Here We Go

There goes my clever little day off in the middle of the week. I'm doing not two but three tutorials this term, which means that with my own courses I have at least one thing on every day.

Now something completely unrelated. The Whitby Goth Weekend as reported on very nicely by the BBC. For once, they make the whole thing look like fun instead of the spookykid/emo/serial killer image that's usually flogged.


Penni posted ten things she likes that begin with D and has bestowed upon me the letter R. Although research is something quite close to my heart, I'll start off the list with Reunions. Given the amount of traveling I've done (and plan to keep doing), reunions figure pretty heavily in my life, at least as a concept if not a reality. From my family to friends from high school (some of whom I haven't seen in ten years now) college and work, it seems sometimes that I have more people to meet again than meet in the first place.

The other kind of reunion that's got me all giddy is when bands get back together. Specifically The Police (eeeek). I seriously have every single thing they have ever done. From Fallout to the first ever live performance of Message in a Bottle to their last reworking of Don't Stand So Close to Me, to Sting's solo work, Andy Summers's albums, and Steward Copeland's stint with Animal Logic, I. Have. It. All. So yaay for me and they'd better be planning an Australian tour or I'm getting me some voodoo dolls. What I'm happiest about, really, is the possibility of seeing Steward Copeland drumming--I love what he does and his influence is audible in so many different drummers' work that the prospect of seeing the original is just really exciting. You can read all about it here. Now. On with the rest of the list.

I actually do like Research because it means I can spend hours in the library or at the computer (but more the library, really. Weight, texture, smell, sound..there's so much *more* to books.) leafing through information on obscure facets of obscure subjects.

That said, Reading is so obvious it feels a bit like cheating...maybe I'll do 11 just to make up for that. I've wanted to read ever since I figured out that there was a hell of a lot more going on than people were telling me about (To be precise, I was about 3 years old and, following my mother out of her room after asking what was probably yet another awkward question, I realized I'd been fobbed off with some sort of kiddie explanation.) Now, I come from a long line of looker-uppers whose homes are not complete until filled to bursting with dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauri, grammars and the like, and I'd already been watching my elders leap for the nearest reference book any time a question came up, so I suppose my assumption was to be expected. I don't remember learning to read, only that I could. I was very disappointed when, soon after learning to string letters together to make words, I found I *couldn't* read everything.

As should be obvious from my previous posts, Remembering is something I do often and at great length. I won't say reminiscing, necessarily, although it does touch on that often enough, because for me remembering is more an exercise in figuring out why things are the way they are as opposed to dwelling on fond memories. I also love the way connections start sparking when you think about something you haven't thought of for a while and realize it's all there still, neatly filed away for you to take out and examine again.

Good or bad, Relationships are ultimately likeable creatures if you listen to what they have to say.

Riding along on motorbikes is definitely something I developed a taste for, though I've done it seldom. Specifically, an impromptu ride on a motorbike on a road that takes you over bridges and past massive trees and lets you look down at the Kathmandu valley, all in the Rain, of course (thanks, Roy).

Rain. Light rain, heavy rain, cold rain, warm rain, rain with thunder and lightning, rain with wind, rain sizzling on hot concrete, rain kicking up dust when it starts, the smell of rain about to fall, the smell of trees and earth in rain, rain you can drive in, rain you can't drive in, rain with rainbows, rains with heavy, angry clouds...

I enjoy Randomness. The way some thoughts just turn up, some links just get made, some people just happen to have a layover where you live. Unplanned, effortless goodness.

Rilke. By far one of my favorite poets although I have yet to learn enough German to read him in the original which, I'm told, far surpasses the translations I've read so far.

Roads. I love travelling, particularly road trips, and particularly when there are two cars or more. There's something about the possibilites, the unknown, the road stretching ahead of you, leading wherever it leads. Winding mountain roads are amazing, particularly the Karakoram Highway, built on the legendary Silk Route. Imagine what amounts to a tiny strip of metalled road slicing through the most gigantic rock faces on the planet. Or imagine being in the Himalayas trekking up an incline and seeing ahead of you a stone tunnel obscured by foliage through which you can still see a glimmer of light at the other end. Or even just driving the steep, winding Salt Range leg of the highway between Islamabad and Lahore. (Yes, I'm slightly mountain mad.) Roads are in-between places. Roads free you from what and where you've been and keep at bay the necessity of being someone, something, somewhere for just that little while longer. Roads are probably where I can be most at peace.

