Friday, 16 November 2007

Crowded Corners

Before embarking on my annual overseas end-of-the-year trip, I've been trying to clean up the clutter of the year gone by. From the dust on my bookshelf to the trash in my email to the inconsequential texts on my mobile to the stale applications on my Facebook page, it has been quite a journey of accumulation and good riddance. Sifting through some of these tangible and intangible remnants made me alternately nostalgic about certain moments and hopeful regarding times to come. Moreover, as I near half a decade of staying in Australia, I realise that I have 'stuff' in this country - people and things, places and memories. I have become an adult here. I have learned to give and receive. I have self-expressed, self-cooked, self-sufficed. I can walk to Coles with my eyes closed and sense my bus stop without once looking away from the book in my lap. My environment is now embodied in me. My space is becoming my place. My gaze at Adelaide from the descending airplane will no longer bring forth a tide of dis/mis-placed emotion. I hope I can find Familiarity in Canada during my two-week sojourn there. And then slide easily into the domesticity of my parental home in India. Perhaps, when I get back, I will not feel crowded, or empty. And another year or choosing and discarding this and that will begin.


This is all I have to give to the
That is elicited with the labour of
The agony behind each word of
Of accumulating this fat on my
No purpose during floods and
The mind with the obesity of
The burden with poetry, prose and
Heat and light using paper as
The flames of my only offering.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Aloof Heroines and Moi

The hauntingly beautiful Catherine Deneuve in French director Luis Bunuel's film, Belle De Jour, is also elusive and ethereal. Just like the narrator in Asian-Australian writer Alice Pung's memoir, Unpolished Gem, I feel the need to explain my own attachment and detachment to the different cultures that have shaped and continue to shape my overt and covert selves. Needless to say, this calls for a constant definition and re-definition of rules pertaining to acceptable personal and social behaviour. I am more than aware of activities that would be regarded as 'normal' in one context, and bordering on morally repugnant in another. Do I then, non-chalantly allow two paradoxical personas to reside within me and 'perform' as the situation calls? Would this be hypocritical or simply strategic? Perhaps I could even find a literary/cinematic parallel in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However, the existence of characters like Severine/Belle De Jour, and 'real' women like Alice/Agheare assures me that my dilemma is not as gothic and far-gone as the Jekyll/Hyde tale. Being a student/practitioner of critical theory, I am often tempted to adopt the much-celebrated postcolonial term, 'hybridity' to put a positive spin on my existential status. But most self or other-proclaimed 'hybrids' would know that they are not hybrid at all times, that one or the other dimension of their fluid identities pre-dominates at any given moment. Is it then, appropriate to consciously/un-consciously show a monochrome and more palatable version of myself to an acquaintance, while reserving my full spectrum for those closer and better positioned to understand me? Or am I precluding (and excluding) potentially interesting people from my kalaedoscopic life (while also assuming their life to be so dull that they would be incapable of comprehending any difference)? Then there is also the trouble of people being 'interested' in me only because of my difference, and not being able to digest the possibility of any 'sameness'. I have written, photographed, filmed; deliberated and calculated; debated and discussed; yet I have no solution(s). If I rebel against one system, I will still be conforming to another. Let there be strings then, but let me control the distance.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Existential Epiphanies

It’s that time of the week/month/year when I am grappling again with
decisions and their precision And
expectations that travel in a wave forming
Crests and troughs
From the others to my many selves.
I’m reflecting, retro-analysing and respecting what I want from life again with
The desire to reinvigorate a free will and
The will to be free lining
all the clouds that I conjure up
in the imaginary reality of my past future.
In the hybridity of my existence that obfuscates meaning again even as it
Lives itself out day after day And
gives me glistening realizations that turn rustic
Over the course of words
formed and read, spoken and listened to.

'Curry Night'

I went to see the John Travolta-starring Hairspray recently, and was both inwardly and outwardly relieved to find the film was more than just a musical. It might be set in the 1960’s, but its references to ‘Negro Day’ on mainstream American television resonate with the multicultural-multistruggles faced by contemporary Australia and other western societies. There are examples aplenty…
After Big Brother’07 adopted the marginal by devoting a weekly task to a Bollywood theme, it is now the turn of Channel Seven’s Dancing with the Stars to pay homage to the Indians with a night of Bollywood-style moves. Is this another instance of patronizing the minorities? Or is it simply a case of western culture tiring of itself and lightly caressing the promise embodied in the exotic, not dissimilar to the fashion world embracing ethnic chic a few years ago through the vibrancy of Indian peasant skirts, printed kaftans and chunky silver jewellery? The current Prime Minister, John Howard, is not far behind in dropping the Indian name. During the ‘Great Debate’ with Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd last week, he unexpectedly compared China and the US’s not being signatory to the Kyoto Protocol to a World Cup Cricket tournament without India and Australia. I wish I could assume that appeasing new migrants, a significant proportion of whom are now coming from India, was not on his agenda.
But the mainstream is not the only stream attempting to ‘include’ the previously excluded in its magnanimous and newfound liberal self. When I flick through Rip it Up, Adelaide’s local gig guide to find out which bands will be playing at the Exeter Hotel, my favourite artsy haunt, I am both bohemian-pleased and migrant-cynical to see Wednesday advertised as ‘Curry Night’. Perhaps I/we should be glad that attempts are being made to integrate us (presuming there is a unitary ‘us’). Perhaps I/we will have more friends now that we are a wise economic investment, if not a desirable cultural precedent. Perhaps I/we ought to negotiate the terms of this ‘integration’ – so that way we can have our curry and eat it too!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Intimacy (Aut. Hanif Kureishi)

This book of fiction (although apparently based on British-Pakistani Kureishi's own marital life), is the stream-of-consciousness of a middle-aged English male writer on the eve of his "abandoning" of his competent spouse and two young boys. It has often been described as a much-needed "man's novel" in today's age of feminine/feminist abundance. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) my status as a self-proclaimed feminist, I enjoyed this honest rendering of what goes on inside a man's head, even if he may be a man more attuned to the creative world of self-knowledge than most "average" men. Why did I like a book filled with so much retrospection, regret and rumination? Or was it the disjointed narrative with its unexpected trips down suburban-London-lanes and its seamless, almost palpable depiction of ongoing love-lust that appealed to me? Yes, the narrator-writer's state of mind was/is manifested in my psyche as my fingers trace(d) his words. I don't sympathise with him; I don't know if he is brave or gutless; I'm not sure if one can be free through escape. But the idea that one cannot be loyal to others by being disloyal to oneself has stayed with/in me. Or is this the realm of self-indulgent artists?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Monsoon Wedding (Dir. Mira Nair)

