Category: Apoorva

Dinner at Mama Makan

We had dinner at Mama Makan. Though for Hindi speakers it sounds like Mama’s house, in Indonesian it means Mama’s Food. The concept is that you are at Mama’s kicthen, sitting on the table, with mismatched yet charming plates, old quaint cutlery that is heavy and solid like Mama’s love (I suppose), and Mama brings out her passionately cooked meals, just for you.

Perhaps this is the reason why the service is so indulgent. The food is a mix of continental favorites like herb crusted rack of lamb, roast monkfish, and tournedos rossini, as well as Indonesian delights such as Gado Gado, Nasi Goreng, and Kari Ayam.

We ate the Ikan Masak Lemak, poached fish in rich turmeric sauce, along with Sate Campur, assorted satays, and white wine risotto with grey shrimps, broad beans, asparagus and poached egg. The food was exceptional, perfect portion size, beautifully presented, tasty, and not too spicy or oily.

We drank Indonesian beer called Bintang, which the hostess said was, “better than Heineken,” Apoorva informed us that Bintang was a Heineken product, so no offence was taken in that accord.

For dessert, I had the black glutinous rice with fresh mango and coconut cream, the rice was chewier than I expected. The Sulawesi chocolate ice ceam, I was informed, was the best chocolate ice cream ever. This judgement might have been clouded by the champagne we had earlier in the evening, followed by the copious amounts of Bintang.

We were presented a plate of tropical fruit because we were celebrating and offered (another) glass of champagne, which we turned down, because we are officially middle-aged and at 7:30pm wanted to call it a night, get back home, read our book, listen to some old songs, play some games on the iPad, and sleep.

A meal for three, with drinks, cost us: 85 euros with tip, which for the experience, ambience, and food, I would highly recommend as an excellent deal.

Mama Makan: click here

Living on the intersection of India and The Netherlands – learning from Erin Meyer’s “The Culture Map”

aaeaaqaaaaaaaarjaaaajdczmzi5mzmzlty4mwqtngfiyy1iyzy3ltgyzgq4yju4odg1oaThis is a post about an article written by Apoorva Mathur that throws light on work place cultural nuances along with disparity between the Dutch and Indians.

I enjoyed the manner in which he places emotions alongside tasks and relationships, without dealing with them as the “other” or the “elephant in the room” or something that is irrelevant, inconsequential, and trivial even.

As an aside: I wholeheartedly accept the blame for “flowery” language use. Mea Culpa!

IMAGE: Sunrise as seen from outside Amstel Park. Picture: Apoorva Mathur

Of Diaries & Essays: meditations on memory, what have I lost?

On A Train for A Personal interview.
10 Jan. 2015.

8:33 am train from Schipol to Paris Nord, announcement: “you can travel in this train only if you have reservations.”

There is no sunrise yet. The sky is grey; the green of the fields, streetlights, and darkness hangs over the landscape, the train is rushing forth. Purab would be glad to know that I got a seat in the direction of the journey anything otherwise would have tormented him. I did carry my Axe Oil in case I feel sick. This is my last bottle. Dutch landscape is so flat like a brown often-green pancake.

There is a delay of thirty-minutes due to stormy weather. The train will be diverted to another route than the regular one it takes. The landscape has become industrial. Overhead electric poles with wires attaching and clinging; there are square containers and cylindrical gas containers. The buildings look derelict. The sky is turning pale. There is still no sign of the sun. 9:08am and we will not see a lush bright sunrise. You know the kind people mention during their train journeys. It is not going to happen on this one. I wonder what sort of storm I am leaving behind in Amsterdam. I don’t know what sort of storm am I going into in Paris.

I will be meeting a Jewish, American, poet Marilyn Hacker who lives in Paris. We will be discussing her experience with the ghazal, a poetic form of Arabic origin, entrenched in the culture of the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Paris has been shaken the last two days. Two hostage crises have riveted the city. My friend asked me yesterday, “Why are you putting your family through this, traveling to Paris now?” I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than Paris, I want to ask those questions in the midst of this, the urgency to answer how does indeed poetry transcend, does it really? Are poets activists? What is our role as researchers, to mark that activism, to bear witness to it – like Shahid would have – or to concentrate on the poetry, just the poetry, or is there a bifurcation is purpose like Shahid who described the inherent dichotomy in his name and takallhus Shahid – witness and beloved.