Useless Information

So I now have a huge stack of books threatening to topple onto my poor little laptop and crush it under their weight. All about translation, of course. As if I'm going to be able (through osmosis, maybe?) to absorb all their relevant content and produce an elegantly argued thesis clearly well-grounded in the current literature of my field. In a word, gah.

What's fun though is coming across information that I have absolutely no use for but that is fascinating anyway. I love the physicality of language, or, put more boringly, the way we use the identical vocal apparatus to produce such a wide variety of language sounds. The most vivid example I remember is watching my mother on the phone once (before New York, so I would have been about 12) when she was conducting two simultaneous conversations, one with my father on the official line and the other with two friends on the other phone. It was fascinating to see her face literally rearrange itself while she switched from Turkish (dad) to French to Urdu/English. She speaks each with its 'proper' accent so I expect the realignment was even more exaggerated than it would have been if she'd kept the same accent. (But how do you learn a language without learning the accent or at least something like it? Isn't it integral to understanding and picking up speech?) The way her cheeks and mouth were placed almost seemed to shift and her entire expression, tone, and volume would change. I keep thinking of the term 'acrobatics' and I suppose, in a sense, it's an apt description.

The other thing, which is related in a way to the first, is the way one's attitude changes in different languages. I speak French with a lower tone, with many more 'throat-clearers' (non, fin, tu vois, et bien, quoi, etc.) than I do English. I also speak it slightly slower than English or Urdu, probably because I go so long between conversations, but also because I tend to trip myself up when I speak too fast in any language and French is harder to disentangle. Technical difficulties aside, my attitude is also more relaxed in French--even my gestures which, in Urdu, can get almost frantic, are larger and smoother. The emotional connection with French actually made itself felt when my mother-in-law died and I found that while functioning in Urdu and even English was a massive effort--I couldn't remember the simplest of words at times and spent much of my time gesturing and nodding--my French revived and supplanted both as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be babbling away in French during funeral preparations in Pakistan. I think it may be that because I spoke to my mother in French as a child--she was particularly pleased by how quickly I picked it up and it's been 'our' language ever since I can remember--I associate a cetain amount of emotional stability with the language. It's what I speak when I want to talk to just her, even though my father is familiar with it and my brother has a fair command of it too. In fact, when we're in an 'us vs. them' type of situation, Ilhan and I will usually fall into it too.

My Urdu has always been somewhat careful, but became far more fluent when I moved to Lahore for college and then to Islamabad. It's already slipping away again though, to the point where Ameel gets a good laugh out my failed attempts to speak it exclusively--we're more diglossic than bilingual in that sense. He ups the ante by responding in Punjabi, which is grossly unfair because it's not a language I claim to speak, regardless of how well I understand it. I speak Urdu very fast though--faster than English--and gesticulate quite a lot (things have been known to fly off the table). I guess I'm never really sure when it's going to run out. I was quite happy to learn to cuss well in it though, since the ability to lose your temper in a language is one good way to measure your grasp of it. But I'll still revert to English when I'm paticularly angry. It's very clearly North American for just being rude or loud or both and my trusty RP for sarcasm and being generally poisonous. So far, luckily, I have not had to do both simultaneously.

Time and Translation

Time seems to fly and crawl simultaneously sometimes. I don't quite get it, but there you go. I'll be slogging away at something utterly boringly unending and suddenly the week's gone. Again. It's like being stuck in a vacuum while time rushes past around me.

The new semester starts on the Feb 26. I'm quite ready to go back to school again, although what with it being the last six (five, really) months of my thesis and tutoring thrown in as well, it should be nice and stressful, but in a good I'm-doing-what-I-want-to-be-doing kind of way. At least that's the idea.

I've been reading buckets on translation and the upshot seems to be that, at present, everyone's got a different take on it and everyone thinks that their take works for them well enough but that obviously others have their own way of doing it, although they couldn't possibly do it that way themselves. Isn't that nice?

What many do agree on is that the choice of what to translate is usually personal, particularly when it comes to poetry. Even when translators work with 'informants' who know the language of the original text, they seem to want to connect with the ideas expressed and explored before they feel able to actually render the same poem in the target language (English in almost all the cases I've read so far). At the same time, most acknowledge that a perfectly literal translation is impossible simply because no two languages are alike enough for a text to travel intact between them. But that's why they do it. Because even though the exact sense cannot be conveyed, something of the essence of the poem can, and that, they feel, is the point. Better to have an imperfect rendering of , say, Homer than none at all.

