Sadder than a train standing in the rain

Here's a poem by Nazim Hikmet, if you haven't read:

I stand in the advancing light,

my hands hungry, the world beautiful.

My eyes can't get enough of the trees—
they're so hopeful, so green.

A sunny road runs through the mulberries,
I'm at the window of the prison infirmary.

I can't smell the medicines—
carnations must be blooming nearby.

It's this way:
being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.
(It's this Way)

"Is there anything in the world sadder than a train standing in the rain?" Neruda had asked...

Wallowing in a exaggerated self-dejection, I wondered whether i could think of an answer... now, i think i know...the saddest thing in the world is a poem melting away in some corner of your mind and returning like a dust-spattered happy child from play, oblivious to the world... but there are some other questions as well...

—Why do leaves commit suicide when they feel yellow?
—How many bees are there in a day?
—Is the sun the same as yesterdays or is this fire different from that fire?
—What will they say about my poetry who never touched my blood?
—Why does the earth grievewhen the violets appear?
—How does the abandoned bicycle win its freedom?
—How does rumour of the sky smellwhen the blue of water sings?
—Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy thin?
—And why is the sun so congenial in the hospital garden?

:( no one knows but the Book of Questions!

the fish in the glass bowl

the fish likes the smell of the medicated water... digs at the carefully placed sand, swallows a few grains and belches them out...

on saturdays, i leave for office early, like most job-doers-who-know-that-they-have-to-attend, carefully try to participate in the work i've been assigned, and then wait for two hours doing absolutely nothing, staring intently at the computer screen that patiently blinks for me till the final nod comes from somewhere that i may leave for the day...

I hurry...stuff the book i had been trying to read in the monotonous silence inside my bag, and race down the stairs, punch my card, and leap outside on a pavement... and then i have nowhere to go!

Aw, i mustn't complain, i get a bank account at the 'tender' age of 28, and a cheque each month to fill it up and another cheque book to draw money... and it's a simple exchange, though my imagination is stifled and i feel like a sock full of spiders, i stare at a blank page and keep staring for hours until i realise that i have failed to write anything or at least a scribble and it's time for me to get some sleep so that i can make myself ready for work again.

the fish tries to peer outside, gaze at anything that will make it forget the bowl... seven colours of the rainbow pass through the water, there's the sand glittering again... and something wriggling down there...

a worm? leap fat old fish, don't swallow the bait, it's a boy who has let it down and wants you to make a bite... it's a boy who has homework to do and one hour in the evening to play until dusk of what he thinks eternity...

fish, don't eat worms for pleasure, for you might harm someone.

Ivan's childhood

Narrowing down on 28 years, i get to watch Ivan's Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo), a 1962 film by Andrei Tarkovksy. As the CD starts whirring, i remember seeing it long before in a darkened room smelling of straw and the smell of sweat from two dozens of viewers... i was acting as a translator of the english sub-titles for men and women who thought of fighting for a better world... what did i translate? Today, i am not that sure...

These are the times when you start hating yourself, and your unstable voice...
a voice that compartmentalises dreams, visions, feelings, emotions and arousals of a childhood and the imaginings of an adolescence in some remote corner of the mind, and seals them away with a creaking rusty lock...

And I start hating myself! I really do!

The Right to Smoke

This is not a funny post. And I am serious about smoking as long I don't disturb people. And as long, people don't disturb me because i do, and will continue to exercise my right to smoke.

The office where I am presently working doesn't have NO SMOKING boards stuck up anywhere. But it is a carbonated( air-conditioned) office, with burly security guards with faces of mastiffs and rottweilers loitering on the corridors, and it is implied that you cannot smoke inside the office.

I never tried it— for I fear losing my job right now— but I hear earthquake alarms start ringing with the slightest whiff of smoke... and I wish I can have a glimpse of that, before I quit office...

