Monday, December 28, 2009

Hindi Pulp Art

Here are a few more samples of the 4000+ Hindi pulp novel covers by Mustajab Ahmed Siddiqui a.k.a. Shelle, the master painter of Amroha, U.P.  These didn't make it into our postcard book of his work, Heroes, Gundas, Vamps & Good Girls, but don't let that stop you from buying it.

There are so many damn guns, you know?  (Acutally Blaft has put a lot of guns on the covers of our own books too, and sometimes I feel guilty about it.  Dear customers: Promise you're not going to get all inspired to start stockpiling firearms and become all trigger-happy like a bunch of psycho American National Rifle Association members. OK? Please?)

This guy's blog has some nice examples of older covers, including some that appear to be Shelle's work.  And there are a bunch more in the nice online collection here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bizarre Chennai Kids' Clothing Slogans

by Rakesh

I used to get annoyed at how hard it was to find a T-shirt with a Tamil slogan on it. It still bugs me occasionally, because I find the Roman script one of the least attractive looking of all scripts (if you're not familiar with all the beautiful alphabets, abjads, and syllabaries on Omniglot, it's worth spending some time exploring). But I am now the proud owner of 2 of those popular yellow shirts given away free by the cement companies, which bear their company name and slogan (ராம்கோ சிமென்ட் -- சூப்பர் கிரேடு!) so I don't complain about it so much anymore.

Also, I've been starting to admire the exceedingly strange English slogans that appear in Chennai street fashion, on T-shirts and jeans. It seems that these are not really intended to be read -- it is enough that they are in English, or at least seem to be in some European language, and make vague references to hip or cool sounding "phoren" things like race cars. Or robots. Or dating.

Yesterday, we went Christmas shopping in Thiruvanmiyur; there were a number of kids on our list for whom we meant to buy clothes. We were really blown away by some of the slogans and designs on the kids' outfits at the shop... I think there is some sort of bizarre new textual art form emerging here. Check out this shirt sleeve:

Like, huh?  Is that in Latin for a minute?  Is there some deep Marxist-theoretical interpretation of the 1675 conflict between the Wampanoag Indians and the settlers of New England being referred to here?  What?

Here's another beauty:

I think some African-American literary critic types should be set loose on interpreting that one, I'd like to read what they came up with.

This one reminds me of some iterative-mutating-text experimental poetry I've read somewhere. I like all the different spellings of "Tahiti" and the use of capitals and full stops.

Then there are designs where it looks like the letters of a plaintext have been rearranged or partly encrypted by some algorithmic process.  This one appears to be mostly gibberish, but then note the "FANTASY GOLF" in the center.

There are some that are even more abstract, where it's hard to parse the letters:

I really want to know what that word right before "dreaming" means and how to pronounce it.

Anyway, I wonder where these nameless, brilliant designers are from: Tirupur? Ulhasnagar?  Somebody needs to write a manifesto, I think.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Nandan, Young Ornithologist of Neelankarai, reports

Today, we feature a report on the birds of South Chennai by Nandan Sankriti Kaushik, illustrated by his younger sister Sarayu.


Hi, I’m Nandan of class 3C. I like bird watching.

In my old apartment all I could see were screech owls, (known as barn owls), crows and hundreds of pigeons.

In July last year, we moved into a new house. I never thought we’d see so many birds! It was not like we were living with a large garden. Just a tiny one with a couple of trees and a few bushes that we’d planted.

There are, of course, crows--such noisy creatures--but especially noisy were the egrets, a whole family of them, nesting on the neighbours’ coconut and mango trees; including pond herons and night herons.

There are some jungle babblers that live around us. Funny little things. They attack rear view mirrors whenever they see one.

We have put out a bowl with clean water, for a birdbath, in the garden. The babblers look very cute when they stand around on the edge and take turns to jump in and out.

Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t have a camera nearby.

But, I’d like to tell you about an incident when we DID have a camera:

Early one morning, I was getting ready for school, when my mother called me to the garden. I saw a bird. We knew it was a cuckoo, but weren’t sure what kind. The crows were all making a racket and were trying to kill this bird. It was injured, and could not fly, so we put a basket over it and gave it a cup of water.

We called the Blue Cross. They said they’d come by 10 am.

I left for school. But at 3 pm., when I got back, they hadn’t yet come, and the cuckoo was still under the basket. When the Blue Cross came and rescued it, it was nearly 4 o’ clock!

They told us it was a red winged crested cuckoo and allowed me to touch it before they took it away. It felt like soft cat’s fur. Only thing it was feathers!

Cuckoos lay their eggs in crows’ nests. When the cuckoo hatches, it pushes all the other eggs or chicks out. No wonder the crows wanted to kill this crested cuckoo.

