Visual Art Round-up

The best of Visual Art entries from the previous month:

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Meta by Saurabh Gangadharan

 

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Untitled by Soumya Bhatnagar

 

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Little Mom in the Street by Lakshmi CD

 

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Safe Under Her? by Lakshmi CD

 

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Of Hamburgers and Pizzas to be consumed with Friends

The crispy bun glistening with melting butter that sits atop the patty, barbecued to perfection, and glazed with just the right amount of marinade, completed with three layers of melting cheese, crispy-fresh tomato and lettuce with a crunchy bottom bun on which this magnificence sits as if atop a pedestal, complemented with zingy mustard and tangy ketchup with chilled creamy choklit shop soda to wash it all down with.

Even though it was mentioned earlier that there wouldn’t be any more of this, yours truly realised the importance of an appropriate invocation as a literature student. Hence, the above beauty is not only an invocation to the food gods to whom I sacrifice the first bite of my Hamburger (Nah), but also an invocation to you, oh! Blessed Reader, who I wish, never goes unsatisfied after a meal. This is to tantalize and invoke your taste buds, your imagination and an interest in the ‘form’ that will be addressed today: Comics.

If you too belong to a typical Indian household that looks down upon comics as a waste of time and compares comic book-language to the grandeur of ze novel to the detriment of the former, then, you like a typical Indian child must have also developed a guilty pleasure for the same, much like thy secret midnight rendezvous with chocolate cake.

Now, I would like to clarify the difference between a comic and a graphic novel at the very onset of this piece. A graphic novel is, well, a novel but with pictures and illustrations. A comic, on the other hand, is an illustrated story but in the form of a periodical. They might be produced with a specific time gap and, usually (not always) have connections between the actions of one issue and the next.

Graphic novels are misconstrued as a “finer” version of comics to which Neil Gaiman wrote:

I felt like someone who’d been informed that she was not actually a hooker, she was a lady of the evening. (telegraph.co.uk 2009)

Having clarified that, here’s why I feel Comics deserve a place in Literature. Besides the obvious fact that they deal with words (duh), ideas, concepts, and stories or anecdotes, Comics mistakenly have been seen as a Genre rather than the medium that they are (telegraph.co.uk, 2009).

A medium that might include a rainbow of genres like romance, history, comedy and so on and so forth, much like all other mediums in Literature. However, I stray from my path when I assume the role of a defender of the comics when my job, clearly, is to analyze the trope of food in this medium of literature, much like any other.

If it’s not clear from the food described in my invocation, the comic series I will be looking at today is Archie, Comic Publications, Inc., or alternatively, Archies. The reason I went for these is not nostalgia, emotion or my love for Forsythe Jones but another argument that redeems Comics as a medium. While Novels are set, and hence fixed in the particular time and space they occupy, Comics I would say, are more fluid in nature. They evolve as time passes, as the story is constantly high-end, especially in the case of Archies. Another argument would be that because the story is being worked on and is constantly evolving based on the so-called “real life” and context it borrows from, it alters based on the changes that take place in reality. Thus, Comics become progressive and evolutionary in nature.

A classic example can be taken from Archies which was first published on 22nd December 1942.  John Goldwater wanted the comic to be a story about a normal relatable person. In this endeavour to be “relatable” he created a character that to this day embodies characteristics of “present” day America, while simultaneously retaining seventy- seven years of the history of the USA as his story. Archie is relatable to the present and the past.

From World War II, when he represented the youth of the country engaged in hard work and its evolving culture, to present day, when the Archie comics embody issues of LGBTQ rights (the recently introduced Kevin Keller), and Feminism, Archie never aged beyond his teen years. It was his story that did, and even now, it continues to put on a new skin with each era it bears witness to.

This passage of time is very clear in the food culture of the said series too. A series that began with the humble cuisine of war, representing the reality of keeping wastage and extravagance to a minimum, has evolved today to the fine cuisine culture of massive consumption.  The “type” of food consumed by the characters shows this too. While sandwiches and punch remains a staple, we go from ice-cream sodas to Choklit Shoppe to Teriyaki Mushrooms and the USA cuisine by Gaston to Pizza Culture. Pizza entered popular culture in the USA during the 1940s and it was at this time, when it began sprouting around the country from 1945-1960, that it also appeared as a staple of the gang, never to leave again. As America recovered from the war and a celebratory, indulgent decade followed, Jughead Jones, the glutton, was born.

Before I move on to characters and their relations to food, I must mention why Pizza was and is still such a staple of the gang in the Archies, even though Pop sells mostly Burgers. As many historians have noted, Pizza unlike popular American food like Hot dogs and hamburgers is a communal food and hence, inserting it into the comics and American History shows a coming together of the community.

This coming together hence also reflects a key trait in Jughead, clearly distinguishing him as an individualist and a glutton through instances like him never sharing his pizza (except when required, like for charity, which casts him in a positive light for the readers) and being capable of eating twenty-five pizzas alone (in a competitive eating event).

Forsythe P. Jughead Jones III is best recognised by his insatiable appetite and interesting choice of headwear. (archiecomics.com)

He first appeared in Pep Comics #22, 1941 as Archie’s close friend and, his voracious appetite soon followed in later issues (mostly post-war). He is capable of eating superhuman amounts of food in one sitting, and the interesting part is – he never gains a pound!