I couldn't stop myself from watching this film yet another time when it was screened on SBS on Sunday night, despite the fact that I "possess" it on DVD. Why? It is one thing to watch a crossover film that one relates to at one's will, and quite another to see it broadcast on a national television station in a country to which both oneself and the film are relatively foreign. Agreed, SBS stands for Special Broadcasting Service and is Australia's dedicated token of multicultural programming, but this does not sufficiently subtract from the entertainment value accorded to the Indian diasporic cultural product through its "displaced", yet somehow appropriate screening on a g-local channel. Simply put, I was thrilled to see an "Indian" movie being shown in Australia.
I felt validated. The years of explanations on Bollywood and arranged marriages notwithstanding.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

My imagination hurts

Pain – caused by dysfunction, exhaustion, injury; producing an ugly wound on the delicate flesh of imagination. Think, envisage, fantasise, dream, till the cytoplasm of each nerve cell breaks out; defying anatomical conventions, challenging good health qualms, and completely defeating and destroying the psychological order of the extrinsic universe. Push these limits, these despicable barriers on knowledge – think, feel and imagine all you can in the brief span of your mortality. But you have to know pain, you must acquaint yourselves with the helpless inevitability of this quaint creature, you ought to sympathise with the timeless, boundless sorrows of pain – familiarise yourselves with pain before it chooses to accompany you again – don’t lose time in feelingless thoughtless inhuman indifference.
Avoiding the thought is avoiding life in its nudest purity. Overlooking the possibility is overlooking life in its limitless opportunity. If effort is pain, so be it! A void of a lifetime is too high a price for the absence of pain. Activity is a virtue, but thoughtless action is as sinister as utter passivity. Self-imposed blindness is the greatest harm you can do to your inner flesh and blood. You are blight on humanity if you fail to contemplate on the stain.
Even achievement comes with a sense of loss – the loss of the moment of the self. Accolade without self-appreciation, ambition without soul-search, accomplishment without personal interest; are we heading towards the altruistic abode of a naked saint meditating in the Himalayas, or the careless damning of a post-modern sinner? Is there such a feeling today which is not ‘corrupted’ by the traumatic slow-poisoning of pain? How long will the ‘ecstasy’ last – till the next one is administered? If we are happy on this day of your coming into the world, what is the need to accentuate this emotional state with material consumption? Dare you try and forget the pain, it will stab you harder the next time, and your battle will be harder by the day because you were too ‘stressed’ to handle it the first time it pinched you.
What counselling will help us, which psychiatrist will diagnose our fancy depression syndromes, what chemicals will dissolve our distaste when we pronounce the divine verdict of eternal happiness and misfortune upon our poor selves? The original pain is not as fatal as the grief we inflict on our selves through cancerous self-pity. While there may be no feasible prevention against a psychological onslaught, there is certainly a cure. Insanity is not a condition arising out of excessive trauma, it is more likely the result of a prolonged denial.
Pain is not satanic either. If you have ever seen a brave victim of a complex surgery, or a sombre kin of a deceased individual, you are bound to see an awe-inspiring strength of character emanating from their eyes. Whether or not there is a divine power that chose you to walk on the coals of pain so that you emerge a stronger person from the experience, the fear of ‘walking’ is often more agonising than the ‘walking’ itself. But the only weapon against this demonic fear is the act itself. Therefore, the act cannot be evil, although the procrastination of the act may be.
So, if your imagination hurts, you know that ignorance is not bliss. A fool’s paradise does not hurt the imagination like a painfully acquired wisdom that constructs heaven from the insightful reminiscence of hell. If you eat to live, work to eat, and socialise to work, then life must be a very important thing – so expand your horizons and get the most out of it!

Dreams of Speaking (Aut. Gail Jones)

Views Towards a Review

I haven’t changed my mobile phone for the last three years. It is a spearmint-coloured Nokia model (whose model number you can find in any clearance sale catalogue) that has served me through my poor undergraduate days. And now, in my black and silver year of abstract Honours thoughts, I wonder if I need a change.
Gail Jones’ Dreams of Speaking is about change – technological, social and personal. (Don’t you think there should be a statutory ban on clichés, abouts, and any al-suffixed adjectives in academic writing?) Asides aside, there is nothing wrong with writing about change, and everything right with exploring the beauty of change, which is precisely what Jones does. (Even more exasperating than right and wrong binaries are precise definites.) Through her working class child/adult academic, alone/ self-sufficient, Australian/displaced, kangaroo-slaughterer/victim-rescuer, poetically female/mechanically male character Alice (who craves for the name of her younger sister Norah), Jones suggests that we are “large enough to contain contradictions” (Jones, 138).
Until loss
strikes Brings grief Bodies
shrink and

