Tag Archives: frida kahlo

The Venus Flytrap: Frida & The Finches


If the finches of the Galápagos islands can’t sing in key, they may go extinct. The males trill to draw their mates to them, and their courtship songs vary based on the physiological differences of their beaks. Through the ten thousand years or so of their existence, their beaks evolved in distinct variations to best suit the sustenance available across their habitats. Diverse shapes, sizes and sharpness for seeds, insects, or cacti. The birds are also known as Darwin finches, after the scientist whose work was heavily influenced by encountering them.

But a human-caused parasitic infestation is affecting their beaks, and thus their lovesongs. Their nostrils are being deformed by the larvae of a blood-sucking fly, which feed on tissue, keratin and blood. The songs of misshapen beaks, off-key and therefore off-putting, have ceased to have their intended effect. Not only are chicks dying from the parasitic attacks, but the survivors cannot sing their lineage into being. The mates cannot be seduced.

A line from of one of my favourite poems, Anne Sexton’s “Sonnet XLIII”, haunts me as I think of those birds – broken into, their faces and voices mutilated, still desirous, without having that yearning be met. And the thwarted mates: where does their disenchantment go? Beyond some point of no return, loveless but ripe with memory, Sexton wrote: “I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.” I sought the finches’ songs, and instead found words – reams on their voices and their bodies, but not enough of their music.

Amidst this silence, a resonance. The National Sound Library of Mexico has just discovered and released the only extant recording of what may be Frida Kahlo’s voice. I had never known that I had never known what her voice was like.

In the recording, a woman reads a passage in intimate praise of Diego Rivera. The reading seems practised, with an easy rhythm. The motifs are familiar; the words seem to be Kahlo’s. Rivera the toad, the baby, the great artist whose hands are ever working. At first I wondered what her natural voice must have been like, especially if she had been coached and made a few attempts to perfect the audio. A little moodier, maybe. A little smoke-laced. But this voice is bell-clear, ebullient. Strikingly so when we learn that the recording was aired on radio in 1955, the year after Kahlo’s passing. This would complicate the possibility that it was her, except that the recitation was enigmatically described as being by “a painter who no longer exists”. Researchers believe it was made in the last, painful years of her life.

For a dying woman she sounds buoyant. Even rehearsed, this was Kahlo’s true voice then: her voracious desire to live and her adoration of her beloved both vivid. Having had an amputation, she had written in her diary of not needing feet, being winged. Thus returns the sorrow over the vanishing finches, so misunderstood. I wish for them mates who can perceive their true voices. Even in mutilation and dissonance. And for love or something like it to carry their timbre through.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on June 20th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Kilaeua and Kahlo


It’s said there’s “nothing special” about the tiny green stones that appear to be raining from the sky in Hawaii – fragments of the mineral olivine, spewed in the lava from the ferociously erupting Kilaeua volcano. Even peridot, the gemstone that can be found in the mineral, isn’t considered precious because it’s relatively common. But it looks like it’d be beautiful cascading from an ear, and be comforting to hold, like any quartz. Most of all, looking at pictures of olivine, I wonder how it might catch the light. Why is it not special?

Kilaeua is the goddess Pele, who created the Hawaiian archipelago, and I’d seen her picture too. This deity of fire makes her presence known on camera, and there are several images of a womanly form emerging from the point where lava spills into the ocean, or rising in the glow from a crater. Sometimes, a face in seen in plumes, or the lava takes the shape of other body parts.

I listened to the musician Kekuhi Kealiʻikanakaʻole speaking about Pele and her present activity on Hawaii Public Radio. She says that beyond all human imagery, Pele is quintessentially the magma itself.

Kekuhi describes a profound relationship with “the Tutu”, as Pele is respectfully known, deeply connected to her body. The word she uses is “enlivening”. Her body and mind are enlivened by volcanic activity. This is more than intuition – it is connection. She expects Pele to shake, rather than predicts this. Beautifully, she tells her listeners that happening before their eyes are the kinds of events that inspired the myths themselves. “Write it down!” she insists, for they will become new songs, new dances and new chants.

