Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Venus Flytrap: Year Of The Aranya Kandam

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Some of my friends tell me they have had a year from hell, but I know that what I endured was a year in purgatory. Purgatory because of its impermanence, its seemingly endless yet certainly finite suspension. Purgatory that may or may not be connected to the word “purge” – the ridding of the self of toxicity, the negative; cleansing, absolution. Purgatory, above all else, because I was not condemned. I asked for the descent.

Mythology and Jungian psychology teach us how the descent is a rite of initiation, a necessary and transformative undertaking that one can either resist or rise to. Because its timing is so often arbitrary, the last vestige of control remains in accepting it as adventure. Like the Fool, the first card of the tarot arcana, one volunteers for the exploration – or as I think of it, the excavation. Like Sita setting forth into the forest, the beginning of multiple exiles, kidnapping and banishment, one receives the fall from grace as grace itself. We enter the forest, the desert, the underworld heroically. These are not necessarily physical landscapes, but archetypal ones, metaphorical topography. Bewilderment – becoming the wilderness itself.

Like Ishtar arriving at the gates of the underworld, I screamed my madness at the gatekeeper and demanded entrance – If thou openest not the gate to let me enter/ I will break the door, I will wrench the lock/ I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors/I will bring up the dead to eat the living/And the dead will outnumber the living – and how I was given it, stripped of every ornament, stripped of pomp and circumstance, lowered through each subsequent level, until I stood buck naked before my shadow twin, chastised and begging for rescue.

Nothing prepared me.

She who enters the forest like a queen leaves it like a commoner. She who enters the desert like a fugitive leaves it like a free woman. She who enters the underworld like a dying thing leaves it resurrected. Purgatory changes you. It challenges you, shatters the boundaries of your being, breaks your heart to make more room, pares your body to take less space. It makes a pilgrim of you, and if you’re lucky – if the rules of mythology apply to you, and I find that if you believe in them, they do – it will bring you to deliverance.

This was my year of the Aranya Kandam, and it is in this knowledge that my second book of poetry is ingrained and taking shape. I have spent the year identifying with things I never imagined I could see myself in: the pepper vine laying its heart-like leaves against the bark of better-rooted things, the pining Sita, the wounded and the war-weary. I have spent the year seeking sanctuaries: villages, hill country, communes, the sea, and always, always trees. I have spent the year bringing myself back to life.

Ishtar, finally rescued, ascends through each of the lower realms, reclaiming her lost embellishments – only to find that she is less loved than she had believed. The one who she demanded entry into the underworld for has forgotten this kindness. Sita walks through fire not during exile, but after it. The long wait ends in humiliation, not happiness. Knowing this, can I be blamed if I choose now to linger just a little longer, savouring the petrichor, the silence, the love of the good earth…

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.

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The Madras-Chennai Local (December 2009 Edition)

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And now, this is what I’ve been busy with.

All of 2008, I organised readings and open mics in Chennai, and then got fed up with it and stopped. A year has passed since, and in this time I have come to understand why certain formats work here better than others, and have also been fortunate enough to meet the amazing Sajani Gm, who revived my optimism in an open-hearted, indie-minded arts subculture. At the time I met her, I had been intending to start a new performance series called The Madras Sessions (I know, I know, way too sophisticated for this town. I cut my teeth reading underage in jazz bars, okay?). She, meanwhile, had been meaning to start a new performance series called The Chennai Local. We met in the middle, and like a suburban train, The Madras-Chennai Local was born.

We envision this as an ongoing series. We are open to all forms of expressions, as long as the content is original, and welcome both local artists and national and international artists passing through. The first show will have performance poetry, music, movement theatre and visual art.

The inaugural edition is on December 22nd at 7pm at Chandra Mandapa, Spaces, 1 Elliots Beach Road, Besant Nagar; and it features the talents of: Ng Yi-Sheng, Sid & Krish, Srijith Sundaram, Shireen Thomas, Sajani Ganapathy Murugan, Sharanya Manivannan and photographers from David H. Wells’ “Light, Shadow, Twilight and Night in India” workshop.

