Events! Tomorrow!

(Without a word of apology for the unannounced hiatus!)

Friday the 17th of May, 8 pm, at Urban Solace:

Meet Bangalore Writers workshop at Urban Solace!

Meet Bangalore Writers workshop at Urban Solace!


Yes? Yes.

Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW) is a unique, effective, and interactive method of bringing a group of writers together and allowing them to study the craft of writing while simultaneously receiving constructive feedback on their own work. BWW runs intensive creative writing workshops with small groups in Bangalore.



UPDATE: Postponed to 11th Nov. Queer Reads Bangalore: THE PREGNANT KING by Devdutt Pattanaik

 So – we meet on the 11th of November, at 4 pm. I suggest Swabhava for our first meet, and after that we can shift venues to other places we can choose. 4 to 6 pm.

QUEER READS BANGALORE is a reading group, open to anyone, everyone, age, gender, race, orientation, class, caste no bar – and we shall focus on novels, shorts, novellas, plays, poems – all that is written, and written in the creative sphere – that are concerned with Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersexed, Lesbian, Transgender and Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay and Genderqeer themes, people, communities and issues – no matter the orientation of the person who wrote them. On the other side of the coin, we shall read literature by Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersexed, Lesbian, Transgender and Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay and Genderqeer writers irrespective of how non-heteronormative their literature may seem on the surface.

Think QUILTBAG literature. 🙂
To read:
THE PREGNANT KING is written by Devdutt Pattanaik. You can find it on Flipkart.

We’re still feeling our way through this, but come, bring friends. Come if you love the book, HATE the book, didn’t understand the book – disagreement is good, complete harmony is good, everything but you not saying anything is good.

From Devdutt Pattanaik’s website

“The Hindu epic, Mahabharata, written over 2000 years ago, narrates the tale of one Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks the magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant. The child thus conceived in and delivered from his body grows up to be Mandhata, a ruler of great repute.

What does the son call Yuvanashva? Father or mother? Can mothers be kings? Can kings be mothers? In the ancient epic, and the sacred chronicles known as the Puranas, which hurry through this slip of a tale, nobody raises these uncomfortable questions. They do so in this book.

And so a new narrative emerges: a fiction fashioned out of mythological and imaginary tales where lines are blurred between men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

There is Pruthalashva, who must be father because he is a man, and Shilavati, who cannot be king because she is a woman. There is Sthunakarna, a Yaksha, who forsakes his manhood to make Shikhandi a husband and then reclaims it to make Somavat a wife. There is Arjuna, a great warrior with many wives, who is forced to masquerade as a woman after being castrated by a nymph. There is Ileshwar Mahadev, god on full moon days and goddess of new moon nights and Adi-Natha, the teacher of teachers, worshipped as a hermit by Yaja and an enchantress by Upayaja. And finally there is Yuvanashva, the hero, king of Vallabhi, who after marrying three times to three very different women, creates a life within him, as mothers do, and then a life outside him, as fathers do, and wonders if he is either, neither or both.

If biology is destiny, if gender is a cornerstone of dharma, then how does Yuvanashva make room for such disruptions in order? For a good king, who wants to be great, must be fair to all: those here, those there and all those in between.”

Lekhana: Day One

(This should actually be titled “Lekhana: A Literary Weekend – bits of Day One”, but that looks weird.)

The events started at 5 pm, but I walked in at 6 (or so), thus missing the inauguration and the recitations. I did catch most of the panel discussion:

“The City in Literature”

with MK Raghavendra moderating for KR Usha, Anjum Hasan, Saniya and Zac O’Yeah.

I must admit that I’m a little biased against the panel subject – I feel like there’s a lot that’s been said about cities that we’ve heard or read already. Somehow, undirected discussions about the city seem to miss the actual people in the city, treating the city like they are self-embodied things of concrete, dust and ethereal culture.

(Also, everytime I see KR Usha [whom I do love, in a wholesome sort of way] in a group discussion, she is talking about the city. Author typecasting!)

To sum up:

KR Usha talked about how fast Bangalore is changing, and how one evokes a city not through its buildings but through the quality of life and experiences of its people.

Zac O’Yeah finds Bangalore constant change disconcerting, but does find that the action sequences in a Kannada movie seem like they can only happen in Bangalore.

Anjum Hasan enquired whether it really is necessary to write about a place, whether the characters of that place are aware of themselves in connection with their location or not.  She reminded us (via Flaubert) of the displacement that is sometimes necessary to write about a place authentically, and asked, Why should we write about Bangalore? Sometimes we don’t have to!

