Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

 I come from a line of extroverts on my father’s side. My grandmother, aunts, uncles and father would, did and do talk to anyone, anywhere. Giving advice, cross-examining, flirting (or serious womanizing) and making the joke was/is their forte. Arms folded across the waist, they would inquire into life, love, getting people to open up and tell their stories. Macocious some might say.

I have some of that personality trait myself and now, it is in high relief. Not having family and friends here, I talk to any and everyone who will talk back to me in Bangkok. People are being polite, including the Jamaican sister who I hugged so tightly as to come off as perhaps a bit creepy.

Extreme solitude, otherwise more accurately described as loneliness, will do that.

As someone who also loves solitude, being alone here in Bangkok has not been a torture. I had the habit of waking up early to a quiet, sleeping house, having a good hour without conversation. Running alone and being quiet with a book. And so, knowing that the fab family will join me, in bits and pieces soon enough, I can withstand and put the occasional bouts of loneliness in perspective.

I good.

But there are things, events for which you must have cultural company. And one of those I experienced today, going to see the latest James Bond “Skyfall’ solo mio.

Well folks, if there is one thing to see at the movies now, it is Skyfall. And go with a group. Or in any event if you do not have a group, go alone only if you are in a verbal culture where folks will talk back to the screen.

The movie is awash with moments when you want to hit the person next to you and say: Nah, never happen! What I seeing there? What kind of stupid ass question is that? Cheese on bread. Hegas! Bourne done do dat already! Oh gorm, that man sexy on that boat in his white shirt.

And so many clever, witty one liners to repeat right away : Last rat standing!

The movie, people, is the bomb, as the young people used to say. A completely, high impact, enjoyable experience. You do not want it to end.

I have had little to no respect for Bond of movies past. Including Casino Royale. Bond irritated me with his suave, clichéd patriarchal, slimy, ogling, entitled ways with women. I could care less, stirred or shaken. And so I was ripe for the picking with Matt Damon’s Bourne. Muscular, (the man and the movie), post-feminist vulnerability, Damon’s Bourne was a spy for the twenty-first century. Gritty, street fighter and yes, sexy, sexy.

The last Bourne was a fake and I hope that was the beginning and end of a Damon-less Bourne. But to tell the truth now, this Skyfall Bond is the new Bourne. Plus.

And what a way, the de-sexied Javier Bardem stole scenes.

Go see it. And talk back!


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Moving towards the light

In ‘This is How You Lose Her’, a book of connected-ish short stories, Junot  Diaz makes the point of his protagonist being from the Caribbean and of the African diaspora. Throughout the book (colourful and complex tales of migration, masculinity  and of sucio womanisers extraordinaire), we come unexpectedly on references to women who are douglas and coco panyols and Laxmi who is ‘technically from Guyana’.

A brainiac writer/academic of Dominican Republic origin, Diaz’s work rouses thought about privilege and gender and ethnic ‘othering’. The book is full of talk,  the author capturing with brio how people can act and speak in the language of prejudices when with friends, in families and communities (in private spheres).

Like so many books about the Caribbean and like so many discussions we have about ourselves, the book keeps describing women in tones- mulatto, negra, blanquita, morena.

I am not sure if that literary preoccupation with skin colour is peculiar to the Caribbean, but what appears to be the case is that the dread of skin darkness, the preference for light, has some global resonance.

In the pharmacies and beauty salons in Bangkok, any number of products that promise ‘whitening’. Skins creams for whitening, face moisturizer for whitening, even deodorants promise the whitening of the underarms. I found a tamarind soap about which I was so excited for the sheer creativity of the idea. But that soap too, its magical chemical property was its whitening agent.

And the products work if you count ashy lime-like residue on the skin like so much gym shoe whitener pre Nike.

The language of whitening is used with calculation for the market. And it is this point that Junot Diaz makes in this video below: the triumph of the European aesthetic, which also applies to literature,  has momentum because the world of peoples, across continents and ethnicities, embrace it with gusto.

And indeed defend it, as when we stubbornly claim that the majority of African descent women who go through their whole lives, straightening, weaving and wigging their hair are only expressing ‘fashion choice’.

This is what the political sociologists would call hegemony. Cultural influences that are so dominant and dominating as to be the ‘natural’ order of things.

Here is the Junot Diaz exchange.

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We are at that stage in our lives, those of us fifty somethings, where we must say goodbye to those of our parents’ generation. So it goes. The cliche of the cycle of life.