Jones’ pre-occupation with loss is conveyed to Aviva Tuffield in an intimate phone interview – “We have all lost a childhood, we have all lost friends and lovers, we have all loved someone who has died”. “This sense of loss is echoed over and over again”, writes James Bradley in a review for The Age. Talking of echoes, I am reminded of Jones’ own poetically resonant words that reach me through a microphone at the Adelaide Writer’s Week – “Most writing comes from loss or trauma rather than plenitude”.
Loss and Poetry?
Beauty and Poetry.
Machines and Poetry!
Synonyms are redundant.
Alice Black has an apartment in Perth, replete with books and souvenirs. It is located at walking distance from the river where she often engages with the elements through the sport of windsurfing. Alice carries the river inside her, and bears the weight of dead poets on her shoulders as she embarks on a pilgrimage to Paris to work on a book on the metaphysics of modernity. Yes, she manages a discreet visit to the cockpit of the aircraft, and is convinced of a brief encounter with divinity. No, she doesn’t inform her family of her safe arrival – she doesn’t seem to possess a mobile phone. Yes, she hears the river in the sounds of the late night traffic. No, she does not, like the schoolboy Leo, plug music into her ears to drown out the “Instant Karma” of the real world. Yes, she likes the company of, and e-mails from Mr Sakamoto, an elderly Japanese man writing a biography of Alexander Graham Bell. No, she hasn’t yet given a thought to Nagasaki, the birthplace of her resilient friend.
Summaries are redundant too.
I discover I cannot give up my spearmint phone. It has not a scratch, not a blemish. And I hear that the contemporary silvery varieties (god bless their compactness and convenience) are rather prone to slips’n falls. I do like silver, but spearmint is more personal, a surreptitious weapon on a quicksilver night, the shade I would rather be to dissolve into the inky blues and ambient greens of the wet darkness. This handset, notwithstanding its redundancy in 2006, is my very own knight in shineless armour, potentially connecting me to the familiar, and protecting me from all invisible unfamiliars.
Lo and behold, screams the TV reporter, quoting the university professor, citing the invisible radiations – my phone could give me cancer.
My story seems to be running ahead of my analysis. Never mind, let’s begin with the modern (post-modern?) knights in shineless armour (a thoroughly unmodern expression, don’t you think?). I guess romanticism is unmodern, albeit a presence in modernity. After all, Mr Sakamoto “would raise his glass of red wine”, and declare, “we live with so many persistently unmodern things. Dreams, love, babies, illness. Memory. Death” (Jones, 65). Will humanity ever be consistently modern? Perhaps modernity can become human.
Unmodern Modernity
Anachronistic Technology
Human Telephones
Structuralism is human too.
Behind the modern edifice of communication stands a human equivalent of an edifice to voice – Alexander Graham Bell. (Behind every modern invention is an unmodern obsession.) But Bell’s telephone was also borne of an irretrievable sense of loss – the death of his two brothers from tuberculosis, and the deafness of his mother. An absence of the voices of your nears and dears leading you to design a machine that conquers time and space to bring you a vibratory essence of your beloved – of course it is cause-and-effect, but also unscientifically moving, artistically three-dimensional, a real story. The man passionately researching Bell’s life – Hiroshi Sakamoto – is wealthy, grief-stricken, displaced; he is a technophile, a cinema enthusiast, a gourmet lover – but he is not real. His The Voices of Alexander Bell is not real. But we are discussing fiction, and Sakamoto’s story of the kamishibai man in Alice’s ears rings true in mine, his uncharacteristic confessions to Uncle Tadeo over the phone elicit a relation-less compassion, his no-longer-alive answering-machine voice is a metaphysical edifice.
May be post-structuralism is better suited to post-physics.
Bear in mind that post-physics is not quite different from pre-physics. Which is to say that meta-physics is omnipresent, and therefore, unmodern. And to add that I am not finished with Unmodernity yet. For isn’t the unmodern also the eternal? And one can but add to eternity. But one cannot help but be perplexed by the endless reflections on reflections about eternal modernity (or was it modern eternity?). For instance, consider this comment by Cath Kenneally in her review of Jones’ novel in The Australian: “The juggling act she [Jones] attempts is to keep abstract, intellectual musings engorged, as she might say herself, with the blood of those unmodern things, the stories of Alice’s failed love affair, her curious attachment to her Japanese opposite number, the sister-drama that is the real lifeblood of the novel”. Yes, I know I haven’t got to those stories and dramas yet. (How I envy long-sentenced and long-listed book reviews!) Before I lose my point in another point, here it is – are the “intellectual” and the “unmodern” essentially opposed? Where does that leave books? What about reviews of books?
Intellectually Unmodern
Savour the Intellect Linger in the Unmodernity
Poetry being primary
structure, or lack thereof, secondary
I don’t know if what I’ve left for the last is the best, but it certainly is uncomfortable. Because, like Alice Black, I am also mourning the loss of my childhood. I cannot digress any more, fact is that Alice has a strained relationship with her younger sister Norah in their mindless girlhood years. Alice the eccentric genius with unrealistic astronautical ambitions; Norah the popular schoolgirl with artistic potential – cause-and-effect again, need I say more? Yet when Alice meets the reduced-to-bones due to chemotherapy version of Norah at the airport, and the two establish a voiceless connection, it more than makes up for their pre-pubescent discord. In fact, the present connection is more poignant because of the past discord. It makes me want to re-believe in Kodak moments.
I have my own Kodak moment while writing this. Only it can’t be captured by a Kodak. It is a friend on my spearmint phone, narrating a story whereby her rather debilitating stage fright vanished at a recent Harmony Day function. And then the conversation ends pre-maturely. I recall that she had complained of “bugs” in her phone, re-call her, and joke that she seems to have passed on her stage fright to her phone.
I had fallen in love with the disembodiment of modernity, and immersed myself in a reverie of unmodernity even though I knew that Nagasaki was the next stop. Synonyms, summaries, structures elude me here. It suffices to say that I respect Jones for keeping the poetics alive at such a time. For keeping the poetics alive when time itself has stopped.
To conclude, I cannot claim to competently review a book that does not shy away from putting the words “eternity” and “nuance” into the mouths of main characters. I am but an ambassador of its interpretation, and an unmodern one at that. So it would be in your best interests to re-view Alice’s dreams in your own time, to speak to Mr Sakamoto on your own phone.

PS: Will this review be published? No answer.
Will humanity/modernity be redeemed? Disconnected.
I have to, however, reference those that have reviewed (and theorised) before me.
Engagement is the tone. And not just for Creative Writing.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Oprah @ Kath and Kim

Part 3

OPRAH steps into the lounge room from the studio. She is wearing a glamorous red dress and holding an Australian flag-imprinted coffee mug.
She is followed into the lounge room by Kim, Kath, Sharon and Brett.
Oprah sits down on the couch, with Kim and Sharon on either side of her. Kath goes into the kitchen and lights a cigarette. Brett switches on the TV, and begins watching the news.
Change the channel, Brett. I have to see Desperate Housewives.
Do you get it here?
Yes Oprah, we get a lot of American stuff.
It’s good to be aware of what’s happening in the world.
We also have our own version of Desperate Housewives.
And that is?
Kath and Kim.
Oh, I’ve never heard of that.
Kim goes to the kitchen, empties a pack of chicken nuggets into a bowl and puts it into the microwave.
I am just happy watching the American one, you know.
I can actually identify with all those attractive women.
Kimmy, attractive women don’t eat deep-fried chicken nuggets.
So Oprah, what do you think my chances in Hollywood are?
Fat people have no chances in Hollywood.
What do you think my chances are, Oprah?
(to Kath)
Do you realise that Kate Winslet was 80 kilos when she was pregnant?
So does that mean you are pregnant, Kim?
Oh no! I’m just preparing in advance for it.
Oprah, you must tell me and Kim how you lost so much weight.
Two simple things – be active and eat healthy.
Are you listening, Kimmy?
I have to watch TV and be on TV. Isn’t that enough activity?
I thought Aussies were good at sport.
If I had Tom Cruise coming to my show,
I would quit eating for one whole hour.
Oh no, Kimmy! Don’t invite Tom Cruise, he left our poor Nicole.