What smokers usually do—and they are a considerable number— they climb down three storeys down the back staircase, punch their cards, and step out on the road to smoke...

they smoke in the rain if it rains, they smoke in the piss, if it pisses, they roast under the sun, when it blazes, but they have to stay outside the wrought-iron gates....and smoke unfazed...

Today I went down for a smoke and rabbited, er dodoed, back silently to my desk.
The gentleman sitting next to me, made a face like a blue nicotine patch and shrieked: "EEEEEEEEEE! You smell like...."
( He said that in that Benglaic English, and didn't tell me what I smelled like...something horrible, for sure, perhaps he called me a yeti who never had a bath, or something worse!)

Now smokers, and the most of them excluding the machos and the stereotypical, are by nature decent people. And I pretended to be one while I seethed in anger....

I had nothing to tell to this gentleman, and I felt a sense of guilt, I dunno where it sprang from... Smoking is harmful, everyone knows that, blah, blah, blah... But OK, this gentleman helped me learn, for I started to google and chanced on The Smoker's Club...

Here follows a wonderful dispeller of myths....

I wish I do a Martin Luther with it and put it up in large bold types on the walls of all the offices, the insides of long-distance train compartments, and everywhere where a irrational dogmatism tries to impose its codes of conducive action....

The Ten Biggest Lies about Smoke & Smoking
By Robert Hayes Halfpenny

THE LIE: Cigarette smoke and Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or Second Hand Smoke (SHS) Causes cancer.

THE Truth: Simply stated there is no known cause for any type of cancer. With all the testing that has been done with every type of chemical, gas, inert matter, and substances that have been altered through exposure to heat or chemical reaction, nothing has been proven to cause cancer. NOTHING! In some instances specific substances, in massive quantities, have been administered to laboratory rats. In these cases many of the animals might have developed a cancer. These sorts of tests may be considered Junk Science in that they have no relationship to a real life scenario.
The World Health Organization ran one of the most exhaustive tests on SHS ever done. After years of meticulous record keeping of all the data, their ultimate findings showed no measurable relationship of SHS to any form of cancer or other illness. The only measurable fact they did discover was that of all adult children who came from homes where both parents smoked had had a 22% better chance of NOT contracting lung cancer than did adult children who came from homes where both parents did not smoke. The W.H. O attempted to hid these facts from the public until several astute reporters forced them to make their facts public.

THE LIE: The desire for smoking bans is a grass roots movement.

THE TRUTH: Smoking bans have almost exclusively been started by organizations such as The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, A.S.H., the Heart, Cancer, and Lung Organizations and major pharmaceutical corporations. Over one billion dollars, from the Master Tobacco Settlement has funded the activities of many of these organizations for the past 5 years. Promoting smoking bans is big business for these organizations, especially the drug companies who are reaping huge profits on their almost worthless smoking cessation products.
When all sources of money are added together, nearly $1,500,000,000.00 have been squandered in bring about smoking bans in about 155 municipalities across the nation. The average money spent on each of these municipalities equates to about $9,675,000.00 per location. In simpler terms it will take Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Telethon 30 years to collect the same sum of money at the rate of $50,000,000.00 per Telethon. When a properly informed public is given the opportunity to vote on a smoking ban issue, they invariably will vote the ban down. This has already happened on numerous occasions and it is expected to occur in New York City by 2005.

THE LIE: Second Hand Smoke is a public health issue.

It is impossible for SHS to be a public health issue for the simple reason there is NO proof that SHS has hurt anyone. In fact, according the W.H.O. (see above), SHS may have some beneficial effect on children. The smoke haters like to point out that the Health Departments have a right to control smoking issues for the same reason they have the right to check on health conditions in restaurants and bars.
This is a specious argument primarily because true health issues in food service establishments relate primarily to microbes and organisms that have an absolute direct effect on heath and sanitation. It is the Health Departments' sole responsibility to see to it that health standards are maintained. If individuals are concerned about SHS a simple notice stating that smoking is allowed is all that is needed for the public to make a decision about patronizing and establishment. This concept is called, PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!