We used to see a couple of magpie robins, but now we don’t. I hope they’ll be back.

A couple of regular visitors are white breasted kingfishers. We can’t ever get a clear picture of them, so here’s one from the internet.

From December to February, if we go up to our terrace, we can see the lovely palm swifts flying in loops over our heads.

A couple of kites tried to make a nest in our coconut tree, but the crows chased them away because they already had a nest there.

Speaking of nests, for the last couple of months we’ve been watching a pair of tailor birds build their nest, and flit in and out. We thought they must have eggs or a hatchling in it. But since the rains started they seem to have abandoned the nest.

Drongos on a wire are quite a common sight, but they still look lovely.

We get occasional treats, one time sightings, of some birds; once it was a red crested woodpecker, once a golden oriole. Just last week I saw a male and female pair of koels, right from my bedroom window! And on the bush next to them was a treepie!

Only two days ago I saw a crow and an owl fighting. The owl flew into the neighbour’s neem tree and stayed there for a few minutes. I tried to get a view of its head, but when I jumped down from our “thinnai” seat, and looked up, it was gone. I ran and fetched my binoculars. My mother said it had peeped out from under the roof next door, but we couldn’t spot it again. It was probably a barn owl. It had a white back with brown spodges, and that was all I saw. I couldn’t see its face.

There are lots of bids to see in the city… 

We just have to stop, and look up. Thank you.

The illustrator and the author at Pulikat Lake

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Questioning Miss Kuzhali Manickavel

Halwa is
Halwa was
Halwa will be...

For (the) beginning: We have interviewed the very talented Miss Kuzhali Manickavel of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, a bantamweight wonder-woman of the written word, a flash fiction practitioner and connoisseur of all types of written/filmed/sung/animated A-1 100-per-cent quality stuff. Here is what her very excellent book looks like:

You can buy it here. You can also check out her brand-spanking-new blog here.

1) What makes you want to write, as opposed to being a deep sea pearl diver, or Tamil Nadu's premier reggae songstress, or a designer of personalized teleportation eggs that come in customized colors made from the shells of discarded tea kadai tea kettles?

I am going to take some advice from someone (a wise someone. A wise someone who is also my sister and insisted I refer to them as a wise someone) who said I should be more like Judi Dench during interviews. I’m not sure what that means but anyway.

I don’t know what makes me want to write.

That’s not a very JudiDench answer, I try better next time.

2) If you got an opportunity to star in a movie anywhere in the world, what would your dream role be?

I’m thinking something like maybe a village setting, there’s maybe a drought and everyone is dying and then like this women’s soccer team comes from America because they have this crucial game against this English or maybe German team so they need players who are awesome and unconventional so they come to India and they see me just walking through the fields that are all droughted and stuff and they’re like oh my god you have to play for our team, you’re so awesome and I’m like no and I’m sad and emaciated but I can speak really good English so they’re like oh no please you have to, you speak good English and I’m like no but then I say yes and then we go for the tournament and the other team are like playing dirty and they have black hair and they keep glaring at us in slow motion but we persevere and we win because we are awesome and unconventional and it starts to rain and I say oh my village needs this rain and I am here in this rain and my village is over there and it’s not in the rain and everyone cries but I don’t because I am awesome and unconventional.

3) Who have influenza beg your pardon influenced you as a writer?

You remember there was that song about virus fever? That was a cool song. I liked that song very much, I’m going to go find it.

I found it and it is not as cool as I remembered it.

4) What comes to mind when I say

a) Cut Piece-
sari blouse
b) Lithium-
c) Cycle Gap-
d) High Class Veg Hotel-
e) Leave Letter-
As I am suffering from fever,
f) One by two-
Qwattar with Wattar

5) Is the world ending in 2012?

I don’t think the JudiDench thing is going very well, do you? I try harder.

6) What are your favorite books? Please name between 4 to 7 (all good Tamil girls go to heaven!)

1. Jude the Obscure- Thomas Hardy

2. Catch 22- Joseph Heller

3. The Others- Robert Ferro

5. Brave New World- Aldous Huxley

6. The Phantom Tollbooth- Norton Juster

7. Behind the Attic Wall- Sylvia Cassedy

7) What is your take on Indian writing in English?


I think it’s good that more seems to be happening now with Indian writing in English than before. I think it’s especially great that graphic novels are being done and translations seem to be taken a little more seriously. I’m glad to see new publishing houses coming up. However it does seem to me that a lot of Indian writing in English seems to be very safe. It’s written adeptly and you can’t fault the writing in a technical sense (most of the time). But the themes, plot lines, narrative structures, sometimes just the basic ideas have all been seen/done before. I sometimes get feedback that English writing from India always seems to be dry, heavy, boring, completely void of humor. And I don’t think this is true, we’re very funny people. It seems like this vast category of Indian Writing in English is being represented by a very narrow field of fiction and a handful of writers. There IS more out there and it would be great if we could tap into that rather than just stick to what’s safe.