Amsterdam is going through introspection: why indeed is the second generation of migrants turning elsewhere to answer their religious and cultural quandaries? Have the countries they were born and brought up not nurturing? Or had they been brain washed? Was there another kind of schooling that created the other kind – this kind – what kind? There is no straightforward answer.

God needs protecting. Caustic, sarcasm, dripping ink in pen, then blood, lots of blood, blood everywhere on the pages, on tables, the floor, oozing from wounds, the American ghazal – of Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Aimee Nehukumatathil talk of wounds, of hurt, Rich even says the way in which we murder is not the same anymore. Who is the gazelle today? Who the hunted, who the prey, who the hunter, who the almighty, Agha Shahid Ali “By Exile” wrote exiled by exiles, is this what is left of us? Birds fly over the landscape Mahmoud Darwesh had asked where do birds fly after the last sky? Where do they go from here? And who are they? What hurts their heart?

Bambi was sleeping on my bed when I left. He had kicked the duvet off, it half-covered his thin frame. His mouth was open. I could see his chest breathing steadily. His eyes twitched just a little. Was he dreaming? Would he ask for me when he woke up? Or would the iPad and Skylanders distract him enough for him to forget me just that bit – his forgetting me would hurt me. Family is what connects us to life. The pillars within which we contain ourselves, family in not the manner of man-woman-child but family in a truer sense of the term as people we care about, whom we love.

9:12 am crossed a big river.

9:20 am another massive river.

12:14 pm the train is running over an hour late. I had breakfast and watched PK. Strange how the movie also talks of the themes I wrote about earlier. In the film the discussion is on the purpose of God and those who connect us through “wrong numbers” – the plot involved aliens, a love story, moments in Bruges and Delhi. I am at Garges Sarcelles station. Putting the laptop away, somehow I don’t want to let go of it – like it connects me in some unknown manner to purpose (for the lack of a better word). Next when I open it I will be with Marilyn. I tried texting her and emailing her about the delay but my connection is dodgy. It is quiet here – the platform, Paris will be busy. The grey clouds are still hanging onto the sky. There is still no sun. There is light but no presence of the giant ball up there.

I prepared some questions to ask Marilyn.

There are fir trees and another industrial area. Coaches and electrics. Do all stations have the same aura – they must, right! But how come do the house acquire that same derelict look, that forlorn texture, is it the soot from the trains, the fumes, or do they acquire the wisdom of comings and goings, seeing too much whiz by before their eyes.

***

7:12 pm return train back to Amsterdam; the station was teeming with people and the military and the police; the taxi driver from Notre Dame to Gare du Nord told me that there is a big demonstration tomorrow to show solidarity and unity for Charlie’s and his team’s death. He said it was important, he grew up reading this newspaper and he could not believe what happened in the last two days, he is in shock; he said he had lost his ability to react.

I had gone looking for the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore but I could not find it, then I lost my way and my phone battery died on me worried that I would run out of time I took a walk to Notre Dame across the bridge of locks. I noticed the gothic architecture of the cathedral, the angry-looking seine the water a steely red, and the cathedral, why do I remember it smaller, it is massive. I felt dwarfed walking along its length.

The meeting with Marilyn was fruitful. I learnt a lot from her. She is a reservoir of knowledge having read Darwesh, Ghalib, Hafez. She called herself a polyglot. I did not know what the word meant and have just learnt that it means multilingual, indeed that she is having knowledge of Arabic, Urdu, French and English. I continue to struggle with my Dutch. Her house is small, a long winding set of wooden stairs, on the third floor of an old building, she lives there alone. It had many books everywhere most of them had white spines. I noticed in the French bookstore that most French books have white spines.

