Friday, July 9, 2010

some people talk about you, like they know all about you

Many years ago, when I was a little youth, our local librarian said she would give a free sticker to any kid who told her a good joke. This is a riddle that one kid told her.

Q- Why was the man blind?

A- Because he had no eyes.

That kid got a sticker. I think maybe she should have got two stickers. I don't know why I still remember this riddle.

Anyway, I have a story in the new issue of Pratilipi called Six Things We Found During the Autopsy. Sometimes when I watch shows like CSI and they do those autopsies, I feel like I would be a really good forensic scientist because I am sure that I would be the one to notice the massive head injury that everyone else can't see.

I also have a story in the first issue of a new magazine called Cutting Chai. Which you can read here, which is neat.

Have you heard of Jay Smooth? I love Jay Smooth very much. Why because means he makes videos like this.

This clip made me think of two things. One, it made me think of how much I love Jay Smooth. Two, it made me think of how talking about fiction sometimes feels like you're talking about racism, especially when the fiction has this very special ingredient in it called the "Other". Racism and the "Other" are the same in many ways. Why because means

• People are not really sure what's going on with either of these things but they are scared of them anyway
• people say weird shit either knowingly or unknowingly in relation to these things
• people get really upset when you call them out on this weird shit
• subsequent dialogues after calling out on weird shit quickly ceases to be about what was actually said and becomes all about everything else.

Imma be honest, I have no idea what the "Other" is. I think it refers to people that are all collectively strange because their nationalities, sexualities, abilities, religions etc. are different from your own. This makes them all weird and all the same also. Also, the "Other" sometimes seems to magically excuse all sorts of things which would otherwise be labeled bad writing (I've already ranted about this before so I'm not going to rant about it again. Ok, I'll just give one example and that's it). For example, a one-dimensional character sometimes ceases to be one-dimensional and magically becomes the most amazing thing ever if you say that the character is of some kind of superexotic ethnicity or differently-abled or as many different "Other" qualities as you can fit together in one character.

The "Other" sometimes has a cookie factor. This happens because you write about the "Other" and it's just so totally removed from what you are that it must have been super-hard for you to write and we just can't believe you wrote about it and you're still alive and the dirty natives didn't eat you so here's a cookie. These are called "Other" cookies.

Sometimes though, people will refuse to give you any cookies. You know what happens to these people? They get hit with mad KalariNinja skillz that will kill their face. They are MAD skillz I tell you. MAD!!

Because I like cookies, I am planning on writing about the "Other" in my forthcoming epic novel called 'All These Bitches Is My Sons'. I have been smart enough to learn from the mad KalariNinja skillz that have killed my face so many times in the past. I share these KalariNinja skillz with you so that you can also use them to kill other people in the face also when they say your writing is crap.

KalariNinja Skillz # 1-'I Love Indian Food'

This is an incredibly common move but of such highly-developed KalariNinja skillz that it's more like a con and The Racist Questioner will not understand what has happened until afterwards when they realize their brain is missing.

How It Works- You cleverly deflect any criticism of what you wrote by professing great love for aspects of the "Other" which are completely unrelated to what you have actually written.


Racist Questioner - Why are all the Japanese people in your story either samurais or geishas?

You- "Well I just LOVE sushi."

Extra Notes- It helps enormously if you stretch the conversation to talk about other things you love about Japanese cuisine or how much you admire the fact that the Japanese have such nice straight black hair.

Lesson Learned- You can defend or justify bad writing by loving aspects of the "Other" like sushi or tortillas or Braille.

KalariNinja Skillz # 2- My Best Friend Is Indian

This is also a very common move but lacks the subtlety of the previous one. While the previous method is more a slow kill, this move shuts everything down in such a way that all The Racist Questioner can do is go home and never come back again.

How It Works- You cleverly deflect any criticism of what you wrote by claiming kinship with the "Other".


Racist Questioner- Why do all the Indians in your story talk like they are four years old? Like even when the adults talk amongst themselves or even think, they sound like they are 4 years old. Wouldn't a grown person thinking to themselves have some kind of coherency or does that not happen with people who don't speak English?"

You- I can't believe we're even having this conversation. My best friend is Indian, for God's sake! If anyone would know about Indians, that person would be me. I mean, my best friend is Indian! For God's sake! How can you even ask me something like that? My best friend is Indian! Is your best friend an Indian?

Racist Questioner- No.

At this point, you jump and down and say
funny animated gif.

Failure to have an Indian friend is certainly racist but apart from that, it's just handy to have one around because they are good at fixing computers and doing math. It's also a lot easier to have an Indian friend if you live in India.