While some have attributed this to his metabolism, others have attributed it to the fact that it is his brain working at a better speed that burns the calories. If it’s his metabolism that we are attributing it to (In a comic, he exchanges his metabolism for the best pizza in the world, which indicates that the authors agree with the metabolism viewpoint), then it hints towards a trait that pertains to not just Jughead, but society as a whole – the trait of having rampant desire, the lust to “consume” everything in sight and yet, not having to face any consequences. This particular argument translates to no-reins Capitalism and commoditisation that American Society embodies too.

The irony lies in the fact that, just like Jughead, American Society has to face the consequences of their “consumption”. Jughead is constantly drowning under the debt of his tab that he runs up at various eateries. It wouldn’t be too far flung a statement to make that American Society too, is drowning under a similar kind of weight.

Moving on to another argument of his mental capabilities, it is a widely agreed fact that Jughead indeed, is a very intelligent person who if required can perform miracles, but rarely does, until it is absolutely required. The one and only time his “superior” senses kick in are when he is avoiding girls or foraging for food. If we look at it from an evolutionary perspective, looking for food and, escaping predators is a massive part of our evolutionary history. Life for our ancestors and us is about sustenance – the struggle to survive in this world. Those who could forage for food better and fight off external intrusions the best i.e., could protect themselves, survived, and thereby, were recognized as belonging to the superior strata of human beings. This automatically puts Jughead Jones in the more advanced category of the human race.

This finally brings us to the topic of the female population in the series and their relation to food. Just like other aspects of the comic have been affected by the temporal space they have been set in, so has the comic’s approach to dealing with the women in the series changed. The females have come a long way from being just the love interests and men’s potential dates to today having a mind and opinion of their own (clearly showcased in the many series which are now “Betty and Veronica” and not Archies). From embodying the sweet girl-next-door who loves cooking and is perfect wife-material for your best friend, the female characters have evolved into girls who can be basketball players and scientists. Gender roles did undergo a change in the society and hence, the comics.

Food as a trope of course, was recurrent in this case too. A woman who could cook was the ideal choice for a man to marry. Hence Betty Cooper, the original love interest of Archie was, and still is, one of the better cooks of the series – the perfect girl who bakes cakes and cookies for the men in the series to consume. Veronica Lodge, on the other hand, is one of the worst cooks out there, but then again, who needs to learn cooking if your father’s money can hire the best cook out there for you? The choice of food and, the ability to cook food, hence distinguishes between the girls’ class and financial status.

The class is also indicated in the type of food the girls are happy consuming. While Betty is fine with a simple lunch at home, Veronica prefers high-end restaurants for dates. When Veronica deigns to cook with her very own hands, she falls into the realm of the “common man” who has to sweat in front of the stove, as she herself mentions.

Jughead has always shown a preference for Betty over Veronica, with whom he has a love-hate relationship. His hate for Veronica sprouts from his dislike of her snooty aristocratic habits, while his love for Betty, though mostly attributed to Betty’s sweet nature, is also because the latter cooks for him. This makes one wonder about the larger argument of misogyny that Jughead might embody. The only time he spends time with the girls is when Ethel (his pursuer) promises food to him or, when Betty cooks for him or, Veronica makes Gaston cook for him. This could be a larger statement about how he likes his women relegated to the realm of the kitchen or the domestic sphere where they can serve him in one way or another. When they try to cross these boundaries (like Veronica does by asserting her power through wealth over him) i.e., escape the bounds he sets for them (literally, in Ethel’s case when he locks her in the kitchen and, refuses to let her out till she promises him food), he makes his dislike clear.

The misogyny through food is also displayed in the manner food is consumed by women. Women were expected to eat daintily and delicately, and in small amounts, to control their figures – body issues being quite prevalent in the comic series with the notion of “dieting” for women. We know times have changed now that they have introduced love interests like Debbie and Joani, who are just as passionate about eating as him, and female competitors in eating contests make an appearance too.

However, I do concede that I do not consider Jughead a misogynist because firstly, there is a deliberate softening in his nature towards women as the story progresses, and secondly, he embodies the type of society he is part of at a particular point in time and so cannot be blamed for his views on the subject.

Having said that, there are so many characters like dear ole’ Hotdog (the dog) and Moose, with debates, arguments and, seventy-seven freaking years’ worth of stuff to be analysed through the trope of food which links the comics to American Society. I could go on and on, probably as long as my foodie wish list (No, not really) yet time, space and, attention constraints do not allow it,

So, until next time – don’t forget to enjoy what you consume, be it literature or food.


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Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

The High School Heroine

Teenage romantic comedies have certainly come a long, long way without so much as tweaking the format a smidge. The Duff, released in 2015, is certainly very aware of the tropes that it’s rooted in, but nevertheless uses those tropes endlessly.

High school romantic comedies, in particular, seem to have a very explicit agenda in mind: showing you how a social outcast can find their place through the traditional make over, a rumour that gives them social acceptance, or a romance that makes them more desirable in a dog-eats-dog world of popularity. However, this idea of finding social acceptance through transforming yourself and eventually realizing, “I am perfect the way I am,” seems to be reserved for women. I know it’s a broad generalization to make, but Bianca Piper of The Duff appears to be facing many more esteem issues than Wesley Rush of the same movie does.

And when the male protagonist has anxiety issues about his position in the school social hierarchy, he doesn’t need to undergo a physical re-evaluation to be accepted into its highest echelons.

Bianca from The Duff is your typical high school heroine – she is average, funny, has quirky habits, and is in love with someone she can’t talk to due to crippling social anxiety. Not only is this image very common, it is very specific. For instance, Georgia Nicholson of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is characterized in a very similar way, though tending a lot more towards narcissism and melodrama. Likewise, The Breakfast Club is very particular in outlining the five categories that are the entire focus of high school movies – the Jocks, the Basketcases, the Criminals, the Prom Queens, and the Brains.