THE LIE: Smoking bans are good for business.

Of all the nonsense put forth by the smoke haters this concept is nearly the most ridiculous. There was no basis in fact for this idea when originally stated. Now that the financial results of the bans are being felt in many different cities it is becoming painfully obvious that many businesses are being irreparably harmed. Many of the smoke haters who not only are experts on SHS would also have you believe they are experts in the field of accounting. They will site tax records and other data to prove the business of bars and restaurants are up since the bans were imposed. Their numbers however are egregiously manipulated and include figures from establishments that normally wouldn't be part of such a survey.
The fact of the matter is the anecdotal evidence is far more realistic. There is a hardly a restaurant or bar that hasn't been adversely affected by these bans. Business has dropped off from between 20% and 50%. Many businesses have been forced to close. Jobs have been lost, a life time of work in building a business has been lost, and city tax revenues have been adversely affected.

THE LIE: Restaurants and bars are public businesses.

All restaurants, bars, and any other businesses that have been set up by an individual or group of individuals are PRIVATE ENTERPRISES! There is no getting around this fact. It is carved in granite. Our Constitution mandates the rights of private property as one of the most important rights we have! The fact that anyone should think they have the right to abrogate the very tenets of our Constitution demonstrates a colossal arrogance that we can not afford to have in this country.
When a small group of people attempt to force their own jaundiced views on the citizenry it is called an Oligarchy. Our elected officials are our SERVANTS! They are in office for only one purpose and that is to see to the needs of all the people Henry David Thoreau said in the 19th century, "the government that governs best, governs least". He was right then---he is right today.

THE LIE: Technology does not work

Dr. James Repace, the self appointed expert on second hand smoke, once stated to the effect that a 300 mile per hour hurricane couldn't clear out the danger of SHS in an enclosed space. In Atlanta, Georgia there is an organization that deals with some of the most dangerous infectious germs and bacteria in the World. Out of very obvious necessity, the filtration system they use must be 100% effective, 100% of the time. The system they use (which does contain several built in redundancies) is not out of "Buck Rogers" but one that is very similar to the type of commercial systems most restaurants or bars use.
Several St. Louis Park food service establishments had their air tested by an independent organization. The results of these tests showed favorable results and the overall effectiveness of properly maintained filtrations systems. If Atlanta, Georgia can have an organization that deals with Anthrax, Small Pox, Bubonic Plague and other organisms that could kill people by the 100's of thousands with no fear of exposure, common sense dictates that similar filtrations systems should work on the relatively benign particulates of SHS.

THE LIE: 3000 lives a year are lost due to SHS.

Originally the number that was first generated by the E.P.A. was 53,000 deaths per year. They published this number before even running their "test". The "test" is in fact not a test, but rather what is called a META survey. This survey took 31 different reports and compiled all the data to come up with a figure of only 3,000 deaths that were attributed other undefined causes. The first number E.P.A. published was a piece of hypothetical misinformation. The second number of 3,000 they put forth was a deliberate lie. A Federal Judge by the name of Osteen ruled the 3,000 deaths attributed to SHS by the E.P.A. was a deliberate lie foisted on an unsuspecting public. Judge Osteen determined the number of 3,000 deaths was not attributable to SHS and that the E.P.A. told this lie in the expectation to harm the legitimate business pursuits of the tobacco industry. Judge Osteen completely vacated the findings of the E.P.A. So that there is no misunderstanding as to this decision, it should be noted that another court partially overturned Judge's Osteen decision for purely judicial reasons. THEY DID NOT, in any way, repudiate Judge Osteen's basic premise concerning his comments about the E.P.A. or their motives.

