Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year and Zumba

According to my stars, I bring good luck. I don't know how true this is, but since it's a good thing, I'd like to believe in it. Here's wishing everyone a very Happy New Year.

I made a resolution to go for zumba at least twice a week. Memorial Athletic Club is only minutes away from where I live, but I always find excuses to not go. Of course when I eventually haul myself to the gym, I enjoy myself, especially the zumba class. We have a great instructor whose body is made of rubber, whereas mine is more like rusted metal. Imagine me doing the samba, the chachacha, the mambo, salsa. I'm sure I dance like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz.

OK, this New Year, I shall also begin my new novel. Soon after the launch of The Finger Puppet, I started on a sequel and I was quarter way into it and then decided not to write anymore because my husband wanted me to paint. To please him, I disappeared into my garage-studio and stayed there all day painting on a great big canvas, but by evening, I started undoing it, the way Penelope wove her tapestry all day and unwove it by night.

'Perhaps you should spend at least an hour each day writing,' my much disheartened husband said.

It's impossible for me to do just one hour of writing. He knows that and I know that. 'The new novel is going to be all sunshine,' I said, seeing the fear in his eyes, that I might start to crumble the way I did when I was writing The Finger Puppet.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cordelia ah Cordelia!

Who art thou?

Adulthood, wifehood, motherhood did not diminish the playful Cordelia in me. The Finger Puppet did. As the youngest of three sisters, I have escaped many a beating. But I have always wondered what it must have been like for my mother, for my siblings. And so, I would pretend to be them and that is why, perhaps, I would be the one to tell the story, which broke me completely. I'm still in the process of putting myself together again.

Four years into the novel, I made a trip to Tiruchirapalli, which I had never seen before. Originally, I set the story in Chennai and then transplanted it in Tiruchirapalli because I wasn't sure if my sisters, or even I, would be OK with revealing that I have borrowed liberally from our lives. Gandhigram and I are well acquainted. It was goosepimply to sit on the very slab of stone I sat upon as a child and bathed out in the open fields. Now the stone had grass and weeds twisting over it and the water tank stood dry, but the image of sari-clad women planting rice would come away with me, and would be the first of a series of paintings I am working on currently.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tara and Yatri?

Also named after the wife of a sage, my sister, Vasuki, chose to go with Yashodhra, her second name, when she was just a little girl. To this day, I'm amazed at the way she said, From now on I'm going to be Yashodhra. Yashodhra is only 11 months older than I am, and be it quarrel or play, we were as close as twins and spent a great deal of time with imaginary friends in imaginary worlds. Our hand-drawn finger puppets looked frighteningly real. Tara and Yatri are, perhaps, a bit of both of us. From a young age, Yashodhra cared for stray dogs and cats with no concern for personal injury. She's now India's top dog breeder and the owner of Yashbans Kennels.

When my boy, Sirocco, died, I fled to India and stayed some months in Yashbans, Bangalore, amidst wagging tails and licking tongues and with my sister and my nieces, Rishya and Radhya.

Sukanya as Padmini

I was in San Diego, in October, visiting my sister, Raviji, and their designer dog (maltese + poodle), Suki. Anoushka was touring but she returned two days before my departure and we all had a great time. My last trip to California was in 2006 when Raviji had caught double-pneumonia. It's a miracle that he's alive and performing. All credit should go to my sister's love and care and healthy foods...and singing. Sukanya is a trained musician and sings beautifully though I bet my unschooled voice and totally off-key songs, in butchered Bengali, were a lot more entertaining :)

We were looking at some old pictures and I thought I'd post the ones (all pictures posted here are copyright Ravi Shankar Foundation) that I especially liked of Sukanya and Raviji.

'Are you going to marry that old man?’ I asked my sister in horror. I was very young then. But when I met the charismatic sitar maestro I could see why my sister had fallen in love with him so completely. I almost did myself! What began as a love affair with his music when Sukanya was a teenager grew to become a long and passionate relationship.

