Eye Browse

1. Did you know of the Indian restaurant called Vagina Tandoori? Would you fancy a meal at the Bung Hole? [Link courtesy Mental Floss]. [In comments, Siddharth points out that it is actually a photoshopped joke]

2. Journalist/author Ron Rosenbaum [a byline that will resonate with readers of Esquire, Village Voice, Vanity Fair

The 138 index cards that contain 'Laura'

The 138 index cards that contain 'Laura'

and the magazine section of the New York Times] was largely instrumental in the upcoming publication of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s posthumous publication. In an article for Slate, Rosenbaum writes of the secrecy surrounding the book in the run up to publication, and on the fascinating insights Nabakov’s revisions/excisions offer into the author’s creative process.

No, the indecipherable scrawls moved me for a different reason. I’d known about them from the photos in Die Zeit, of course, but this time they struck me more deeply. They were evidence of the drama inherent in the creative process, a process whose heart is revision. I devoted a substantial portion of The Shakespeare Wars to the scholarly controversy over whether Shakespeare revised his play scripts. Ben Jonson famously said that Shakespeare never “blotted out a line,” but a substantial case has been made in recent years that he did rewrite on occasion, sometimes altering single words or phrases, sometimes making more substantial edits.

Shakespeare’s revisions (and Nabokov’s) matter for two reasons. Revision indicated that even these writers shouldn’t be considered godlike figures from whom the muse poured forth perfection on the first try, but writers who are—in some ways—like other writers, in at least this respect: They were subject to second thoughts. And distinguishing what those second thoughts might have been and why they focused on rethinking this or that word or phrase or scene offers a window into the meaning of the work.

But—and this is the second but not secondary meaning of the blottings out—revisions also offer a window into the humanity of the author. That even the greatest of geniuses (and yes, I believe the term is valid for these two) were not superhuman; they live in the same world of error and doubt that the rest of us inhabit. The fact that they think they’ve made “mistakes” makes their work even more perfect than it would be if they never blotted a line or scratched out a word.

From the archives, a Times Online article of a year ago about the book and the burning debate on whether or not it should be destroyed per the author’s own wishes; Dmitri Nabokov on NPR [and on BBC] about why he decided to go ahead and publish;  and the original Rosenbaum piece in Slate that first made the case for the publication of the book. Also read, my friend Salil Tripathi’s superb essay in Mint on the book, and on the dilemma Nabakov placed on his son. Clip:

Burning a book is different from burning minutiae of our quotidian lives. Books are often burnt in anger, and when they are, they presage evil. On my first visit to Berlin, I walked away from the Brandenburg Gate, along the avenue of imperial grandeur, Unter den Linden. To my right, I came across an open quadrangle. There, a part of the floor was made of glass. Inside, you could see stacks of bookshelves, all white, glowing in a yellow light. The bookshelves were empty. There was a palpable stillness around that quaint monument which was eerie. It was meant to be: It was the monument to the ritual book-burning the Nazis performed once they seized power in Germany in the 1930s. They targeted troublesome authors: Jews, homosexuals, anti-fascists, or those otherwise sympathetic to communism or leftist ideas.

The link of creativity between the written word on a printed page, the thought that goes behind it, the imagination of a mind that gives it shape, is what makes us human, and it is what expression and humanity are all about. Destroy the work, and you destroy the thought behind it—and the thinker.

3. The ‘parents’ of Web2.0 have moved on — to Web Squared. [Ever since Bobilli Vijay Kumar, in his Times of India obituary, called Raj Singh Dungarpur the ‘uncrowned grandfather of Indian cricket’, I haven’t been able to mention such notional parentage without an involuntary grin].

In this sense, the Web Squared era is an era of augmented reality, arriving (like the sensor revolution) stealthily, in more pedestrian clothes than we expected. Our devices can tell us what we’re seeing (like the Wikitude travel guide application for Android which uses the camera, location data, compass and image recognition to tell you what monument you’re looking at), what we’re not seeing (like Darkslide, which shows you photos of what’s near you), what we’re hearing (CDDB, the database that recognizes music tracks by the sequence of track lengths on a CD), and what we’re not hearing (looking up recent Tweets near you is like incredibly powerful eavesdropping). Our devices can also tell us what our friends think of what we’re seeing: the folks at GraffitiGeo, which combines restaurant reviews with social gameplay, are working on an iphone app that will allow users to point the phone’s camera at a venue and see an overlay of relevant comments about it from other users. That means our world will have “information shadows.” Augmented reality amounts to information shadows made visible.

There are implications far beyond uber-convenient restaurant reviews. As sensors become ubiquitous, they will create new business opportunities and transform existing businesses. We are already seeing new classes of applications for health and fitness, from NikePlus, Phillips DirectLife and Fitbit on the consumer end of the spectrum to real-time outpatient monitoring.

And while on the Internet, an interesting addition to the ongoing debate about whether the Web is increasingly making us a tribe of illiterate, fact-challenged misanthropes: Rubbish, says Dennis Baron, whose new book A Better Pencil makes this case:

Every communication advancement throughout human history, from the pencil to the typewriter to writing itself, has been met with fear, skepticism and a longing for the medium that’s been displaced. Far from heralding in a “2001: Space Odyssey” dystopia, Baron believes that social networking sites, blogs and the Internet are actually making us better writers and improving our ability to reach out to our fellow man.