The quintessential element of a teenage rom-com is almost always a girl, generally aged fourteen to seventeen, who feels curiously out of place in a world of blonde-haired Barbies. The Duff is not different – it uses this stereotype to paint Bianca Piper the designated Ugly-Fat-Friend in her clique. However, the exploration of self-esteem in teenagers takes very different turns when the perspective changes from a female to a male one. The idea of naming the film after a social category considered typical of high school groups pokes fun at its origin, the people who are placed in it, and the audience that continues to enjoy such fare.

Since self-esteem (or lack thereof) among teenagers is a very important aspect of growing up, almost all teen-focused fiction has a lot to say about it. The young, plain-Jane, Bianca Pipers of the world resist conventional ideas of beauty by nestling instead into their own world of the quirky. But what a girl should do to be accepted in society follows another set of quite specific patterns. First, she needs to be a social outcast – or, preferably ignored. Second, the popular guy that everyone likes has to be her crush. ‘Bianca Pipers’, thus, will be in love with the ‘Toby Tuckers’ of the school – the blonde, blue-eyed boys who sing to their beloved. Dreamy is the word we are going for here. And, she will obviously be seeking help from an unconventional figure. In She’s All That, Lanie is helped into getting a grand “make-over,” by the school’s most popular boy, which is traditionally supposed to make him double back and stare at her in awe. In The Duff, this trope is intelligently subverted when, unexpectedly, the figure of the Jock decides to bring Bianca the right-sized bra.

High school romantic comedies also play a lot with the idea of traditional beauty – the blonde-and-awful Madison of The Duff is an archetypal figure found in just about every teenage movie. For instance, Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries will wade through ‘princess-hood’ while heroically battling against the Queen Bee, Lana. Nobody really questions why someone at the bottom of the social hierarchy is even being noticed by someone at the top, but who cares? The high school heroine has to face such awfulness, you know.

Also, no film questions what happens to the high school heroine when she is at the top of the hierarchy. Well, none except Mean Girls, which not only shows you what happens to every girl looking for a makeover for social acceptance, but also portrays a culture of female against female, fighting for a common male prize. When Cady Heron becomes a part of the Queen Bee clique of Regina George, the movie exposes the hollowness of the inadequacy that teenage girls feel, along with the horrible culture that high school movies create – one based on competition for resources a.k.a. possessing the popular boy or the popular clique.

The qualities of the female who supposedly “deserves” the man in question are almost always her being socially awkward and untouched by other boys. It stems from a teenage social anxiety of not being popular enough, and troublingly demonstrates a Bianca Piper who has never been on a date being portrayed in a positive light as opposed to a Madison, who has dated a lot of people and is willing to date more.

For all intents and purposes, John Bender from The Breakfast Club doesn’t fit into school society any more than Bianca Piper of The Duff does. And eventually, the movie addresses this phenomenon, one which colours Katerina from 10 Things I Hate About You as a bitch because she doesn’t try to fit in, and bothers even less about what people think of her. There’s an interesting gendering of inadequacy, particularly in romantic comedies. The end result is always achieved via the tried, tested and basically exhausted route of the female undertaking a journey towards becoming a more confident and socially accepted version of herself, whereas the man does not have to go through the same. Bianca understands where the inadequacy comes from, realizes that not only is everyone a designated Ugly-Fat-Friend but that it’s not a bad place to be.

 

Cheers,

T in a Cup


tanviedit

A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.

Written by Tanvi
Updates every fortnight


Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Kanishka

In Conversation With: Dr. Shernaz Cama

This week, Dr. Shernaz Cama tells us what she’s reading, and why.

SC: I’m reading The Gene by Dawkins*, I’m reading First Circle by Solzhenitsyn** and I’m reading a book right now on postcolonial literature by Nilufer Bharucha and Sridhar of Bombay University. So those are the three books I’m reading, and of course, when I want light reading, I read P.G. Wodehouse to try and relax or before going to sleep. Next question.

Team Jabberwock: Ma’am, um, that is kind of the entire – talk more about these books please.

SC: Okay, I got interested about reading The Gene because of the Mukherjee book, now I forget the name, which I read just now, the one about the cancer; there are two books by Mukherjee – haan, the Emperor of All Maladies by (Siddharth) Mukherjee and I wanted to read more about genetic studies and things because, basically my son is working at the very cutting edge of how to create – sounds like science fiction – how to create human organs out of embryonic stem cells. That is all I can understand about it, but it’s really cutting-edge medicine and it’s based in genetics and I go every year to see what’s happening at the Stem Cell institute. So, this and a lecture by Lord Rees at Cambridge just now about the future of science this July, I think the 12th of July or something, and I was simultaneously reading the Emperor of Maladies and the second book he’s written- a very personal book about schizophrenia and things in his own family, I can’t remember the name of the book again–

