Tag Archives: live literature

Madras Week 2008 Thank Yous

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If I don’t do this now, I won’t ever get around to it, so here goes.

Thank you very, very much to everybody who supported Madras Week at Vanilla Place, August 18-24 2008.

In particular, I would like to extend my thanks to the following people, who read poetry and prose of their own or by others, during the course of the week’s nightly readings: Vivek Narayanan, Kuttirevathi, Eric Miller, Sivakami Velliangiri, Syed Ali, Srivatsan Murali, Mihir Ranganathan, Arun Ramkumar, Gowri Visvanathan, Menaka Raman, Dr. Preetika Chauri, Gautam Gurumurthi, Suraksha R, Sathya Narain Muralidharan, Arun Ganesh, Dilip Muralidharan, Anand Krishnamoorthi, Shillika Chandrasekhar, Lakshmi and Ramya.

The Venus Flytrap: Ways of Worship

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It’s 8pm on a full moon night in October and the spray of the huge waves shoots above the barricades and drizzles us from time to time. This is a village on the Balinese coast, a day before the writers’ festival begins. When the sun is out, the sea is postcard-stunning. It looks just like what someone who has never seen the sea might imagine it to be like. At night, it is this: vivid, histrionic.

We’re a table of a dozen, half of whom are too far away to politely shout at over the sound of the waves. We have come from all over the world – one of the coordinators mentions that a writer called in tears from an airport somewhere between here and Mozambique. This is the calm before the storm: by the time the festival starts, 110 writers would have arrived here.

I’m fascinated by the kind-faced educator from New Zealand and the playwright who lived with AIDS orphans in Burundi for a year during the early 90’s. The American who sits down across from me turns out to be John Berendt, the author of the acclaimed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I give him my book. To my surprise, he asks me to sign it for him.

It is the day after the anniversary of the 2002 terrorist attacks on this island, the ones that confounded the world, because who in their right mind would bomb paradise?

We talk about temples. Bali is over 90% Hindu, practicing a highly ritualistic and animistic variant of the religion with a profoundly philosophical bent. The agricultural system, for instance, is based on the notion of “Tri Hita Karana”: the three causes of happiness are good relations with God, other people and the environment. Incidentally, “Tri Hita Karana” is the theme of this year’s festival.

I am menstruating and will not visit the temples: there is nothing taboo about doing so based on what I believe, but I will not violate those of a place I visit. Besides, I know from experience that even the ruins – no, especially the ruins – possess immense power. Last year, at another festival elsewhere in Indonesia, we were reading at the 11th century Borobudur stupa. The vibrant local dance closing the evening came to an abrupt halt – one of the dancers was possessed. She could be heard screaming and crying as she came out of her trance.

Jean Bennett, the educator, speaks of the psychogeography of elevation: you can read the spirituality of any place based on what stands at its highest point. Around the world, there are the pilgrimage points of cathedrals, and then there are those of capitalist gods. We manifest what we worship upon our landscapes.

Driving into Ubud town the next day, where the festival will be, we pass two striking statues. One is of a Durga unlike any I have seen. She looks like a Kwan Yin riding snakes. The other is a dramatic Arjuna standing atop an elephant’s back. Bali is unapologetic about its spirituality. It’s neither a place that trumpets its ways of life militantly, nor does it suppress it under the guise of progress. This is not a place that ever deserved a terrorist attack, let alone two.

The festival is about to start. The literati will descend on Ubud and turn it, for a few days, into an artistic nucleus. I have a new book, a brand new batch of business cards, the validation of being a guest of this prestigious event. I’m a poet in paradise. I cannot wait to see what I will come bearing back to the world.

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

Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival

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I’m leaving tonight for for a week in Bali (and yes, on work!), to attend the Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival 2008.

Other than general official engagements and anything that happens impromptu, my readings and panels, in case you’re there, are as follows:

Thursday 16 Oct: Performance Poetry Extravaganza, 19.30-21.30 at Warung Opera

Top performers and comedians from Australia, India and the Philippines present a riotous medley of rhythm, sound and song. Lexical dexterity will be at work in this high-energy, cross-cultural celebration of the literary spoken word. Tug Dumbly, Sharanya Manivannan, Edwina Blush. MC: Benito di Fonzo.

Saturday 18 Oct: Mindscapes, 15.45-17.00 at Indus

Novelist Charlotte Bacon tells us what happens “when geography rubs up against people’s emotional states.” Matthew Condon’s novel The Trout Opera was inspired by the stark beauty of Australia’s Snowy Mountains. Carrie Tiffany, an environmental journalist, explores agricultural issues and the lives of rural people in her fiction. Poet Sharanya Manivannan believes in the magical quality of water and coasts. These writers get together to consider the way exposure to different geographies shapes human experience and action. Moderator: Poonam Sagar.