KR Usha said that the panel topic limited the discussion a bit  and talked about Nabokov, who felt that an over-adherence to realism in placement is fruitless, and can lead away from the central objective of a novel, which is to describe the human condition. “But the modern novel needs context!” Conundrum.

Zac O’Yeah said that all this aside, one must still try to grapple with the city, as a way to show one’s love for the place, to create, to evoke an image of the place that you love.

MK Raghavendra said that “evoke” was the crucial term here – one must evoke a place, not necessarily describe it, in order to bring it to life.

Anjum Hasan admitted that she – after all – prefers the highly descriptive novel, but still loves, for instance, Jane Austen, who never really spent much time physically describing a place, but rather the mindset of her characters, evoking the culture of their times.

I didn’t take detailed notes for the Q&A session, partially because I was sitting next to a guy (a reporter?) who took notes and grunted/exclaimed his agreement and disagreement with everything that was said. It was distracting, and extremely annoying. But in all, the audience – the part that talked – seemed in agreement that Bangalore rarely leaps alive off the pages, that Bangalore is in transition, that Bangalore is not in frictionless coexistence with Bengaluru, tat maybe Bangalore/Bengaluru need not be enshrined in a single moment after all, despite how well people like Dickens managed to enshrine the dirtier bits of London, that Bangalore was once a series of villages with a strong located culture, that we have a unique weather.

Then there was a play.

Five Grains of Sugar

By Manav Kaul

(translated by Arshia Sattar)

Munish (I’ve forgotten his last name!!) plays Rajkumar, the “ordinary fellow” who talks to the audience for an hour about his life in order to explain his one, single problem. Ranjkumar’s simplicity and self-aware ordinariness and self-declared happy life contrasts with his rather lonely existence, dictated as it is by his small circle of family and friends.

Rajkumar is exaggeratedly simple, exaggeratedly ordinary. I’m not an avid theatre-goer (is that the term)? I suspect I’d’ve preferred to read Rajkumar’s heavy-handed monologue. Some of Munish’s actions on the stage seemed a bit heavily scripted, and one knew before hand when certain reveals were going to take place (penultimately). But Munish played this rather one-note character with surprising charm, keeping the audience engaged and interested for most of his hour.

I suppose the play is about the invisible possibilities for art in the seeming banalities of life. Rajkumar’s headaches concerning poetry, how to understand it, how to create it and how to manifest it weave together – for his audience but not for him – his life amongst the people he loved and who may or may not have loved him back. Art remains the (unappreciated) reward for Rajkumar’s average life, and he seems rather overly cheered to be done with it for good.

The play ends beautifully – one feels a bit as if the entire hour has been crafted for that last minute – and I don’t think any of us regretted the hour.

(I think I knew Munish when we were in school together. That part was strange. Irrelevant to this post, but strange.)

I’m hoping I’m in time for tomorrow – I intend to be there the entire day, though I might not attend everything. Here’s the schedule – maybe you’ll find something you’d like to see?

Lekhana – The Bangalore Lit Fest 2012!

So the Bangalore Lit Fest has been in the works for a while now, and finally the schedules are out, the logo is done, there are handy links I can handily link you to the website, which among other things, says:

Dear friends in the Bangalore literary community

We are delighted to announce that Toto Funds the Arts, Sangam House, Deshakaala and Reading Hour along with the National Gallery of Modern Art, have come together to organise Bangalore’s first literary weekend, Lekhana.

The dates are February 10, 11 and 12, 2012 and the venue is the NGMA on Palace Road.

The theme for the weekend is “The City.” There will be panel discussions, readings by local writers and by those from more distant lands, performances and a dedicated Lekhana bookstore at Smriti Nandan. And there are contests in writing and photography for young people as well…

Do join us as we bring together the many writers and the many literary cultures and languages that inhabit the city.

Admission is free and open to all.

… and also to the schedule, which is chock-full of city-style things you might want to be a part of!

Toto Funds the Arts 2012 winners for Creative Writing


Click here to see the original post, which also lists the winners for music and photography.