THE LIE: Most people approve and support smoking bans.

most people who do not smoke really don't care one way or the other about the smoking issue. It is only a very small but well funded group of smoke haters who want to see these ban invoked. When these bans are ultimately passed and the true effect of them is fully realized, then people start to speak out against them. In New York a poll was taken to see how the people felt about the ban. 86% of those polled stated the ban went way too far. At this point in time there is reason to expect the New York may be rescinded in part or in full sometime in 2005.
Canada, one of the most strident nations in attempting to enforce a smoking ban nationwide, is currently facing wide spread rebellion against their Draconian measures. The reports of businesses being financially ruined run rampant. Politicians who supported the bans are being voted out of office. Cigarettes, which are now literally worth their weight in sterling silver,
are being stolen with increasing regularity and then sold on the black market. These very same actions will and indeed are occurring in the United States as well. If the bans were truly supported would such occurrences happen?

THE LIE: Smokers and smoking impose a heavy cost on society.

Of all the lies told by the anti smoke haters this one has to be the most ludicrous. For example, if smoking kills people well before their time, the saving of Social Security and Medicare benefits would be significant. The extra medical costs to the "State" are more than exceeded by the outrageous taxes currently paid by smokers. Contrary to reports that smokers miss more work time than non-smokers is a completely unsubstantiated number. Indeed, there are so many variables as to why people miss work, it would be impossible to determine whether smoking was a significant cause or not.
Furthermore, it has been a policy of long standing that insurance companies assess smokers a higher rate for insurance premiums. This has been done in spite of a lack of any definitive proof that smokers, because of smoking, contribute to higher medical costs. It is astounding that an otherwise healthy person who watches his weight, exercises, eats a healthy diet, and drinks only in moderation if at all, has to pay a higher insurance premium than an obese person who eats and drinks to excess and doesn't know the meaning of the word exercise, but does not smoke.

THE LIE: Smoking statistics do not lie.

In this World there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Never has an argument been won based on statistic alone. They can serve only as a point of departure. In a free and open society people must be allowed to operate as free agents without the fetters of the doomsayers. Life is a risk, but it is that risk which gives it zest. When we allow ourselves to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of safety, we deserve neither safety nor freedom. Accepting statistics at face value will lead us down that garden path. There are many statistics that can be cited that make the danger of smoking seem mild by comparison.
For example, the use of cell phones, hair dryers, and electric blankets have higher risks that SHS. About half of the smoking population has quit over the past 30 years, yet there has been no comparable increase in life expectancy. The smoke haters will quickly tell you this is because of the effects of second hand smoke. The fallacy of their argument is that if there has been smoking there has also been second hand smoke. In spite of the decline of smoking, childhood illnesses such as asthma, ear infections and A.D.D are rapidly increasing. Cigarettes and/or smoke have about 4,000 identifiable chemicals. Your daily diet has about 10,000 such chemicals. Arsenic which is considered a leading cause of lung cancer is found in significantly larger quantities in a glass of water than in a cigarette.
(i dont mind advertising for the smokers club.... )

The Plight of the Indian Graphic Novel

Nothing wrong in posting a 'story' that wasn't published.
So here goes....

I always thought that it would be cool to write an Indian superhero comics about, you know, a beautiful female. Even Umberto Eco tried his hand at a graphic novel in 2004 with The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. And so, after much thought (for I acutely lack semiotic knowledge), I created the concept and background with additional superpowers for this new super heroine. And I'd love to call it a “graphic novel”.

But, I guess, there’s a hitch. And it rides on twenty thousand thundering typhoons with plenty of blue blistering barnacles thrown in for pleasure.

There’s no problem with my reception of comics with McDonald munching male superheroes and their verily female Louis Lanes in Indian settings.

I like Pavitra Prabhakar(for those who have come in late― the Indian Peter Parker, courtesy Marvel Comics), for not having a proper spandex costume, but a dhoti. Though I wonder what happens when he cries and tries to wipe his tears.