Saturday 18 October: Wine Tasting, 18.30-20.30 at Casa Luna

According to Persian mythology it was a woman who first discovered wine. For that we are thankful! Join us as award-winning Indonesian wine writer Yohan Handoyo leads us through a menu of full-bodied wines matched with some of our most sparkling Festival writers and accompanied by tasty tapas in this celebration of wine, women and words. Featuring: Peter Zilahy, Tishani Doshi, Sharanya Manivannan, Dino Umahu. Cost: Rp. 650,000 | AUD $82.

Sunday 19 October: Poetry of the Body 15.30-17.00 at HSBC Lounge

Whereas poet and dancer Tishani Doshi sees the body as the place “where the spiritual and the sensual combine”, Sharanya Manivannan has a fascination with the ancient Tamil concept of a potentially malevolent force that exists in women’s bodies. These two Indian poets will discuss poetry, women, dance and the body along with readings of their work. This session will be followed by a 30-minute documentary film on Indian dance featuring Tishani Doshi and her teacher Chandralekha, legendary dancer from South India. Moderator: Debra Yatim.

I was really looking forward to another panel on sacred geography, but it was cancelled as the other writer is not able to participate in the festival this year.

On another note, Books Actually in Singapore will stock limited copies of Witchcraft from next week.

I’m told that the website from which you can order the book will probably go up while I’m away. More info will be available soon. Hold your horses please! Will let you know when I know. Ditto about launches, etc. And lastly, remember the Exec Assistant? Yeah, she’s out of the picture. Irresponsible would be an understatement. So for any enquiries relating to publicity, interviews and events, please contact either sharanya dot manivannan at gmail dot com or bullfighterbooks at gmail dot com.

Okay, I’m off to island-hop and shoe-shop… I mean, work. :) See you after the 20th.

The Burning Breast: Kannagi To Kovalan

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I had a lovely Sunday morning. For one thing, I woke up early — I’m a heavy sleeper and am always inordinately proud of myself when I catch the sunrise. Also, it was the last day of Madras Week — phew! And although I was late, I managed to make it to Eric Miller/The World Storytelling Institute’s Living Statues event at 7.30am. Spoken word in the form of soliloquys in persona in front of six statues that punctuate the main road along Marina Beach. And then the beach itself, with two friends, and breakfast at Rathna Cafe in Triplicane… I fucking love Madras, from the bottom of my silly little heart. :)

Eric asked me to read his soliloquy for Auvvaiyar, as well what I had written the night before for Kannagi. Or as Kannagi, rather. I’ll write more about the Living Statues event when I recap Madras Week on the whole.

And how could I forget the lovely little synchronicity that met us as we got into an auto to leave the beach? The driver’s address, painted where Narain’s knees met the back of the driver’s seat, was Nedunchezhiyan Colony.

If you are not familiar with the story of Kannagi and Kovalan, please see this.

The Burning Breast: Kannagi to Kovalan

What is it to me if there are good women
or good men or gods in this city, now
that you are gone.

When you kissed me I remembered
all the lives that poured out of us,
and I remembered how to honour water.

When you kissed me I remembered
what death felt like, and
I remembered how to honour air.

When you kissed me I remembered
the clay of the body, and
I remembered how to honour earth.

When you kissed me I remembered
that my sins would turn to cinders, and
I remembered how to honour fire.

Listen, husband. Only the sky will
take no side. Let them call me
bitch, witch, menace, terrorist.
Let them call me mad, bad, vindictive,
frigid. Let them name me, claim me,
blame me and defame me. Guard their
coast with stone dolls in my likeness.
Beat their women so their bruises
sting and rhyme with my acclaim.
Let them. Let them think they have me tamed.

But with this burning breast, these bloodshot eyes, I raise
my voice, and I say to you now, all I want, all I am is this:

wife.

– – –

I had shared this poem with friends as soon as it was written, and I thought it might be good to share this exchange, in case you have the same question in mind:

Q: excellent, but
All I am is this; wife
All?
surely not all, but – I am this; wife

SM: Thanks! I’m curious — are you familiar with the Silapathikaram? In context, the idea of Kannagi as simply human, a woman mad with grief, is something very much overlooked. Here in Tamil Nadu, she has been co-opted into various other roles — worshipped as a goddess, held up as a bastion of conservative chastity, as a bastion of radical feminism, a role model for citizen rights, criticized for weakness, glorified for strength… any number of grand meanings have been read into this character. But the commonplace anguish of a widow, extraordinary as the events told are, is what interested me when I set out to write this.

One More Day To Go

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I’m exhausted — and we have one day left of Madras Week! Expect long recap with pictorial evidence sometime in the coming week, but for now just wanted to announce a spoken word event tomorrow morning IN ADDITION to our final sinful reading (Lust for last, obviously).

