Monthly Archives: December 2008

Witchcraft Is A Pick Of The Year!

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The Straits Times, Singapore, asked several people what their favourite book from 2008 was. Ng Yi-Sheng, whom I hugely admire as a poet and performer, picked Witchcraft. Here’s what he said…

(The italics are mine — that’s a line that will sit under my tongue all day as I savour it slowly, grateful  for once that I had not thought of it myself, for then it could not be said about my book)

Ng Yi-Sheng, 28, writer and winner of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize for his debut poetry collection, Last Boy

“I hardly ever read books as soon as they come out, but my favourite among the few I did read was Sharanya Manivannan’s poetry collection, Witchcraft.
Manivannan is a poet and performer, born and living in India but raised in Malaysia, where she was involved in a lot of activism against the government’s destruction of Hindu temples.
Witchcraft is her first poetry collection. She and I bonded at the last Singapore Writers Festival, so she left me a copy at indie bookstore BooksActually where it’s also currently available ($25 without GST).
The book is sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife. Manivannan manages to be deeply grounded in her Tamil heritage while also subtly digesting global iconography from the Chinese, Balinese and Mexicans.
Her voice sounds modern and ancient at the same time, supremely confident as it speaks of desire, the body and language.”
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The Venus Flytrap: A Time For Inventory-ing

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On the fringe of Auroville is a village named Edayanchavadi, and 3 km of unlit forest roads from there is a property owned and inhabited by a small, acclaimed repertory theatre company.

At night and at dawn, the sounds of prayers from temples in the vicinity can be heard, blared from microphones. By day, if the actors aren’t touring, drumming and voices emerge from their theatre. This is supposed to be a quiet place, and it both is and isn’t. Sometimes it’s eerie, and sometimes it’s all about the earphones. I’ve been thinking about these and other co-existences since the middle of December, when I arrived here.

There are cows, and owls – the former provide for the dairy needs of residents and guests. At any given time, I’m scratching an insect bite and worrying about bigger ones from the erratic resident dogs. Still, I stay within a Laurie Baker-style guesthouse with an inner courtyard and an inspiring rooftop. In the wilderness, I’m in more comfort than at home, where I neither have my own bathroom nor someone to clean it.

I’ll live here for a month. As the recipient of Sangam House’s Lavanya Sankaran Fellowship for 2008-2009, I’ll, ostensibly, write. But coming at the end of a very significant year for me, this residency feels much more like a time for inventory-ing than for story-ing. I dislike that my emotional excavation coincides with all the stock-taking and list-making that this season brings, because I’ve never bought into the optimism many enjoy at the ends of years.

There are other co-existences here, some of them more resentful ones. The community of Auroville, already noted as a kind of fancy ghetto, is one. There’s a sense of entitlement here that is strikingly distasteful, given the fact that it’s supposed to be a utopia of enlightened humanity. One resident I met said that having grown up in India, her children no longer like “normal food”. “You mean French food,” I pointed out, but I don’t think she got it. She went on to protest that Aurovilleans are given “only” one or five year visas, and that someone had been denied a renewal because he’d built planes, which obviously wasn’t a security threat. (I waited for her to finish before telling her I’d once done monthly border runs in another country, and found our government fairly generous in comparison).

As the only Tamil-speaker associated with the residency at the moment, I play translator, mediator and general diplomat between the housekeepers and the non-speakers. They co-exist somehow. Chatting with the workers, I’m aware of an irony: I’ve had to decline a film offer to play a character not unlike them because I cannot shift gears into a new project so quickly. More co-existence: between my ambition and the acknowledgement that things happen in their own time. It’s like opportunity knocked, but I have to talk to it from behind the door because I’m not dressed to meet it yet.

But I am waiting for what is for me the most important co-existence for now: the confluence of space and stimulus. Some of the writers have set targets for what they intend to produce here. I have come with the simplest, most painful, of goals: to mourn. I must find a way to have my life co-exist with my grandmother’s death. In a little while, there will be a little writing. In the meantime, I’ll simply watch. There’s more here than meets the eye, as I’ll tell you soon…

This is what I wish for you, from somewhere near Edayanchavadi, for the coming year: may your lights and darknesses co-exist in the perfect chiaroscuro. It’s also my wish for myself.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

Pondicherry Reading + Books In KL

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One reading I’m doing tomorrow and one reading where my book will be sold.

