Metaposting

According to the Oxford dictionary, meta means ‘(of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.’ So a post about a post is a metapost. There, I coined the word right now. Metaposting, therefore, is the act of posting about a post. (Obviously, it’s different from a programming language called metapost.)

So you might ask, why am I metaposting. I need to get into the storyteller mode for this. (There’s a hint here.) Sometime last year I attended a storytelling workshop conducted by Emily Hennessy at the British Council and was so moved by it that I wrote this. Today I am thrilled to see that this post has now been featured on her website! Thank you so much Emily Hennessy!

Here’s what it looks like on the outside:

Featured in Emily's website

 

And this is what it looks like on the inside. Don’t take my word for it; go check out Emily’s website! Click or tap the image below.

Featured inside

 

Read The Wor(l)d

This is a long overdue post. On April 23rd 2015 that is last year I was asked to speak as a reader (yayyy!) on World Book Day at the British Council. I wanted to post my speech soon after but I did not feel ready to share it. Today while hunting for something else, I came across the printout of this speech and I read it again. It felt powerful. I am so happy I could write something that more than a year on has the same feel that I aimed for. That gives me hope.

Each speaker had to speak for 4 to 5 minutes before the discussion on books and reading. This is what I wrote in preparation but I forgot most of it while actually holding the mic! (Yes, that happens) I had the printout of my speech in my hand but since it was a speech so I did not want to break eye contact with the audience to look at the paper. In spite of that whatever I wanted to convey was conveyed. I know this because by the end of my speech the two or three genial young-at-heart British ladies sitting in the first row were nodding their head vigorously.🙂

Here we go:

When I was eight, I fell sick with three different childhood illnesses in one year – mumps, measles, and chicken pox. My parents’ way of helping me heal –apart from the obvious medical attention – was to give me books. Invariably they were fairy tales. They had wonderful water colour illustrations which I can even now picture in my mind’s eye. I grew up in the 80s, so my reading rite of passage took me through Tintin, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys. I did not have the wonderful books that Tulika, Tara and Duckbill nowadays publish. (Something that I try to remedy at every opportunity.) I don’t need to tell you that these were all books that I could hold in my hand. Ebooks hadn’t been born back then.

I love reading so much that I studied English literature in college. I continued to read books build up my own collection as I started working and earning and therefore spending on books that I would like to read.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but sometime in the last five years, the way we read a book has changed. Thanks largely to the rise of ebooks and devices which can hold them.

Even say in 2005, if anyone had told me that I would read the poems of D.H Lawrence or War and Peace on my mobile phone, I’d have laughed. Mobile phones had a different function – talking to and keeping in touch with people. Books were heavy, solid, comforting objects meant for holding and reading. They still are and I still read them. It’s just the way we interact with them now – sometimes through another device – the tablet or the mobile phone.

To illustrate, let me recount an incident. Last month, I attended the relaunch of the British Council reading club. One of the ice-breaker questions I remember vividly was ‘Have you read War and Peace?’ I hadn’t. I did find one person who did. By the end of the meeting, I suddenly wanted to read War and Peace. So what do you think I did? Rush to a library? No. Rush to the classics section of the nearest bookshop? No. Order an edition of War and Peace from an online bookshop? No. I downloaded a free edition of War and Peace (the Maud translation, btw) on Kindle app on my mobile phone. I started but haven’t finished reading it but it’s comforting to know it’s there to be read anytime. Just like a leaving a bookmark in my physical book to continue later.

One of the changes as a reader that I had to confront has been the format. Earlier I had to worry about only two formats – the hardback and the paperback. But that was easy – it was always a paperback because of its affordability. Hardback only when there was no option. I remember the latter Harry Potter books were all hardbacks. Now I have to think about the device – a reading app or Kindle; the format – PDF, epub, mobi; and compatibility – will this app open that file?; and if compatibility is a problem, how to solve it?

I will not go into the many reading apps, softwares, formats, websites available which have their own library of books. Those are external details. The book or to be specific – what it’s made of – the story that makes us learn something about ourselves or the world around us – is still unchanged. The book is not dead. Those who love reading find it through libraries, sometimes through ebooks or digital books. We humans will always need a good story. As Philip Pullman said, ‘We need stories so much that we’re even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won’t supply them’. And as long as we need a story, books will continue to exist. How they come to us – now that may be subject to change.

The Story So Far

Much has happened since I last posted. I don’t even know where to start. There was is a lot of instability and uncertainty in my life right now.  It’s that time of my life now. Though I definitely know myself much better than I did back when I faced a similar situation. I also know it’s alright. Things are already getting better.

So, basically the company I used to work for has gone and downed its shutters. In retrospect there were warning signs and I didn’t heed them because I was too busy living my life.

At about the same time, we (mom, dad and I) went on a trip to visit my brother who lives in the US. I love travelling but have never traveled that far. I got to discover so many things about myself literally en route.