Secondly, I think there’s some baggage with Indian Writing in English that we need to deal with. There’s still this notion that English is a “better” language. And I think that is at the root of this truly bizarre notion that if you can speak English or if you read English books, that naturally qualifies you to write English fiction. I’ve read some truly horrific pieces of oh-my-gawd-just-put-sporks-in-my-eyes-to-make-it-stop-hurting writing by people who were already convinced their writing was excellent because they felt their English was strong- the fiction aspect of it was completely disregarded, it was written in English and that was somehow enough. And it’s hard to provide any kind of critique to this person because they honestly won’t understand what you’re saying. The baggage, the way we think of English as a language is really in the way and I think we need to come to terms with that.

My final point, which I guess ties in with my previous one, is that I think we need to accept Indian English for what it is, rather than think it is “bad English”. For one thing, I think it’s a supreme mindfuck to use this language in the way we use it and also have this deep-seated feeling that this language is wrong or bad because it isn’t American English or British English or whatever. That’s not healthy. We also need to be a little more honest about how we use other languages along with our English. Once I was just observing a casual conversation between friends and they were using six different languages in the same conversation. That’s pretty awesome when you think about it. When I try to write in Indian English (which I guess is a problematic term in itself) people laugh and then they say, well how are people outside India going to understand this? I don’t think that should be our immediate concern. When American writers write something filled with regionalisms or allusions to facets of American and western culture, I don’t think they are worried about whether the Indians are going to get it.

8) Chidambaram: temple city. Tell us about it from your own two eyes (as opposed to the ones you stole from the 18-year-old exchange student from Norway.)

The school I went to in Chidambaram once made a big deal about building nice bathrooms for us because we didn’t have proper bathrooms before and then they had a big opening ceremony for the bathrooms and they drew rangoli and they called in a special guest to open the bathrooms and make a speech which was probably about bathrooms and then when the ceremony was over they locked the bathrooms and said we couldn’t use them because they said we didn’t know how to use bathrooms properly. And the teacher’s bathroom was at the end of the hall from our class and whenever certain teachers went to the bathroom they would take off their chappals and wear one of ours (which were lined up outside) to go to the bathroom, which is gross and insulting so we had a chappal lookout who would say ‘blue chappal yaaru pa’ and the unfortunate soul who owned the blue chappals had to go to the water pump and wash them and sometimes other girls went with them for company and consolation and while the unfortunate soul washed their chappals and we would go to the stores and buy cheeni mittai.

The word ‘bathroom’ appeared in this answer 10 times. 11.

9) What do you get if you a cross a sand lorry with a meen body vandi and an old buffalo?

Why would you want to do that?

10) Your advice to the writer in all of us / to the ones who want to write for a living / or just for jolly-would-be?

I don’t think I’m qualified to give any kind of writing advice. Still, in the spirit of Judi Dench, I will try to answer this illustrious question.

1. Read Everything- I think this is in direct contradiction with a rule that says you should only read/write/school yourself in work of your own genre. But if your access to reading material is limited, then read everything you can get your hands one. Even if it is something you normally wouldn’t read or aren’t interested in, read it anyway. Even if your access to reading material isn’t limited, I think one should at least see what else is out there and learn to appreciate it, make an effort to understand what makes different kinds of writing strong or not so good.

2. Read Bad Writing- I think this is also in direct contradiction with another rule but I believe a lot can be learned by reading really bad writing. The trick is not just to read it, but also to figure out why it doesn’t work for you. I think it’s interesting to do this with movies/TV shows (which I think is in contradiction with yet another rule that says writers shouldn’t watch TV. See? I really shouldn’t be giving writing advice.).

3. Read Work In Other Languages- I think the more languages you understand, the world is that much wider and you can learn and absorb a lot by reading/listening/watching work in different languages. If you can’t read in other languages, listen to radio plays, watch TV programs, street plays, etc. While the stories themselves might be familiar, it’s interesting to pay attention to how the language is used, how things are described, what swear words are used, how people describe love, how they describe happiness, states of wealth. I think this encourages you to use your own language a little differently, instead of relying on the same words in the same order, the same descriptors.

This was also too long.

11) In what direction does the crow fly?

I’ve never really understood what that means. Wouldn’t you know which direction the crow flies in if you watch it fly? As in wouldn’t you know it went that way or whatever?

I’m not being JudiDench anymore.