Category: Photography

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

Day out in Lisse

Spring in Lisse, 2017

When you have a sunny day like today you do not need edits or filters. Apart from the Keukenhof gardens, the fields in Lisse are where you can observe Netherlands’ horticulture in all its glory. Fed on the romantic images of Silsila somehow these fields manage to inspire me year after year. There is something magical when the colors of nature are planted with human precision. I say human because if you look closely there are some rebels, a few red heads in a field of white. Maybe these are planned but these outliers make me feel that things will be okay in their own sweet way. In the meantime I can let this carpet carry me away to a whole new world…

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.)

Poem Unlimited, Augsburg

Over the weekend I attended and spoke at the Poem Unlimited Conference at Augsburg. The venue, the Augsburg University, has a beautiful campus. The trees were in Autumn hues. I was narrated the story of a duck family in the University pond. A ledge was removed from one of the campus buildings so to lessen diving deaths in ducklings. The Augsburg University has its own resident cat with its Facebook page. A selfie with the cat is a must-do. I did see and pet the cat, however, missed taking a selfie.

Prof. Wai Chee Dimock gave the Key Note lecture on “Recycling the Gilgamesh.” The body was described in all its fragility. The violent element of death, and the processes we undertake to recycle the body were analyzed. The aggressive factor in recycling as an act of degradation offered a new way to look at biodiversity. After all, everything natural disintegrates, it is that which is man-made persists. What then happens to poetry as it ventures into art and theatre. In order to stay, we must recycle, to use again provides longetivity. But something, the person, object, aspect, gets lost in the act of recycling.

I enjoyed listening to talks about the Romantics, Czesław Miłosz, the African-American sonnet, and Walt Whitman’s Sufi side. I presented a paper on Agha Shahid Ali and Roger Sedarat’s ghazals, in which I explored how the beloved and witness lie entangled in their identity within the form.

The conference offered moments of insight and also a vision of what the future might hold. As we discussed and debated the transcience of physical matter, the regenerative spirit of nature, I left Augsburg sensing a hopefulness. Perhaps, the season, the theme, and my state of being mingled to create a mind that was prepared for Winter and the promise of a Spring – that always follows.

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