CREATIVE WRITING IN KANNADA (one award, Rs 25,000) (no. of applications: 89)
The three jurors were: Vivek Shanbhag (fiction writer and editor of Deshakaala), M. S. Ashadevi (critic and teacher of Kannada literature) and critic, short-story writer and novelist K. Satyanarayana.
There was no long list.  There were three applicants on the short list.
Short List
Sushrutha Dodderi (Bangalore), Kavya P. Kadame (Hubli), Dr Kanaada Raaghava (Bangalore)
The award went to Kavya Kadame for her poetry.
Jurors general remarks:
““This year’s entries came from various parts of Karnataka with diversity of themes and sharp articulation. Contrary to the common belief that the short story form in Kannada is richly vibrant and highly experimental in nature, poetry gained dominance in these entries. Even those writings that qualified for the final round were mostly from the genre of poetry—they displayed skill and maturity.
            It’s a rare opportunity to read the writings of youngsters, and the Toto Award provides a sneak preview of new writings in Kannada.”
Remarks on Kavya Kadame
About Kavya’s poetry, the jurors said: ““the most fundamental marker of genuine poetry is the love of language. If language makes for the body of the text, it also becomes the voice. If novelty can be termed transformed perception, it is inevitable that language becomes its partner. The poems in this anthology draw the reader’s attention for these very reasons. The manner in which the poems cobble together ideas and forge unanticipated dimensions, determines that ‘search’ forms their core concern. The most commonly noticed ‘hurry’ to grab everything and to thereon wallow in the illusion of success is absent in these poems.  The youthfulness and spontaneity of the poems do not take away from it the dignity of emotions. The collection, therefore, heralds the arrival of a true poet.“
CREATIVE WRITING IN ENGLISH (two awards, Rs 25,000 each) (no. of applications: 178)
Supported by Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions’ Art Grant
The three jurors were: poet, short story writer, novelist and Books Editor of The Caravan, Anjum Hasan; poet and editor of Almost Island, Vivek Narayanan; and poet Sridala Swami.
Long List
There were 29 applicants on the long-list.  They were:
Aditi Rao, Sharanya Manivannan, , Samhita Arni, Joshua Muyiwa,  Sriya Narayanan, Amita Basu,  Kaushik Viswanath, Rohan Chhetri,   Trisha Bora, Nandan Rosario, Pali Tripathi, Meghna Srinivas, Sushumna Patel, Manasi Subramaniam,  Deeptesh Sen, Anushka Jasraj, Rishiraj Verma, Tashan Mehta, Pervin Chhapkhanawala, Adithya Pillai, Kamayani Sharma, Varsha Seshan, Tanvi Srivastava, Madhura Birdi, Praveena Shivram, Shalim M Hussain, Chanakya Vyas, Prashant Prakash, Ramneek Singh
Five applicants made it to the shortlist. They were:
Rohan Chhetri (New Delhi), Sriya Narayanan (Chennai), Ramneek Singh (Bangalore), Kaushik Viswanath (Chennai), Joshua Muyiwa (Bangalore)
The awards went to Ramneek Singh and Joshua Muyiwa. Ramneek received the award for his play The Cage of Sparrows , while Joshua won his for his 9-part poem The Photographer and the Poet.
Jurors general remarks:
“We did not try to evaluate the entries based on any single set of criteria or prescriptions; rather, we were interested in the pieces that were able to define their own rules, be distinctive, original and confident in their vision of the world and of literature.  In this sense, we must also have been influenced by some entrants’ ability to choose the best, and only the best, of their own work to send.
We considered four plays, of which one has won the TFA prize. Another was promising, but we thought it was somewhat derivative. Many of the stories allowed a random series of thoughts and observations to masquerade as short stories; more often than not, stories with potential were ruined by trite or abrupt endings. The poetry entries were promising and in another year might have fared better.”
Ramneek Singh: The Cage of Sparrows shows huge performative potential. The scenes are well-paced and the characters memorable. It was not hard to hear the Punjabi and the Hindi inflections behind the words of the dialogue. There’s a strong sense of place – of rural Punjab – and the recent history of the people. This is a sophisticated script, very absorbing as a piece of writing, but also clearly meant to be watched.”
“With stagecraft more frequently taking on the techniques of cinema, it was not surprising that the judges thought this read more like a film script than a play; this is not a bad thing and perhaps even indicates a new direction in writing for the theatre that answers a demand for something beyond the proscenium stage.”
Joshua Muyiwa: The Photographer and The Poet sequence is a fearless and ambitious piece of work. It is allusive, certainly; elusive a lot of the time, but always deeply felt, the intelligence of the poet shining through every poem. There’s a carefully choreographed progression of a relationship between two people and between the history of photography and the gaze of the poet. Not only does the poet refrain from making these ekphrases merely a series of descriptions of images, s/he also manages to sustain a difficult set of questions and propositions through nine poems.  There is something of Roland Barthes and Anne Carson in these poems.
‘By virtue of our choices we become photographers or poets’, the poet says in the last poem, with the merest hint of mischief: as these poems show, it is possible to claim the photograph through the poem and be either and both at once.