OK. Let him swing from cobwebs spun on the Gateway of India and the not-so-esoteric-now Taj Mahal, and be forgotten, for we know we'll have the 'original' Spiderman 3.1, with a stupid dubbed version available in Bhojpuri. And I love the old classroom joke about the Phantom having to wash his striped diapers on Sundays. With no hitches about Diana having to mind that washing, child-caring and her United Nations job simultaneously. (Yeah, we all grew up reading the syndicated stuff ferried in from the 70s via Indrajal Comics). 

And even after I have come to know what it really means to reboot in the middle of important work (Boom! Bang! Shazam!), a Chacha’s brain, that “works faster than computers”, still runs the popular  show here (in those cheap ink-smudged prints of Diamond Comics). And unintelligible speech bubbles hover around the Chachi, albeit in slower DOS mode.

It’s always cool with comics. And with "Indian graphic novels". (Hold on. Huh?) 

And it’s coterminous with all your college lessons in political correctness, that there should not be mustachioed Indian rajahs, flying elephants, snake charmers and evil fakirs pleasuring sharp stereotypical nails in the comics we read as adults. Oh yes, goats, bullock carts, and holy cows. Or menacing befangled statues of unknown Indian goddesses with Cambodian faces lurking in the oriental dark while Batman battles a skimpily-clad Sandra Wu-San, also called Lady Shiva (!!!)...

Unknowingly, I have come to terms with superheroes with muscles bulging with overdoses of testosterone, women who as a rule are pigeon-brained like Bollywood lolls and with explosions and splashes of colour erupting from the material of the background that make Dali's dreamscapes a child’s scribble.

But how does one come to term with new age comics coming from India?

Just forget if you had a dislike for Betty, Veronica or Bela (Bahadur’s girlfriend). I was browsing through the images of The Snake Woman series, introduced by Virgin Comics India recently, when I noticed this strange process of reverse outsourcing― the oddities of anatomical exaggeration have been well learnt. Compare our Snake Woman (Jessica Peterson) with the Wonder Woman of DC Comics, and you’ll find both are excellent in exposing their skin, in costumes conveniently ripped open to show cleavage and time-tested lines and alchemy of 'artistic' finesse that people who think and imagine primarily with their dicks find excellent...

“Snake Woman is the re-invention of India's ancient Snake (Naga) legends,” says the Virgin comics web post, “in which the soul of the serpent reptile is reborn in the form of a sexy and unsuspecting heroine.” Let’s not discuss other Virgin titles as Devi or the Sadhu, for horrible is the word. The reincarnated memories of all Nagaraj comics and those horrid Sridevi films and their cute innocent wet sari slithering sequels curl back, in spite of the tremendous pain the pencillers and inkers incurred in their monitors and drawing boards(if any!)...

Are the Indian graphic novels, a symbol of something we are just on the verge of understanding, getting filtered through the same sensibilities?

An adolescent’s first encounter with sex, perhaps?

The best response to Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridors, what is passed off as the first Indian graphic novel, has only been my furtive recognition of “Hakim Tartoosi’s potency oil”. Milo Manara draws better than Sarnath, and doesn't have his pretensions..but no, no comparisons...

We are talking about the Baboo Bankim Chandra of the Indian graphic novel....

His second work, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers, published recently by Penguin Books as “an irreverent tale of illicit sex and drunken religio- sity,” claims to go back to "explore eighteenth-century Calcutta, in scandals and vicious rumours"...And this is done with gross historical inaccuracies... where pictures lifted from advertisements published in late 19th century in The Friends of India, are passed off as Company-era stuff (it was in 1858, remember, when India passed under the Crown)...

The Indian press is all praise (they are for Shilpa Shetty and Rakhi Sawant as well!) for Sarnath, whose illustrations, simply put, are horrible! In some frames, you'll see that the artist in his hurry to fame has simply forgotten to erase his pencil-marks from paper... something I never found repeated in the comics and graphic novels he tries to emulate...