Sangam House reading in Pondicherry

6pm at Hotel De L’Orient (17, Rue Romain Rolland). Sangam House presents five Indian and international writers — Kishore Singh, Joshua Furst, D. W. Gibson, Sharanya Manivannan and special guest Auroville-based writer Anuradha Majumdar. Entrance is free.

Buy Witchcraft in Kuala Lumpur

Amir Muhammad will be seling limited copies of Witchcraft at RM50 at the Ceritaku reading, 9.30pm onwards at No Black Tie (17, Jalan Mesui). The books are not signed. Cover charge: RM20.

Chip On The Shoulder Much, Lonely Planet: South India?

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“Chennai has neither the cosmopolitan, prosperous air of Mumbai (Bombay), the optimistic buzz of Bengaluru (Bangalore) or the historical drama of Delhi. It’s muggy, polluted, hot as hell and difficult to get around. Traditional tourist attractions are few. Even the movie stars are, as one Chennaiker put it, “not that hot”.

The opening paragraph of the section on Chennai — or Chennai (Madras), I should say. I mean, Chennaiker? Hello? I’m no Chennai apologist, but do your damn research at the very least before you dive into the dissing, Amy Karafin.

The Venus Flytrap: Dentally Retarded

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I want to be a dental dunce. I really, really do. The first of my wisdom teeth has declared a very conspicuous appearance, and it’s making me believe that the person who christened these mofo molars as such was probably the same one who came up with that adage, “ignorance is bliss”. I’d rather be a dental dunce than be equipped with intelligent enamel.

Given that like all offspring of doctors, I am predisposed to mild hypochondria (again, strictly genetic – my father looked at a recurring heat boil I had on my knee at 10 and pronounced that I had cancer), a disbelieving friend raised an emoticon eyebrow. “Just wondering if it’s real wisdom or a bad ulcer,” he typed.

Which is ridiculous. Everybody knows that real wisdom can only come from deep reflection, autodidactic curiosity, and a generous infusion of ayahuasca (substitutable by chocolate where required by law).

Wisdom teeth, however, are less discerning. They come inconveniently – like when someone suddenly calls and wants to put your mumbled statements down on record for the press. And when your friends want to treat you to a fancy celebratory lunch (of course, one can always drink the pain away, ahem). They also swell up your cheek – on your good side, too! – so that you’re forced to do that fabulous photo shoot like some demented supermodel gone kawaii-style, all sucked in cheeks and carefully-positioned sign language.

I’ve been flexing my jaws more often than, well, a venus flytrap. It hurts to keep my mouth closed. But it also hurts to eat, to swallow, and to talk, in roughly equal measure as it hurts to do none of those things. I have one hand perpetually on my cheek, open-mouthed, like some perpetually gasping, pouting heroine. Or a goldfish with a hand. Growing wisdom teeth just bites – and not in any good ways.

I suppose by this point you would have realized that my ironically idiotic ivories are coming out only on one side of my face. This is probably a saving grace of some sort. For instance, you only need half your face to be on a postage stamp, throw an attractive silhouette, and be drawn in hieroglyph. All useful distractions when one does not have the mercy of anesthesia or anything but evolutionary glitches to blame.

Wisdom teeth are supposed, both in folklore and etymologically across the world, to signify the development of sound judgment. I would have to say they’ve certainly helped me make some sensible decisions. I’m too sore to think of clever arch remarks, so now I just say, “My wisdom teeth are coming, so goodbye”. And no more wasting time trying to settle on where or what to eat. I just go home and sniffle into some lukewarm soup while the mutton curry sits in the fridge, as tempting as Eve’s apple. If it’s bigger than a piece of fusilli, I can’t put it in my mouth. Something tells me that the tooth fairy is really an anorexia enabler.

And it’s not like I even actually need them. After all, I’ve been masticating, speaking and avoiding dentists to great success for nearly 23 years. If I must grow new teeth anywhere, I’d rather have vagina dentata anyway (for reasons not to be held against me if you look like Gael Garcia Bernal or Salma Hayek).

So really, I would rather be foolishly fanged and dentally retarded than have the sullen, starved sagacity of wisdom teeth. Life should be devoured in healthy slices, not in timid little slurps. And I am very, very hungry for it.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

Cute Puppy, How To Draw A Puppy, Cute Puppy Pictures!

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Hi! It’s difficult not to notice when three dozen searches for those terms wind up on my blog in one week.

So here you go, people.

Cute puppy/Cute puppy pictures — In abundance (I recommend the second link).

How to draw a puppy —Tada!

Hope that helps! :)

And a little sweetie in case you insist that my blog’s the place to get your puppy fix.