The Miscarriage by Amit Majmudar

Some species can crack pavement with their shoots
Source: The Miscarriage

“if I consoled you it would make the loss

your loss”
—–
How can Amit Majmudar’s words so relentlessly tangle the insides? Each line comes loaded, “his wealth of heartbeats.”

I am currently reading his collection Dothead (2016). It has two ghazals. One of which is a “Sonzal” (to employ a term created by Majmudar). It is the combination of a sonnet and a ghazal (akin to the manner in which Sharon Dolin plays with the two forms in her sonnet/ghazal – in Burn and Dodge (2008)). His ghazals “Tastebud Sonzal” and “Pandemic Ghazal” are devastatingly beautiful. They present a unique dance between the mind and the body, forms of different types, physical as well as metaphorical, enclosed within this precarious mortality. It is intriguing that a man of science such as Majmudar oscillates so effortlessly between medical pragmatism and abstract philosophy.

Is this the way ahead for hyphenated poets – these breathtaking offshoots of clarity and creativity? Sometimes I wish there was a simple answer to this question, but often I avoid making a merit out of simplicity and embrace this amalgamation of forces.

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Rereading The God of Small Things

It is like returning to a lover you never stopped loving
I pause and linger, rolling words in my mouth, tasting the luscious lusty writing of someone as giving as Roy
It is indulgent and selfish on my part
After all there are many new books waiting on the to-read shelf
Still…..
They can wait
This once, this one time
As I drown in that river, watching the black crows, eating those over-ripe bananas, indulging in “sloth and sullen expectation”
Oh let me be
I am permitting the .docx file to slide as I grab Velutha’s outstretched calloused hand accepting all the labels that come with this enchanted detachment

Recommendation: The God of Small Things to be savoured in slow bites over cups of ginger tea preferably with feet over a luxuriant cushion:

“They used to make pickles, squashes, jams, curry powders and canned pineapples. And banana jam (illegally) after the FPO (Food Products Organization) banned it because according to their specifications it was neither jam nor jelly. Too thin for jelly and too thick for jam. An ambiguous, unclassifiable consistency, they said… Looking back now, to Rahel it seemed as though this difficulty that their family had with classification ran much deeper than the jam-jelly question… They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. The laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, and jelly jelly.”

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Experiencing Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in Prof. dr. D.M. Oostdijk’s class, October 15, 2015.

By Amrita Das

Fun Home 2015 - Prof Oostdijk's Class

“What’s lost in translation is the complexity of loss itself. In the same box where I found the photo of Roy, there’s one of Dad at about the same age” (Bechdel FH 120).

Alison’s Bechdel’s graphic novel and memoir Fun Home (2006) is a complex, delightful, tragic, inter-textual text that offers the best of the visual and written medium. It deals with the coming-out of two characters, Alison the protagonist and her father Bruce. But, the novel is about much more as students discovered.

On October 15, 2015, Prof. dr. D.M. Oostdijk taught a Bachelor’s class on Fun Home that combined living in a visual culture, American Literature and pedagogic elements. Students were asked to make a poster presentation on panels from Fun Home that they would present to visiting High School students from the OSG in Hoorn.

Prof. Oostdijk began the class with some profound observations about the world we live in today. It is a visual age in which we are bombarded with images on a continual basis. This reverberates in our daily existence – television, screens, advertisements, signs, posters, flyers, even the word is (to quote W.J.T. Mitchell) an image. On paper it transforms, making what is written a multi-medial experience. How do we deal with this?

W.J.T. Mitchell’s book on Picture Theory (1995) makes us mindful of these aspects. It is about becoming savvy on the facets of visual culture. It is not merely the prerogative of intellectuals and academics — visuals are pervasive. It confronts children, and makes us question what is it that we see? How does it affect our mind? And, what does it imply for the future?

We do not have answers to these questions. Nevertheless, it is important to ask them. The fuelling of a critical mind that investigates these practices is vital to the task of literary studies and also for the Humanities.

As our first step into investigating Fun Home we delved into the differentiation between a comic book and a graphic novel. The comic – by definition – deals with aspects of comedy. The comic book is a form of entertainment, which is lighthearted, jovial and fun. Fun Home is different. Bechdel calls it a “traginomic,” a pun that is an amalgamation of the words tragedy and comic. Though, the book is more a graphic novel than a comic book.

In the book The Graphic Novels (2015) authors Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey argue that between the two genres lie, “…common scales of differences.”(7). They discuss four ways of distinguishing comic books from novels:

  1. Form
  2. Content
  3. Publication format
  4. Production and distribution aspects

In conclusion, it was well established in the class that while comic books are an escape from reality graphic novels were an immersion into it.

