T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Sunday, December 17, 2006


It is Sutlaj's comment that has brisked me up to leave this post.

It's nearing the end of the year, and nearly all my writing has been done to complete my novel.
Funny about that, though. The novel had already been completed in 2001. But then my publishers put forward this condition: that I write a non-fiction book first, and then they would take up the novel and take it up in a big way. I agreed after a lot of thought, but the book stayed stuck and reluctant.
In the meanwhile, short stories and poetry for various anthologies happened, as also a novel for children.
Now my editor has moved on to another publishing house, and I have been polishing and doing a bit of work on the novel; and a week ago, I sent it in to the new publishers. Now, somehow, I feel that I can get on with the non-fiction; as though the weight of the novel has been taken away from me. Whew, these are personal idiosyncracies, and they do get in the way of writing. But it's also what's fun about the process of hibernation where you close in on yourself and have nothing but a keyboard and screen for company for hours--days--together. Maybe 2007 will see this blog grow bigger and stronger.

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's been more than two months since my last post. The interesting thing here is that it's like diary-writing, since I can almost completely believe that no one else is reading any of the stuff I write. For a writer that can be powerfully motivating, since everything else he writes is written and urged for public consumption!

Here, if one goes by the utter lack of any comments, it's Me and Me Alone, and the diary syndrome is a great way to keep pouring out all my thoughts. It's been Pooja week and I've just taken out all my written and in-the-process writing from the pooja room. It's a day of hibernation after which we feel sort of refreshed and rejuvenated, we're tempted to feel that, that is. I'll be back in a couple.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Saw a play at The School, KFI, last evening.
Risen From The Ashes, if I remember right. It was born out of a sandwiching and layering-on of serious issues, and built up painstakingly by the students themselves. Knowing the workings of the school, it isn't difficult to guess how much is the contribution of the Principal's wife and main inspirer, Sumitra. She takes them through fire to get the final product. I was impressed. Though there is raw energy and often unrefined emotion, it is wonderful to realise how much these kids know and how much they intuit and how strongly they can react.
Forget about my own schooldays when we thrived on drawing-room comedies drawn-in from the West. I think the times and the attitudes have started offering us a different brand of students. If they all get together seriously--not losing the Fun, of course--all that "impossible" talk of dreaming a dream where the youth of today can fashion a brave new world will turn slowly, miraculously Possible. Imagine a world where we see Globalisation in terms of getting to know each other rather than expanding our territory at the expense of whoever gets in the way. A kind of Grab-alisation, if you like.
Today's kids seem like they can do a bit of cleaning up.
If they don't get sidetracked by adults along the way, that is.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I come back after some hours and read what I'd written.
And find that the last post is almost identical--- most of the way--- to what I'd written a couple of posts earlier!
How's that!
Floating along on the wings of memory, you sometimes find yourself getting dropped!
There's writing and writing.
And the more you write, the more you discover that there's so much more to discover!
Right now I'm working on a film script. It was strange territory at first, but now it's going on as if I've been doing this all my life! It's probably because I've watched so many films in my life, all kinds, and in all kinds of moods--- analytical, nostalgic, mast-bhari enjoyment, etc. The script is based on the first play I ever wrote and which won a prize and was staged by the British Council. You can see its director's photo a couple of posts earlier, the one that begins : "I was told that there's some problem...." This script is for a friend whose first feature film is now being readied for release.
It's a bit of an eerie thing, this one that I'm writing, and it's great fun to get in there and imagine visually all that's going to happen. I guess that's how scripting really works. And after that, you sort of sit back and give it a fresh glance to see if the concept sits well on the action.
Or something like that!

Friday, July 21, 2006

My latest book is finally out! It's from Penguin, and I've got my author's copies, and hopefully we'll soon find them out in the bookstores. It's called DEVIL'S GARDEN: Tales Of Pappudom, and it's for children, 10 years upwards. I had great fun writing it, imagining myself in the thick of an eerie jungle, especially the days I spent locked up inside my room in a resort in Alleppey as rain and wind lashed against the windows. Which is a great way to write!