I am tired. I think I will complete this tomorrow. Am I dodging, perhaps, I am cold and tired. I am also drained by the city – two strangers approached me with heaven-alone-knows-what and I had to walk away. Not understanding the language, being alone and wet from the rain, their moving mouths sounding words I could not hear. The air seems sinister. The way the station was organized seemed to add an air of exposure to a chilly draught. At one point in time the military personnel had to disperse what looked like a lover’s physical tiff, it was disturbing to say the least. An altercation that made me feel awkward as though watching was not enough something needed to be done, someone, me, I needed to get up and sort it out but it was not my business. I was the outsider. This was their private matter.

It is dark now. Nothing to look at outside, I see my own reflection, huddled. I have my back to the direction of the train, what would Purab say to that? Would he judge my raw drafts, the private notes, or would he warm the room, bring out the blanket, make soup, “You should sit in the direction of movement. Otherwise you will be sick.”

These were the raw notes that went into the preparation of the essay “Paris in the Rain.”

Paris in the rain

Saturday, January 10, 2015, I was to be in Paris for the day to meet poet and translator Marilyn Hacker. I had many questions about her experience with the ghazal and ghazal poets; she was generous enough to offer her day to me. On Monday 5th I booked my tickets to travel by the Thalys by Wednesday the 7th – Paris was not the same. Two hostage crises bolted through the city.

I stuck to my decision to travel. On the Friday – 9th – a day before my travel my friend asked me, “Why are you putting your family through this, traveling to Paris now?” I wanted to calm her fears. But I don’t think I was able to. I just could not think of anywhere I would have rather been than in Paris. That somehow the terror, fear, the tendency to self-preserve would not, and could not hold me back. Indeed I could have rescheduled but I did not want to. I wanted to meet Marilyn. I also wanted to see Paris, like when you approach your friend to hold her hand, to let her know she will be okay when things go wrong, not just in the summer when the air is crisp and flowers are in bloom, but in winter when it’s cold and the body struggles to stay warm. The combination of these two interwove to help me make my decision.

It was an unusually gray and stormy day. The Thalys had delays while the wind waged its battle I prepared my questions. Within me was this surging tide to go forth, to ask, to inquire, while this emotion presented itself there was also this ‘manthan’ (inner churn) – poetry in the midst of turmoil. Agha Shahid Ali toyed with the takallhus Shahid – witness and beloved. Marilyn had written that her name was not as meta as Shahid’s, when the jokes on Marilyn came out she left the room. Kashmir. Palestine. Poetry. Paris.

Online I read articles on the cities of the world and the need of the hour being introspection. Why indeed is the second generation of migrants turning elsewhere to answer their religious and cultural quandaries? Have the countries they were born and brought up not nurturing? Or had they been brain washed? Was there another kind of schooling that created the other kind – this kind – what kind? There is no straight forward answer. God needs protecting. Caustic, sarcasm, dripping ink in pen, then blood, lots of blood, blood everywhere on the pages, on tables, the floor, oozing from wounds, the American ghazal – of Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Aimee Nehukumatahil talk of wounds, of hurt, Rich even says the way in which we murder is not the same anymore. Who is the gazelle today? Who the hunted, who the prey, who the hunter, who the almighty, Agha Shahid Ali “By Exile” wrote exiled by exiles, is this what is left of us? Birds fly over the landscape — Mahmoud Darwesh had asked where do birds fly after the last sky? Where do they go from here? And who are they? What hurts their heart? And what sort of God needs protection that too from creatures as fragile and faulty as us humans?

Bambi was sleeping on my bed when I left. He had kicked the duvet off, it half-covered his thin frame. His mouth was open. I could see his chest heaving steadily. His eyes twitched just a little. Was he dreaming? Would he ask for me when he woke up? Or would the iPad and Skylanders distract him enough for him to forget me just that bit – his forgetting me would hurt me. Ostriker had written in her essays in The Mother / Child Papers (1980) about birth and war time, the poignancy of the words raise a lump to my throat and I swallow it back with bad train coffee. The last time I was in Paris I was pregnant with Bambi.