Fun Home is not about fun, it hides within it the funeral home it houses. The gothic font used in the cover, in its connection with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the fall of Icarus, Oscar Wilde, amongst many other inter-textual elements; it is evocative of how knotty human relationships are. In loving her father Bechdel has to accept and deal with the inadequacies that make the man. In this she is confronted with her own struggles. She tries to elucidate this by reaching out to several texts, contexts, characters, that she uses to connect her story to a larger fabric.

The story is the narration of imperfections. But then who decides what is perfect? Who chooses the definition of normal? To quote from Anna Karenina, which begins with the line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What are the variables in happiness and unhappiness? Isn’t the presence of happiness splendidly built on unhappiness? How do we know that we are happy if we haven’t been unhappy? The Bechdel family in their moments of vivid isolation harbor genuine warmth too. Illustrated in how Bruce plays with Alison wielding her like an airplane and their bath-time routine, in which the washing with water is almost redemptive. There are pockets of contentment in this dismal family-life.

The book questions family values but fortifies the need for love and physical affection. It destroys sexual and gender norms and asserts that as human beings we need to be sensitive and compassionate. Perhaps, we need to rethink the walls that we build, the boundaries we construct, and what is it that we hold so dear that we do not wish to lose at any cost?

The posters made by the teams reflected all these themes. They encapsulated how the words and images in Fun Home work cohesively in order to narrate the story. They are not in binary opposition to each other. Quite like happiness and unhappiness, which are often placed as counterparts but actually work together. Like sides of the same coin. The textual content combines with the graphic content to explore subtle aspects. The drawing of body language in the novel, managed to find definition in exercises posed by the students. Again, pushing our preconceived notions to breaking point.

The creating of posters in order to tell the story of a graphic novel was an effective way to engage the students into the process of making visuals. In this the class had a meta-quality. While the students selected and presented to the High School students they were also participating in visual culture. Their choices, medium, and agency, heightened the experience. Their awareness then moved towards deep learning through activating their minds.

In the end, the winner (democratically selected by the High School students) received a box of chocolates. This process connected the students to what their criteria were in appreciating the visual presentations that they had seen. As we laughed about the movie-quote from Forrest Gump (more visual culture), “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The class rolled up its posters and moved outside into the world.

There are plenty of boxes that we will land up opening and closing. It is moments of introspection in classes such as this that makes us aware how we label these boxes and what are the pictures that we choose to keep in them.

(The following article appeared in the VU Literature & Society website.)

Friday Book Market at Spui

Every Friday there is a Book Market at the Spui, Amsterdam. On this day there is a peppy vibe to the place. Antique books, quirky books, second-handbooks, new books and forgotten books all find their way to stalls here. The keepers are friendly. People seem to have time. A certain stillness. Browse and be. No hard sell. No interruptions. The only contact is between you and the books. You touch, you flip pages, you read a page here and a blurb there, and you move on.

I come here to absorb the spirit. Often to remind myself why I made the choices I did. Words become dust motes. People fade to the background. Sounds filter to a muffled white state. I leave parts of myself in the corners. And I collect new ones that I want to carry.

Of all the things I have experienced in this city – this market is closest to my heart. Along with the OBA. That I will save for another day. When it’s not Friday. Till then you will find me here. 

   
 

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The Blossom on the Bough by Anne Dowden

Last year at the ISA (located in Amstelveen) I bought this second-hand book. The book was last issued from the library in 1995 and they had decided to part with it. I paid very little for it.

Firstly, I love botanical drawings. The precision with which they are made is stunning. My pictures veer more towards kawaii, anime, folk art, lacking realism and aiming more for abstraction, exaggeration (not as much as caricature) and sometimes color. Botanicals remains a field I am greatly attracted towards and can not replicate. I love the work of Marjolien Bastin and Beatrix Potter. In my dream house I often imagine a stark plain white wall corridor of botanicals ranging from the Mughal botanicals to the more modern works of Vera Scarth-Johnson, with a Bastin squirrel here and a Potter rabbit there, and at the end of the corridor you would find a cottage garden with a pond and warm welcome corners, and butterflies.

Secondly, what attracted me to this book were the library cards at the back. While studying in Delhi, in school, in college and at the British Council Library I remember using library cards. The stamp on the book a reminder of when the book was due but what I liked reading most (apart from the text) were the several names before me who had read the book, and my name and date there present with the rest, marking my place in the history of that book. When we moved to Dubai in 2004 I got a digitised card to the library and this sojourn with names I did not know ended, well almost, once I found a bus ticket in a book, a postcard in another, my mind trying to weave tales around these forgotten objects. When I chanced upon the website Forgotten Bookmarks imagine my joy and relief that there were other people like me.

I had written earlier about my love-hate relationship with electronic reading devices, I think this might well be one of the reasons the acceptance has been a hard one. Anyhow, I leave you to enjoy the pictures of this book, which has brought me much joy.

Anne Dowden’s The Blossom on The Bough