TJ: We’ll look it up. ***photoedited

SC: So I was reading those two books and A, I found it remarkable that despite how much we talk about a cure for cancer, the common man doesn’t realize that cancer is not one disease but it is a spectrum of diseases. It is genetic – because we Parsis suffer from the world’s highest rates of cancer, so from my Parzor point of view also, genetically it was important for me to understand, and thirdly, if we understand the gene and the double helix, of the DNA, which I find very interesting because it links up with Yeats and all my work in mysticism, all that has led me to reading all these serious medical and genetic books. So I think that is something that I’m reading very slowly and it’s very heavy going so I can’t read it continuously. I have finished those Mukherjee books and I’m reading Dawkins just now. Dawkins right now has gone in for some bad press because of some rubbish family-wife-breakup something-something, but I don’t look at that at all. I’m reading him as a scientist who is making science accessible to all of us. So I think that is very important for all of us, who’re living in an age with such dramatic changes happening, to understand the basis of life itself and what I find fascinating is what I’ve always told my third years, and my Blake students, is that science discovers what mysticism already knew. Now I have major quarrels with my son about this, because he says, yeah, mystics talk, but where’s the scientific, mathematical proof? So my argument is that you don’t need mathematics to prove a myth but myths can become true, just as you’re seeing in all these things, so it’s all part of a family argument which is across continents but I think it’s very, very interesting.

Solzhenitsyn, First Circle, is again about creating – the Russians have always fascinated me,
my favourite-est book on earth is Goncharov’s Oblomov and I wish I could revive the Russian literature course at DU for the MPhil, maybe someday after I retire I’ll do it – I think that taught me a lot about the difference between the Eastern mindset and the Western mindset. And I did not like Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn when I read it many, many years ago but I am much more interested in First Circle because I’m looking at a world which in many ways is actually coming true in the sense of using scientists by the imaginary world of the First Circle in Russia or by NASA or by CERN or by whatever, where you take a group of the brightest minds – and this links up with what I was telling you about Lord Rees – Martin Rees – who was Master of Trinity, he’s still the Royal Astronomer and the head of the Royal Society; it links up with the whole idea of the future, science, Artificial Intelligence and the creators of Artificial Intelligence. I think all of this – and it might sound very bizarre – but when you’re sitting at Cambridge and you’re seeing proof of how robotics is really taking over, in so many things, in medicine, in manufacture of dangerous weapons etc. and you’re using robotics like drones now to deliver Amazon packages, I think it’s time we stood back, read what has been said about it, read about the uses of science and then try to look, for me personally, at our place as people who teach literature, who study literature and who want to keep that part of one’s brain functioning, and find value in what we are doing. So this is the sort of place where I’m coming from in the books I’m reading right now.

Which is the third book I told you I was reading? Haan, Nilufer Bharucha, I’m reading that for, okay, I’m reading this for a seminar I’m speaking at in Bombay University next Tuesday. What I’m finding is that nobody – and I’ve been reading a lot this last year – nobody has talked about this. In 1925, a person called Stonequist, he propounded a concept called the Marginal Man, and I was reading it of course, for the book I wrote, Threads of continuity, which is supposed to be in your library, and if it’s not, please tell me, I’ll give a copy to your library- I was looking at it from the point of view, at that time, for a small chapter on Parsi literature, but the more I’ve been looking at a Rohinton Mistry or a Cyrus Mistry or Parsi comedy, or anything, the more I’ve been realizing, is that today, most of us – the theory of the marginal man is that in a multicultural setting such as we had in India when the British were ruling, the marginal man takes on a very important role because he wants to fit into the cultures which surround him. Today we’re all living surrounded by different cultures, we’re living surrounded by a Western culture, and we have at our roots Indian culture that we’ve all forgotten – no one can recite even one shloka from the Mahabharata among my first years, it is very tragic – we’re looking at sub-identities of religion, race, caste, class, etc. How does the marginal man fit in? The marginal man is not the marginalized man, big difference. The marginal man tries to fit into a multicultural context, and the Parsis were used as an example of Marginal Man by the Parsis themselves back in 1925, but it’s a concept which comes out of the struggle of the African Americans to fit in, the Jews to fit in, things like that. The writers talk about it – it’s a Chicago publication – the writers talk about it as either leading to a position of dominance, because your marginalized identity, your marginal identity, allows you to take the best from everywhere and use it, which they talk about in the context of the Jews, I talk about it in the context of the Parsis, but at the same time, there is also a certain ethnic anxiety all the time, as to where you belong and it’s an identity crisis, so in my paper at Bombay University, I’m going to talk about this – I forget the name of the title, but it’s about the marginal man – yes, Problems and Perceptions of the Marginal Man: A Study of Parsi Literature – so that is where I’m reading about marginality, and I’m also seeing in this whole study of colonial literature and postcolonial literature that’s been happening in India and abroad, that nobody has gone back to this marginal man crisis, which I think every one of us across the board, wherever we may be, we may be in Australia, Indians in Australia, or we may be in Antarctica or wherever, or we may be Americans working in India today, which we see more and more, expats working here, we are all in some way marginal men, so this is something we should look at more closely in English literature because we study
literatures in English but this is a point of view that we have so far not studied and uh, the modernism I teach right now is Yeats and Eliot, so it doesn’t really – Eliot yes, I would definitely call him a marginal man because he was an American who wasn’t an American and he studied in France but then ended up being an Anglo-Catholic in England, so I think a lot of Eliot’s power comes out of this, which has not been really – at least, I don’t know of any critic who’s talked about this. It was a paper that was published, then it became a dissertation, then a book, but I think it’s quite important in the context of India.

Now, what more do you need, that’s enough for your blog!

 

* The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

** In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

*** We did look it up; it’s The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Featured image by Sanna Jain

Kindness

 

Today, she decided to make blueberry scones. It was nearly Autumn, and the air was crisp. “It’s scones weather!” she exclaimed, as she pressed the blueberries into the dough, loving how they bled into the white butter-egg-flour mixture.

