Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Venus Flytrap: Certain Completed Geometries

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When I realised that my wallet had been stolen at a train station on my way back from a weekend in another city, my first thought was about my debit card, which a phone call quickly took care of. My second thought was about the currency it had held, which was also abated by the realization that I had – serendipitously – been unable to withdraw more than a small amount at the ATM the previous night, and what more, for reasons completely out of character, had stashed enough change in my pocket for a couple of teas and a plate of hot bhaji for the six hours ahead. My third thought, and the one that made my heart momentarily plunge the most, was about the talismans that wallet had held.

There had been two – both gifts. A Buddhist one for grief, given to me the night before the first anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And another one, which had been personally blessed by a deceased mystic, and which had come to me through a surreal collusion of dreams, magic space and psychic reciprocity. The second was profoundly sentimental; the first less so – but both were meaningful. What startled me was not that they were gone – but that they had gone at the same time.

I hadn’t always been this sort of person – the sort who wears, who keeps, who trusts. But ever since I became this sort of person, I’ve seen that the nature of talismans is to offer temporary protection. The nature of talismans, in essence, is to get lost. We ourselves grow too attached to them to let them go, let alone recognise that their work has been done. They must be wrenched from us in acts of fate, in seeming carelessness, and we must accept their disappearances as markers of certain completed geometries.

The carnelian stone I carried in my jeans pocket from one crucial meeting until I lost it somewhere in a flurry of hotel rooms, while the career catalysts it had accompanied culminated in certain profound and quantifiable rewards. The dead butterfly that simply vanished from my wardrobe upon my return from a shattering retreat. Time and again I have found them, recognized them as talismanic, and learned – after the initial sense of disappointment and shock – to acknowledge their departures as necessary closures.

What does this mean then, to lose these two amulets at once? One was for forgetting, the other for remembering. The first was to help with the surrender that bereavement demands, the other was the lamp left lit so I could find my way back to a place that in moments – in this day to day reality – seems sometimes to have been almost illusory.

I would like to think that perhaps I have finally learnt how to see in all sorts of darkness – that the heart has memorised the map, and neither torches nor known yet treacherous paths are necessary to return to or to honour that which has been lost.

What have I forgotten, and what have I remembered? With both of these talismans gone, I wonder now not just what has come to its denouement, but what I will find next. What will it see me through? And when it goes, what will I have learnt to see by then?

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.

News and Poems

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First, the poems.

“August, The Year After” is in issue 1.3 of White Whale Review, an online literary journal.

“Possession” is in Volume 7 of A Cafe in Space, a print journal on and inspired by Anais Nin, out February 21. Although I hadn’t written this piece with Nin in mind, she has been a big influence, and I was honoured that the editor solicited my work.

“Chennai” appeared in The Lit’s Muse quarterly, also a print journal, in November.

“Cassandra’s Ghazal” will appear is in the third issue of Clementine, a web journal of persona poetry and photography some time this month. I’ll update this link when it does. (updated)

The Poetry With Prakriti Festival has also just published its first anthology, a collection featuring work by poets who read in its 2007 and 2008 editions. I have three poems, “This Hummingbird Heart”, “How To Eat A Wolf” and “Frida to Sharanya” (all of which were in Witchcraft) in this book, which will be launched later this month.

And the news: I was shortlisted for a Toto Award in Creative Writing this year. I didn’t win, but I did have a nice weekend in Bangalore, attending the awards ceremony, hanging out and shopping, and just enjoying the little break. I also received a nice Special Jury Commendation, which reads as follows: “[her poems are] sensitive and insightful, with strong images and metaphors… moments of intense beauty… a lot of promise, a lot of passion”. The winners were playwrights Abhishek Majumdar and Ram Ganesh Kamatham; the other two shortlisted nominees (from 158 applicants) were Joppan George and Hemant Mohapatra. The Totos are given annually to Indian artists under 30 who show potential in creative writing, photography or music, in the memory of the late Toto Vellani.

On the flip side of the coin, I judged IIT Saarang’s poetry competition this year. I tell you, this side of the coin is far less stressful. Hehe. Can’t remember if I mentioned being a featured poet at the first Poetry With Prakriti Slam in December, but ditto – I wouldn’t have wanted to compete. I always balk at the thought.

I’ve becoming increasingly lazy about my blog, which explains why I’ve just collated all these new links and happenings into a single post instead of letting you know what’s new as I go along. The fanpage on Facebook gets updated more quickly, and most of what’s above has already been posted there. And then there is Twitter. I’ve been meaning to redesign the blog – perhaps that might motivate me about it again.

Finally, I’m always open to doing small readings, if I’m in your city, and interviews for your personal blogs. If you’d like to discuss either, please drop me a mail at sharanya(dot)manivannan(at)gmail.com(dot)com. I’m a little curmudgeonly, and if you just leave a comment or (god forbid) tweet at or Facebook me, I will probably ignore it.

The Venus Flytrap: Her Perfect Equal

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At the beginning of her long affair with Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser was warned by her brother, “You are a woman and a strong character yet you want your husband to be stronger. Women with strong characters who want to dominate are always fine because there are plenty of weak men around. Also plenty of strong men for weak women. But yours is a special problem.”

It is because of this special problem – this particular affliction of being an alpha female looking for neither her master nor her mutt but her perfect equal – that I reacted with a dismay not usually reserved for celebrity gossip at last week’s more plausible than usual reports that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are separating. The end of this power pairing isn’t yet another Hollywood meltdown; to me, it will be the combustion of the only modern relationship paradigm that I find truly desirable.

In recent years, I’ve found myself drawn to Jolie, an unlikely role model – too famous, too contemporary to truly analyze, and hounded by public obsession and private demons both. I find something very inspiring in the way in which, as a woman of a highly dysfunctional nature, she has turned her life around without ever losing the essence of her idiosyncrasy. In creating her family, she has revitalized the idea of the matriarch, updating the archetype without losing its noble connotations. Her advocacy has helped people around the world, and her artistic body of work shimmers with a certain aptitude. But it is her partnership with Pitt that ties this all together – it is an alliance that subverts the notion that intense, eccentric women cannot be partnered, at least not in any significant non-disastrous fashion. Like Jolie herself, it originated in scandal and evolved into something admirable, intriguing and undeniably powerful.

There is a danger in suggesting this, because it is an admission that mating is important – a very conservative idea for some. But more draconian still is the denial of passion, devotion and basic need – these are human impulses, not just female ones. I am interested in the idea of romantic partnership as collaboration, and have long puzzled over why there are so few examples of successful pairings that involve an unusual, forceful woman.

I read somewhere once, “Who could Madonna possibly date? She’s Madonna. Jesus, maybe.” The punchline, years later, is that she did date a man named Jesus, but the underlying contention remains: a theoretically post-feminist society has come to accept many things, but the virago with a domiciliary instinct is not one of them. This is neither a fault of the movement nor of the establishments it challenges. The notion boggles our minds simply because there is no existing marital script, at least in the archives of the collective psyche, to offer a successful example of such a couple.

Brangelina is the closest we have ever come to it. I want them to stay together not because of any vicarious tabloid satisfaction, but because they represent to me a sort of hope, a trajectory upon which to chart my own path. Can a woman be mother, martyr, magnate, mad – and still have her mate? Like Jolie, I intend to have my cake and eat you too – and hers is the only recipe I know so far.

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.