Words. By Tom Robbins.

Some advice to writers by Tom Robbins. From here.

  • Challenge every single sentence; challenge it for lucidity, accuracy, originality, and cadence. If it doesn’t meet the challenge, work on it until it does.
  • Remember that language is not the frosting, it’s the cake. Rhythmical language and vivid imagery possess a power of effect that is independent from content.
  • Don’t talk about it – you’ll talk it away. Let the ideas flow from your mind to the page without exposing them to air. Especially hot air.
  • If you don’t actually like to write, love to write, feel driven and compelled to write — then you’re probably better off abandoning your ambition in favor of a more legitimate career.
  • Never be afraid to make a fool of yourself. The furthest out you can go is the best place to be (but pushing the envelope has to come naturally, you can’t force it.)
  • Always compare yourself to the best. Even if you never measure up, it can’t help but make you better.
  • Write every day without fail, even if it’s only for half an hour, even if you’re savagely hung over and your grandmother has just fallen out of a third-story window.
  • Above all, have a good time. If you aren’t enjoying writing it, you can hardly expect someone else to enjoy reading it.

And this.

Metaphors have the capacity to heat up a scene and eternalize an image, to lift a line of prose out of the mundane mire of mere fictional reportage and lodge it in the luminous honeycomb of the collective psyche.

Am besotted with Robbins’ work.



This blog post is made of words

C. introduced me to a friend of his. We got talking, and the friend at some point asked, “What interests you?”

“Words,” I immediately replied.

A second later, I added, “thoughtfully strewn together.”

I knew myself that moment. That moment was Keatsian joy.


Came across the following from Tom Robbins. A writer I hadn’t heard of until today.

“This sentence is made of lead (and a sentence of lead gives a reader an entirely different sensation from one made of magnesium). This sentence is made of yak wool. This sentence is made of sunlight and plums. This sentence is made of ice. This sentence is made from the blood of the poet. This sentence was made in Japan. This sentence glows in the dark. This sentence was born with a caul. This sentence has a crush on Norman Mailer. This sentence is a wino and doesn’t care who knows it. Like many italic sentences, this one has Mafia connections. This sentence is a double Cancer with Pisces rising. This sentence lost its mind searching for the perfect paragraph. This sentence refuses to be diagrammed. This sentence ran off with an adverb clause. This sentence is 100 percent organic: it will not retain a facsimile of freshness like those sentences of Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe et al., which are loaded with preservatives. This sentence leaks. This sentence doesn’t look Jewish. This sentence has accepted Jesus Christ as its personal savior. This sentence once spit in a book reviewer’s eye. This sentence can do the funky chicken. This sentence has seen too much and forgotten too little. This sentence is called “Speedoo” but its real name is Mr. Earl. This sentence may be pregnant. This sentence suffered a split infinitive – and survived. If this sentence had been a snake you’d have bitten it. This sentence went to jail with Clifford Irving. This sentence went to Woodstock. And this little sentence went wee wee wee all the way home.”
– Tom Robbins
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

This sentence is made of my mad, mad love for that excerpt. This sentence would scale my rooftop to shout for joy for that newfound love. This sentence is resting quietly letting that joy sink in. This sentence is amazed at the polarisation my thoughts endow me with. This sentence quietly declared: Ah, words!


yes is a world
& in this world of yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

-E.E. Cummings


There are things to do. And there are things to think.

There will always be things to do. We are adept at inventing them.

Things to think. Well, those are always there too, I suppose. But the mind isn’t always willing to think.

Things to do are relegated today. But I don’t know if things to think took precedence. Am sitting here in a soft spot of sunshine on campus, just watching things. No, am not thinking things. I see three groups of school children playing volley ball, two groups playing cricket, and at least one other group discussing something amongst themselves, what I presume to be fantastically interesting, for I see them burst into occasional peals of laughter. There are the two new pups on campus playing around amidst the grass, chasing butterflies and all manners of insects. Even the occasional honking of vehicles on the road nearby and the definitely-cold-breeze aren’t strong enough to uproot me from where I am perched. There’s nothing to think now. Yet, there are things to think. Strangely enough, am reminded of Robert Bly.

Savour this:

Things to Think
Robert Bly

Think in ways you’ve never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged: or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Of the little monkey that wanted to become big and strong. Or, the story.

S. is a sprightly kid, cute as a button. She is in the IInd grade.

We talk about her school often whenever I see her. I mostly catch her doing her homework assignments though. A good kid — does her assignments by herself, and then busies herself in her own games.