The scones had to be perfect. Not because she took absolute pride in her baking, but also because she had to raise funds for the Shishu Seva Association.

As the blueberries simmered, and the knife sliced into the butter, she reviewed her checklist of tasks to finish.  Once, she was done baking and delivering the cookies, she would clean her house, go visit her sick friend with a batch of homemade chicken soup, and then, call her mother. New in this area, she was glad she had made some friends. She always tried to find a way to involve herself in the community, even though she moved around a lot.

This was partly because she understood what kindness meant. And no, it wasn’t the volunteering-everywhere sort of kindness, but the intrinsic kind, like drowning in a long story in a group conversation.  Knowing what the flipside looked like, a random act of kindness like, that Aunty offering you water in the metro pulled you out of the long sleepless nights when the sadness won’t go away.

Always good with tools, she was called regularly, during those hostel days to hammer the nails into the wall or fix a broken window singing, “I will try to fix you,” to the nails.  Carrying a toolkit in her van was a habit, now. That was probably why her favourite word was ‘kindness.’ Someone once told her she was kindness in human form.

Her van pulled up in front of the first customer’s house. He was a regular customer who lived alone. She wondered if he ate her cookies alone in front of the television, and if there was a word for that experience. “It’s funny how we name feelings,” she thought. “Kindness being the word we use to describe sending someone flowers on their birthdays or putting a dying animal to sleep,” she could be so many other things, but she was associated with kindness.

Ringing the bell, she pulled on her gloves. But of course, she couldn’t handle scones without her gloves. The customer opened his door, smiling at her; the kind of smile on a face that, hadn’t smiled for a long time. “Could I come in for a glass of water?” She asked. Recognition was the key. It differentiated a funny person from a kind one.

She could see the customer’s back. “What’s your name?” He asked. She reached into her bag and pulled out a fine, sharp tool from the toolkit, and pierced it into his neck. Blood spurted out on her gloved hands as he kneeled over. “My name,” she said, “has been a lot of things in different places. I’ve been called kindness in human form. But, my favourite name is The Screwdriver.”*

 

*Based on a true dream

 

Written by Anushmita Mohanty

Image by Kanishka

To Be or Not To Belong

A single strand
Amongst the sea of hairs on my head
Is an unapologetic red.
I discover this quite by accident
(How else)
One afternoon when
Usually muted-golden sunshine alights,
Un-usually,
Blindingly,
Upon a – bronze thread?
I meditate vaguely
On the surprises that a twenty-year-old body
Whose secrets you thought you were the keeper of –
“It doesn’t belong. I’ll cut it off?”
Whose secrets you thought you were the keeper of,
Can so easily spring on y–
I register, I turn, but my mother’s gone
In that purposive manner of hers.

A thin line of red interrupts,
Sure,
The sea of black.
(If you look closely,
Nay – obsessively.)
On the globe of my skull,
Yes,
It is an oddness.
And yet, it cannot help but belong.

Has it not –
Drawn on the same soil as its dark peers to shoot up?
Softened under the same shampoo-soaked fingers?
Cowed under the pushy teeth of the same comb?
What a regressive question to ask –
Whether it was indigenous to my head!
This, when the genes of its genesis
Trace back to the same nameless ancestor.
What a perversion this is,
Of belongingness and its meaning.

Let Red have it,
A belonging,
With all the meanings of it –
My favorite being,
A fulfilled longing-to-be Home.
Let the reds and the blacks of the place be;
I know the shearing off wasn’t done right once,
And the saffron-green-whites never made it up
With the green-whites.

Belong, young Red.
Be long and prosper.
And if someone prods, I will be sure to tell them,
I do not have a hair out of place.

Written by Swathi Gangadharan

Image by Kanishka

 

Second to the Right

Selling words was an odd job – sometimes, Vanna would be completely lost on what charm to cast on them. At other times, words were needed for spells with the right ingredients acting on them. Words were bits which came and went, and Vanna’s job was to find their roots, their very essence, and help them make sense.

Vanna loved words – she loved the way they moved, the way they created thoughts, and how different words in different languages could give very distinct feelings. She loved helping people with their words – Jaya would snort at the idea that there was a sense of satisfaction in giving a boy the words to tell a girl he loved her, but there it was.

Vanna used words in very specific ways. They were sold in bits and pieces, were meant for spells and incantations occasionally, and for writing and expression elsewhere.

But primarily, Vanna sold words to create magic.

There was a magic behind what she did to them already, she knew. She could manipulate words the way some people would breathe – she could sift them from thin air and paste them all across the sky. But the real magic was not in the way atmospheric words with the right charm could actually change atmosphere (Double, double, toil and trouble hadn’t been a scene created out of thin air, after all. Though Shakespeare’s witches were culturally appropriated, they held a sliver of truth: messing with major power structures and very intense inner psychology required a very specific form of tempest) or in the way animalistic words could give you the feeling of being that very animal when used right. Magic was created in the words themselves.

Word magic was found in the roots of the words, roots were found in sounds, and if you went back far enough, everything was made up of the same energy that Vanna tapped into when she manipulated it.

That’s what Jaya also used when she manipulated colours.

You had to be careful with words because they didn’t belong with you for too long, not if you shared them all at once. You had to keep some to yourself, or your stocks all dried up – and that would be a bloody disaster.