As you may know, I love persona poetry, and I love the coast, and I love any morning when I wake up in time to see the sun rise. So am looking forward to this.

Living Statues of Marina Beach walking tour.

Sunday August 24, 7.30am at the Kannagi statue.

Featuring brief performances and talks at the statues of
1) Kannagi, 2) NSC Bose, 3) Thiruvalluvar, 4) GU Pope,
5) Bharathidasan, and 6) Avvaiyar.  English and Tamil.
90 mins.  Free.  Facilitated by the World Storytelling
Institute, 98403 94282.

Featured On A Full Page (More Madras Week)

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A full page in today’s Expresso! Knock aside the food listing and the film ad, and you have an article apiece about “The Sea Story” and the readings on the first night, the theme for which was Cities+Pride.

Five more nights to go! Yesterday’s was Cities+Envy, which went splendidly in spite of the rain and the delay caused by the rain, and tonight’s is Cities+Wrath.

You can check out our full page spread at the e-paper here (available only for today — hopefully I can scan it up by tomorrow). Expresso section, page 6 (Madras Week feature).

Mae West & Madras

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No connection between the two (although I would be thrilled to bits if I could be the Mae West of Madras). It’s just that it was Mae West’s birthday today, and you should check out this interview of her. She was 83 at the time it was filmed (about four years before she died)! I love Mae West for many many things, and outliving the bad-girl-tragic-short-life archetype is one of them.

Speaking of bad girl writers, Thursday Love is pretty good. You throw a stone in the blogosphere, you inevitably hit a Carrie Sadshaw. But she’s different — not only does she actually write well and entertainingly, but I know her in real life and she’s one of the rare few who actually walk the walk more than they talk the talk.

And lastly and mostest mostest importantly, Madras Week starts tomorrow. TOMORROW!!! Hope to see some of you delurking. Remember that the open mics are open to all AND I am quite happy to read or find someone else to read any theme-appropriate pieces you email in to me, if you can’t make it.

We put up the exhibit today, and as I type this, some folks are still at Vanilla Place getting things ready. A few of my photos are also on sale, and if anyone actually buys them, please let me know. I’d like to know who the person behind such poor taste is. :)

MADRAS WEEK AT VANILLA PLACE

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Celebrate Madras/Chennai city’s 369th birthday with seven evenings of photography, folksongs and poetry! Seven nights of still life, song and sinful spoken word, saluting our city by the sea.

August 18 2008 – August 24 2008

MADRAS WEEK EVENTS AT VANILLA PLACE, MYLAPORE

CURATED BY CHANDRACHOODAN GOPALAKRISHNAN
AND SHARANYA MANIVANNAN,
WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF THE WORLD STORYTELLING INSTITUTE.

PHOTO EXHIBITION AND SALE

Opening night: August 18 2008

Time: 7pm

From August 18 to August 24 , organised by Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan and The Chennai Photowalk. Photos are of Chennai, as seen through the eyes of the photographers who participated in the first nine photowalks. All photos exhibited are available for purchase.

The Chennai Photowalk is a movement of the residents of Chennai to preserve the city’s heritage in the form of photos. Young and old, professional and the hobbyist, photographers of all description meet, walk and capture a view of the city mostly overlooked.

“THE SEA STORY”: A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE ON OPENING NIGHT

A special storytelling drama with folksongs by the Nochikuppam seafishing community, facilitated by the World Storytelling Institute and hosted by Eric Miller.

“The Sea Story” summary: One evening, a mother sings a lullaby to a child (Thalattu pattu). That night, some men go in a kattumaram to fish in the sea (Rowing pattu).

One man is lost in a storm, and some women on shore lament for the lost man (Oppari pattu). Finally, the lost man re-appears – he was rescued by a sea-turtle! – and the community members are filled with joy (Celebration pattu).

SPOKEN WORD READINGS AND OPEN MICS

From August 18 to August 24 at 8pm every night, hosted by Sharanya Manivannan.

August 18 – “Cities+Pride” (Opening Night)
August 19 – “Cities+Envy”
August 20 – “Cities+Wrath”
August 21 – “Cities+Sloth”
August 22 – “Cities+Greed”
August 23 – “Cities+Gluttony”
August 24 – “Cities+Lust”

Local poets both famous and soon-to-be-famous explore the idea of cities as hubs of sins from different angles. Debauchery or divine redemption? A bit of both is promised each night, along with poetry and prose both original and admired. Performers include Kuttirevathi, Vivek Narayanan, Deesh Mariwala and Sharanya Manivannan.

Open mic readings are open to all. Please contact sharanya.manivannan@gmail.com.

About the organisers

Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan is a writer (of prose, poetry and carefully worded commercial fiction) and a photographer (of people, places and the occasional abstract) from Chennai. His great-grandfather was an epigraphist, translator and the first Tamil novelist. These genes, always unpredictable, waited three generations to surface in Chandrachoodan, causing him to take a great interest in his city and its heritage. Which in turn took form as a monthly photowalk.