I have always been in awe of my sister’s beauty, her painting and her singing and her dancing. She is my heroine. And she would be Padmini in The Finger Puppet. At five, she gave a concert. And so many years ago, when I saw her lying broken on the hospital bed with a fractured spine, I knew I would never again see her dance the way she used to. Sukanya, too, was named after the wife of a sage.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Desktop To Launch

Those who knew the way I breeze through books, thought it foolhardy for me to be writing. But write, I did. However, many years of drivel later, I would find that my runaway eyes were not suited for editing. They were perfect for driving, sweeping like searchlights over road and land and horizon. But when it came to the printed page, my eyes waged war with the words.

As it happened, in 2006, a writer friend – unknowingly – taught me to read properly. Through text messaging. A word or sentence resting like a butterfly on the illuminated screen. Magical. I would flip open my cell-phone and read the words again and again, drawing my eyes together, forcing them to focus. This was about the time I drove friends and family up the wall with my incessant text-messaging.

Then it struck me to cut-out a horizontal window in a sheet of paper and trap sentences inside the rectangular opening. Hard work going over the pages in this manner, but my eyes felt less intimidated by the imprisoned words and swiftly brought to my attention any deviant behavior. Still, when it came time for meeting with my editor at HarperCollins India, I was unprepared for the extent of revising I was expected to do.

I can’t do it. I text messaged the writer friend.
Get on with it, was the reply.

The message on the screen had a mesmerizing effect on me. I shut up and got on with it, doing my final rewrite at the Ravi Shankar Center in Delhi and then a sentence-by- sentence polish upon my return to Houston. In the first sentence alone, I changed the verb from put, to applied, to touched, to pressed, to smeared and eventually to stabbed, Tara stabbed a dot of red to her forehead. There were only a few thousand more sentences to cut or clean up. If my manuscript had not been snatched out of my hands and sent to the press, I’m sure I’d still be working on it :)

"If you don't wear a sari, there will be no launch today," my sister said when I laid out my black T-shirt and black trousers to wear for my book launch in the Rock Garden, at the India International Center, Delhi. It had been so long since I wore a sari and hence the gracelessness -- I'm the one in the black sari, oh at least I got to wear black! I'm laughing so hard at this picture.

Monday, December 8, 2008

High Security Alert

I was reading of the high security alert in Mumbai airport and thinking back of the time when security was not quite so alert, when I walked in and out of Bush Continental with a butcher knife in my handbag.

No, it was not for carving meat, animal or human. My visiting niece, staying with family at a hotel, wanted sugarcane and my husband immediately got her one. And a heavy duty knife to cut it with. Later, as we were leaving, I put the knife, hilt down, in my handbag and capped the tip of the blade with a lemon. But we were not heading home, we were going to the airport to see off my family. Those days, we could go right up to the gates. Only when I was in front of the security guard, did I remember the knife. I pulled it out of my handbag and gave it to him and said, ‘Would you keep it for me, please? I’ll pick it up on my way out.’ He waved me off, chuckling. Three times, that day, I walked in and out of security with the knife on me.

That was not all. Post 9/11, when I got to the head of the queue in Bush Continental Airport, I realized that my flight was from Hobby Airport, about an hour's drive in the opposite direction. Oh please, could you not put me on any flight to Atlanta from here? (I was using my frequent flyer miles and so it was a bit of a roundabout route to India; I had to catch a connecting flight in Atlanta). Even cargo would be fine, I said. The airline put me on the next flight for Atlanta. And security was a breeze. In Atlanta, I got on the plane, sat down, buckled myself and watched the others stash their carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment.

I had a carry-on myself. Once upon a time my checked-in luggage got routed to another country, so I always pack at least three or four days' wear in my carry on, complete with formal shoes. Even now, when everything is available in India. I wouldn't want to have to shop the moment I land. And besides, I'm extremely finicky about what I wear. Even though my wardrobe is simple enough, blackish black, grayish black, brownish black, bluish black, reddish black, whitish black. A friend peering into my closet, said, ‘Anu it's like I'm falling into a black hole.’ Lately, I have tossed in some colors. See? I’m getting bolder. Anyways, back to the carry-on. Where was my carry-on? I hadn’t brought it on board. I knew I had it on me when I was in Atlanta. I must have left it at the help desk (whenever possible, I avoid reading signs and prefer asking).

