Travelogue 13 – some of what indeed happened in Toronto

As against what did not exactly happen in Toronto, here is some of what did happen there.

This was at the backyard of the Math. department of Fields Institute (with some coffee stain on it), where I used to read or doodle cutting talks. That girl in the picture here is not me. I never sat there. One evening, while I sipped my free department-coffee and watched without interest like a regular caffeine-addicted voyeur, a couple played table tennis on the cement slab in front of the girl in the picture. Though it is actually some sort of a fountain – not a table at all. Suddenly they stopped playing and started kissing. While they kissed, each held the other’s face with one hand and the table tennis bat with another. It was a complicated dance that they were performing.

Backyard of Fields Institute Math. Dept.

Backyard of Fields Institute Math. department

This was drawn at Beverly Park – where I felt right home since everybody else including the birds and the bees looked high on pot and keen to hump. The whole park smelled of joints. After a while the girl on the left with the hibijibis in her hair started crying – probably got too stoned.


Firangis’ Ganja Park

This was at the shore of Lake Ontario at the end of Spandina Avenue – another spot I used to spend time cutting talks, even though it was a long and boring walk other than the Chinatown bit. The shore was beautiful because the lake was deep and blue and mysterious. It was a warm and sunny day, though windy. Both me and the seagull were too comfortably tucked up to move. An oldish Canadian man came to me and said – `Hey I’m an author and I need an illustrator!’ Then he saw my drawing of the seagull and said – `Oh but I need a really good one at that you know?’ and left.

The ruminating seagull

The ruminating seagull

Travelogue 08 – basement 21 3rd Improvisation Session


Place-Alliance Francaise of Madras, 24 College Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai

Genre-Dance review

State-Cold (sitting in an abominably air conditioned room for three and half hours)

About-Improvisation in contemporary art.

”Preethi pulled Chandana into her circle of obsession and in turn acquired Chandanas’s stable serenity. She countered Chandana’s proposition of an abstract definiteness with a frenzied narrative of familiar gestures”… it was when I wrote this line I simultaneously realized that I was increasingly sounding like a football commentator gone slightly askew in her mind, and that it was really three whole hours that had passed since I came in. It was not an extremely intense technique-based three hours. Rather cornily, it felt like a fun time that allowed both a bit of work and a bit of gobbledygook, and finally seemed to get over before one would like it to. The genre of fun might have had a shade of the obscure, or more appropriately a hint of uncertainty. But that might have been the whole point of the session –one that probably made each participant think, search and improvise beyond the grids of the auditorium of the Alliance Francaise of Madras.

The ongoing rant is about the 3rd Improvisation Session that took place on October 1st, 2012, organized by basement 21, a platform presenting the ‘contemporary’ in art. It involved a group of musicians, dancers, theater-artists and painters –encouraging them to collaborate in arbitrary pairs and later in larger groups, to connect and communicate through their personal tools, techniques and temperaments (be it a violin or a body, a text or a canvas, a voice, a wish, a reluctance, an itch…). The broad goal was to smudge down the lines between those unfamiliar forms. But more locally, it was about learning to watch, hear, or just sense the presence of another person, irrespective of the apparent gap in their performance languages, to the point of being able to instinctively predict what the other person had in stock to express –a joint exploration of mixed media.


Not that one always had the right amount of time. The 3rd improvisation session allowed a pair of artists three minutes for a basic initiation and a mutual appraisal of style and temperament, followed by a short discussion and possible corrections, both by the artists and the audience (each of whom was encouraged to participate in the performances). Finally it was a full five minutes for them to explore where they left it, or to build something afresh. The time was not always practically sufficient for the duo to settle in, have a feel for one another’s responses and then fully explore the extent of that partnership. But in some sense it brought out the need for crispiness and quickness of thought for an improvisation to click -it was a research of the present, not supported by, thus also not burdened by a compulsive past or a future.