Some nights ago I woke with a melancholy that made me obsess over a quote widely attributed to Frida Kahlo. I searched through a book of her letters and couldn’t find it. Then, I discovered those words weren’t hers at all, but the Mexican poet Estefania Mitre’s. Here they are: “You deserve a love that wants you dishevelled, with everything and all the reasons that wake you up in haste, with everything and the demons that won’t let you sleep. You deserve a love that makes you feel secure, able to devour the world when it walks with you, that feels your embraces are perfect for its skin. You deserve a love that wants to dance with you, that goes to paradise every time it looks into your eyes and never gets tired of studying your expressions. You deserve a love that listens when you sing, that supports your ridiculousness, that respects your freedom; that accompanies you when you fly and isn’t afraid to fall. You deserve a love that takes away the lies and brings you illusion, coffee, and poetry.”

Were the words less powerful to me because Frida’s force of character was not behind them? For a moment, yes. But then would olivine, barely a gemstone, also be less pretty if it wasn’t a symbol of Pele’s grace? That night, I let those often-stolen words comfort me, for they too felt like a small crystal on the skin, they too caught the light.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on June 21st 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

A Song, Schnabel and A Handful of Sex Goddesses


There’s a little something exciting happening mid-next week, as you may or may not already know. Meanwhile, though, here are a few more things that have me excited lately.

1. Candace Bushnell’s original Sex and The City columns in The New York Observer. I’m actually surprised to have not read about this on other blogs, so either I’m way ahead or way behind. Despite my affection for the TV show, I always kind of wondered if it had to be in some ways a little lowbrow (sue me), because it made  too ridiculous a number of women believe they they could see themselves reflected in it, realistically or otherwise. As a reader and writer, I also wished those columns that Carrie was constantly typing out in her undies would actually make it into the show in some way. And here they are, and heavens, they are gold. Finally I see, really and truly, why this was so groundbreaking, how it was writing like this that actually laid the blueprint for the cultural phenomenon. I take my pretentious writerly beret off to Candace Bushnell — this archive proves that no matter how many imitators, there really can only be one CB.

2. Jerome Kugan’s home-recorded cover of “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. Some covers really are better than the originals, and other covers of. Harry Connick Jr. ain’t got nothing on you, JK baby! This needs to go on your next album. So the poor folks who aren’t your friends can hear it too. Hahaha. ;)

3. This slightly snarky New York Times article says that Julian Schnabel is going to have a show in India. Where where where? Please say Chennai.

4. This 1996 essay by Sandra Cisneros, which I read in order to remind me again why it’s okay to be a certain kind of writer. This week I have been saying a litany of graces for the great ones who paved the way for someone like me to be myself and be okay with it. Without Frida, I don’t know if I would have been able to live with many aspects of myself. Without Sandra, I don’t know if I would have stopped writing funny, sexy, confessional poetry in favour of smarter, more serious stuff. Without my great-grandmother Valliamma, I don’t know if I could have learnt how to feel the fear and do it anyway. There is no shame in acknowledging inspiration.

5. Two Guardian profiles on gifted bad girls, Manet’s muse, Victorine Meurent, and another Guadalupe, Lupe Yoli.

Poem: Frida to Sharanya


This is my favourite photo of Frida.

By the time this photograph was taken in 1938, Frida had mastered the art of the unwavering gaze, not to mention the projection of masculinity. The Trotsky and Cristina affairs that wreaked havoc on her marriage had happened; she was in the midst of her first solo exhibition in New York, and would both go to France at the invitation of the Bretons and get divorced the following year. In short, she knew by this time very well who she was and what she wanted. But here she appears vulnerable, unposed, astonishingly feminine. This is why it is my favourite photo of her. Out of the many I have seen (I have dozens more photographs to update that site with, and hope to find the time to do so soon), few have captured her this way. It is as though Julien Levy clicked his camera at the very moment the persona was dropped. It is as though he unmasked a woman famous for the ways she brutally unmasked herself.

