life that Huxley lived in sync with nature and the animal kingdom. Further there is something of the gusto and flavor in her story-telling.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Short Story Reads: The Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs

Late last night, I completed reading The Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs. Although it is a short story, I couldn’t have left it half-way to complete it today. Something eerie in the plot kept me going and there was a marked tone of quiet horror. Well-written and tied by a neat plot, it is set against a quintessential English setting with a grudgingly cold weather raging outside. The three members of the White family chit chat about and the father and son play chess while waiting for Sergeant-Major Morris.The arrival of Sergeant-Major Morris with the monkey’s paw is when the plot takes a turn towards something baleful and unknown.

Published in 1902, The Monkey’s Paw has an element of the unfamiliar and hushed malevolence. It is no wonder why it remains a page-turner.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Poetry Reads: The Wolf on Poetry

Howwwwwwl. More precisely, Wolf here. 

In the human world, especially on moonless nights and sun-filled days, I moon about as a promising writer, poet, and lyricist who has been promising for several centuries now. Why, I even had a set of thousand visiting cards made for distribution that would lure the female of the species, well...into visiting. Anyway, I have to type these words fast, the clouds are just beginning to scatter and a light gleam of silver spreads in the firmament. My fingers have already turned to claws, thus facilitating immensely in typing any number of words in as much time as lightning strikes. Kaboom.     

This is how I see it. Poetry is a free bird's melody, uttered so, for it sprouts from the heart, and is similarly written down. Having a writing device on the ready is a handy habit, for words may rush in anytime. A common feature of a poem is its flow and spontaneity. The first draft is usually the crux of it. Polish, in the form of attention to meter, rhyme, paragraphing, punctuation, grammar, spelling and an appropriate title usually follow in subsequent drafts. While I mentioned grammar in the last sentence, a poem can have its own language. Unlike prose, a poem may not be bound to any structure.

There is no end to the themes that poets have chosen to write on over the centuries. Now, if we were to encapsulate all the poems ever written into two sections, what would they be? Here we trail Urdu poetry and its branching out into two - there is the ghazal where poets tend to self-reflect and look inwardly. Then there is the nazm where observation of the surrounding world is the central theme. This division can be applied to poems in general, if only for the purpose of differentiation and documentation.

Enough talk, to conclude here is the poem that was first published in Reading Hour Magazine's September-October 2011 issue, with the title ‘Pang’. It is presented here with my edits:

by Snehith Kumbla

the music of a drizzle,
wet smell of earth

a sun scattered face,
some winter morning

the moonlight walks
with me, at dusk

sleep glows in
a deep cave

I dwell on you...


(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Poetry Reads: The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats

Yeats was inspired by Irish mythology. Aengus was the god of everlasting youth in Irish mythology who lived in a palace called Brug na Boinne. He was in love with a girl called Caer whom he saw in a dream and after a while of looking for her, he found her. She used to live year-after-year either as a swan or as a girl. The year she turned into a swan, Aengus turned into a swan too to be with her. The following year, they resumed the form of human beings. In the first stanza of this poem, the imagery is magical and romantic. The narrator goes out to the ‘hazel wood because a fire was in my head’. There is this longing to meet the girl he loves. In this poem, Yeats turns Caer into a trout instead of a swan.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

While in mythology, Aengus finds Caer to be with her for good, the following stanza reveals the elusiveness of the love the narrator feels. It paints his yearning to be united with his beloved although it is just a dream.

Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air’.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

In the following stanza, Aengus has grown old unlike the character from mythology. He is still looking for his elusive love. He longs to be in Brug na Boinne where there is always a feast; the palace of youth, feasting and cheer. Love remains unrequited although there is a tone of fantastical optimism to find who and what he has craved and loved.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Meeting at Night by Robert Browning

It is the background of nighttime. It feels like a painting with the ‘grey sea’, ‘the long black land’ and ‘the yellow half-moon large and low’. There is an element of anxiety in the ‘startled little waves’. The narrator hints at a clandestine rendezvous at night. The poem is not a description of usual romance where one serenades to the other. This is a description of someone who is risking a lot to be there with his beloved.


The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

The second stanza speaks of the union of two hearts. It is still night and the narrator of the first stanza nears his destination. ‘A farm appears’ and there is this whole atmosphere of excitement, ‘thro’ its joys and fears’. They meet with the risk of being caught.


Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Witchcraft for Attracting a Man by Xpetra Ernandes

Incantations is a collection of illustrations, 'spells' and poems, all created by 150 Mayan women. Ambar Past collected these drawings and poems, even as she resided with them in 1970's Mexico. She has vivid memories of an epidemic bringing death to the village. "They live with no comfort," As Ms. Past has said in an interview to The New York Times. "Yet poetry is an essential part of their daily life." Here is one poem from this acclaimed collection: 

Witchcraft for attracting a man
by Xpetra Ernándes

I want him to come with flowers in his heart.
With all his heart,
I want him to talk to my body.
I want his blood to ache for me
when he sees me on the way to the market.


(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Rhapsody on a Windy Night by TS Eliot

Rhapsody on a Windy Night by TS Eliot is yet another poem that describes the urban experience which is not romantic. The imagery illustrated in the poem is that of dust, old lingering smells, twisted things, and many such sights. In the first stanza, the narrator seems to me like a person who is an insomniac and his mind is disturbed. He almost wants to drive himself morose and he highlights his loneliness, alienation and eccentricity. He does not describe a midnight stroll down the lane as something dreamy and passionate. To him life is ‘fatalistic’.

TWELVE o'clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium’.

The narrator’s sense of alienation is very obvious in the following stanza. There is a tone of bitterness, angst, despair and the inability to see the positive aspect of the world and society. His memory means ‘a crowd of twisted things’ and nothing left to positively relish. His mind’s morbidity resonates with the images of a ‘broken spring’, ‘rust’ and ‘hard and curled and ready to snap’.

‘The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap’.

Now it is past midnight. The imagery of the following stanza sketches lives of isolation, defeat and the incorrigible. The descriptions of the cat, the child and the crab are sketches of lives beyond redemption.

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."
So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

It’s the wee hours of the morning; however what follow are the seedy sights and smells of decadence of the night. The narrator sights a young prostitute who smiles a smile of uncertainty. The imagery of the moon has been juxtaposed to the prostitute. Then another prostitute appears; she is old for whom life has just been a life of repeated squalor, waiting and sleaze.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
"Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain."
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars."

In the last stanza, the persona prepares for life and walks back into reality.

The lamp said,
"Four o'clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."
The last twist of the knife.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Travel Reads: The Phantom of the Opera at Majestic Theatre

It was an early evening in December.The tourists were out on the streets despite the occasional spell of the icy showers.The noise on the streets was deafening. New York felt like a melting pot or a salad bowl more than ever. The sea of humanity converged there and the city pulsated as if it were alive. I walked from Hotel 41 near Times Square to the Majestic Theatre at 245 West 44th Street, New York. Built in 1927, it was designed by Herbert Krapp, American theatre architect and designer,and built by the Chanin Brothers. Today it is owned by The Schubert Organization. This theatre has hosted several musical shows down the decades such as Rufus LeMaire’s Affairs, Pardon My English, The Act, Carousel, Stars in Your Eyes, Allegro, South Pacific, By the Beautiful Sea, Me and Juliet and Golden Boy among others.

I was out to watch The Phantom of the Opera, a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Majestic Theatre. Written by French writer, Gaston Leroux in 1911, The Phantom of the Opera is a gothic novel. A tale of unrequited love, Erik, the phantom of the opera falls in love with Christine from the chorus of the Paris Opera House. Erik is a lonely gifted genius with distorted looks. He abducts her and he reveals his identity saying that he is the legendary ‘Angel of Music’. She is drawn
towards him; however on unmasking his face, she recoils. This is what I would like to write as the gist of the plot. There is a lot more.

Watching The Phantom of the Opera was an overwhelming experience. The sheer grandeur of the stage setting was amazing. That evening I met people who were there to watch this musical staged in English and who could barely speak or understand the language. Despite all the barriers, the audience sat mesmerized.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Poetry Reads: Pike by Ted Hughes

Pike by Ted Hughes begins with a description of the fish and their malevolence. This poem’s freshness lies in its heightened imagery of nature, the animal kingdom and the dwelling place of human beings.

Hughes also observes that:

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
They dance on the surface among the flies’.

Their habitat has been described in the two stanzas below.

Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,
Over a bed of emerald, silhouette
Of submarine delicacy and horror.
A hundred feet long in their world.

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads-
Gloom of their stillness:
Logged on last year's black leaves, watching upwards.
Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds.

The following stanzas are an illustration of their predatory nature. It reveals a quiet doom and death of their prey. It is a world where one kills to survive or gets killed. Similarly, only one pike outlives the other three in Hughes’ aquarium. The killing of the other three has been vividly described.