—-

A long-winding dark bent wooden staircase curled up three floors to her small door; Marilyn opened it with a warm and gentle smile. Her office-living areas were covered in books. On the prayer stand open was the Arab to French dictionary, we both look at it, I tease her, “Is this what you have been worshipping Marilyn, have you done your hundred Bismillahs?” She laughs, “Oh yes I’ve been praying to irregular verbs.” She makes me coffee upstairs in her kitchenette with a Lebanese flag, over buttery croissants and raisin rolls we discuss ghazals. Her mind is sharp, wise, knowledgeable, a polyglot; she switches from Rumi, to Darwesh, to Ghalib, to Mimi Khalvati with such ease and grace. Somewhere my own ideas stretched, some modified, and some get fortified. While I start to understand Shahid better, women and the ghazal remain deliciously complicated. As a researcher one tends to be clinical about the work we study, for the artist it is more organic, natural, and inexplicable. She talks about her inclination towards anonymity, the idea to remain unknown – nameless, her last poetry collection was called Names (2010), she does not use the takallhus sometimes she alludes to it but most of the time she drops it. She says she enjoys doing that. It is fun to work with forms, to see how it functions, how far you can go with it, how much will it stretch. The ghazal becomes play-doh in my head and I start imagining what color it would be. I ask her how she knew about the ghazal, it was through Adrienne Rich, and Shahid, about Shahid she says, “He was very loved.” I can imagine that Shahid in his living room surrounded by his friends reciting poetry while the fragrance of a good rogan josh wafts from the kitchen. We discuss the differing styles of Shahid and Roger Sedarat. We analyze what it means for me an Indian living in Amsterdam to come to Paris to talk about an Arabic but more Persian-Urdu poetic form with an American-Jewish female poet, we notice the irony of it, also noting of how people and forms travel.

Marilyn takes me out for lunch to her neighborhood café. Where we meander away from the ghazal to nation states, and borders, and Paris, her reason to live in Paris was that she kept coming back to it and one day she decided to stay, she liked it there, her life, the book stores, the ability to have several literary options at her doorstep and the fact that she had studied French Literature in her youth. We talk of Beirut and our experiences with the city. She talks about Mosul and Syria.

I leave her apartment at five. She gives me her new collection of poems – with new ghazals – A Stranger’s Mirror (2015) – it is not yet in the stores, and she insists that I would understand it. I accept it. She gives me another book for Bambi. It is The Honey Hunter (2013) by Karthika Nair and Joëlle Jolivet; it is set in the Sunderbans, close to where I was born. I think of Bambi, and home, Marilyn smiles at me like she knows what I am thinking.

I go to the North Bank and walk along with the Seine towards Notre Dame across the bridge of locks, it is teeming with people professing their love, kissing, locking their locks, I pray for the bridge to hang on to its knobs and not collapse under the weight of too-much metal. The Seine looks angry. The sky is dark gray. The gothic elements of the cathedral look menacing. Every store, each corner has signs for Charlie. The air is somber.

I arrive at the station early. The taxi driver from Notre Dame to Gare du Nord tells me that on Sunday the 11th there will be a big demonstration to show solidarity and unity for Charlie. He says it is important to show it – that through this demonstration people want to stand together for Paris. He grew up reading Charlie’s newspaper and he could not believe what happened in the last two days, he says he has lost his ability to react, “Charlie was always poking fun at everyone, even himself, and I grew up reading his pages, this is my Paris, these are people from my childhood.”

It is pouring. The rain – “Even the Rain” (thank you Rafiq Kathwari for a poem I carry with me everywhere) – I am soaking wet. The Gare du Nord station is cold. There is police and military everywhere. I have to sit there and wait. Gare du Nord is no waiting room. But I have Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) for company. There is a lover’s tiff in the station, it gets physical, the military officers step in, it is like a dance, the officers don’t really do anything, but they watch, they don’t say anything, they observe other people watching the couple, the couple, the officers movements are orchestrated, slow and mindful in comparison to the fighting fish who seem random – jerky – slowly as the couple moves away, the officers move as well, their faces are expressionless.