Denton @ Kath and Kim

Part 2

KIM, wearing an ‘Enough Rope’ white polo-shirt, low-strung denim pants and trendy glasses catwalks onto the stage, and sits down on the bright-pink couch in the centre, facing the audience.
She is followed by Kath in a straight skirt and a puff-sleeved blouse, Sharon in a yellow and green Australian cricket team track suit, and Brett in poorly-ironed corporate attire. They sit on a black couch on the right side of the stage, facing Kim.
Kim clips her microphone onto the lowest button of her polo-shirt.
Women and gentlemen, welcome Mr Andrew Denton.
DENTON enters, holding a ‘Cheap as Chips’-imprinted glass of white wine.
Kim motions him to sit on the blue couch next to her. She waits for the applause to die down before speaking.
Of course, Andy needs no intro.
(frowning at Kim)
Now you haven’t done your google, Kim.
(in a hushed voice)
Andy, just ignore her, okay.
Kim, at least ask him whether he prefers being called Andy or Drew.
(smiling apologetically)
Andrew will be fine.
Sharon, do you realise you are talking to ANDRU DENTO double NE
on the ABC double E? Now do you have any serious questions?
Kim, do you realise even we are on the ABC double E?
Brett, please don’t compare yourself with Andrew.
You can’t speak a word in American. Now go and get me a Mars bar.
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Was that a question, Sharon?
(to Sharon)
Have you read that book?
No, Mr Denton. I thought it was an American saying. But talking of books,
I’m reading Shane Warne’s bibliography right now. Have you read it?
Of course he hasn’t, Sharon. He reads more serious stuff.
Kimmy, let Andrew answer.
No, I haven’t read it yet. But I wouldn’t mind;
Shane Warne is an interesting Aussie character.
How’s your Cardonnay, Andrew?
Oh my Cha…! It’s great, thanks Mrs Day.
I wanted to actually serve you some chilled beer,
but Kim insisted that Cardonnay looks better on TV.
And besides that, Cardonnay is more Australian that Victoria Bitter.
Is it?
Yes, Mr Denton, it’s grown in our own wine-yards.


Sanjeev @ Kath and Kim

Part 1

SANJEEV, the British-Indian host of The Kumars at No.42 and the first of Kim’s three guests for today’s show, adjusts his ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’-imprinted tie and smoothes his bright orange coat before pressing the doorbell.
His indulgent self-appraisal is interrupted by a swivelling newspaper delivered by a speeding van hitting his backside.
(to himself)
Don’t the kangaroos have arses or what?
He bends, picks the paper up, and presses the doorbell. While waiting for the door to be opened, he admires the newspaper’s front page picture of semi-clad, sun-baking men and women at St. Kilda beach.
(running his fingers through his hair)
May be it was a she-kangaroo!

KATH, dressed in a knee-length lacy white dress and a big hat is lighting a cigarette and pacing the lounge room.
(facing the stairs)
Kim, Kim, Kimmy! Will you hurry up please?
These British people are very punctuational.
KIM, wearing a short printed Indian skirt, a midriff-baring singlet, and a dot on her forehead is catwalking down the stairs.
Her husband, BRETT, is holding the ends of the long Indian scarf draped around her neck, and following her.
(with her head held high)
How do I look?
(pointing to Kim’s skirt)
Oh Kimmy! What in Fountain Lakes are you wearing?
(letting go of the scarf and despondently sitting on the stairs)
All I know is it cost me a fortune.
(moving to the kitchen and opening a pack of tandoori-flavoured chips)
Oh shup up Brett! I am becoming a talk show host from a talk show wife.
You should be thankful.
SHARON, Kim’s ‘second best friend’ enters the scene.
Stop eating those chips, they are for the guest.
Do you have a fancy dress theme for your show, Kim?
(giving up the chips and reaching for a pack of tim-tams)
It’s not a fancy dress, it’s the in-thing.
Oh Sharon! You don’t know anything about fashion.
Even Liz Hurley was wearing an Indian skirt at the Oscars.
But wasn’t hers longer?
Oh yeah! I cut it in half, so all those fat women can see my beautiful legs on TV.
I think they’ve seen enough, Kimmy. But wait, I don’t get it.
Why an Indian skirt?
Mum, you don’t do your google, do you? Sanjeev is half-Indian.
(adjusting her hat)
I thought he was from the Queen’s country.
Kim, Mrs Day, he’s not half-Indian or half-British.
He’s an Indian brought up in Britain.
Oh I see! Just like we are Australians brought up in Fountain Lakes.
Sharon, you’re a genius.
Thanks Mrs Day.


Sunday, 16 September 2007

Fictocritically speaking I

Read it and learn. Because learning is reading. And reading is also writing. Both are activities I have been procrastinating of late. And immersing myself in the world of film. Where there is also reading and writing, and some degree of learning, but of a different kind. It is learning with light. May be even shadow. The shadow-play that is film viewing (and film reading) leads to the practice of film-writing. And from this film-writing emerges a discourse that entangles the visual and the verbal, the academic and the mainstream, the aesthetic and the political. Does the enmeshment of these elements liberate us from the confines of rhetoric? Can rhetoric be creative? Is creativity itself rhetorical? Perhaps I/we am/are striving for a harmony that seeks to define even as it dismantles the notion of a single definition. This is not mere deconstruction; this is the realm of ideas.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

The Apu Trilogy (Dir. Satyajit Ray)

Pather Panchali
The first film of the trilogy, and the foremost chapter in the life of Apu, this is a fascinating chronicle of life and death, the pleasure and pain of childhood, as well as the mundaneness and unpredictability of domesticity. Several international film critics have appreciated the "humanitarianism" of Ray's cinema, commenting that such scenes of rural bliss can be witnessed in a wide range of contexts. At the same time, the Academy Award-winning director was often criticised by the mainstream Indian film industry for highlighting the poorer aspects of the country. Is this similar to the dilemma confronting Deepa Mehta's elemental trilogy? Would be accurate to propose that all the "serious" Mehta films received better reviews and reception from overseas viewers? Mehta has acknowledged Ray's influence on her own work in a number of interviews, but the question remains whether she is a mere follower. One of my favourite images from "Pather Panchali" is the reflection of the sweet-seller and the brother-sister duo in the water as they walk along the river bank. Mehta seems to have appropriated this imagery, especially in "Water" which, not unlike "Pather Panchali" tries to balance aesthetic/stylised cinematography with the sheer austerity of the widows' lives.