The thing I imagine about losing a life partner, one with whom one shared friendship, apart from all else in a long union, is perhaps the feeling of   bereftness. I do not want to dwell on it but just to share a poem by W.H.  Auden which like all good poetry, is accessible and expressive of emotions that we would all recognise:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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Another Poem by Wislawa Szymborska


Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immermorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzling straight and simple.
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

For more: http://www.poetseers.org/nobel_prize_for_literature/wislawa_szymborska/library/

 (Thanks Bertha)

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I had not heard of Wislawa Szymborska until this morning. A Nobel Prize wnner of 1996. who died this week. Here are two of her poems:


I’ll never find out now
What A. thought of me.
If B. ever forgave me in the end.
Why C. pretended everything was fine.
What part D. played in E.’s silence.
What F. had been expecting, if anything.
Why G. forgot when she knew perfectly well.
What H. had to hide.
What I. wanted to add.
If my being around
meant anything
to J. and K. and the rest of the alphabet

Some people

Some people flee some other people.
In some country under a sun
and some clouds.

They abandon something close to all they’ve got,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens.

Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.

What happens quietly: someone’s dropping from exhaustion.

What happens loudly: someone’s bread is ripped away,
Someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.

Always another wrong road ahead of them,
Always another wrong bridge
Across an oddly reddish river.
Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away,
Above them a phane seems to circle.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or a longer while.

Something else will happen, only where and what,
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won’t be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.

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Because of chronic inability to meet regularly, (people do not have the book, have the book but cannot be bothered to read it or get discouraged or bored, or are travelling or have papers to write or just have a life) we have hit upon a nice compromise which allows us to meet, feast and talk – an ad hoc film club.

Recently we viewed A Hand Full of Dirt, a movie written and directed by Russell Watson. I guess one might say that it is a Barbadian film, but the whole time watching I kept thinking that it was exactly the kind of work that we would recognise as Caribbean if we were one nation and not belonging to one or another parochial island part. The accents are not from any one place and the visuals can be from anywhere in the Caribbean really. With relief, I report that the island is not a character in the movie. No iconic shots. No stray black belly sheep about or sea. Not even any cane fields or sunsets.

The usual big themes of race and class are the backdrop but that is for the audience to discern as the film stays away from those pulpits. But other big themes take shape- that of masculinity, power and patriarchy and belonging.

In a nutshell, the movie is about three man-generations of the Redman family, the patriarch, Ben, a first generation black plantation owner, a curmudgeon accustomed to bending the will of others and living for himself. He abuses his wife with his hands and his contempt and pours scorn and disappointment on the head of his son, Archie.

Even striking out on his own, Archie lives in the long and asseted shadow of his father and the viewer cringes with every mendicant interaction between them. Forced to beg bailouts for ventures gone awry, Archie too has little talent for building genuine emotional partnership, re-living in his own marriage his father’s vicious ill-regard for his wife.

As he rejects his father, so too, in the turn of the generations, Archie is dismissed by his son Jay, who is desperate to escape family commitments and make life anew in foreign. But he too is a dependent.

Reading our next book club choice, The Sense of an Ending, the protagonist posits that good literature allows the reader to share in the growth of its characters. And this film does that quite well with Archie (played by Alwyn Bully) who is humbled by economic defeat, the false bonhomie of the vulture bankers, by his sensible wife’s liberation, his son’s emotional distance and betrayal, his father’s bile and the expectations of his staff. One senses  inner struggle as he accommodates himself to life on a reduced scale.

As with all movies, this one has some issues for sure. After all, you try making a full length feature film on a conference budget. For one, I wondered about the casting of Jay. The actor seemed too old and therefore, it was hard to identify with his defiant dependency. If you do not like your father, for crying out loud, stop calling him for money already!

By what standard do we judge Caribbean film? Is it a universal standard, as represented by the  uber-professional, ultra-financed films of Hollywood or the those of Bollywood, cultural products of generations of prodigious film making?

I think that with books, we can judge by the universal standard of what appeals without more. After all, nothing gets in between the author and page quality.  Or between an artist and the canvas or a sculptor and her materials. With film, it is otherwise. Film making is dependent on many moving parts, all of which require resources, financial and technical. We have little collective knowledge of making movies, less money and  least aesthetic interest.

When we look at Caribbean films therefore, it can be hard to see the  stories undistracted by the resource constraints that shape the choices of sound, of visuals, of editing. In A Hand Full of Dirt, there are some distractions. But  the story grips you right to the end.

This film succeeds in its storytelling and spirit. It is Watson’s first film. And you have to wonder at and celebrate  this achievement in the face of our generalised indifference to the lives of artists. Well except for those who make us jump, wave, move to the left and dollar wine.

 Do make a point of seeing this film.

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I will not still my voice!
I have
too much to claim—
if you see me
looking at books
or coming to your house
or walking in the sun
know that I look for fire!

I have learnt
from books dear friend
of men dreaming and living
and hungering in a room without a light
who could not die since death was far too poor
who did not sleep to dream, but dreamed to change
the world.

And so
if you see me
looking at your hands
listening when you speak
marching in your ranks
you must know
I do not sleep to dream, but dream to change
the world.

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