As a spoken word artist, Sharanya Manivannan has performed to critical and popular acclaim at dozens of venues, including an abandoned pier, a cemetery and the 11th century Borobudur Temple, as well as more conventional locations. Her book of poems, Witchcraft, will be published this year, and carries a foreword from celebrated Sri Lankan-American poet Indran Amirthanayagam that describes it as “bloody, sexy, beguiling as in a dance with veils… a glorious, chilling and sensual debut”. Sharanya is committed to the creation of a spoken word scene in Chennai, and regularly co-organises and hosts events that encourage the open mic format, in which anyone willing to share their work is welcome.

The World Storytelling Institute was founded by Eric Miller and Jeeva Raghunath in Chennai, in December 2007.  Mr. Eric is the director of the WSI; Ms. Jeeva is the director of its section on storytelling for/by/with children.  The WSI’s mission is to facilitate training in, performance of, and discussion about, forms of storytelling.  In Tamil Nadu, three traditional styles of storytelling are 1) Kathaiyum Pattum (Story and Song); 2) Villupattu (Bow Song); and 3) Katha Kalak Chebam, also known as Harikatha (God Story).  In cultures around the world, there are similar styles.  We seek to help these styles be meaningful and useful in the modern world.  Eric is Assistant Professor of Story and Storytelling at the Image College of Art, Animation, and Technology (Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad), which trains students in the design of 3D Animation, Cinema Visual Effects, and Computer-video-Internet games. He is near completion of a PhD in Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia): his dissertation concerns the use of videoconferencing for educational and performance applications. Originally from New York City, Eric has settled in Chennai.  He is married to Chennai native Magdalene Jeyarathnam, the founder-director of Chennai’s Center for Counseling, and they have a daughter.

Venue

Vanilla Place, No. 8/57, 1st Street Luz Avenue, near Nageswara Park, Mylapore.

All events are free and open to the public.

For further details, please contact Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan – 9884467463

Viva La Vida – Postmortem

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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

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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.

On Spoken Word As A Sort Of Shamanism

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This appeared in the Chennai edition of The Times of India today, under the “What’s Hot” section.

Years ago, I read that when a woman weaves out of her iyari, she doesn’t need to copy a design. I took this to heart, or took it back into my heart, rather – iyari is the Huichol concept of heartmemory. Eventually, I would twine this with the concepts of duende – the dangerous driving force behind Andalusian flamenco deep song – and ananku – the lost Tamil idea of the sacred malevolence in certain objects and locations, including the woman’s body.

To me, although widely divergent geographically, this trinity of concepts represent one and the same. It is what I enter and try to evoke in performance. I’ve been doing spoken word since I was 15 years old, long enough for me to know my element and try to draw others into theirs. So I teach, and co-organise events. Spoken word is my shamanism.

Having experienced firsthand the transcendental and transformative power of poetry in performance when it hits a point of alchemy somewhere between rock concert and book reading (but not, as some may have you believe, theatre), I am convinced that Chennai is ripe for it.

What I’ve said must sound terribly pretentious. And I’ll tell you the big secret: it is. Ironically, vocabulary limits us when trying to describe the overwhelming. But music, words, visuals and movement have saved my life time and again. Who hasn’t lived through a night sustained by a single song, or sat in the cinema and wept until everyone else in the hall had left? This is why I do what I do. Because art is meaningful. Ultimately I myself, my great loves and disasters and fears, may mean nothing. But what I create on this time on earth could – just maybe – make someone, somewhere, feel less lonely for just one profound moment. And that is enough.

The Blasphemy Reading

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Venue is a mystery because it is extremely cool.

RSVP to find out.

Ok, we discussed it and changed our minds.

It’s the Rama temple in Koyambedu, near the outstation bus stand and the market. Meet us at the little cupola-like thing (CC’s description: small platform with a roof) outside. 10am. Bring poems that fit the theme.

April 12 — Lazy Saturday Poetry Open Mic

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So, April 12 is a big day for me. It’s when the first installment of my column in The New Indian Express comes out. And it’s also when my dear buddy Jerome Kugan’s album launches. At least two reasons to celebrate, but what does one do when feeling too lazy?

Have a Lazy Saturday Micless Open Mic of course.

This time, we’re planning on being so laidback that:

1. We’re not booking the venue. Just be at the Barista on G.N. Chetty Road at 2.30pm on Saturday April 12.

2. There’s no theme.

Why? Why not? You’re here. We’re here. Everybody likes coffee. And even if you don’t, you love poetry. Right?

So bring thyselves and thy poyems. See you there. More details, and if you’re not too lazy to RSVP, email me or call Chandroo at 9844467463.