For me it was the first of that sort, for whatever I had composed till then as a part of a group of performers, unless it was an accident, always lacked a spontaneous common language within the group. They had either been blind pursuits of a mastermind, or juxtapositions of several isolated singly-processed fragments, since it had been easy that way; but as is known, and as it was mentioned and seen repetitively during the October 1st session –what was easy was usually what was to be avoided.

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Travelogue 07 – Mermaid’s Grave

I don’t know why I call this Mermaid’s grave – probably to emphasize the fact that I indeed drew a dead mermaid (more like an ugly merkid) in a grave or whatever in the picture and people often tend to miss it.

mermaid’s grave

An old drawing made during my extremely short stay in Nashville, which is a city with a river and a fake Pantheon somewhere in the US. All I remember about that city is, it becomes beautiful when it rains. It was a statue sitting under a tree in twilight that inspired this one.

Travelogue 03 – Thirukkurungudi Nambi Temple


Genre-Dance Review                                     



About-Dance and Theater, Angels and Demons

This one here is an old travelogue (and quite a concrete one too, unlike the metaphysical crap that I usually come up with). It was kindly and surprisingly accepted and published in a web magazine, but without the photos. I was already guilty of the regular sin of promising but not sending the photos to the Koothu-artists, who baffled and impressed us beyond expression on that day at Thirukkurungudi. I did not want to make my conscience heavier by ignoring them even as I started a blog of my own! Hence this.

It was just the four of us, who had the opportunity to perform a Mohiniyattam recital along with our guru Gopika Varma, in Sri Azhagia Nambi Rayar temple at Thirukkurungudi. Rarely have we felt so blessed to perform, rarely have we had so much fun together.

Thirukkurungudi:A mouse-click can lead to the ancient village of Thirukkurungudi. Located in Thirunelveli district at the foothills of the Western Ghats, its history dates back to more than a thousand years. Azhagia Nambi Rayar temple is at the center of the village, in a geographical as well as an emotional sense. It is one of the 108 Divya Desams, sacred Vaishnava temples, according to the myth. In Tamil language the word ‘Nambi’ means personification of all virtuous qualities blended with beauty and grace, which is to say Lord Vishnu.

It was a week before Gopika Chechi asked us to get ready for the performance. I, personally was clueless. Coming from West Bengal just three years back, I am still struggling to catch up with the temple-oriented culture in the southern part of my country. Back there we used to hang out in cafes or theaters. Okay beach…..of course I understand. But temples! I mean who goes to a temple to relax and have a fun time! What kind of a girl puts flowers in her head, bhvasma on her forehead and goes around in public without feeling disgustingly feminine! …to start with that was my take on the Chennaites for a few months. Soon to my own surprise I found myself in my spare time sitting in a temple reading or just vaguely listening to the old ladies chanting or muttering while making garlands in front of the deity. I was even buying flowers and stealing the powdered ash from the bowl kept in temples and putting them up, trying not to be seen by people who might know me. All the same I was quite ignorant of this particular temple of which our guru spoke so enthusiastically. But it was a program organized by Anita Ratnam. And of course I knew Anita Ratnam. Whoever has stepped into the world of dance and has not known her work! I have been a fan of that tall lean figure of hers since forever. Sri Azhagia Nambi (among the five Nambis in that area) was her family deity. The day of the performance was the Ekadasi day of Sukla paksha Karthigai. But much more than a performance in an ancient temple, or seeing one of my idols up close, was waiting for me, for all of us.

The adventurous beginning: We had to take a train from Chennai Egmore station on 16th November evening. The day was a hectic one. I had to attend a couple of classes, pack my bag, which I as usual kept for the last minute, and catch the train at 5:15. When I was finally ready to start for the station around 4 (it takes about forty five minutes to reach the station from my place) I looked outside. It was the moment before the advent of Matsavatara! In a couple of minutes it started pouring down. I was not pleased with Sri Nambi Rayar’s sense of humor. I had two hundred rupees in my pocket and Chennai Autowalas have never been famous for their generosity. How I reached the station partly covered by mud, changing local trains (which were all delayed), jumping over a fence at the station Fort etc deserves to be called a story by itself. But I definitely wish to emphasize the fact that I was the first to get onto the train and thus successfully capturing a window seat, one of the most desired things in my life.