The other day, she came into my room asking if I would help her with her assignment. When I said yes, she placed her notebook in front of me. It was an English assignment.

The little monkey wanted to become big and strong.

State true or false.

That was the question she wanted an answer to. I smiled.

“Where’s your textbook?” I asked.

“In my bag,” she said.

She didn’t seem to understand that one would need the textbook to read the monkey’s story first in order to answer her question. But soon enough, she produced her textbook and the next thing I know, I was reading the monkey’s story out loud to her.

There was apparently a little monkey who wanted to become big and strong. A wise woman gives him a magic wand, with the help of which the monkey could become whatever he wanted. I don’t remember the correct order of events, but enamoured by other animals in the forest, the monkey with the help of his magic wand transforms himself into a creature that has an elephant’s trunk, a giraffe’s neck, a zebra’s body and so forth. And it then so happens that this ‘transformed’ monkey looks at his reflection in the river and cries out believing himself to be a monster. The monkey’s mother then pacifies him and makes him understand the futility of wanting to be someone else. The monkey with the help of his magic wand, becomes his usual monkey-self again.

That is the gist of story little S. had in her book. And now I (and you) know the answer to the question S. wanted help with. Both of us went through this and the remaining questions in her assignment, and that was the end of that.

Or, was it? Sometimes, I think, we too are like little S. here, looking only for the answer. The story remains forgotten. And without understanding the story, what good would those answers ever be to us?

The 7th National Science Film Festival, India.

The country’s Science Film Festival is back. Entries are being sought, and there is still time untill the 15th of December to send in your creation(s).

Details attached.

An Art Gallery. Thoughts.

The last weekend, chatting with someone, I was posed that dreaded question: what plans for the weekend? And I honestly replied:

The Jaganmohan Palace; need a high dose of culture.

I was bored out of my wits, and thought a visit to the art gallery would somehow bestow inspiration upon me. Inspiration to do what, I had no idea. But inspiration is a good thing, and so I wanted it.

But as with all things that start off with misplaced intentions, this thing too didn’t lead me anywhere. I continued to vegetate at home post that conversation, wondering about Newton’s Ist Law. I was in a state of inertia, and would need something monumental to budge me from my said-sized inertia. But real life, let’s face it, is: real, and that much-desired monumental intervention didn’t come to fore.

The last couple of days have been a different story, however. No, Woody Allen isn’t scripting my life all of a sudden. But come to think of it, if he did, I’d enjoy my life’s screenplay. But anyway, here’s that not-quite-allusion to Newton’s Ist Law once again. Any object (also) continues to be a in a state of motion until acted upon by an external force. I am tempted to believe there should be a shiny, quote-worthy equivalent sentiment of this in Psychology. I mean, this just seems so straighforward that someone should have thought of it already. But then, just because this is too straightforward, maybe everyone by-passed it. I don’t know, I am just speaking my mind rather too freely here. Oh no, wait. Wallace did say: This is water. And that had people raving about it.

But anyway, here’s the different story Woody Allen didn’t at all script. I finally got back to books. Not class-prep books, not must-read books, but just books. And I also got myself to the Art Gallery/Palace. Not because of the culture dosage, not because of the touristy-things to be done, but I just did. I wanted to.

On to the art gallery first. I don’t think I have an aesthetic sense of art. I remember standing at the Louvre in front of Mona Lisa, staring at it for minutes on end. What was I hoping for? An Aha! moment wherein Da Vinci’s thoughts entering into me by some strange process, and turning my life around such that I finally “got” Mona Lisa? Obviously, that didn’t happen, and I continue to not get Mona Lisa.

But anyway back to Jaganmohan Art Gallery. I felt sad at the decrepitude the palace has fallen into. Royal to plebeian, that is what the building’s transformation has been. Just at the entrance to the Ist Art Gallery, there is a large open space that looked like a durbar/hall to me. I could be wrong because there was a large pillar smack dab at the centre of this space. But there were balconies on the first floor from where one could look down into this spacious hall. I imagined ranis sitting there enjoying a dance performance or some such. But even that imagination felt heavy; the flight just refused to take off beyond that.

It was good to see paintings of the Wodeyar kings. I admit to knowing very little history of this dynasty, but then the paintings by themselves aren’t the history lessons I need. To my eyes it seemed like Krishna Raja Wodeyar and Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar seemed to dominate the installations in their various regalia. I’d have loved to see the paintings of their wives, but I don’t know if the royal family has paintings of the queens as well for posterity.