I wrote this some time back, and read it at the Viva La Vida reading on Frida’s 101st birthday. Today was my 23rd birthday, and I thought I would share it now. It was inspired by her letters.


Sleep wherever is most convenient for you.
Whoever and whatever is left in the morning,
take home. Be kind. All the world is yours for
the taking, long as you know that your little heart is
theirs for the breaking. Leave lipstick on their
china and on your letters. Make sure they know
that you’re a mariposa, blue as copper sulphate,
or blue as the sea, blue as a baby stilled too soon,
darling wench, and you never really intend to leave.
Set love free like a boat with neither oars nor anchors.
Trust it. Don’t trust yourself. Accept every familiar
that comes, even if one happens to be a goat. Forgive
less of people. Remember that things come in triptychs.
Be magnificent, like Coatlicue. You only owe it to me,
but break a mirror now and then, if you can afford it.
Kiss as much as you want to, and as few. Be difficult.
It will make you more desirable. If it will help you to
let him go, cut off your hands. They will grow back.
You don’t need them. You don’t need him. The older
you grow, the more you will amputate. Dance on stumps
if you have to, but don’t stop. Wear one item of red
every Wednesday and when death comes for you,
you will go as his bride. Burn every bridge you ever
built, and build as many as you possibly can. The one
that takes you home will be the last one standing.
Sing over the bones. Go slow.
Don’t forget me.

Viva La Vida – Postmortem


We spent a beautiful late morning yesterday at the most gorgeous cemetery I have ever been in (prettier than any park in this city, I think). The Madras War Memorial is a small, impeccably maintained place, holding the remains and/or remembrances of Commonwealth citizens who died here during the first and second world wars.

The raven that showed up as Anand read from Edgar Allen Poe, the monarch butterfly that did the same when I read a persona poem as Frida Kahlo speaking to me, and the Cohen tombstone near where we were (Deesh read from Leonard C)… Someone told me recently that the signs are everywhere, even when one doesn’t look for them. But I love metaphor, and mythology. I’ll connect the dots.

On the phone the night before, working out lunch plans: “We’ll decide at the graveyard! *cackle*”. How cool to be able to say things like that and mean them. :)

Left to right — Anand, Anita, Harish, Deesh, Chandrachoodan, Arun, Raji, Anita’s daughter (sorry!), Sharanya. Photo by Dilip Muralidharan (link goes to clearer version of pic).

The Viva La Vida Reading


Please feel free to distribute! Hope to see you at this, if you’re in Chennai.

P.S. As everyone already knows, I have a kindergartener’s sense of colour. A different version should be up at Chandrachoodan’s soon.

The Viva La Vida reading: an open mic on Frida Kahlo’s 101st birthday, celebrating the spectacularly macabre.

A Little Live-Blogging


I’ve seen Julie Taymor’s Frida maybe 25 or 30 times, for what I assume would be obvious reasons.

I’m watching it right now on the World Movies channel. There’s a good deal of expected censorship, and some quaint re-subtitling, like “fucking revolution” becoming “stupid revolution” (the expletive inaudible). Cutely enough, some expletives, like pinche, are not translated but kept in the subtitles.

But what took the cake, so far — and we’re only at the part where Alejandro comes to tell Frida he’s leaving for Europe — is when “vagina”, in a purely medical sense, gets subtitled as…


Update: OMG! “I’ve always wanted a man with melones bigger than mine” (one of my fave lines from the film, because, umm, it happens to be a preference of mine too) becomes… “I’ve always wanted a man who was better than me”.


Hmm. I think I’ll post up an old article I wrote on my weakness for chubby men soon…