Usually, I am the stationary nomad having been to only a few places in India – Calcutta (familial duty), Shantiniketan (fun + duty), Pondicherry (learning Spanish, with friends, with family) and Mumbai (work), Goa (academic conference*) and the Andamans (sudden and short weekend getaway). I am so hoping that maybe this trip breaks the travel jinx and who knows probably soon I will be off again! Let me write about the travels in a different post. Rita has been asking me for pics. I have been so jet lagged and generally tired that I haven’t uploaded any yet. You can consider the new header image of New York from the air as a sneak peek.🙂

The sudden departure of my regular job is I am quite convinced not a bad thing because it gives me a chance to step away and examine what I am doing with my life.  I have decided on a direction but after 14 years of working in a structured environment, this freedom is unsettling. I am the bird outside the cage wondering what I should do with my wings. It’s simple, right? Fly. However the wings are a bit rusty and flying seems a bit alien to me at the moment. My good friend A says out of uncertainty comes creativity and all artists face this uncertainty. I don’t know if I am an artist but it’s good to know I am getting the training for it.

So I am both scared and excited about what happens next. Wish me luck!

 

* I did not present a paper. I just tagged along with M, who presented a paper.

Please Say Hello

A friend of mine, K, has started a blog, Celluloid Escape, where he analyses the movies he watches. Please go over and say hello to him!

Apart from his analysis being incisive, I find myself agreeing with his point of view like 90% of the time, in person and on the blog.

After reading his posts, I am inspired to go see some movies and write about them as well; something that I haven’t done in a while.

Cumberdream

I have been registering my weird dreams on this blog for a while. So here’s another one that I had. I don’t ever have normal dreams, do I? I think this dream was around April 26th or 27th.

I dreamt that Benedict Cumberbatch and I went to save his baby (please note: not mine, neither his and mine) from the clutches of a gang. We are walking hand in hand to a building. It’s night and I am palpably afraid. There is a guard who blocks our way at the bottom of the building. Benedict is talking to him. But then the guard is called away for something. I just realise we don’t have backup nor have we informed anyone and we don’t have any means of contacting other people either. Our cellphones are not with us. I spot the guard’s dirty and bulky cellphone and swipe it so that when we are done rescuing we can contact the other people. Who they are, I don’t remember. 

We cross some hurdles: I don’t remember the exact details. There are lots of dark corridors like in an office building but at night. The only light is from the yellow street lights that filter in. The walls look dirty green in that light. 

I remember waiting for some kind of physical violence but that doesn’t happen. It’s more a sense of debilitating fear. We move up all the dark levels to the top of the building. We reach the top floor; the mastermind appears to have been waiting for us. I get the feeling he is the one behind it all. He talks and scowls a lot. There is hardly any light and he keeps referring to my crime of swiping the cellphone like it’s something unforgivable. He gives me a dirty stare and I am left feeling very bad about the cellphone.

I remember waking up with the lines ringing in my head, ‘But I intended to return it!’ and ‘I had only borrowed it for a short while!’ 

Usually known people appear in my dreams. This is the first appearance of a celebrity that I remember. Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch was appearing as himself here not as Sherlock. (I thought I should make that clear.) I think it is related to my high stress levels! Maybe the levels in the building are indicative of that.

Travels in Iyer-land

I just finished reading this lovely article by Pico Iyer, another writer that I haven’t explored but is there in the back of my mind like Paul Theroux. A has been recommending his writing to me for ages and I have consistently ignored it. Ignored is a harsh word. I’d rather say hoarded it. I have no excuse – not those piles of unread books, not the stretched days I work, definitely not the sporadic blogging, or my Book Club – to blame for not reading Video Nights in Kathmandu or his other books.

Here’s an insight that makes me realise that I’ve always known it but never really thought too much about it. It takes a writer to put together a nuance like this.

What you don’t know, will never know, will always be more involving than what you can explain: it is the fundamental principle of love and of religion.

Why suddenly Pico Iyer you might ask? He has been around for ages. Well, it started at lunch. I came across this beautiful and wise conversation between Pico Iyer and the interviewer Peter Barakan on NHK World, the TV channel from Japan (It’s a free channel in India.) They were sitting on tatami mats and talking so eloquently about the stillness in the Japanese way of life which is what drew Iyer to Japan. If I remember right, he says, ‘the stillness between words’. That blew my mind away. I decided that must start reading Iyer’s work immediately. What better way to start than to post about it first?

Sigh! And now I get back to work.

Tea and Carol Ann Duffy’s Poetry

I love the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy and having made a u-turn towards tea from coffee, I thought what can be better than a poem about tea. I have at least 5 types of tea bags in the kitchen as I write this. (Ginger, hibiscus, lemon, Darjeeling, green and regular.) So when I found this poem tucked away in the drafts section of my email while spring cleaning my inbox, I thought I’ll post it.

Drinking I think tea leads you to introspection; coffee leads you to action. Both are required but at different times and that depends on what you need. My introspective friend, J, pays so much attention to the temperature of water before making his tea. I am no fanatic but each of those teas mentioned above seems to like a different temperature. So I have to go by that.

In literature, I found only one collection of poems on drinking tea: Ten Poems about Tea. Then there’s Marcel Proust drinking tea in Swan’s Way and thinking about Madeleine cakes. This is what tea makes you do – think! And since I don’t have a cuppa next to me at the moment, I can’t think of any other instances of tea in literature. If any strike you, do leave a comment.

Tea

by Carol Ann Duffy

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid steams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions — sugar? milk? —
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say,
but it’s any tea, for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes,
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

 

©Carol Ann Duffy