Author Event: Minal Hajratwala at Swabhava

photo credit Bob Hsiang


Minal Hajratwala is in Bangalore for a few weeks – we mostly know her as the editor for Queer Ink‘s forthcoming 2012 Queer Ink Anthology (also here). I cannot currently remember who took dreadful advantage of whom, but Vinay (the guy who runs-manages-GrandViziers Swabhava/Good As You ) spread the word and a bunch of us gathered to meet her today (actually, by the time this gets posted, yesterday) at the Swabhava office.

Hajratwala’s Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents explores her family’s

Excerpts from *Leaving India*

multigenerational movement across the world, contextualising her self against this century of transplantation and settlement.  It’s won at least four awards (one of them a Lammy!). Hajratwala is currently in India for research for her next novel and for her poetry – more on those later.

It rained quite spitefully on the latecomers today, but we began (mostly) on time. Hajratwala read out an excerpt from Leaving India, a section pertaining to herself and her early adulthood – Feminism, Queerness (“Feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice.”) and the like. She’s not my favourite sort of reader – her tone remains too even – but she has a clear and soft voice. All in all, very pleasant.

Questions! Answers!    :

  • Hajratwala spent eight years (instead of the projected two) researching and writing this book. Her extended, very close-knit family is spread out over nine countries. She has thirty-five first cousins, and knows all their names – an impressive feat in and of itself. The book, in some senses, is her way of understanding the sheer scale of diaspora and finding a place for herself within it.
  •  Writing the novel changed her; it rebuilt her relationships with the family, allowed her time, conversation, communication with an older generation that would not necessarily spend time taking a young woman and her questions seriously. Diasporic narratives and histories have to encompass an extraordinary amount of movement: “It is the central trauma of our lives.” In some ways, it is the role of the queer family member, to have that displacement away and reconciliation back to the traditional family home – it gives the writer a dual, insider/outsider perspective.
  • The section in Leaving India which is about herself was written first, and partly as a response to the “naked honesty” she was getting from the people she talked to. She came out to her extended family on a case by case basis, and for the most part all is well. (She did remind us that it’s easier to be proud of a “famous lesbian” in the family rather than a boring old “regular lesbian”.)
  • Blogs! She likes blogs. (Who doesn’t?) They give you a personal space to write anything you choose, without an editor overseeing the process. You can control who sees your words and who doesn’t. It can be a space to have your private, intimate voice “connect to some bigger thing out there”. (She had contact with the damascusgaygirl hoaxer: See this and this.)
  • The Queer Ink Anthology! Queer Ink is going to be one of the first queer publishing houses in South Asia, and this anthology is going to give us stories that haven’t been heard before. About ten percent of the submissions were in vernacular languages. (Queer Ink is looking for people interested in editing, design, writing, the like. Contact them! Say you want in!)
After, there were cookies. After after, we went to Koshy’s. Life was good. 

Spin Control by Chris Moriarty

cover art copyright Stephen Youll, cover design Jamie S. Youll

Spin Control is the second novel in Chris Moriarty’s SPIN series. I read and loved Spin State, but I hesitated on this second novel. Spin State was a great read, but it was bogged down with explaining the dense technology that literally infested Catherine Li’s life.  By the end of the novel, Li was in a relationship with Cohen which intertwined intimately along these technobabelical lines, and I wasn’t sure the next novel could stand against the depth of that kind of relationship – especially since this isn’t fantasy, where somehow I find it easier to accept variations on this sort of mental mesh.

Further, Spin Control is set not on the outer ring of settled-by-humans space, but on an Earth abandoned by all but the religious, the freakish and the Americans, smack in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Syndicate – nations that produce and are made up of perfect and ever-perfected clones – drives one of the main subplots, somehow connected with Israeli-Palestinian spy machinations. I thought: this is going to be terrible.

So now I have to eat my words, my hat and some humble pie.

Arkady is defecting from the Syndicate. He goes to Israel, ostensibly looking for Absalom, an Israeli agent, double agent, traitor, what-have-you. In return for information about an undescribed infection, a possible bioweapon, a possible antidote to a UN-spliced virus: he wants help from the Mossad – or really, assistance from anyone – to rescue his friend, colleague, lover, Arkasha. Arkasha is begin held for “renorming”, since he is too non-conforming for the Syndicates’ taste. (This part of the plot: what Arkady was offering, was a bit of a mess, but all spy novels are a bit of a mess at some point.)