The train back to Amsterdam has police doing checks – they are still looking for the girl my co-passenger informs me, she also points out — good thing you do not look like her despite your dark hair. I nod, not saying anything; I try to make my face expressionless. I don’t think I am good at this. For the rest of the journey I remain buried in Kureishi. By the time I reach home – it is the middle of the night, stillness, Bambi is in bed, Purab’s waiting. The day drains away in the shower, steam, quiet, words forming, Seine curling, qafiyas, radifs, buttresses and mornings. They always come. Like the radif. Somehow even when the sun does not shine, the day starts, life moves.

Going away – a visit to NIAS

Our team at work went for an offsite to NIAS in Wassenaar. I wrote a small feature on the outing. I am sharing a snippet (the one which Purab made me read out again):

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Read more: click here

The pictures are that of NIAS and the area around the building taken on my iPhone 5s.

Full text:

The act of going away is highly underrated. The cyclic nature of everyday routines coats like a fog. When we step away we are able to see details clearly, patterns emerge that our eyes would have otherwise missed.

On November 20, 2014, Thursday, the VU Literatures in English team – staff members, Research Master students, and Ph.D. scholars – visited the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) in Wassenaar where Professor Diederik Oostdijk is writing a book while on sabbatical.

NIAS is an idyllic location nestled near the coast, with glorious beech, oak and horse chestnut trees currently in vibrant autumn colors. The building – quaint and a generous space provides valuable research time for international scholars.

The team enjoyed a walk through autumn’s bounty to the Persian Rose garden. Intricately painted blue tiles stood out against the white walls, a fountain, and roses saturated in white, in summer the same roses are pink. To grow, indeed, we must pay heed to changing climes and still retain some of that ethereal beauty that makes us unique.

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Surrounded by this lushness, visible through large windows, the team members had their first session. Diederik Oostdijk talked about the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Tim Scheffe on the Spanish Civil War, Karin Diks on Grace Nichols, and Anita Raghunath on the creation of the postcolonial other. They were joined by Professor Arthur Verhoogt, also a fellow at the NIAS. He is the Professor of Papyrology and Greek at the University of Michigan.

A warm lunch with pumpkin soup (apt for autumn), meatballs, vegetables and salad, cups of coffee and banter about the journeys undertaken and work accomplished was followed by the second session. Allard den Dulk, a guest from Amsterdam University College, joined the conversation and talked about 21st-century existentialism in American films and novels. Subsequently Roel van den Oever spoke about reading and sexual desire, Dirk Visser about plays revolving around the AIDS crisis and Amrita Das about American ghazals.

The themes varied, the techniques different, yet common threads of memory, remembering, forgetting, commemorating, performance, cultural symbolism and a passion for literature emerged. As the participants walked back to their cars, heading back to Amsterdam to what awaited on their desks and in their rooms, one could sense that stepping away had been worthwhile. Like the Persian Rose garden in the middle of NIAS, in between teaching, exams, administration and preparation, our research lies, sometimes white, sometimes pink, and it is helpful to step away and notice we chose the academic path (and literature in particular), and to witness ourselves going through the process of creation and recreation.

—–

Leaves – A Ghazal

It is August. Soon we will be in Autumn – Fall. I like the manner in which fall as a word rolls inside the mouth, in the end making the tongue meet the roof of your mouth.

For that reason and a few other.

Leaves – A Ghazal

What eats you from inside gradually leaves
They place your body covered lovingly with leaves

In winter they told me that these trees have color
That nature undresses seductively dropping leaves

I waited and watched nothing ever came of it
You closed the door quietly when you leave

My shirt, my trousers, bits and pieces of me
Gathered now in a dust pan, your gaze sweepingly leaves

Change happens when you aren’t watching
From the door the old lazy wretch of a dog reluctantly leaves

I painted the chairs yellow to match your mind
A sleepy head watches the sun finally leave

Meditation has made Das still
When someone says go away, she happily leaves

Read “The Last Leaf” a short story by O Henry: click here
Apoorva’s ghazal “Never Again”: click here