The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed at this date:
A life subdued to its instrument;
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

Three we kept behind glass,
Jungled in weed: three inches, four,
And four and a half: red fry to them-
Suddenly there were two. Finally one

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.
And indeed they spare nobody.
Two, six pounds each, over two feet long
High and dry and dead in the willow-herb-

One jammed past its gills down the other's gullet:
The outside eye stared: as a vice locks-
The same iron in this eye
Though its film shrank in death.

A fisherman goes fishing and he is struck by the sheer violence of the fish. He is also gripped by the fear of the fish’s primitivism for survival. This is an atmosphere of danger.

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them-

Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished
With the hair frozen on my head
For what might move, for what eye might move.
The still splashes on the dark pond,

The last stanza discusses Hughes understanding of letting all these creatures be in their natural habitats.

Owls hushing the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed,
That rose slowly toward me, watching.


(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Poetry Reads: On Haiku: Poetry with Scissors

The first time my haiku was published and I happened to share my work with my friends, many among them were baffled and asked me, "Where is the rest of it? Is that all?"  That is where the sheer simplicity of haiku lies. It's gaudy attire is conciseness, words make up the decor.

You have got only three lines to say it.You have lesser characters than you are allowed on twitter to complete it. To be precise, you shouldn’t be exceeding more than 17 syllables. The number of syllables for each of the three lines are traditionally in this order - five, seven and five. Writing haiku dates back to 17th century Japan.The form was called hokku then. 

A haiku usually freezes on a single image, much like a photograph does. It is supported by a kigo word, which usually implies a season, for instance - 'autumn night' or 'spring'. Let us now look into a haiku by the famous 17th century poet called Matsuo Basho. This particular haiku has been translated several times. Of the many versions, one goes: 

old pond . . . 
a frog leaps into 
the water’s sound. 

Here the kigo word is frog, an indication of the Japanese spring season.

The English haiku doesn’t follow the strict 17-syllable format; many contemporary haiku poets have redefined the Japanese perimeters, a haiku could thus wind up in 10 syllables, or extend beyond 20. 

Haiku poets will tell you time and again - The main element in a good haiku is the ‘show, not tell’ factor. Let us paraphrase what Basho has said - Revealing 70 to 80 percent of the subject is good, but if you can show only 50 to 60 percent, then one is never tired of reading that haiku. 

Several poets also talk about the ‘ah’ effect. If the haiku provides an elevation, that little tinge of pleasure on reading it, one can happily conclude then that the poet's expression has got through. Many haiku exponents also see the art form as a philosophy of lingering in the moment, imbibing the present in totality and then presenting the same in a cusp of words.  Haiku is now been written in several Indian languages too. Only time will tell what influence this branching out will have.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Fiction Reads: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I’ve just completed reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and I loved it. It is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It is a rich assimilation of the local colloquial English in Missouri in the 1830s and a sharp take on slavery and the ethos of a former society where slavery and racial segregation were prevalent. This book is also about wit, fun and adventure coupled with sensitivity. It is set in the fictitious town of St. Petersburg in Missouri where Huckleberry Finn, an adolescent boy finds a sum of money along with his friend Tom Sawyer. Finn is also the narrator of this story. With a drunken and mostly absent father who is highly irresponsible and under the care of Widow Douglas and her sister Widow Watson, who are trying to civilize him, he wants to shirk to shirk it all to live a life of adventure. Ironically, his wish is granted when his father, who abhors the idea of Huck Finn receiving an education, takes him away to the woods to live in his cabin. However one fine day, he manages to escape while his father is away. He fakes his own murder (Twain’s description of it is marvellously real and descriptive) and there begins his journey of adventure. He meets Jim, Widow Watson’s slave who is on the run as he could’ve been sold for an amount of $800.

Jim is headed to Cairo in Illinois and then to Ohio, a free state. On the way, Jim and Huck encounter several adventures and different characters. To cut a long and interesting adventurous story short, this novel questions the various types of conflicts arising from race and human dignity. Huck’s mind is in conflict while he aids and befriends Jim while Jim reciprocates and takes care of him. The former begins to understand the latter’s tribulations. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a must-read because social and racial segregation is prevalent until today. Slavery was abolished ages ago; however, racial violence, sub-human treatment, prejudice and stereotypes continue to exist. Twain had remarked about his work saying, “A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Preludes by T.S. Eliot

Preludes by T.S. Eliot begins with some imagery of a cold winter evening. The sight is that of a littered place, urban and messy. First published in the early nineteen hundreds, this poem is a revelation of city life where profligacy reigns supreme.