The rather small section on Tipu Sultan was the one that moved me. That is perhaps because I knew a wee bit about him, thanks to Doordarshan. There were paintings of Tipu Sultan’s last battle to save the Srirangapatna fort, which appeared poignant to me. And there was one particular painting depicting Tipu Sultan’s family “finding” his body after the battle. Evoked a sense of pathos. And then there were a couple of paitings of Tipu’s sons being “sent away”. I don’t know why and where they were sent away, but seeing those paintings too, I felt something move within.

The second floor had paintings by Ravi Varma and several other Indian artists. “Expectations”. That was one theme many of the artists had expressed on. Quite a difficult word, that: expectations. More so than other paintings, I wonder if we ever get what the artist meant with such a theme. All we are ever left with is our interepretation of their rendition. There was one particular painting by A B Bannerjee titled Nectar that I remember. It showed a woman holding a goblet of nectar with just the faintest glimpse of a smile. It was understandably a painting of an Indian woman, and that faint wisp of a smile adorning her lips made for a picture with possibilities. I loved seeing that.

Another that caught my eye was titled Matsyagandhi. This depicted King Shantanu, Satyvati and her father, with the much told storyline being the relinquishment by Bhishma of the throne for the sake of his father’s love for Satyvavati. The artist here, had shown a basket containing fish, which made sense. But what I didn’t quite get was the depiction of  a very angry looking rooster in the painting. I wondered if  there was some philosophical underpinning to having the bird there.

F M Soofi’s Panther Killing Peacock took me aback for a while. It was, as the title suggests, a picture of a panther killing a peacock, with the bird’s long colourful tail feathers – all crumbled up – also depicted. I had quite honestly never thought of a peacock this way ever. Preening in all their refulgent glory – that’s what peacocks did in my mind. This alternative story in which they get killed took me a while to get my mind around.

Venkatappa’s Modaka Neivedya to Lord Ganesha made me smile. It showed Ganesha actually accepting the modaka affered to him by the devotee.

The second floor of the building houses musical instruments – Indian and western. Sitars, veenas, a standing harmonium, harps, a dulcimer, jaltarangs. There is also a separate enclosure that shows musical instruments that Krishnaraja Wodeyar himself played.

I really wished the gallery was better maintained. In at least a couple of places the brooms apparently used to clean the place were placed in open view of the visitors. (As an aside, at the Jayalakshmi Vilas, I caught sight of a Colin glass cleaner discreetly tucked away in a corner).

I almost forgot this: there was quite an impressive collection of intricately carved ivory articles in the gallery. There were the usual jewel boxes, combs, animal figurines, the not so usual canon, but two things in particular, caught my eye. One: Fly wisp. I didn’t know this thing was called a fly wisp until today. It is that thing that attendants standing behind the king/queen fan them with. Made me grin really wide. And two: ivory carvings of elephants themselves.

Having said all that, I would still recommend this place to visitors. But one should perhaps go visit the place, having done some research on the Wodeyar kings, Tipu Sultan et al. That is when one wouldn’t feel too lost walking from one installation to another. Pictures of Nala Damayanthi and Salim Anarkali weren’t too lost on me. Those are stories we read growing up. Stories – these are perhaps why we visit art galleries and museums. Yes, there is information. There is knowledge. But unless all that information comes together in the form of a story, our time travel back to those ages would remain meaningless. But then again, gawking at disparate painting installations doesn’t give us a story. A great deal has to do with what we bring to the place. It’s only then we get to take back a story.

As I came out of the gallery, I stood right in front of the palace and the garden which seemed to be freshly tilled. Looking up at this old edifice with whithered paint, I had but one thought in my mind: I wish I was born in a different time to have seen it in its heyday. That must have been a vision to behold.

PS. Will write on the books in a separate post. This post by itself has become a big one.


Umm, hey!

Hey! A major case of must-blog-today afflicting me. But the mind is in a swirl, and I am doing this on auto-pilot.

This is the last teaching week of the semester, and am I glad that the semester is drawing to a close! To say that the past few months were hectic, would be an understatement! But there are things planned for the next month. But hopefully, it would not be as hectic given that there would be no teaching until the students get back for the next semester.

So, for any of you still checking on for updates, this is a note to say that the blog isn’t abandoned. And thank you for being around.