Tag Archives: madras week

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 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.

Endings and Beginnings

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And Madras Week comes to a close. One exhibit, seven readings, a spoken word heritage walk, a fisherfolk song drama.

More. Soon.

I’m exhausted, and Chandroo is taking off for a whole week. So pix, etc, will be up in September.

Last night and today, it finally happened. What nobody tells you is just how much and just how many varieties of fear come with publishing a book of poems. A book book, not a chapbook. Among my fears was that just as it was going to print, I would write something new.  Something good. And that that something would have to wait a long time, stuck in some creation limbo, before it found itself between pages.

Last night and today, I wrote the first two new poems that will not be in Witchcraft, although I could actually put them in. They will not be in because in spite of being good pieces, maybe even better than some in the book, they just come from a different place. They are new work in every sense. They will come to belong elsewhere.

The journey, I’ve found, is full of letting go.

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.

The Venus Flytrap: A Photo Negative Heart

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I’ve heard of people planting the umbilical cords of their children in their backyards. I think this is a beautiful, poetic idea, with just the right amount of the macabre to make it a well-rounded celebration of life. An umbilical cord in sacred soil – the soil of home, so the body never forgets. I wish my umbilical cord was planted somewhere – the only thing is, I have no clue where that place might have been.

I was born in Madras pretty much by accident, because my parents lived in Colombo at the time. The first home of my life belonged to the Sri Lankan government, as did the next few, because of my grandfather’s political career, which would lead to our eventual, regrettable move to a country I have very hostile feelings toward. We ate on crockery embossed with the lion emblem for years, and to this day when I see that emblem I think of childhood meals.

If my family had chosen to bury my birth matter, it would have been in a place they did not call home, a place they no longer call home, or a place that in spite of many years of residing there was never, not once, home.

I’ve been back in India for almost a year now, and I am happy. But I am in love with my passport-identified home with the same ferocity with which some atheists hate god. For a person to whom no home exists, I am vociferous in my loyalties.

There are, of course, many benefits to the nomad’s life. The ability to make friends, and sever attachments, quickly. Travel. Multilingualism. The chance to constantly reinvent oneself. The double-edged gift and curse of being able to see one’s “native” places with renewed, awestruck eyes on every always too long, and always too brief, holiday.

But to grow up belonging nowhere at all is not a fate I would wish on anyone.

The great Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo wrote of Caracas, “Its space is real, fearless, solid concrete./Only my history is false”. And this is what I feel of Chennai.

I write this sitting in the café in which I have co-curated a photo exhibit and reading series for Madras Week. I am surrounded by images of a city to which both my past and my destiny are irrevocably interlinked, but it has lived within me in a way that makes sense to no one else at all.

I have written this before, but if there is a better description for how I feel, I cannot come up with it myself: Chennai is my photo negative heart. It is my life flipped inside out. At times I feel as though there was one me living elsewhere, and one that grew up between Chennai and Colombo. My two hearts. My homes to which I am bound by invisible umbilical cords.

In company, I am the former. I don’t understand pop culture references, school cliques, certain slang, certain frustrations. I can’t tell you how much I resent this. I am constantly filled with envy at those who have lived in this city, and not had the city live in them, lingering, looming and all-consuming in its distance.

Only when I am alone can I forget this sobering fact: I did not grow up here. There is nothing I can do to reverse it, nothing that will give me back the childhood I should have had, but watch me try.

My umbilical cord was probably destroyed. I make up for it by putting all that’s left of me, body and soul, into the praise of this city.

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

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. :)