Pappudom is a normal run-of-the-mill village on the banks of the
Tarangam River—or so everyone thinks. But Pappu, a boy living in
the village, knows better. He visited the past once, with the ghost of
his great granduncle, Grand Pappu, after whom the village is named,
and together they had defeated the British army using the ‘Forces of
the Future’. But now, events are taking a turn for the worse.
In ancient times, the most horrific spirits known to man had been
sealed in Chekuthan Thodi, or Devil’s Garden, the forest adjoining
the village. A pact between the humans and the spirit world had ensured
a boundary between Pappudom and Devil’s Garden. But someone
from the village has violated the pact and ventured into the forest.
Now the spirits too want to break the pact and enter Pappudom,
which can only lead to havoc and destruction. And, to add to
everyone’s concern, a boy has gone missing…
Pappu goes into Devil’s Garden, looking for the lost boy. But there
are some ghastly shocks awaiting him there, and he finds himself
confronting armies of marching trees, a tapping spirit that will sap his
soul, and the crafty Transformer Spirit. Will Grand Pappu reach him
in time to save him? And how does Jolly Jones of the British army fit
into all of this? Can the Guard of the Bridge repair the breach, or is this
the beginning of the end . . .

Monday, July 17, 2006

i was told that there's some problem with accessing blogs, and that the government--or whoever--was blocking blogs.
so when surfing, i decided to check it out.
clicking on my blog, i drew a blank, so i thought it's true, they're blocking blogs, but then i came to the blogger site and signed in, and here i was. so i thought why not post an entry, even though i have absolutely nothing to write and i didn't want to take up valuable blogging space by writing on irrelevant things, so i think i will stop here except to say that i'm trying to work on a film script at the moment, a reworking of the story of the first play i ever wrote and which won that british council prize about 20 years ago. it's really interesting writing a script because you're seeing things happening, shots and expressions and close-ups and eerie lighting (since that's one of the things my story, especially the film version, has)---and when you visualize all that it's doubly exciting, and the excitement fuels the writing and hopefully livens up the script.
by the way, i ran into the director of my play after yes, 20 years, and that was a couple of months ago. like all unexpected events, he appeared, we spoke, and he left, promising to be back in the country soon. actually, i was speaking to a city club's book discussion group, and afterwards i get this call on my mobile, are you still here, i saw your name on the notice board. and i said, yes, i'm here, and he turns up, none the worse for 20 years and having directed my play! i've got his photo in here. a rather sad effort in the dimness of the club's restaurant with my mobile phone, but it gives an idea. his name's vinod anand.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A long time ago, when the Sholavaram races were in full swing, a group of us gathered one night outside Buhari's on Mount Road. Being a time of Prohibition, drinks masked in soda bottles were consumed behind the main building. Our group included riders who were going to whip their mobikes to a frenzy on the next day's tracks. The next day some of us would be part of the cheerers-on at the pits. But this is not about the next day. This is about the previous night. As we walked down the pavement outside Buharis, a vendor sat there with his product---a green frog attached by a wire to a little balloon that one held and squeezed to make the frog jump. And he was calling out as part of his sales pitch: "Jembing frog, jembing frog!" And one of our guys wanted to buy one, so he picked it up and tried in vain to make it jump. And he returned it to the vendor saying: "Jembing frog, something wrong!" That phrase has stayed with most of us. Today, my Thinkopotamus is behaving more like that "jembing frog", jumping away on April 1 and returning on June 23! Let's see if we can keep this frog's "jembing" under control from this point on.
Anyway here's another pic. Vinayak at the Masquerade reading.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