Aparajito (The Unvanquished)
The adolescent phase of Apu's life is also likely to resonate with film viewers the world over. His migration from the Bengali countryside to the buzzing city of Calcutta for higher studies and a wider horizon does not initially sit well with his widowed mother, but is a social-intellectual turning-point of sorts. One could argue that this is the archetypal "coming of age" film tale, and is mirrored in the self-discovery undergone by the characters of Radha in "Fire", Baby in "Earth" and Shakuntala in "Water". Also, the battle between the forces of home/tradition/stability and those of homelessness/modernity/instability is being inwardly and outwardly staged in both Ray's "Aparajito" and in all of Mehta's elemental films (notwithstanding the particluarities of their historical and geographical circumstances). One of the scenes in the film, however, that directly evoked the memory of "Water" in my mind was the image of the dying father who asks for water that Apu just about manages to get from the banks of the Ganga in Benares (Varanasi). In "Water" (also set in Benares), Chuyia does the same for the ailing Patiraji, but the elderly woman expires before the water arrives.

The World of Apu
Does this title imply that Apu, now an adult, has finally become "worldly"? The idealist that is university-educated Apu, is rather like the Gandhian Narayan of "Water" in that both young men are driven to the women they come to love by their unconventional (and somewhat naive) nobility and are in turn shattered by the untimely loss of this love. Another noteworthy parallel is that just as Apu and his son Kajal are "rescued" by each other towards the culmination of the trilogy, Narayan and Chuyia are arguably saved by each other at the end of "Water". Again, it would be tempting to typecast the Apu-Aparna and Narayan-Kalyani love sagas into a universal (read Eurocentric) typecast of tradition-defying romantic passion that climaxes tragically. While this may aid "identification" with the male and female protagonists, their specificties of time, place and cinematic treatment must be kept in mind. Whether by virtue of their own artistic limitations or due to flaws in the script, John Abraham and Lisa Ray as Narayan and Kalyani fail to achieve the emotional finesse of Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore as Apu and Aparna. At the same time, the attachment of the latter couple is moving precisely because of its middle-class everydayness, and is thereby different from the "grand" love of Romeo and Juliet.

Senses versus Intellect

Can I have both?
The intelligence of my emotions and
the sensuality of my intellect.
The word in the image as well as
the visual in the written.
Love film as much as I have been
passionate about literature.
Live in the ephemeral moment even as I look forward to
the retrospection of tomorrow.
Draw my lines of flight while giving them
the colours of light and shade.
Drive the wheels of cyclical pleasure
that pain must grease.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Refracting Adelaide

When this film, my debut cinematic project in more ways than one, won the inaugural 2007 Adelaide Festival of Short Film, my grandmother quizzed me over the sudden change in my career direction. She said she always though I'd be a journalist or a writer, and when I began my doctorate, she reconciled herself to the fact that she would have to be content to see her beloved grandaughter as an academic. When did filmmaking enter the picture? I would like to think of it as a culmination of my writerly, scholarly, creative, audio-visual and scientific interests. And therefore, I would be happy to receive any feedback on whether this rather unusual doco 'works' for you. Here's the link:

The Year of Living Dangerously (Dir. Peter Weir)

I watched this film because Mehta lists Weir as another one of her contemporary filmmaking influences. Made in 1982, before his more famous Hollywood productions of Dead Poet's Society, The Truman Show and Master and Commander, this film is alive with the rigours of overseas political journalism and the reprieve of unexpected relationships that I can see on the ABC's Foreign Correspondent even today. It was also comforting to see Mel Gibson in his pre-What Women Want and The Passion of the Christ days. As Guy Hamilton, a novice Australian journalist operating during the Sukarno era in Indonesian history, his character combines an idealism and opportunism that not many 'heroes' can pull off. His love interest, Sigourney Weaver, a British Embassy official, is also impressive in her amalgamation of feminine charm and astute emotional intelligence. But it is no surprise that Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian dwarf played by Linda Hunter won an Academy Award for her role. My post-colonial brain couldn't help but appreciate the effortless hybridity (and mariginalisation) of this quirky wo/man.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The Labo(u)r of Liberal Love

Always falling for something I cannot
Forbidden hence desired?
Incorrect because political?

Craving for the fish that has been thrown
That sympathises with other land-borne fish.
Yet befriends the cunning mammal.

How do you know my plight?
I know you have sailed across the same
That I have flown over.

You helped me see right and left.
I can only write of my love for you and your
Sorry I cannot vote.

But I still seek you with these words
That you may never hear.
Although I am air-borne again, it was good to see you on

Embracing Adelaide

As I was walking through Rundle Mall today, capturing still images of its icons, trying to think of a story to tell about Adelaide, I realized I was in the middle of that story. For the only story about this city I knew well was the one I lived everyday, the one about my relationship with Adelaide and its streets. I reminisced about my first ever walk through Rundle Mall – what a rite of passage it was, when I, a 19-year old international student from India, navigated a western city mall for the first time in my life, with my father firmly by my side. I remember feeling lost, and vaguely registering the difference between the eastern and the western precincts. Now, almost half a decade later, I wouldn’t say I have come a long way, but the same path has become more meaningful; each arcade, retail store, food court, street café, mall bench, phone booth reminds me of something or the other I did there with friends as well as strangers. Each spot is a unique intersection of time and place, a story-memory of love and friendship, shopping and food, deep conversations and gossip, homesickness and belonging. And the strip itself, with its absence of traffic, and its sometimes overwhelming presence of people, is almost like an island of transition – like the foreign yet familiar transfer lounge of an international airport. This island both connects and disconnects the eastern and western ends of Adelaide. It lends an exclusive air to Rundle Street, while allowing Hindley Street to be naughty. And as I walk across it today, closer to dusk than to dawn, stepping alternately into the shadows cast by people, buildings and trees, and then the light pouring in from the alleyways, I experience the shifting greyness of my own Adelaide story. It is a story that lies between east and west.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Facing Pillars

Walking down the road after a hard day at work, she didn't see the pillar in the dark. And her old flame approaching from the opposite direction. She wondered if she could face it/him. But there wasn't enough time to think. So she drew on her last dredge of strength and confronted him with her feelings. He said she was too much of a post-modernist. She told him he was the one without hope. Their past had come to be engraved in their minds. It was a work of art. Couldn't both of them see it? She placed one hand on the pillar and embraced him with her free arm. He felt the outlines of her body, but not her.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Warrior Marks (Dir. Pratibha Parmar)

