Sitting up there on that stage though--and then later, on a different panel, with only one Malayali author who nevertheless spoke only in Malayalam, with a few tossed asides to me and the other panelist--I started thinking about language chauvinism. Language is like a club, you admit people if they know your codes. In English, it's far more egalitarian, anyone can speak English regardless of where they are born, and so the rules of the club are much more varied. You'd be admitted to one set if you had the right vocabulary and the right accent, another set if you knew the right slang. But still we build these walls up around ourselves--we will only let you sit with us if you can speak this in this way. I know not all Hindi speakers find each other with such camaraderie--the Bihari accents won't be as comfortable with, say, the UP accents, as they are with each other. In many ways, it is a good thing that these clubs exist--in a city like Delhi, you can immediately find your tribe just by slipping into Tamil or Bengali or whatever, a signal, here I am, I am one of you, I am safe to know, because of these familiar words I am using. But it's also a way of exclusion, the audience and my fellow authors were so far away from me, locked behind walls I couldn't climb.
Besides mulling on the significance of the words we use, I had a marvelous time. I made some new friends, ate excellent food (if there's one part of me that is forever tied to Kerala and to Andhra Pradesh, it is my taste buds. The food there just tastes better than the food anywhere else. It unlocks some secret code in my brain, telling me yes, this is what you are meant to eat!) hung out with my mother, who was also a panelist (and did not have the same experience as I did at all, her panel only spoke in English). There were also some great parties, and we were all extremely well taken care of, and feted in the way you can only do at a smaller lit fest. I saw Sujatha Gidla's session, which I loved and also Ambarish Satwik's monologue on the medical nude which was great fun. Spoke to some interesting people as well--so all in all, it's one for the success column.
I will be going back to Kerala next week (!) for that half of our wedding reception, and from there, I fly to Bombay for the Gateway Lit Fest, which looks hugely exciting. Please come if you're around, this edition is all women writers, so there should be lots of inspiration to be had.
This week in books and reading: Started reading N.K Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, recommended on Goodreads as a "fantasy series that is already finished" which is always great because then you don't have to keep waiting and waiting and WAITING and finally losing interest. (Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.) Anyway, The Fifth Season is FANTASTIC, especially if you loved Korra or The Last Airbender, because there's a lot of earth bending going on, and that's not a spoiler, it happens on the first few pages. I loved it, despite its slow start, and am about to begin on book two. I totally meant to document all the books I read on Instagram this year, but I keep forgetting, so eventually there will be one post with a zillion photos.
This week in travel hacks: The secret to light packing for a two or three day trip? A day pack. By which I mean a backpack that you carry along as your cabin baggage in which you cleverly pack your regular purse. This saved my life--so easy to carry around the airport, AND also the extra stuff from Trivandrum fit neatly into it. I may never NOT travel like this again.
The writerly apartment in this fantasy is bare and minimal; the walls are unpainted plaster, or the wallpaper is peeling; the heat is faulty or not there; there are books stacked on the floor. It looks this way because it’s Paris struggling out of the deprivation and destruction of a world war, or New York soldiering on through the Depression, living in the wreckage of 1920s glamor. The writer spends hours in cafes, working and drinking, because the cafes are heated and the apartment is not. The aesthetic of this fantasy is permanently frozen in the first half of the 20th century, in the cities (and occasionally the beach resorts near cities) of Europe and the United States. The reason the fantasy writer lifestyle is set in such a particular time and place is that the interwar and postwar American writers who went to Europe for cheap rents have exerted a massive influence on the American idea of what literature is. Who casts a longer shadow across American fiction and curricula than Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Baldwin?
Tariq straddles the divide between the Pakistan that was and the Pakistan that may come to be, between the way society used to be—how women were seen, how kitchens were run—and a brave new world in which elderly figures like Tariq are open targets for mockery. She is a member of the elite and an idol for the middle-class; an elderly figure people can confide in, a stand-in for the mother who no longer lives next door. She is constantly in the background of urban Pakistani life, along with the constant litany of political crises that is the news. With her dyed hair and perfectly ironed sari, she really is Pakistan’s older sister, disapproving of a consumerist culture as she oversees her nation’s awkward struggle toward modernity.
In his memoir about running, Murakami wrote, “What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.” I, on the other hand, know exactly what I think about when I’m running: I think about how great it’d be if I stopped running. Still, I forced myself to complete the ten kilometers, which felt pretty good. Sadly, this elevated mood was only temporary. When I returned home, I reviewed the fruits of my work from earlier in the morning. It wasn’t much.
The weekly newsletter helps discover new music through themes such as Songs for a Monday After a Sunday, Some Funks To Give, or Dancing Around the Kitchen with a Frying Pan as a Partner. “I associate songs with memories and places and since I was cooking on a Sunday, I made a playlist,” Bhatia says.
- It was a grave omission, not putting The Internet Personified on this list, but we'll forgive them because we like the rest.
Travel has always had a sinister side. The Romans really got about. You’d think taking baths and running around on mosaic floors in Rome to the chimes of your tintinnabuli, with the occasional trek south for an orgy in Pompeii, would be enough for anybody. But no, those legions were always on the move, subduing, usurping, exploiting, and enslaving people; transporting wheat, papyrus, and gossip; and building walls to make Rome great again. But the thing is, when you’re away from home too much, things go to pot. If you’re not careful, you come back to find your colosseum’s cracking, and your civilization too.
This leads me to think of two distinct ways to look at Indo-Anglians. One is to see them as casteless, or even as an example of a post-caste community, where the traditional caste identity is subsumed under the new Indo-Anglian identity. The alternate approach, which I prefer, is to look at them as a distinct ‘caste’ parallel to the upper castes, with its own unique cultural norms and practices. The key criteria for caste inclusion and endogamy being advanced English language skills.