here he is! i'd like to formally introduce Thinkopotamus. say hi, and he'll be your friend for life. for the life of this blog, that is.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This one's about an article I wrote in the Sunday Express on March 26th, a day before World Theatre Day. I read the piece in print when I was in Bangalore. Returning to Chennai I found the following email in my inbox:
Sreekumar/Sushila Ravindranath:Sreekumar, I read your article entitled "Giving purists a decentburial". I give below my impressions/queries on the same..1. Could you please give me a definition of the word "purist" as usedin your article?2. I question your sentence " Now all that we imaginecan actuallytake place on stage - we simply sit back and take it all in." Is thatthe function of a truly discerning theatre viewer, theatre lover ortheatre critic? If one were to theoretically pose experience asgreater than understanding when viewing an art form, I do agree. But,this does not mean that we do not critically examine all that we seeon stage or on the walls. The primary function of a critic is tocritically analyse and review a production.3. You seem to imply that "rural phantasy" is an innovation inasmuchas it has used music and dance. Is that so? Madras Players have usedit in thearly fifties in their production of Hayavadana. Why go thatfar? This year this technique has been used in the productions of"Nagamandala" and "Hayavadana" by late Bhagyam and Yamuna. The pointis not using music and dance or video clippings (like Brecht'smontagetechnique) which is important. How you use it and how far ithasbeen integrated into theatre. In this respect, "Rural phantasy", inmy opinion has failed.4, If you mean by the word "purists" traditionalists" or "classicists"who have frowned upon the two productions you have mentioned in yourarticle, you are sadly mistaken. It is traditionalists and those whodo not know much about modern dance who have respectively endorsedboth productions. So, please do not be under the false impression thatit is modernists or innovators who have criticised these productions.The criticism is not about the techniques used, but how they have beenused.5. Apart from everything else "Rural Phantasy" has been criticisedfrom an ideological point of view and not merely a technical point ofview. Some of us have found the subliminal messages of the playreactionary, revisionary, anti-female, anti-male, anti-village,anti-nationalist freedom struggle. So, you should look into what wehave to say before you pass generalised remarks about anyone whocriticises the play.6. It is very easy, Sreekumar, to churn out sensationalistjournalistic articles without substantiating your points or enteringinto a dialogue about the same. These throw-away statements on the eveof the World Theatre Day make me wonder why we celebrate such days atall. I realise why criticism and that too art criticism is notdeveloping in this country. We seem to have equated "criticism" or"review" with "eulogy" , haphazard crowd pulling techniques withinnovation and experimentation, and unquestioning acceptance as thehallmark of dignity and intellectuality.I feel that these kind of articles give a wrong kind of impression toreaders and hence this email. I do realise that serious and insightfulcriticism is out of place in the modern scenario of performing arts.However, i thought I cannot leave this article unquestioned, hencethis email. Kind regards vasanthi

For those who know, Vasanthi is a blunt and passionate reviewer and critic.
Since I had to have my say as well, here's the response I sent her:
dear vasanthi, i was in bangalore for some days and found your email on my return. i thought i would finish some pending work and then sit down to reply
at leisure. which was when someone pointed out your review of "rural phantasy" on a website. it provides a point of reference for my response. by "purist", i do not mean traditionalist or classicist as you suggest. i mean the theatre-goer who brings baggage along with him. he
constantly compares what he sees with what he expects, and growls at the difference. the purist labels theatrical productions and ticks off those
elements that do not appear to "fit in". which is why i spoke about giving theatre its due and judging "each production within its own unique
framework". otherwise, innovation would always have to gather strength from its struggles against claustrophobic criticism. critics watching a performance with the backing of their potential reviews imagine they are interpreting it for the benefit of their readers,
including future audiences. they believe they are informing the audience. when this leads to the idea of a classroom of theatre-goers and a lofty critic,
the seriousness and significance of criticism is lost. you write in your review: "The reception that the play received also proves to me that Chennai for all its cultural pretensions, is ready only
for entertainments, extravaganzas, carnivals and melas and not for serious theatre." i can hardly think of a more sweeping, generalised and
opinionated statement in a serious piece of criticism. it dismisses whole audiences and the uniqueness of theatre in a few words. it goes well with
similar statements in the review: "The acting was tame, stereotypical and mediocre." you add: "we had not gone to the theatre to watch a temple
event, but a contemporary theatre production." it would be easier, wouldn't it, to go to a restaurant and chose your preferences from a menu. in my opinion--and it is a personal one--when the critic watches a play with his baggage firmly in hand, he is alienating himself from the
performance and already sitting in judgment. the role of the critic is to watch a play within its own terms of reference, and then go back and analyse it
in the light of what he has learnt and experienced of theatre. thus this role ideally consists of two parts: watching the play within its own framework,
and then holding it up against the light of expertise. which is also a good way to avoid knee-jerk reactions. in the case of the play being discussed, i remember the playwright/ director telling people (i think it was during a televised interview) to
enjoy themselves. later, they could go back home and try to think of the issues involved. I do not, therefore, see the "pretension" that you mention in
the following extract from your review: "....The difference is that commercial cinema or theatre does not claim to be anything other than what it is, but
in this case there is a pretension of good and even contemporary theatre couched under the entertaining and even seducing elements such as music,
dance, satire, seemingly progressive ideas etc." you quote from my article ("Now all that we imagine can actually take place on stage - we simply sit back and take it all in.") and ask: "Is
that the function of a truly discerning theatre viewer, theatre lover or theatre critic?" i didn't say it was. in fact, in my column in the same paper, i had
once written about the invasive nature of some films that erodes the participatory role of the audience. i was simply speaking of today's scenario in
the "purist" article, and not blindly endorsing its validity. next. "You seem to imply that 'rural phantasy' is an innovation inasmuch as it has used music and dance." i do think that the play has
opened a door. bringing a musician and trained dancers on stage "as enhancement" (my words) in a "glamorous dramatisation" (my words) is
certainly something that has been tried for the first time in english theatre as far as i know, and it paves the way for future possibilities. i didn't review
the plays i mentioned, i merely placed them in the context of where theatre is headed. "Some of us have found the subliminal messages of the play reactionary, revisionary, anti-female, anti-male, anti-village, anti-nationalist
freedom struggle. So, you should look into what we have to say before you pass generalised remarks about anyone who criticises the play." you seem
to think that i was referring to your review in my article. i only read your review when someone mentioned it after i received your email. i was, in fact,
referring to remarks from some members of the audiences of both plays i referred to. if i have to "look into" what you have to say, you will, i hope,
afford me the same privilege before passing judgment on what i "seem to imply". for the record, and voicing my own thoughts, i did not think the play
was "anti" anything. if the reason why "art criticism is not developing in this country" is solely because of "throw-away statements" and "sensationalist
journalistic articles" such as the one i wrote for the sunday express, we should begin worrying about such art criticism, shouldn't we? i trust this finds you well. love & regards, shreekumar