*

Jaya operated on colours. She knew how to make reds and blues speak, to make things change appearances almost completely, and to fashion something new out of nothing. And there was Avantika, spouting the roots of words and sounds and whatever else she could think of. Apparently, Sanskrit was important for something, and there were plenty of people speaking French.

When Jaya first came to Delhi (she was actually a resident of Calcutta, and no, she was patently not Bengali) to see Vanna’s shop, all she could think of was “Oh, Avantika.” This didn’t help the state of affairs at all; but at least she was surrounded by good artwork that appealed to her high standard of art – and Jaya had a very high standard of art. She was a Colour Mage, after all.

And then Vanna had gone ahead and named her shop Word Smith of all things. Avantika liked naming her shops after poets and baloney like that, which is why it irked Jaya that she had named it after Wordsworth of all people. And she had done it knowing that Jaya was going to be working there for at least six months.

Jaya’s only reason to be working with Vanna was disgustingly sentimental- she wanted to be with her. After Witch Academy, their paths had only intersected when Jaya was in India. Vanna chose to stay there, while Jaya had taken up different jobs all around the world, manipulating colours and paints and people and monsters into giving way to her.

Art was so much more abstract. The specificity of words made Jaya’s head spin, and she didn’t know how Vanna managed to sell love in so many different shades: love, pyaar, mohabbat, ishq, prem, and god knows what else.

Whichever the case, Jaya didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It was dizzying – even before the kid walked into the store.

“How can I help you?’ Jaya asked without sparing the kid a glance. Kids came to Vanna’s store in hordes for it was rumored that Vanna charged very little to help you bring your girlfriends around.

This kid was disproportionately small, compared to the other kids that usually came.

He looked completely unsure – (‘distracted?’ thought Jaya) – of himself, so she took the liberty to shoot a red (the bright, scarlet variety) ribbon of light from her finger. He started, and glared at Jaya.

Boys are almost always nervous or headstrong. They either become nervous and unsure of themselves, or just infuse some bravado into their twelve-year-old selves and manage to get entire cohorts of dark wizards after them or some other Harry Pottery bullshit.

“I want yellows and greens, please.” He had a determined bent to his mouth, making Jaya wonder what girl would be convinced by sickly greens and yellows.

Jaya and Vanna shared a look. “What kind of yellows and greens?” Vanna delicately asked.

The boy thought about it. “Sunshine. And I’d like some Pixie Dust, with Radish Ash, preferably. Do you serve hell broths?”

Jaya set away her broom. “What do you take us for, three witches trying their best to create chaos in a Shakespearean play?”

“But – the recipe… says hell broths,” he said hesitantly.

Recipe? What was this kid in for? Jaya half-turned to Vanna to tell him to fuck off – they didn’t need the trouble of associating with whatever the hell he was trying to resurrect – until Vanna glared at her.

“Could we have a look at the recipe? We will stock you adequately,” she said politely.

The boy seemed to be shunning Jaya completely and focused on Vanna’s heart-shaped face. Jaya felt good – she still had it in her to scare boys.

He slipped a sheet to Vanna. Jaya dumped her broom and climbed behind the counter to have a look at it. It demanded the creation of a hell broth, which tipped Jaya off with its nonsensical effort to appeal to a certain audience.

It seemed a simple enough mix – the kind that you got from slightly shady sources. Vanna, however, was frowning. “You need Black Pixie Dust, Radish Ash, and a pinch of Merwater Salt?”

Jaya had no idea what this mix was supposed to produce, but she had a feeling that it wasn’t good from the way Vanna was looking at the recipe.

“Jaya, could you bring the Dust and the Ash? I’m sure I know where the yellows and greens are,” Avantika said, still eyeing the kid suspiciously.

Jaya shrugged. It was the kid’s problem, whatever the hell he was doing. When she came out, Vanna had taken out some specific yellows and greens- a bottle that held a piece of sunlight and sap coloured greens – so there was a bright green, and a dull one.

“Please try to use only one pinch of the Pixie Dust. It can be harmful in large quantities,” Vanna cautioned. Jaya knew this too well, Pixie Dust was a little bitch when you were trying to make memory potions for recollection. You had to tame it just right – especially the black one. Vanna was the best Pixie Dust supplier in the country; she sold it pre-conditioned so that you needed as little effort in making it listen to you as possible.

“While using the Pixie Dust, I would also advise you to use it with gloves on. Store it in your refrigerator, preferably. If you don’t have one, try to maintain a two-degree temperature for it,” Vanna went on. “I would also like to tell you that amateur Synonacromancy can be dangerous, and it is advisable to hire a professional. It would cost less in the long run.”

Woah. The kid was trying to bring words to life.

Jaya was itching to tell Vanna not to do it, but Vanna’s heart melted very fast. She liked helping people, and the kid was pulling his best forlorn act behind all the ridiculous bravado he had conjured up from nowhere.

“I’ll be fine,” he told Vanna.

“As for payment: everything except the Pixie Dust can be paid for in money,” said Vanna.

Now he looked nervous again. “What do you want?” he asked.

“What are you offering?” asked Jaya almost threateningly.

The boy glared at Jaya. Jaya stared back with complete apathy.

“It’s a full moon,” said Vanna kindly. “Child Blood is generally a very powerful ingredient in hell broths.”

The boy thought about it. “Alright,” he said. He looked faintly green at the thought of it, but Jaya, distinctly done-with-this, pulled out a card and swiped it in the blood machine, putting in some numbers.

“You could take it on my card,” said Vanna with an indulgent smile.

“You’re overdue,” said Jaya darkly.