Made by British-Asian Parmar in 1993, this documentary is a conversation with novelist Alice Walker regarding genital mutilation in Senegal, interspersed with sub-titled comments from Senegalese women and a dance performance that evokes the pain suffered during this traditional albeit brutal procedure. Is this culture? Walker opines that it is a custom, which is not the same as excision being culturally validated. Coming from a cultural studies perspective that views all ways of life, and not just high art as 'culture', I have a mixed response to the distinction made by Walker.
However, academic rhetoric aside, the sheer inhumanity of this practice would make ordinary people everywhere shudder. Then again, are we, in the west, all that free from indulging in forced or voluntary 'mutilations' of the female body to fit into a hegemonic model of feminine sexuality? Personally, experiences of being groped and pinched as an adolescent in India made me so self-conscious of being a member of the 'weaker sex' that accentuating my assets was out of the question. This film made me wonder whether these rather ubiquitous forms of abuse, just as the thorns-sealed private parts of the Senegalese girls and the decapitated eye of Alice Walker had left a mark on me. Had they made me over-sensitive to male contact and patriarchal traditions, but underestimating of my own physical and emotional worth? I reminisced of the time when one of these stories came out in the presence of a guy I liked and he referred to me as 'you poor thing'. I wasn't offended, but was possessed with an overwhelming urge to change the subsequent stories of my life, to make sure I always kept my self-esteem intact and imparted the same message to my female friends. Again, following Walker, I would like to think of myself as a survivor rather than as a transform these wounds on my psyche into 'warrior marks'.

This Unconscious Desire

"In Beth's language he could, if he wished, say, 'I love you.' In Anvallic this phrase was impossible, for cariah, loving, had no form in the singular person, but could only be expressed in the plural. It was understood to be something that existed as a mutual sentiment or not at all, and it implied a voluntary blending of identities. When one person wished to affirm cariah with another, the expression most often used was, 'We love as water loves water and fire loves fire'."
(The Etched City, K J Bishop)

Thursday, 2 August 2007

That Lingering Feeling

I want to try a Bobby Flynnesque rendition of Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry". The opening line of the song, unoriginal to the rational side of my brain, still manages to touch me whenever I hear it. Passionate creature, eh? But I would prefer to change "The smell of your skin lingers on me now" to "The smell of your skin lingers in me now".
I want to cease the act and let the feeling let the feeling seep feel the feeling and eventually be done with it.
I want to realise I have "no hope, no love, no glory, no happy ending". Perhaps there is still an iota of redemption the act of writing, photography, turning that lingering feeling from yesterday into a fluid poetics today that is possibly an empowering thought tomorrow.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Dating across Cultures

mThe following post is fictitious and resemblance to any person, living or deceased, is purely coincidental:

They came back to her place after a friendly-flirty second dinner date at the Bayside Cafe. She poured some red into two disposable glasses and offered it to him. He sipped it and gazed into her dilated pupils. She returned the gaze. She moved next to him. He felt she wasn't another person. He experienced her zone.

"So, do we kiss now?" she offered, her hand on his.
"Um, is it ok in your culture?" he returned, his free hand moving to her shoulder.
She wished he hadn't asked. But she didn't bother replying. He soon forgot. But he had wanted her to answer.

Monday, 23 July 2007

People without Borders

I have been resisting commenting on the Haneef case. Why? Because I'm a temporary resident of Australia, and my life as I know it will be over if I am deported. No, I'm not joking. What if my accent is considered too foreign, my written words too academic and my political views too left-of-centre? I won't even get any brownie points for creating conventional, meaningful blogs.

Anyhow, this op-ed piece in The Age says nearly everything I could have possiby had the flair and freedom to pen down myself:

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


Why Interiors?
Because I feel
This year
Like the inner turmoil of this Woody Allen film.
Its viscerality
On my skin.
The pain that was in my back, my neck, my shoulders
For the last two years
I now feel
Is the balm for my mind.
My insularity
Has turned inside out.
I feel life teasing me with its love and the loss of it
Its seductions and rejections.
The force of it
Has created me anew
Even as I battle the desire keep in touch with my past.
To remember
The lag in my feelings
And the apologetic inadequacies it brought forth.
There is still
A dull ache
As the interior catches up with the sculpted exterior.
But I feel alive
This year
Because I feel.

Faith Trilogy (Dir. Ingmar Bergman)

I like the idea that when we are young, we see things (particularly pertaining to faith and religion) quite clearly, but as we grow into adulthood, the same view becomes as if looking through a glass darkly. Perhaps I like it because it resembles the contours of my relationship with faith. Did the same occur with Mehta, keeping in mind that she grew up in India and did a masters thesis on Hindu philosophy? She has mentioned in her interviews that Hinduism is about transformation and humaneness, yet this is not how it is manifested in the contemporary Hindu religious institutions that have resisted her films like no other element in India. Could this possibly have shaken her faith? Perhaps her relationship with religion (not spirituality) is like Bergman’s ambiguous treatment of the subject in the trilogy – God is light, love and a foreign language; but he/it is also incest, death and silence. In the midst of this doubt over faith, Mehta seems to choose individual choice and social justice over repression disguised as tradition. Besides the thematic links between the two trilogies, there are also certain similarities in the overall visual style and the incorporation of particular elements. According to Mehta, Bergman has influenced her to the extent that he has a deceptively simple style of telling a powerful story. This is certainly apparent in Water which has minimal dialogue and uncluttered yet moving scenes. One could argue the same is true for Earth where the personal, like the little girl’s breaking of plates in the opening scene and the later pulling apart of her doll are used to signal the magnitude of the larger story, that is, the portioning of the subcontinent. At the same time, the play of light and shadows, or outdoor and indoor light in Fire evokes the same sort of juxtaposition between liberation and repression as it does in Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light. Like in The Silence, the train/journeying figures as a metaphor for both creation and destruction, hope and despair, rebirth and death in Mehta’s films.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Tokyo Story (Dir. Yashujiro Ozu)