4. Shashi Tharoor is not the only minister in this Cabinet capable of making impolitic statements. Here’s Jairam Ramesh, on the subject of climate change:

You have also mentioned that India has not been able to educate other countries about what it is doing. In a general way, is it just the lack of education and knowledge, or is there more to countries like US and other Western nations blaming India?

The media always needs a punching bag. The world needs a villain, and India and China have emerged villains of the piece — India more than China. But I think a part of the problem is of our own making.

We have not gone out to the world, have not engaged the world and explained in a proactive manner what we are doing, what our compulsions are, what we can do, what we cannot do.

I think we should lecture less to the world; we should be less sanctimonious. We should try to engage the world in a spirit of dialogue. And that becomes very difficult for Indians because we have a sense of superiority to the rest of world.

I think a little less superiority, a little more humility on the part of India will serve us very well in the future.

5. Random Reads, the blog the publishing house launched in July, is worth a weekly stop on your surfing calendar. The latest entry is from Ashok Banker, who ‘interviews’ Ravan. [Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said… oh darn, this is becoming a reflex now; every time I read a news story I go ‘What would Zed have said?’ 😦 ]

6. Is India still uncomfortable with erotic art and literature, was the subject of an NDTV debate featuring Ruchir Joshi and Shobha De [whose overwrought descriptions of sex give erotic literature a bad name].

In the land of Kamasutra and Kajuraho and newer discoveries each year, ‘still’?

In passing, I continue to marvel at the odd places I stumble on erotic art in this country — in the brilliant frescoes that adorn the sanctum sanctorum of Guruvayur, most recently.

My best find [aide memoire to self: find and toss in the pictures and notes from that trip] was during a random bike ride along the outskirts of Chingelput district, in Tamil Nadu. I chanced on this village, stopped at a local tea shop for a cutting and a chat, and one thing led to another that in turn led to a local sitting pillion on my bike and navigating me through uncharted footpaths to a forested region, in the midst of which I found this massive tank.

Its walls and steps were colored the green of mildew; its water was a deeper, more forbidding shade of jade — but once you got past the neglect, I focused on intricate series of steps leading into it, and discovered breathtaking erotic art covering every inch, all the way down to the water line.

My guide was a bit short on details about the time period of the tank, and the identity of the bloke who caused it to be constructed; subsequent inquiries at the village produced the story of some king of long ago, name long since forgotten, who caused a half dozen such tanks to be built in his territory. The king deemed it essential, a village elder told me, that everyone from the youngest of children be totally exposed to, and conversant with, all manifestations of human sexuality. And his preferred mode of sex education was the sculptures he caused to be carved on the sides of the tanks, which back in the day was the social node where everyone gathered, mornings and evenings, for bath and gossip. [Acclaimed Hindu statesman… et cetera]

‘Is India still uncomfortable with erotic art and literature’, indeed!

7. Historical fiction was the subject of two previous posts [here, and here]. One more — this time, from one of my favorite book blogs, Jai Arjun’s Jabberwock. Jai’s subject is Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a book I’ve been looking forward to and am yet to acquire and read. The money quote, that addresses the genre’s perennial fascination:

When we learn about history primarily through cold details set out “objectively” in textbooks, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that the distant events we take for granted – events that now appear set in stone, almost as if they could have unfolded in no other way – were the accumulated products of the personalities, life experiences and whimsies of human beings who happened to be in a certain place at a certain time: real people with ambitions, weaknesses, dilemmas, biases and prejudices of their own. One of the things Mantel does wonderfully well in this book is to show how Cromwell’s life and character – in conjunction with those of the others around him – came to have a bearing on the vital events of his time.

8. Tim Kreider, in NYT’s Happy Days blog, suggests that life has become one long search for self-validation. The money quote:

A colleague of mine once hosted a visiting cartoonist from Scandinavia who was on a promotional tour. My colleague, who has a university job, a wife and children, was clearly a little wistful about the tour, imagining Brussels, Paris, and London, meeting new fans and colleagues and being taken out for beers every night. The cartoonist, meanwhile, looked forlornly around at his host’s pleasant row house and sighed, almost to himself: “I would like to have such a house.”

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.

10. Good music, Rahman — pity about the movie.

11. Great read: The Most Violent City on Earth, from Spiegel Online.

12: Great read, to round out the dozen: Amitava Kumar’s entry for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction: Post-Mortem. If that floats your boat, here’s more. [Link courtesy Amit Varma on Twitter]

13. What the hell, let’s make it 13. Remember Asif Zardari getting on the receiving end of a fatwa for his, what’s the word, warm greeting of Sarah Palin on the sidelines of the UNGA this time last year? Now check out Silvio Berlusconi’s best imitation of Joey from Friends, vis a vis Michelle Obama.

Lovely, long weekend coming up. Might return for a brief post Sunday on the India-Pak game tomorrow if it proves to be worth writing about; else, see you all Tuesday.

Happy Dussera, all; play safe.