Check out full details, with artist bios, on the Facebook event page. You can also become a fan of TMCL, and stay updated about any future events, on the fanpage. Please do spread the word.

Poetry With Prakriti 2009

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I really should have blogged about this already, but I’ve been so busy, so with apologies for tardiness, don’t forget to check out the Poetry With Prakriti festival if you are in Chennai this month.

I was a featured poet at last night’s Brave New Voices slam, jointly organised by the US Consulate and Prakriti Foundation, and what fun it was! Fifty people showed up to compete – well done, Chennai!

Special Video For Doppelganger KL Christmas Gig

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Jasmine Low, who has run the gig series Doppelganger KL since 2002, asked me recently if I would take part in their Christmas gig on December 13. Of course, there was only one way to do it – and thanks to technology, I did.

So here it is – shot on webcam and gloriously amateurish, but as I am wont to do, I put a big flower on my head to make it all better. :)

The Venus Flytrap: Other Types of Joy

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Several months ago, I finally put my innate maternal instinct to good use, and began volunteering with children. Roped in by another artist with a community-minded bent, I started spending a little time every week with children between the ages of three and five in a slum in Chennai, mostly telling stories and introducing the vocabulary of emotional nuance to them. At the moment, they’re getting ready to perform a short play I wrote for them.

I’m not going to lie about my motives. Deeply disillusioned by events in my career, I needed something to renew my faith in human goodness. I did not, at the time, have the capacity to work with preemie babies, the orphaned, the ill or the disabled, but I knew I wanted to work with children, and the opportunity to teach was perfect. Their backgrounds are inconsequential to me: to treat them as disadvantaged when their spirits shine and their bodies are able is to condescend. A friend of mine told me shortly after I first began this work that it would be good for me to see other types of suffering. I thought about how gleefully I am grabbed and kissed hello and goodbye by those little ones, and I knew that what this work does for me is the opposite: it allows me to see other types of joy.

Soon, I was also conducting sessions for older students at a lower income group matriculation school, teaching them spoken English and, again, emotional awareness. Teaching was rewarding in multiple ways, my love for children aside. I felt I’d found a dimension to my life that was independent of my artistic work, which otherwise defined my identity. This has been my struggle for over a year now: finding stability that will ground the volatility of my nature. As I enter my mid-twenties, the need for a steady foundation has become my primary endeavour.

One afternoon last month, in order to observe and learn, I accompanied another trainer to her session with primary school students. During a particularly noisy few minutes, she told the kids to take a free-drawing break. At the end of the class, a little girl brought her drawing to me. “It’s my gift to you,” she said. Two boys tore their pages out and did the same. I protested, asking why they didn’t want to take their artwork home to show their parents – they were truly beautiful pieces. “But I have so many drawings at home!” said one. “This is for you”. None of them had even met me before.

I did not expect that what I needed for my jadedness, my disconnect from my own creativity, would come from this work. Yet there it was – the most profound insight, so simply evident. Art for its own sake: not for legacy, not for honours, not to make a statement or to buy a more comfortable rung on the ladder. Art for the sake of love.

At the end of what feels like a hopelessly difficult year, it is the kindness of those toward whom I had the conceit to think that my kindness could make a difference to that restores my faith. I had never imagined I could become a teacher. I am humbled, even more so, by what I have been taught.

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.

Fledgling Wine For Child Literacy

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Friends and readers in the US, do consider this for your holiday shopping (there’s a list of states where they can’t ship to in the FAQ – please check)! Fledgling Wine is a tie-up between Twitter, Crushpad and Room to Read. For every $20 bottle of wine purchased, a $5 donation is made to Room to Read, a global children’s literacy project. I think this is a fantastic initiative – I can’t speak for the quality of the wine, not having tried it, but as it brings together two of the things closest to my heart (feel free to guess what they are), I’m all for it. I found it on my Twitter sidebar – you can follow me here.