And even when you have plentiful instances of intellectual foppery and postcolonial spin offs, our graphic novelist writes 'Nuncoomar' like a pucca Company-era sahib (not for the flavour, mind it)—the anglicised name for 'Nandakumar', the capitulating Bengali brahmin framed and hung by Hastings in 1785...

In short, Sarnath preserves the currently fashionable tendency of preserving "angst-laden indianness'' for his urbane Western consumer.... He says local trains, tries drawing them, but ends up drawing the inside of a long-distance passenger train! The most repulsive part is when he reaches the burning ghats...if our artist had cared to check the actual ones, he would have found electric furnaces in Kolkata,those run even worse than pyres and with a squalor that overwhelms...

OK! Enough of that! Here’s the hitch I mentioned at the beginning...

I always thought “graphic novels” were all serious literature. But in India, you could be well bounded in a nutshell and count yourself a king of infinite space.

P.S. That's where lessons come handy!

Stories of the Street

This is a post I would want to make all over again, again all over....
I got a disc this evening from T which contains all the albums of Leonard Cohen...
So, readers beware of getting overdoses (if you think like that, don't come here to read!) of Cohen and Cohen... In December 1967, Cohen's album carried 'Stories of the Street'... what did he think when he wrote these lines?!

The stories of the street are mine, the Spanish voices laugh.
The Cadillacs go creeping now through the night and the poison gas,
and I lean from my window sill in this old hotel I chose,
yes one hand on my suicide, one hand on the rose.

I know you've heard it's over now and war must surely come,
the cities they are broke in half and the middle men are gone.
But let me ask you one more time, O children of the dusk,
All these hunters who are shrieking now oh do they speak for us?

And where do all these highways go, now that we are free?
Why are the armies marching still that were coming home to me?
O lady with your legs so fine O stranger at your wheel,
You are locked into your suffering and your pleasures are the seal.

The age of lust is giving birth, and both the parents ask
the nurse to tell them fairy tales on both sides of the glass.
And now the infant with his cord is hauled in like a kite,
and one eye filled with blueprints, one eye filled with night.

O come with me my little one, we will find that farm
and grow us grass and apples there and keep all the animals warm.
And if by chance I wake at night and I ask you who I am,
O take me to the slaughterhouse, I will wait there with the lamb.

With one hand on the hexagram and one hand on the girl
I balance on a wishing well that all men call the world.
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye...

Eight years and seven lives for a plank and the May Day story

One afternoon in 1945, says Pablo Neruda in his autobiography, he spoke to the laborers in a machine shop in the offices of the MarĂ­a Elena potassium-nitrate mine. The floor of the huge workshop was, as always slushy with water, oil, and acids. The union leaders and Neruda walked on a plank that kept them off the mire.

“These planks,” Neruda was told, “cost us fifteen strikes in a row, eight years of petitioning, and seven dead.”

The deaths occurred when the company’s private police carried off seven leaders during a strike. The guards rode horses, while the workers, bound with ropes, followed on foot over the lonely stretches of sand. It took only a few shots to murder them. Their bodies, learnt Neruda, were left lying in the desert sun and cold, until they were picked up and buried by their fellow workers....

It's a day past May Day and this is one of the times when you have to look back, wipe off the dust that settles on your spectacles, and the grime that sticks to it and makes the world around look like a shadow pantomime... it’s May Day once again, come and gone, and I get a day off from work, like countless others, throughout the globe...

A commonality, a solidarity? Nah, things and people are forgotten fast.

But sometimes their stories and their dreams do survive...

And some words float in from the past, if you haven't forgotten all about it already, or in case you never heard the words shouted by August Spies on November 11, 1887, as the gallows floor dropped:

"The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

Dreams of a far-off country, from another century, seems to fill the silence of the present...and I wish it fills this this blue-green inverted void compounded of many simples and complexes...

Our silences?