Arkady is an excellent channel for the reader to see Earth as it will be in Moriarty’s 2350. As a Syndicate clone, he comes from a carefully, minutely regimented society that does not work according to human political or ideological paths, or even along human biological-emotional-social paradigms.  He is a mermecologist, interested in ants, and not really very good negotiating the complicated political, agencied web the Syndicate usually protects him from.

Israel doesn’t want Arkady: so they hold an auction. The Americans, the Palestinians, the Artificial Life Emancipation Front come to hear Arkady’s story, and perhaps put in a bid for him and his information. This is where Li and Cohen come in: Cohen is a collection of sentient AIs channeled through one major, dominating persona, while Li is his partner, and an ex-veteren, the Butcher of Gilead. After an entire novel through Li’s point of view, Arkady’s horrified perspective of Li as a monster is interesting, and makes for a consistently broken presentation of what is really going on.

Cohen comes as a rep for ALEF, of which he is one of the foremost and oldest members. He also comes as an Israeli-by-nomination, and is entangled through patriotism and personal affection with some major players in the Mossad, and some major diplomatic disasters too. Meanwhile, he and Li are having trouble. There’s no way to put this nicely: Cohen is a dumb boyfriend, and Li has ISSUES. Their complicated, mundane difficulties are lightened by the interjections of router-decomposer, an AI who works for Cohen. router-decomposer is smart, quirky, quippy and sensible all at once – and a refreshing change from every other character.

No one – the Syndicate lines, the Palestinians, the American reps, the Israelis, Cohen&Li, Arkady – trusts anyone else, but since Spin Control is filtered through several different points of view, we are at least spared Li’s bewildered, practical, exhausting paranoia. (We are also spared Li’s former physical frailties, since she is recovered from her old injuries.What we get instead is Cohen’s physical frailties – Cohen filters himselves through a human “shunt”, and he’s overloading his current body. We are continually shown Cohen’s vulnerabilities, his delicate balancing acts to simply run himself in his AI spaces, and present himself in the more fleshly realms. (Cohen’s routines/systems are ant-based, which makes him an interesting parallel to Arkady, who is in mortal danger for most of the novel’s present.)

In between the narrative chaos of action in Israel we see flashbacks to Novalis, where we see Syndicate scientists attempt to study the previously terraformed planet, figure out what happened to the previous team (and who that team was), and try to get along with each other. It’s interesting to see the ways in which the clones are individuals and clone-personae, at one and the same time. Syndicate politics play out according to clone lines, with a few outliers making compromise very difficult. Novalis is a whole new realm of terraforming technonobabble weirdness that should not be, the scientists are falling sick, and tensions rise beyond breaking point.

As the bidders, the agencies, the sellers, the innocents machinate around each other, the Israel-Palestinian war is being strategised by sentient AIs who do not know they ar fighting a real war, that real people are dying. Their soldiers are young adults, wired for AI shunts. Arkady’s evolutionary mutation, bioweapon, what-have-you, just ups the stakes on a planet rich in water and poor in children.

Spin Control’s compelling protagonists balance out its mostly incomprehensible plotlines – you’re continually pulled into empathetic understanding of several nations’ viewpoints while simultaneously having no fucking clue what is going on – until somewhere near the end, where everything dovetails rather too tidily.

Spin Control is a novel concerned with its future, its characters’ propagation and legacies. The Jews and Palestinians are concerned for their dwindling number of children. The Syndicates are concerned that without new planets, new homes, fresh population sources to mine gene-sets from, they will die out. Everywhere, people die. As such, Spin Control is also intensely concerned with the past – when to hold on to, what to keep, what to lose without regret. Cohen is one of the oldest emergent AIs around. Catherine Li has large tracts of her past which she cannot remember. The Israeli and the Palestinian memories of friendly détente tangle inextricably with their current brutalities and the lives they’ve lost and are losing.

I suspect that the novel might stand fairly well on its own, but it performs even better in the trilogy. I’m dying to read Ghost Spin, which should release in January next year. Moriarty presents her work with more grace than in her first novel, juggling her hard science, sociology, (chaos theory? the development of complex systems, anyway) and her convoluted personal relationships to present a coherent, fascinating whole.