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) 

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) 

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) 

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) 

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)

Monday, 7 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Funeral Blues by WH Auden

Funeral Blues by WH Auden was immensely made famous after the Hugh Grant film, Four Weddings and a Funeral.  It is a poem of mourning on the death of a lover. There appears the agony of carrying on, ‘For nothing now can ever come to any good’. The first two stanzas were initially written by Auden on the death of a political leader; it is suggestive of the scorn and satire in –

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

However it took a whole new interpretation later of love, anguish and passion –

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

What grips the reader of this poem is the use of elegant language and imagery. Although life goes on after the death, the futility of living is well-etched here –

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (b.1928)

To me Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is to verse what Beautiful Girl by INXS is to melody. While Beautiful Girl is all about the gamut of insecurity and angst that girls face during adolescence, bulimia and anorexia, Phenomenal Woman is about quashing all of it. Beneath the veneer of timidity and self-doubt faced by most girls during adolescence (as Beautiful Girl summarizes), Angelou speaks of standing tall and taking pride in one’s body, gait and presence. It is a celebration of being the remarkable one and a reaffirmation of taking pride in being a woman. It serves as a rite of passage in the mind of a woman in discovering who she really is.

This poem encapsulates the elements of feisty, feminine, intelligence and coming-of-age.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: Boy by Roald Dahl

As the 1916-born Dahl declares in the introduction of the 1984 published Boy - The book is not an autobiography. Instead, it is a merry-go-round rewind of events that the writer vividly recalled and simultaneously wrote down. The flow is thus effortlessly conversational, that despite the episodic pieces, nothing seems untold, unfinished.

Dahl tells of his Norwegian parents, siblings, the motor-less era that he grew up in, the lack of anesthesia, mischief, horrors of corporal punishment, boarding school, psychotic teachers, friends, childhood pleasures, illness and pain. The last thing you will ever notice about Dahl's writing is style. Instead, the sheer impact of storytelling draws one's attention right into the tale.

You can clearly see where Dahl sourced his inspiration for the macabre - a quality that features prominently in his adult stories. Dahl's schooling days were times of authoritarian discipline and subjugation, the writer thus developed an aversion towards the overbearing hostel matron (barrel-chested), stone-heartened principals and stodgy academicians, antagonist elements that his fiction writing exudes with subtlety.     

Boy is one of the best childhood memoir works ever written and can be read without any complain or constraint by children and adults alike. No kidding. It is as if Dahl were sitting beside us by a camp fire, narrating things as it were, knowing that the night will eventually fold up, and the fire die out.

Boy ends with Dahl, aged 22, leaving for East Africa on a three-year stint for his first employer - Shell. The following years of World War II, flying for the Royal Air Force and other adventures are captured in Going Solo. This reviewer has procured a copy and hopefully these pages will one day reveal what we thought of its contents. Happy reading!

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Short Story Reads: The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway is a tale of decadence, ennui, hedonism and indifference. While Harry lies dying in Africa he thinks of his life gone by. None of the events that held a grip on his memory and what he held dear remains unwritten and untold. Death is inevitable now and he quarrels with Helen, his companion to Africa. According to him, she is pleasant, nice and understanding, although he does not love her. However she is the one with all the money and he has enjoyed the comfort that she she can provide for him. He had procrastinated long enough to write  - "He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know. She would have bought him anything he wanted. He knew that. She was a damned nice woman too. He would as soon be in bed with her as any one; rather with her, because she was richer, because she was very pleasant and appreciative and because she never made scenes. And now this life that she had built again was coming to a term because he had not used iodine two weeks ago when a thorn had scratched his knee as they moved forward trying to photograph a herd of waterbuck standing, their heads up, peering while their nostrils searched the air, their ears spread wide to hear the first noise that would send them rushing into the bush. They had bolted, too, before he got the picture."

At this stage, Harry feels indifferent towards the rich; to him, they are repetitive and predictable. He has seen too much in one life; the world wars, pain, death, women, love, alcohol and hedonism. He thinks, "We must all be cut out for what we do, he thought. However you make your living is where your talent lies. He had sold vitality, in one form or another, all his life and when your affections are not too involved you give much better value for the money. He had found that out but he would never write that, now, either. No, he would not write that, although it was well worth writing." There are references to places in Europe and South America where he experienced life and scenes. Yet he did not write and while he smells death, these events flash in his mind.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Comic Book Reads: Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies by Scott Adams

It was in 1989 that Scott Adams brought into the comic strip world the American workplace everyman of the anti-gravity tie - Dilbert. Cubicle work stations, tyrannical managers, a sly human resource department, unfair sharing of company profits, the art of prolonging team meetings - are all part of the replicated landscape of the modern computer-infested office world, complete with black humour and wisecracks.

This book of the elongated title is not a comic strip collection, it is part of a separate series called Dogbert's Big Book of Business. For starters Dogbert evolved from been Dilbert's dog to the 'Evil Director of Human Resources', once the strip permanently moved from Dilbert's home setting to the workplace.

The jokes in this collection are seldom uproariously funny or reflective, but they do hold a mirror to  pretence, procrastination and theatricals that employees and employers engage in. Each strip of this 111-page book starts with Dogbert monologues, yet Adams always manages to pack something varied into each panel.

Sample some of Dogbert introductions here:
One sure way to the top is to invent scapegoats in the company and lead the charge against them. Ideally, the scapegoats should be powerless and funny looking.  

To be a successful manager, you must learn to be insensitive to the needs of your employees.

Big companies use most of their resources trying to keep people from getting mad at them. 

Mondays are not part of the productive work week. 

A good book for smiles and guffaws among the office crowd. If you are one of them, you are certain to convince yourself that stealing office supplies doesn't amount to thievery.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Travel Reads: Picnic at Dirok

It had begun to snow in nearby Arunachal and there was a nip in the air. Dirok like all the other places in Assam was in the midst of a cold winter. It was Christmas time in the 1990s when we were made to live in fear. While the world sang ‘silent night, holy night’, Upper Assam was silent while a pall of grim had set in. We were a witness to some of the bloodiest massacres; disappearance of local youths, president’s rule and random killings. Villagers ended up in camps while the army combed the villages looking for terrorists. It was a time filled with sickening mayhem. The hills are still green and the trees were lush-green. And one can never forget the various species of orchids. People still picnicked which they continue to do. We went for a picnic to Dirok which covers a part of the Dehing Patkai Rain Forest, the only rainforest in Assam. Flanked by tea gardens, Dirok lies on the road between Digboi and Margherita.

We lunched by the bank of the Burhi Dehing River. On either side of the bank, the forest reigned in mystic splendour. The banks were stony and the water is crystal-clear. Schools of tiny fish swam through and the water felt icy in the fingers. Burhi Dihing is also the lifeline to agriculture and is famous for its oxbow lakes. I was happy and as a child, there was a lot to take in. My sister and I socialized with the adults. Not much of talkers, we snapped into our worlds that I’ve treasured until today.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)