Our shelter for the day: We reached Valliyur, the nearest station to the village, early in the morning just when the sun was about five inches above the horizon and the wind was velvet-soft. It was a dawn after a night of disastrous rain. The effect was so refreshing that we fell in love with the place at once. We were picked up from the station and placed in one of the Agrahara Brahmin houses next to the Azhagia Nambi temple. Agraharam means a garland of houses. Basically they are built around a Shiva or a Vishnu temple, resembling a garland. In his “History of Tamils from the earliest times”, P.T.Srinivasa Iyengar (1929) wrote

The houses had in front of them, a shed with short legs to which were tied fat calves; the houses were washed with cow-dung and had idols (inside them). Domestic fowl and dogs did not approach them. It was the village of the guardians of the Veda who teach its sounds to the parrots with the bent mouth. If you (bard) reach (the place), fair faced bangled ladies who are as chaste as (Arundhathi) the little star which shines in the north of the bright, broad sky, will after sunset feed you on the well-cooked rice named after the bird (explained by the commentator as the rice called irasanam) along with slices of citron boiled in butter taken, from the buttermilk derived from red cows and scented with the leaves of the karuvembu, and mixed with pepper-powder, and the sweet-smelling tender fruit plucked from the tall mango tree and pickled…


We on the other hand found a lamp-post in front of the house we were in. Surprisingly street dogs indeed were not to be found. But neither were parrots. However we were so amazed to find ourselves in such a beautiful traditional house that our chattering might have surpassed that of any species of bird. Starting from the vertical grills guarding the red porch in the front, the high ceiling supported by thick wooden beams, the narrow passage behind the house leading to the bathrooms (which among other things had a geyser!) to the huge trees in the spacious garden at the back, each and everything seemed fascinating to our city-clad eyes. We found our Arundhatis in the two white-haired ‘mami’s. One of them endeared us by her Kolam skills, where as the other one impressed us thoroughly, whooshing off in her two-wheeler after a short exchange of greetings.

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Travelogue 02 – Cinderella, a ballet


Genre-Dance review

Evaluation-Way to go



When I was small, that must be some fifteen-twenty years ago from now, there used to be some awesome translations available of fairy tales from foreign lands. Grimm, Hans Anderson, cheap Russian folklore with original gray-scale sketches of wicked kings, walking axes, clever soldiers, Baba Yagas and her shack on a solitary chicken leg, brave princes and dumb princesses. Most of the stories had an appeal beyond nationality (we Indians already possess brilliant mines of fairy tales -a combination of history, myth and bed-time-stories, and I am goddamned proud of them). There was no reason to discriminate our feelings towards Aliyoshka, doomed underwater with a stone tied to her neck by her stepmother, till the handsome prince rescues her, and our very own Prince Dalim Kumar, doomed inside a pomegranate as a victim of the same evil stepmother’s conspiracy, till the brave, pretty princess saves his neck. It is difficult for my usual low level of concentration at one topic, to resist the temptation of a diversion at this point and make a comparative study of feminism between Indian and Russian fairy tales, but I have been accused repetitively of digressing and unnecessarily lengthening my travelogues (which, some of my usually unwilling or unsuspecting readers have even refused to recognize as travelogues, I wonder why!) and also of using long sentences (I wonder where! Because anyone who has ever been able to read two (many have been lured into reading one but were encouraged to be left at that) of my articles, know that I have a clever way of breaking down my sentences in small pieces and organizing them in nested brackets with appropriate commas…) and moreover of some sort of xenophobia to the point of harshly judging the other, while showing whatever I have considered as my own, in apparently often undeservingly fabricated positive light (as one can see here how baseless that is!). However I shall henceforth keep my travelogues short and to the point, starting with the very first para, which is usually the introduction of the topic of my essay, unless I get a bit carried away (as I am consciously not, today), consisting of precise sentences and trite comments.