Monday, March 20, 2006

Coming up is World Theatre Day, and things are hotting up for those who want theatre to be able to celebrate. For those who celebrate theatre, however, every new activity is just that. I find veterans are being given honurs and asked to give messages, and all sorts of issues are being taken up to be hosted with theatre.
I've been asked to do a piece for the New Indian Express Sunday magazine. It will appear the day before the Day. I guess the only thing to celebrate is that all types of theatre are welcome nowadays, from the pure to the complicatedly mixed. I saw a modern dance peformance a couple of days ago where theatrical elements are used to create minimal effects that are, nevertheless, stunning at times. I guess everything becomes or forms or is moulded into theatre.
An expression that is communicated and caught becomes theatre. That's why the range is tremendous, right from the spare serious monologue to the hare-brained extravaganza that manages to fit in everything. Nothing is not theatre if you can get an audience to watch.
That's the tragedy and joy of theatre. So on that Day, let's not split hairs, let's welcome the fact that people are interested (compared to some years ago), people are experimenting, and there is the possibility that an audience can be fired up to watch right through that range. Interest is all, and it percolates from the performers to the audience.
I have to be wooed to watch, and then I'm on my own. And the more I contribute to the experience while watching---in terms of deductions, assimilations and conclusions--- the more theatre has triumphed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Talking about not having much to write---here's a deluge. I now have to write five articles, each with its own dealine, and all of them before I leave town in the middle of next week. It's fun to read when you're asked to write. And vice-versa.
To sit down and get down to some really serious work is beyond me at the moment. When I have the articles in front of me (several Word windows tucked accusingly on the bottom of the screen), I feel like closing all of them and working on a new play or on one of my three novels in progress. Or the book I have to write (the publisher tucked accusingly on the bottom of my consciousness). Somehow, like before, they will write themselves and things will be resolved before the next deluge.
Those photographs. It's strange, these are among the only pictures I have of my plays. The earlier two plays have no reminders except in my mind.
Those photos down there are from my play Platform which was directed by Yamuna and staged by The Madras Players to kickstart their 50th year. It's more than nostalgic, because Platform was one of the last plays that Bhagyam (Bhagirathi Narayanan) acted in, and she did a tremendous job with three characters in alternate scenes. She acted earlier too in my Bow Of Rama which was again staged by MP ten years ago. Which brings up a thought--each of my staged three plays had an interval of ten years between them. When the seed is ready but the earth waits, such things are bound to happen. The question is not, what next, but when next!

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Friday, March 17, 2006

I started my first serious (that is, with the serious intention of sticking with it and not letting it fade away) blog last night (or was it today) at 1 a.m. This is the next day, 3 p.m. Once a blog gets going, it becomes an addiction, I've seen people sitting around doing nothing else, so along with my other writing, I guess this is going to be a major preoccupation as well. My fingers may fall off typing, but I'm going to stick with it.