“She keeps my blood accounts better than I do,” said Vanna with her nicest, most ‘I’m-a-lovely-sunshine-and-hipster-witch’ laugh.

“Right,” said the boy. “Where do I sign?”

Jaya snorted again. “Honestly, what do people take witches for? Some alternative weirdos, who make hell broths in icy weather? That is just so old.”

As soon as the receipt for the blood deal came out, a small vial of blood appeared out of nowhere.

“Ouch!”  the boy yelped.

“There you go,” said Jaya. “If the spell fuc –”

“JayaHe’sTen!” said Vanna very sharply under her breath.

Jaya glared. “ – Messes up, do not come back.”

“Don’t worry,” glared the boy right back. “I won’t need to.”

Jaya mentally rolled her eyes. No way in hell was this kid not coming back to appeal to Vanna’s wonderful sense of helpfulness.

*

The boy obviously came back, and Jaya itched to unleash all her powers in light and colour manipulation and blast him outside with a glamour charm, making his head look like a beaver’s. Since her daydreams were impossible due to Vanna, she bit her tongue and looked at the boy as if he had trespassed on all Ten Commandments and more in one go.

“What do you want?” she asked him. His scruffy face had lost whatever bravado he had most definitely conjured up, and he looked at her pleadingly.

Thankfully, Vanna was not here yet, so Jaya was at full liberty to kick him out.

“’Please – you have to help me –” he said frantically. His bag rattled.

“Get out of the shop,” Jaya ordered. She did not want to deal with this again. When Vanna had been working in Calcutta, and had sold someone some Phoenix Tears, Jaya had come down to find the shop in complete tatters, with several colours escaping out of jars. It had taken Jaya, Isabella, Morwenna, Chris, and Rob’s combined effort to find some of the creatures and words that had escaped in that fiasco.

“But you have to!” he practically sobbed.

“Vanna gave you safety tips, and she told you to hire someone. We don’t owe you anything,” Jaya condescended.

Vanna chose this moment to come in, and smiled at the boy. “Hello, Veer,” she said pleasantly.

Jaya shot daggers at Vanna. “His name is boy or you, interchangeably!”

“This isn’t Harry Potter,” said Vanna, her eyes still smiling. “What’s the problem?”

Even as the boy looked like he would burst, his bag actually did.

It broke into pieces, with birds and colours leaking out. Bright yellow dripped from a book, while green glittered everywhere.

Vanna’s face went blank.

“What,” she asked, her voice venomous, “were you trying to do?”

Jaya had only seen Vanna angry twice – once, when Chris had decided that he would give up going to University classes in favour of joining a very niche society of people using magical enchancers. Vanna had become cold in her anger, and when Vanna became cold, she was ice.

 

*

The kid had fucked up.

Vanna didn’t hold back. Words were to be treated with care; they were not abstract like colours. They had minds of their own, and the ones that were tampered with, were to be used carefully.

She could see that the sunshine yellow she had given him had melded into something else entirely- beeswax. (Wonderful word, that, her brain went idly). She noticed so many other words that were dripping out of the book that she wondered whether the kid had been trying to give the book a coronary.

Flibbertigibbet floated through the shop, with its feathers and everything. Jaya looked at the bird-thing interpretation of flibbertigibbet with mild incredulity.

“I just wanted to talk to Luna Lovegood!” said the boy.

“So you try to bring her to life?” asked Vanna dropping her tones so low that even Snape would have been impressed.

“It was supposed to last only an hour!” said the boy desperately, “I was just –”

“First of all,” said Vanna, her cold voice making the kid tremble. “Black Pixie Dust cannot be used to bring people to life. It’s used to bring animals to life. This would have worked for an ordinary fictional animal and even then you do not use words so frivolously! Do you know what happens when they decide to do things their way? All the ‘razzmatazz’es in the word start up a goddamn cacophony of saxophones. ‘Whoosh’ goes into the trees and makes them all explode – if you use a ‘whoosh’ powerful enough, it may even cause major weather changes, locally and otherwise.”

Jaya put her hand on Vanna’s shoulder, which Vanna promptly shrugged off.

The book let out a high pitched scream.

“What’s happening?” asked the boy, in tears.

“Your Luna Lovegood is stuck somewhere between the words and corporeality,” said Vanna scathingly. “Or rather, whatever the hell you brought to life. Jaya, bottle some of the colours.”

Jaya worked quickly and carefully.  The yellows began to come in control, as Vanna ran around looking for the right words and spells.

You needed something with more of a kick for bringing something back to life and –

The book snapped at her, creating teeth from nowhere.

Vanna swore, and Jaya smiled imperceptibly. She tied the book down with one of her moon-chains. She hated using moon-chains; they began to dissolve from the very first use.

But there was the book, trying to eat her arm off. It snarled, and snapped at her again. The white chain gripped tight against the binding of Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix and a few pages went astray.

Jaya swore so loudly that the ten year old would most definitely have picked something up – but Vanna didn’t stop her. Jaya was being attacked by paper cuts.

Vanna rushed to her aid, but Jaya shooed her away. “Pass me the magnifying glass and fetch a subduing potion. While you’re at it, I think you also ought to try and get this fucking book to stop.”

Vanna tossed the magnifying glass to Jaya, and she rushed to the back. She picked some Phoenix feathers, moon dust, and sea salt. She also chose a little bit of Ice-Blood.

They used the subduing potion quickly and effectively against the pages, and Vanna began to mix everything up extremely, extremely fast.

“What’s happening?” asked the boy.