Okay may be one has a point in evaluating my writing as something narcissistically spiral. Because what I wanted to write about was this ballet performance I saw today evening, weirdly enough, sitting with a hall-ful of foreigners (when I say foreigners I mean Germans and it is quite unfair on them because I am not one, though it so happens that it is me who is in Germany, watching a German ballet), thus if somebody has to be called as foreigner, it is me, not them). But foreigners is a favourite abuse-word in my vocabulary, specially since they were all dressed up smartly or decoratively where as I was wearing the same old jacket (stinking of smoke and guiltily consumed meat) I have been wearing for past two weeks, the T-shirt that I have not changed for past three days, the underwear that…what I mean to say is that I was shabby and smelly and feeling quite out of the place (one of my harsh critics will frown at this point and call me girly, but iamwhatiam.yetanotherutopian). Besides it was raining outside, the same old drizzle that the German sky has been wearing for past ten days, and thus when I entered the hall outside the auditorium, brightly lit, walls covered with mirrors, I could clearly see that my mustache was showing even more darkly than it usually does, under my rough cold nose.

I can see that I still have not been able to reach the principal topic. Now I have started understanding the point of view of people who found it difficult to go through my blog (to the point of hinting that as a parallel of Joyce’s stream of consciousness, mine is a stream of something much more vile, and yellow). So without further ado, let me take a plunge right into it.

I have a vague notion of having said something wrong up there!

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Travelogue 01 – Deporting Blackie and a few Fairy Tales




About-Good, bad and ugly. 

And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.”

-Terry Prachette (Small Gods)

I am very agitated right now. But then I have almost got used to it during last couple of years. More so in the last few months, as it has been an on and off state of my mind -often on. The reason being the so called corny affair of animal rights, mostly stray dogs. A thing of ridicule really -since wars are being fought, and glaciers are melting; besides Fermat’s last theorem has been proved long back and it is the time to move on. Today afternoon Blackie, a resident stray of our institute campus almost for past four years, has been finally deported out, after several previous attempts and arguments, in spite of her clean behavioral record. I almost wish she had bitten a few of us and had her share of fun, especially since her instinctive healthy way of not nosing into others’ peace did not amount to much in the end. But then stray dogs, while left to themselves, beg to differ, when it comes to their idea of fun and well-being, against popular belief.

What is compelling me most to react like this, is my annoyance with a touch of vexation, at the obvious cruelty, or equally bewildering indifference among people who are like me – educated and privileged.

It was not before I came all the way down to Chennai for my studies, did I get into this mess of dealing with and gradually feeling responsible for strays. There were two reasons. One, awareness level regarding strays is quite visibly on the higher side among the city dwellers (particularly among the youth) of Chennai. Two, as soon as I moved into my hostel, around which I have spent last five years of my life, I inherited a few semi-strays. A few mongrels inside the campus, a few more outside, a cat (suffering from acute attitude problem, as cats usually do). I was scared to death of dogs and the cat hated me. However initially it was a matter of feeding them or starving them to death, specially the ones that had permanently taken refuge inside the hostel, encouraged by a fairly large group of students, most of whom were on the verge of finishing their stay. These animals were used to being sympathetically dealt and well-established as part of the institute we all came to study in. A situation that is changing now, due to various reasons -a huge increase in the number of students, two different hostel campuses, an intense personal dislike and insensitivity of a certain faction of the institute administration towards animals and so on.

Going back to those days, it did not take too long for my now-long-forgotten hesitation towards mingling with animals to vanish. I am some sort of a convert (at least to the point of trying to make an animal comfortable in its natural surrounding -though I am now quite paranoid about fussing over strays and thus making them handicapped even at finding their own meal, particularly when I am unable to take care of them permanently, as I am now) and I have not regretted it till now. Animals, specially dogs, when treated with affection and dignity, behave more like an innocent human child (minus the obvious signs of deliberate cruelty typical to humans that unfortunately even children are not firewalled from) than how they supposedly behave in our fearful imaginations. I use the word child not in the sense of lack of responsibility in dogs but because of the quality of dependence in them towards their caretakers. Since the pre-historic age dogs have been systematically herded and tamed to assist and depend on human masters, and the instincts have not died down.