What any of this means for my thesis remains to be seen, unfortunately. The only thing I have been able to conclude so far is that there has been extremely little contact between Urdu and French. What contact there has been says to me that the two languages should cross-pollinate--the lyrical quality of each seems to me to travel well despite the distance between the languages and I think something in each manages to capture something very basic in the other in a way that English translations of Urdu and French poetry do not. But then for me there already exists a basic connection between Urdu and Frenchbecause I've heard them used in tandem my whole life. There's no such relationship between them and English for me though, even though I've used that my whole life as well--more so than the other two. That's odd.

Tales from the City

Just finished watching Tales from the City and More Tales from the City, based on Armistead Maupin's series of books of the same title. I read Maupin's books back in high school - in Nepal, I think - and enjoyed the whole saga of 28 Barbary Lane. The series is pretty faithful to the original text, as far as I remember it. At various points, I could hear in my head Maupin's original narrative as the action played out. A bit surreal, definitely toned down, but generally rather well done. About half the cast changed between the first and second series, but I'm glad Mrs Madrigal, Mary Anne, and Didi stayed the same. Both Monas were really good and each seemed to exude the right kind of Mona-ness needed at that particular time. I preferred the original Mouse initially, but I got over that by the last episode.

As usual, I think the books were better overall, but is it really fair to compare a production necessarily limited by its medium and budget against the full scope of one's imagination? Increasingly, I don't think it is. Of course I wanted it to look the way it did in my head, but not even the most gifted of filmmakers could have made that happen. But then isn't that why we keep trying: the hope that maybe, just maybe, we'll get it exactly right this time? Which is why, if one must use tedious classical references, those who try to make concrete what they imagine remind me more of Tantalus than anyone visted by the muses.

Excuses, excuses

Story writing is a pain. Mostly because I think of the way I want things to end first and then work my way backwards to what set them off in the first place. Of course, when you get down to actual writing, you have to do it from beginning to end--even the bits and pieces. When you do that, however, the characters or the situation have a pesky habit of deciding that they want to have a say in what happens too, and to hell with your well-crafted, oh-so-clever/poignant/meaningful/disturbing ending.

So I write about writing instead. It's a great escape and it still passes for work because I'm still 'writing' and still engaging with the original project, if only as something to whine about.

The thing is, I've never written actual characters before. I do poetry, images, vignettes, all of which allow you to focus on the point, and only the point, not full fledged people with lives and relationships. I've only ever written short stories centered on violence and gore (I was a happy little teenager) where the characters were simply vehicles for the action, not people in themselves. Ah well. What's the point of being here if not to try on different things for size, right? And I have to say I've learnt a lot already about what makes characters tick, how to make them more real, and so on. I suppose it's just that I'm fundamentally uninterested in people I don't know--until I get to know them, of course. Maybe the more accurate word is disinterested. So the thing to do would be to get to know the lot I'm writing about and suspend the point of the story till then. Sounds like a plan.

Happy New Year

Talk about a long break. Things have changed quite a bit since my last post. I'm on an entirely new continent, back in school, working on a thesis and, most importantly, just writing again. I've met some amazing people in the short time I've been here, attended a wedding, learnt to 'swim' (hey, if you can get from one point of the pool to another without drowning, it counts), started exploring Melbourne properly, really read contemporary Urdu poetry for the first time, bought *pink* Uggs (for Halloween), made kheer for Christmas, started yoga, taught French, received my new journal just in time--I was running out of space in the old one--taken care of a cat, learnt how not to fall over in a moving tram, fallen over in a moving tram, lost touch with people around the globe, gotten back in touch with quite a few people I'd lost touch with, discovered how cool the Aussie music scene is, and rung in the new year with a huge crowd at Federation Square, where they played the Cure and the Josh Owen Band covered 'Get Up, Stand Up'. Now if they'd played early 80s Europop and New Wave, my life would have been complete.


At last, the long-awaited performance! Mazmoon-i-Sauq, with the support of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts and the Capital Development Authority presented 'Yesterday and Today', an evening of classical and semi-classical dance. We had two amazing soloists who performed Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi dances and a number of group dances in the Kathak, Bharatnatyam, and Kathakali styles. I was in a semi-classical Kathak-based dance that went over pretty well and was loads of fun.

Alhamra Literary Review Published!

The Alhamra Literary Review is out. Alhamra itself doesn't have it listed on its website just yet, but the launch has been covered in several blogs, including Bina Shah's own blog, as well as in the News. Please ask for it at your local book stores and be sure they get the title down in writing; they won't stock it until enough people ask for it. It seems a bit odd, I know, but that's how the system works.