There is a serenity about the film that is also present in Mehta’s Water. Mehta has commented that she was influenced by Ozu’s restraint, and often cut out dialogue at the last minute while shooting Water. Also, just as the relatively still camera and the aesthetically-pleasing visuals of Ozu’s film stand in stark contrast to the collapse of the joint family and the mental turmoil of the aged parents and the war widow in post-war Japan, the starkness of the widows’ lives in Mehta’s film stands out against the sheer magnificence of the Ganges and its ghats. When I watched the elderly couple in Tokyo Story, banished to the modern resort of Atami Springs by their hassled city children, I was reminded of a scene in Water. The Japanese pair sit in close proximity and comment on the calmness of the sea (this image also appears on the DVD cover), while Kalyani and Narayan stealthily meet by the river bank. There is a cross-cultural and cross-generational similarity here that is particularly poignant. It is difficult to predict to what extent Mehta was influenced by this scene, but the evocation of enduring love through the image of flowing water is not lost on us. Another similarity is the image of the train at the end in both films. While Chuia, the seven-year old widow in Mehta’s film is bound for a more certain future as she has been handed over by her self-appointed guardian, Shakuntala to Narayan, a Gandhian, the destiny of Noriko, the widow in Ozu’s film who is closer to her in-laws than their blood relatives appears uncertain. As Noriko gazes at the antique timepiece given to her by her father-in-law as a souvenir of her recently deceased mother-in-law’s memory, I hear Gandhi chant on the railway platform in Benares – “Truth is God”. Perhaps both widows are not forgotten.

Festival of Ideas

It was cloudy and pouring buckets over the three days of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007. Reminded me of the current political climate in Australia. Not to mention the social and environmental components of the ambience. Clouded is the word. The sessions were well-planned. The speakers inspiring. The vision(s) encouraging. Yet as I stepped outside Elder Hall and gazed at the rather grey horizon, I realised there was an inside of ideas and an outside of apparent idealessness. While 'we', the privileged, the knowledgeable, the cosmopolitan agreed on the need for action to combat racism, conservatism and all manner of regressive -isms, there was no 'them' to challenge us in the elitist egalitarianism of our idea-filled confines. Gandhi was put up against Marx; India was proposed as a threat to China; Reconciliation was preferred over Intervention. But was there a debate? I opened my copy of the Festival booklet on the bus and felt hopelessly out of place. This surely cannot be the the way to the future.


An Indian girl in a French beret
an anomaly
Artistically stereotypical
alienating yet amenable
Says she is a citizen of the world
sounds deluded
Her new friend tries it on
he's intrigued
There's questions aplenty on the street
Do you know any French words
I am no femme fatale
Read my mis-en-scene

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Exposing Stereotypes

My head was hurting from the spirits of the night before and my body felt trapped in the closed-windowed confines of Knapman House, an old but functional building donated to the Royal Society for the Blind in the heart of Adelaide city. Needless to say, I was the only “young person” amongst the fifteen or so volunteers gathered to undergo a full Saturday of training to work with visually-impaired clients. Can I add I was also the only Indian, or should I be accustomed to that qualification by now, and only relegate it to the status of a footnote in my mind? After all, I was the only Indian in my Bachelor of Media graduating class, the only Indian working at the local supermarket and also possibly the only Indian queuing for one of the screenings at the Adelaide Film Festival. Although the ethnic composition of the population has changed dramatically since my arrival in Adelaide in 2003, one is still more likely to find people of South Asian descent congregating in the comforting vicinity of medical/engineering schools, Indian restaurants and Bhangra clubs. Aware of these stereotypes and exhausted with four years of attempting to dispel them, I made no conversational endeavours during the lunch break at the training session. Until a woman who appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s approached me and began chatting about her work as a former school counselor. I was fascinated by her transition to volunteering and she seemed curious about my interest in social work “at such a prime age”. Citing the busy work and study routine during my undergraduate days as the reason for my inability to do something of this nature before, I then commenced talking about my current project, what I carefully refer to as a “PhD in Film” as soon as I step outside my University gates. A surprisingly sophisticated discussion of contemporary Hollywood, Australian and international film ensued. And yes, she had seen Water, even enjoyed it. Perhaps I had my own stereotypes to dispel.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

The Busker who thought I was Mad

I have developed this photo fetish of late. Flipping open my phone camera. Disregarding anonymous glares. Discovering the joy that is everyday life in momentary flashes. The question now arises - will this newfound love survive the rigours of a routine alternately boggled down by work and longing? I hope it endures for as long as it gives me pleasure, and brings a smile on the face of the occassional busker on an otherwise cold and sombre evening.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Postmodern Faith

When there is nothing to believe in, but life and light, shapes and shadows, tastes and treats.
Can a steely urban cafe be beautiful?
A risk assessment officer in love?
A bowl of wedges ornamental?

Is this kitsch
or art...
Is this faith
or blasphemy...
Sir Rushdie?

Retrospective Love

It began with a headscarf
that flew away
despite being knotted.
And then there was a hat
that didn't quite fit
over the bun.
So the hair was shorn
like autumn leaves
that are auburn
and tragically beautiful.
The split ends are now gone
and the broken heart
has lived through winter.

Friday, 15 June 2007

This Commodity called Culture

The Meditation Lady solemnly declares, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama was once questioned about the concept of self-hatred. Unable to understand the word, he requested a translation in Tibetan. And sure enough, the distinctly ‘western’ notion of hating and judging the self didn’t exist in his language, or, for that matter, in his culture.”

The Experimental Musician sips a freshly brewed cup of camomile tea at Om Organic Café. The beads-clad Blonde-turned-Brunette sashays through the crowd in an ankle-length cotton skirt. The newly-bald Recent Convert to Buddhism practices patience in a supermarket queue. The Afro-haired Prince Charming chats up with a Jehovah’s Witness. The backache-prone Yoga Practitioner takes the lift to his first-floor office. The Curry Lover asks for more meat than sauce in his main course meal. The Vegan thinks…we all need to get back to our roots.

After two years of living in a Western Society, these are the tokens I see of the East. And what do I see when I go back to the East? Much more than tokens of the West. Hybridity abounds, but unfortunately, so does misrepresentation.

Premier Rann gives a glorified speech to the New Citizens of the state. He himself has visited India, and is bent on pointing out the similarities as opposed to the differences between the two nations. We are both democracies, and we both value our multi-culturalism. Sorry Uncle Rann, your good intentions aside, we don’t call it multi-culturalism in India. We prefer the more pedantic Secularism. So Prime Ministers don’t mourn over Popes and Popes don’t Cry about Wars.

Agreed we have communal riots now and then, inter-religion marriages are still frowned upon, but things are Changing. The average urban youth is a Hinglish-speaking Kylie fan with a distant cousin studying in America. He/she is not living in a mono-culture, or a hybrid-culture, but a culture where culture is not self-consciously multi-cultural. Where culture does not try to Include or Assimilate. Where culture is not a Melting-Pot or a Soup or a Mosaic. Culture is just human nature not yet subjected to the inward gaze of postmodernism.