As for normal stray dogs, all it takes is a mild demonstration of friendliness, in the form of cheap food or a couple of pats, to win their confidence permanently. This dependence factor induced through the process of taming a stray was never more beautifully portrayed than in de-Exupery’s masterpiece: The Little Prince, where the fox (but one can justly replace it with a dog) tries to persuade the prince to tame him. It is one of the most beautiful chapters of the brilliant book and I cannot stop myself quoting a a selected part:

(….) said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”

”It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

(….) The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

“Please– tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox…

On the other hand, Umberto Eco describes a horrifyingly vivid extreme picturization of dog-man relation in his novel -The Island of the Day Before, where a certain doctor subjects a dog to an extremely slow and painful experiment, while keeping him alive by giving him a nominal amount of food at a certain hour. Yet the animal whines in pain mixed with affection towards its tyrant as a sign of gratitude for that food and association. When I read it first I felt like throwing up. But now it only sounds familiar, in various sophisticated forms.

You see, animals just don’t get it!

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Travelogue 00 – Pirates.






In fact I am slightly drunk now. And I am lying.

It was one of our birthdays, one of us bought a racing cycle, garishly red, one had a German girlfriend (Hitler was one of the greatest painters of twentieth century). Let us talk about the cycle for some time. The birthday has gone away for another year and it has been six months since. The cycle. Racing. Red. Handles covered by creamy white leather, giving them a look of something edible, quite delicious. It does not have a stand. Once you buy the cycle you have to constantly be on pedal, running away from stuff; the seat is tiny, but that is probably irrelevant. It is not for cows to ride,anyway. Although mildly awe inspiring, the absence of an expected equipment called a stand in this particular mode of transport. It looks rather remote, far from being a thing that you could own, dismantle in your mind and taste its juice. Looks a bit lost in its own charm, like Narcissus, too sexy for his own good, went nuts looking at his own reflection leaving echo echoing around – poor, poor kids. The wheels are delicate, thinner than my arms (which are very thin in the first place) – is not so much an issue apparently. Although generally speaking, all cycles remind me of that excruciatingly sad movie called Shor, where Manoj Kumar (director, story writer, actor, editor, producer – it is a wonder there was anything left for others to do in that one!) goes round and round on his bicycle in piercingly hot sun, for days, pursuing some corny goal, not so relevant here. Point is, cycles have something melancholic in them. The dreary sound of the turning of the wheels. The perpetual listless midday travelers on smoking hot highways. The rust. The tears. The strain (I need to take a leak, NOW).

The rust. Forming under the frothy leather, hidden under the apparently unoxidizable aluminium hinges, like guerrillas, bedbugs. A cycle without rust is not a cycle. It is a cycle, but! O New Cycle, will you not rust even after twenty seven odd years, each sadder than the one before? One of our birthdays. The cycle is crazily expensive. He got it for a lesser price. Lucky. Bastard. Enough of the cycle. I seem to remember having mentioned the movie called Shor. When I was small, I used to cry for fifteen to twenty minutes after watching it. Uncontrollably. At some point I just stopped watching it. Boom. End of story. Cycles can really get you attached. Like dogs. But the movie was not about all that. I think I am mixing things. Look at the man sitting alone, drinking cheap whiskey. There is a huge yellow moon hanging next to the bottle. The sky is cloudy. A ship is heading towards his chair at full speed.

The building sort of thing behind him, is that a part of the seascape or a furniture? Ah it says PEPSI. We are sitting right opposite to this lone tripper. One of us have a digital camera. That was an obvious statement, superfluous, one can almost call it EASILY DERIVABLE. But that is getting ahead of time. The day does not start at seven thirty in the evening. Only sometimes it does. One of us had a blue shoulder, see? Well okay! What can all you see at the end of the day? This day? Can you see Waldo? Can I?

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