“Shut up, kid,” said Jaya, echoing Vanna’s emotions. Jaya had found an ingenious way to burn the papers,  (which had caused the child to burst into proper tears, but Vanna didn’t have the time or inclination to feel bad for him) – she was using a magnifying glass to focus all the sunshine-y yellow, converting it to actual sun. The paper burnt vigorously.

“Right. I have to undo the chain, Jaya,” said Vanna quickly.

Jaya nodded, grimly shoving all the sunlight into one of her Unicorn Glass jars.

Vanna opened the book, and almost immediately a shapeless, horrifying, monster of a thing emerged from the pages. It screeched at them, deathlike – and sharp, black, faceless teeth snapped at both of them.

Vanna shut her eyes, focusing on all the important words: mimble-wimble, went her mind numbly, as she began to piece out the figure one at a time.

Here was the good thing about good words and good Word Witches – they knew how to tame their favourite words. And this thing was essentially made from some of Vanna’s favourite words – she separated all the ‘whoosh’es and shoved them all back into the page, dropping a bead of acid into the book to stop the wind from going nuts.

Then, she moved her fingers, adding a little moon dust as she did so – to sooth the ‘Bamboozle’ into being quiet. It erupted into ribbons and party hats, which was – well, bamboozling. That might have been caused because Vanna was thinking about eating cake after this.

The words finally settled down a little, and Vanna used her wildly put together mixture to silence the book. She forced the poor word creature which was stuck between worlds and words to recede into the book.

Vanna and Jaya took deep breaths, wondering, in all honesty, what they had just been through.

The boy looked at the pile that was his book. Jaya swept it into a dustpan, wriggled her fingers over it, and ordered the paints and colours and pages to heal. Vanna could never understand how Jaya could do that without conscious thought.

“Here,” said Jaya, shoving the book back to the boy. “Do not come back.”

The boy nodded gratefully.

Jaya and Vanna had a mental conversation, simultaneously deciding to have a cup of tea.

The ‘closed’ sign hung on the shop’s door. As for where the shop was? Second to the right, obviously. And straight on until you found it.

Written by Tanvi Chowdhury

Featured image by Sanna Jain

No, I Do Not Have A Home

I see three girls sitting on the terrace next to my building. They are discussing, rather loudly, the regret that seeps in after a loved one is gone from our lives. “You will regret even the memory of their presence after you’re through with them.”

I smile as I remember talking myself hoarse in just the same way once, with Sreyasha and Prerana, sitting on a stranger’s terrace (chaat). “Chaat is the finest antidote for all that is irreparably bishonno (melancholic),” I had read somewhere. I miss our chaat.

Our midnight discussions conclude upon one note – no, we are never through with some people even after their absence, voluntary or otherwise.

Our conversation doesn’t limit itself; it strikes myriad notes. It travels through dark alleys, in strange taxis, through yellow lights, manifesting in our sudden decision to pull a night that we will forever remember. A sudden, unplanned never-ending night that breaks into dawn at a forlorn park where we can discuss our political ideologies and listen to a single song, over and over again. We could never recreate that night.

Perhaps, we can repeat our stunt, but for that we have to be in sohor (city). And sohor is where they are, where there are yellow taxis, and where there is a sense of belonging to the era where rock music and revolutionary leaders meet at a clandestine chaa’er bhaar (tea cup). But, in a strange city, I see those girls dealing with life, and I know everyone has their own sohor in their own little worlds. Mine is fractured into three different climates, two different people, only waiting for the night on which we can become who we hope we are.

No. I do not have a home. And, I do not regret it. I have something far more everlasting. I have sohor instead, that refuses poriborton (change), that still has three young confused minds trying to make sense of each other and realizing then that the essence of their beings only remain in their chaos.

Sohor is made up of our remnants, and we are made up of its. Our detritus is found in the cigarette butts that we discard, and in the passersby who discard us. The horizon doesn’t change, not a bit. Screw meeting halfway, we cross the bridge every damn time. Because, we know, to get to sohor we have to walk wearing our hearts upon our sleeves. And we don’t mind. I can speak for myself at least – I don’t mind. Because I know once I cross the bridge, I will see the field, and the trams, and the Eden, and Park Street, and Coffee House. I will find a yellow taxi, and it will take me to my sohor.

Written by Adrija Ghosh

Image by Stuti Pachisia

Love and Carrots

With you in my arms, I think of only
poetry curving in on tongues, then pages, then entire landscapes of bodies
that grow into war fields of words,
every weapon a stuck syllable that eats into the insides of being:
how do I say it all to you?
Do I say it all to you?

With you in my arms, poetry comes easy, I like to think.
I call you both the Muse and the Maker, your breath
writes in different fonts across my skin
and I don’t know if I’m the poet or the poem.
This is bound to happen, isn’t it, with a work of art?
Is this how we create art, then-
by holding the people we love in our arms
and hoping that something will come from this union,
something tangible, a poem, a photograph, a little locket of love
that will stand as a reminder of hope
in all the times to come.

With you in my arms,
I feel the need to create something eternal
as much as to create something only meant for this moment.
How does one then deal
with this feeling of passing-ness?
How does one write it down?
How does one make poetry
of an empty, empty feeling?

We can write it down as our favourite words, I guess,
but love
is as much a favourite
as carrots
and I hate choosing.

Although, with you in my arms,
it is a bad idea to pick ‘carrots’.
I risk sounding like a creep with everything I say,
any which way.

Written by Swastika Jajoo

Image by Stuti Pachisia