The winter evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps

The next stanza describes the scene of a morning. However the description of the morning is unromantic. It is a reflection of urbanity, filth and routine.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

In the third stanza, there is an illustration of hardships that man goes through. There is a trace of the muck, vulgarity and the experience of having experienced rough times. It is about people who are spiritually poor.

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.

And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed's edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

The lines below reveal a scene of how life just goes on despite the cynicism. The last stanza aptly describes the futility of situations and the entire poem is summarized in 'The worlds revolve like ancient women gathering fuel in vacant lots’.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspaper, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning

There is a premonition of death and bleakness in the poetic setting before Porphyria walks into the room to meet her lover. Spoken in the form of a dramatic monologue something that was quintessentially Robert Browning, this time the narrator, Porphyria’s lover is a sick-in-the-head, insecure and obsessive type of male, a familiar character in society.

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight

As if Porphyria knows by instinct about the foreboding gloom she prepares for the fatality.

She shut the cold out and the storm,
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and the entire cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall’,

There is no trace of her side of the story; we ought to believe what Porphyria’s lover tells us. He tells us that she speaks of her love for him.

And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me — she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free.
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever’.
Porphyria’s confession of love makes the lover happy and contemplates killing her so that she could be his forever.

But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair’,

He decides to possess her forever.

Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still’:

Porphyria’s lover justifies the murder as if she wanted to be murdered and somehow urged him to murder.

The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word’!

Porphyria’s Lover was published for the first time in 1836 as Porphyria. This poem is a style called Tableau Vivant which means living picture in French. Popular in the Victorian age, this form of art via poetry used humans to mirror actual paintings.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Comic Book Reads: The Adventures of Tintin by Herge

It was the mermaid who informed us that it is Tintin's birthday today. Tintin was one of my childhood favourites, hence this article.

It has been 84 years since the fearless boy reporter Tintin made his comic debut. On this day, to be more precise, 10th January 1929, the iconic series first made its appearance in the French language. A Belgian newspaper's children's supplement was Tintin's first showcase.

The adage - 'Fortune favours the brave' plays out with exaggerated comic drama in this classic series that took comic book illustrations to the zone where they are as much appreciated as great paintings.


The boy detective. Sensible, fearless, calm and very lucky to survive through all his adventures.

An illustration commemorating the comic book series brought out in January 2004.    

Tintin's inseparable companion. He frequently "speaks" to the reader through his sarcastic thoughts on the situation at hand, thoughts which are supposedly not heard by other characters in the story. 


Captain Haddock
Full of liquor and the widest variety of abuse, he is Tintin's inseparable, boisterous companion in his adventures.

Thompson and Thompson 
They are not brothers. The difference can be seen in their moustaches. Detectives always getting into long-winded dialogues like "I presume." and "Precisely."


Professor Cuthbert Calculus 
An explosive goes off and the professor remarks," Did somebody knock? Absent minded, and the brainiest geek around. 

Bianca Castafiore
An opera singer whom Haddock despises to the point of delirium, Castafiore seems to be always around along with her maid, Irma, and pianist, Igor Wagner - no matter in which remote geographical corner Tintin's adventures happen to occur. 

Herge died in 1983 after creating 21 beautifully illustrated and wittily written Tintin comic books. Much later, other artists brought out a Tintin comic book, depicting a grown up Tintin, in love and falsely implicated of murder. Then there was the impressive 2011 Steven Spielberg movie released in 3D: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Thought Fox by Ted Hughes

Thought Fox by Ted Hughes is evocative. The narrator sits down to write at midnight where –

‘Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move'.

It speaks of the poet’s intent to write where ideas seem to pour into his mind really slow. At the same time, ‘something more near is entering the loneliness’. There emerges something, a fox –

‘Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now’.

The fox walks leaving an imprint in the snow –

‘Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come’.

The fox’s gait juxtaposes the emergence of ideas into Hughes’ mind. The ideas formulate bit-by-bit and in a bit the page is typed.

‘Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business’.

The fox is visible and Hughes has completed his piece of writing –

‘Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed’.

It is no wonder that ‘Thought Fox’ is eloquently derived from the way thoughts sprinkle into one’s mind like the walking of a fox into a clearing.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)