My bag! My bag! I jumped out of my seat and ran out of the plane with two flight attendants chasing after me, M’am you’re not to step off the plane once you get on board (until destination, of course). Their voices flew over my head (I heard some clicks and buzz on their radios) as I ran out the gates and to the desk where a group of airport officials were perhaps on the point of calling a bomb squad. 'That’s mine, that’s mine, that’s mine!' I cried out. ‘I knew it had to be you,’ spoke someone, on seeing me come charging out.

Do I really look so completely out of sync with the world? This October, when I went to San Diego, I forgot to take my jacket off and place it in the basket along with my shoes and handbag, and my dear carry-on. When I stepped through the metal detector, the guard looked at me and said, ‘You have your coat on.’ I took a step back saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ He dropped his head sideways on his right shoulder and appraised me -- the way parrot astrologers in India cock their heads. ‘Nah, you’re OK,’ he said. I was a trifle miffed that I wasn’t asked to step out and leave my jacket in the basket.

Next time, perhaps.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I'm Not The Only Anu Jayanth

I googled Anu Jayanth - perhaps to confirm that I exist - and it seems that I'm not the only Anu Jayanth.

There's also another Anu Jayanth, in Facebook. In a quick email exchange I learnt that her name is indeed Anu Jayanth and she has more right to the name, Anu, than I do. Anu is her name in full. Mine is short for Anusuya, the first four letters of which have often caused me some embarrassment. I was named after the mythological Anusuya, wife of the sage, Atri.

And then there is Anu Jayanth who "by God's grace reached Auckland safely". I happen to live in the US. Safely or unsafely, I dont know. One has to only read the news to learn that there's just so much grace a God can give and the rest is all really up to man.

And then there is Anu Jayant. Note, this one spells her last name ending with a 't'. And she has written something to Hrithik Roshan on his Bollywood wallpaper. Good grief! That, most emphatically, is not me.

Incidentally, Jayanth should not even be my last name. It's actually my husband's first name. As it was in many parts of South India (is it still?), we didn't have such a thing as a last name...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why Do I Blog?

Lately, the days have been growing shorter and although I left very early in the evening for Austin, it was quite dark when I got off the I-10 and onto the 71 heading west. I enjoy driving though not at night. What if a deer or raccoon dashed across? After the tense two and a half hour drive, my shoulders were all bunched up and my neck had stiffened. I unpacked and went straight to bed, but woke up well before dawn and reached out in the darkness for my laptop. Out of habit I punched in my email ID. There was something from Stratfor in my mailbox. On the urging of a friend whose passion is geopolitics, I had signed up for Stratfor’s email delivery. I flagged the article for later reading.

True to Stratfor’s claim that they do not simply publish news but deliver in-depth intelligent analysis, the lonely news article in my email inbox drew comparisons between the New York Landmarks plot and the Mumbai attack. This was the sort of intelligent, relevant to the times stuff that the geopolitics geek expected me to spout on my blog? Waaah! To add to my anguish, the words, Identity Crisis, that my eyes had grabbed from another blogger's had me going through an identity crisis myself. I pulled out all my posts and by midday my blog was blank. I did not feel any better.

What was the purpose of my blogging?

To write freely.

Does it matter what other people thought of it?

No. Well, actually, yes it does, but I have to get over that. This is about the rebuilding of me.

Fortunately, I had moved all my posts to the draft folder and not deleted them. I brought them all out again. Without audacity, the artist in me might just as well remain dead. At the moment, I honestly cannot deal with the kind of crazy things that's happening in the world. When I’m troubled, words start to leap about, as if a million millipedes were dancing all over my computer screen. I have to, have to, have to hold beautiful thoughts in my mind. Like the time when my painting was turning black because I was mulling over the past and I began to despair, a dragonfly flew into my garage-studio, hovered in front of the thickly layered painting that had a tar-like stickiness to it. Oh please don’t get stuck in the paints! I waved my arms, I waved my brush. The dragonfly turned toward me like a fighter plane and then took off into the sun, its wings shimmering with color, bringing back the radiance in me, in my painting.