When I came to Australia, I was asked what my mother tongue was. Probably Hindi, because that is the national language of my home country. Or Punjabi, the tongue of the religion I was born into. Maybe Urdu, the official language of my state. Perhaps it is none of these, because I do not Think in any of these languages. I learned more Punjabi while working at an Indian restaurant in Adelaide than I would have ever learned in my particular social circle in India. And my English, formerly the Queen’s version passed down to generations of post-colonial subjects, is now closer to the colloquial jargon of a native speaker. But worst of all, I am Conscious of my Accent. I am Aware of being Different. I am an Ethnic person in a multi-cultural society.

Who then, is not Ethnic? Is multi-culturalism only relevant for the countless Ethnicities? If it only implies food and travel for the majority; if it is another consumer durable for a shopping-friendly society; if it only means world music and world cinema for the arty-farty…then a few Oxfams are adequate.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Ends without beginnings

How can she say where it began or when for she jumped over the crater on the first stair?
And by the time she reached the end of the steep climb, she thought the craters wouldn't matter.
Nor would the effort.
She hoped it would all be worthy of her passion, deserving of her resolve.
But she couldn't bend anymore.
She had to walk away.
To discover she was not the end of the beginning she always assumed herself to be.
She envisaged herself as a grand stairway in an ancient mansion.
Though she later found out she was made from the steel and cement of outdoors.
And still had pink outlines and shadows.

Friday, 1 June 2007

At the talkies

From Wikipedia:
By the early 1930s, the talkies were a global phenomenon. In the United States, they helped secure Hollywood's position as one of the world's most powerful cultural/commercial systems. In Europe (and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere) the new development was treated with suspicion by many filmmakers and critics, who worried that a focus on dialogue would subvert the unique aesthetic virtues of soundless cinema. In Japan, where the popular film tradition integrated silent movie and live vocal performance, talking pictures were slow to take root. In India, sound was the transformative element that led to the rapid expansion of the nation's film industry—the most productive such industry in the world since the early 1960s.
Would contemporary audiences rate sound over image? I guess it depends on where they come from, and where they might someday find they belong...
The Namesake
Dir. Mira Nair
Based on a novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, I found I could relate a tad too much to the tale of a Bengali family "displaced" in/to America. Having said that, I was surprised to hear from a non-displaced fellow student that he enjoyed the film and especially like the fact that there were so many layers to a simple story. My favourite scene remains the one where the confused son of the family, Gogol shaves off his head after the sudden death of his father...tears would have been cliche. Long live storytelling!
The Science of Sleep
Dir. Michel Gondry
I wish it were called "The Art of Sleep". Having a glass of wine before going into the cinema was the best thing I could have done, for I'm sure it accentuated the blurring of reality and dreams that the film indulged in so ruthlessly, yet so artistically. Now I'm convinced dreams are made of cellophane, and cars of cardboard. If all this sounds/looks like a puzzle, I'll give you a clue - it is by the same "freak" who co-directed "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".
An Autumn Afternoon
Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
Set in post-war Japan, this film is as Japanese as they come, yet is surprisingly accessible. For those not familiar with Ozu, his work has won him several Cannes-type awards. His filmmaking style is often minimalistic, using low camera angles and interior spaces - this strikes me as the best technique to capture daily life in Japan at a time of transition, when people are wearing suits and dresses, yet sitting on the floor. But with nagging wives and guys' night outs, I'm sure the film transcends space and time.
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Dir. Richard Linklater
I feel proud to include these "romantic comedies" in my recently watched films list. Proud because the romance, especially in the sequel, seemed "real" (at least it was shot in real time). I loved it that it ended without a wedding, or a kiss, or a hug. Why don't the citizens and denizens of Hollywood make more films like these?

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Book Clubbing

Here's a rundown on what I'm reading at the moment (the moods, the moods):

The Powerbook
Jeanette Winterson
Only just finished it, and realised it really is a power-book (without the overtly political, Foucauldian connotations of power). For those of us ashamed to scan the self-help aisle in the local bookstores, this is ideal. It's literary, uplifting, sensual and conversational all at the same time. A lot of books with fragmented narratives leave you lost, but this one is a gem in that its style seems to mirror the average human thought process with all its mindless deviations and mindful delusions. The cover says it would make a great gift for someone you love, but I think it's the best gift you could give yourself (because a gift to anyone else would entail a return!). Besides, you could then always lend it to the several people you are likely to grow to love...

YEARNING: race, gender and cultural politics
bell hooks
I've never before bought an "academic" book before first having to order it, but was pleasantly surprised to see this one in the Women's Studies section at Borders. I've also yet to come across a an "ethnic female" (or "female ethnic"?) writer who enmeshes the past, present and future of race and gender politics in the everyday as simply and brilliantly as hooks. In other words, this book moves because it uses the author's own experiences as an African-American woman in the pre-dominantly white academy to talk about the "theories" of feminism and postmodernism. What particularly resonated with me was her honesty regarding the hostility that prevails among women of color/black academics. Are some of us revelling in our "exoticism"? Are we only making sure our work appeases the tastes of white audiences, or also endeavouring to reach our native readers whose responses may be more critical? (This made me think of Deepa Mehta's films...her reviewers in India often accuse her of pandering to western sensibilities).

The Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947-1997
Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West (ed.)
A collector's item for those into Indian writing in English, this 500-page volume is as much an assault on the senses as the country itself. It contain short stories, novel extracts and non-fiction by Anita Desai, Nayantara Sehgal, Amitav Ghosh, Mulk Raj, Bapsi Sidhwa, Arundhati Roy as well as other legends and novices on the subcontinental literary scene. My only nagging concern would be Rushdie's introduction to the edited collection - a rather apologetic blurb on why only those writing in English have been included.

Gail Jones
Jones is one of my favourite authors, the poetic and evocative qualities of her fiction are without parallel. Her sentences are often very cerebral and academic, yet have the uncanny ability to get under your skin and linger there. This is her latest book, and in a recent review of it I read in The Age, it was suggested that in the absence of a formal apology to the Aboriginal people on behalf of the Australian body-politic, it is artists like Jones who have to offer a literary reconciliation. With an opening that reads - "A whisper: sssshh. The thinnest vehicle of breath. This is a story that can only be told in a whisper", I am both enticed and moved, and read on...