Lesson Learned- You can defend or justify bad writing by claiming kinship with the "Other" as a best friend, next door neighbor, pre-school teacher, servant, cousin twice-removed or if your greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreat uncle was four-thirtysevenths "Other".

KalariNinja Skillz # 3 - I am Differently-Abled And I Approve This Message!

This one is similar to the previous move though it attacks from a completely different angle. Quick as you can say 'Bob's Your Uncle!', which is a weird thing that English people say sometimes, the conversation becomes all about what a terrible person you are in a matter of seconds. While KalariNinja Skillz # 2 is more like a swift kick to the gonads, KalariNinja Skillz # 3 is like a series of hard and fast punches to the same area.


Racist Questioner- It seems to me that the only reason the people in wheelchairs were in your story was because they were in wheelchairs.

You- Oh yeah? Well a disabled person just mailed me and told me he LOVED this story! He said it was the most realistic fiction he ever read about people in wheelchairs and it was the best story he ever read in his life. My story made him cry and wish he wasn't disabled! Do you want to talk to him?"

Racist Questioner- What?

You- I'll give you his phone number. Ask him what he thought of my story. Ask him to send you a picture of him in his wheelchair, reading my story and liking my story. Like have him do a thumbs-up or something. If he's not too disabled to do that, I mean."

Racist Questioner- I don't-

You- What's your problem, you don't like phoning disabled people? You think they're too dumb to talk on the phone? Well, you know what? Just because they're not normal like the rest of us doesn't give you the license to be rude, you Nazi racist!"

This is such an epic move because other people will probably start beating your racist ass also. They won't really know why they are beating your racist ass, but this is often what happens when people see/hear the word 'racist' and 'Nazi' used in such close quarters.

Lesson Learned- You can defend or justify bad writing by presenting evidence that certified members of the "Other" have approved the writing as A-Ok! The more "Other" they are, the more justified and righteous your writing becomes.

KalariNinja Skillz # 4 Realness

This is much more organic than the other skillz and relies on carefully calculated usage of the word 'real'. Like KalariNinja Skillz # 1, it bears a striking resemblance to a con but it's like one of those cons where the other person knows they are being conned but they aren't sure how so they can't do anything about it.

How It Works- You cleverly deflect any criticism of what you wrote by claiming that whatever you wrote about in relation to the "Other" is "real" although what exactly you mean by "real" is debatable. It has been my experience that much of this realness has the same quality of real as reality television. I can attest personally to the success of this method as I have had epic win by claiming to be an expert on "real" Canadian culture among my peers in my current South Indian locale.


Racist Questioner- Your entire story seems to be about poor-caste people. I didn't even know there was a caste like that.

You- Many people don't because they are really not aware of the realities of these real lives. That's what my piece is really about, the reality of the real lives of these real people who really exist.

Racist Questioner- All they do is wish they were rich. Like, that's ALL they do. All of them. All the time. For the whole story.

You- Well that's the reality of all poor-caste people. ALL of them.

Racist Questioner- But don't they-

You- They're POOR! POOR! POOR! POOR! That's the reality! That's the real thing here.

Racist Questioner- And you know this because-

You- I used to drive past this group of poor-caste people everyday and that gave me a real in-depth look into the reality of their real lives.

Racist Questioner- -From your car window.

You- It was the most real realness of reality of the real that I ever experienced.


Racist Questioner- So wh-

You- Real!

Racist Questioner- I just-

You- Real!

Racist Questioner- I-

You- Real Real Real! Real!

Racist Questioner- Ok.

Extra Notes- Instead of focusing on whatever that Racist Questioner is asking you, concentrate your energies on creative constructions of the word 'real'. Some effective words are 'realiscious' to describe your prose use and 'realgasm' to describe that feeling peeps will get when they read your really real work.

KalariNinja Skillz # 5 – The Lord/ My Muse/ My Chair Told Me To Write This And That Makes Everything OK

This is the deadliest of all KalariNinja skillz and as with all powerful things, it must only be used sparingly or its power will dwindle and die. This skillz is the ultimate cockblock and when I say cockblock, I mean cutting the cock off, putting it in a box and sending it by sea mail to the bottom of the sea. Because when you start writing crap because a God or a Muse or a character in the story or a unicorn told you to, what can the Racist Questioner do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The blame for the bad writing has been neatly shifted from the writer onto to the very capable shoulders of a supernatural and often magical being. Which is a bit like a kid breaking a window and blaming it on their imaginary friend. For some reason, this doesn't work when you're a kid but is incredibly effective when you're an adult writer.


Racist Questioner- Why are all the serial killers in your story gay and how exactly did they 'homosexual' people to death?

You- Well my Muse just DEMANDED it.

Racist Questioner- So this is all your Muse's fault and has nothing to do with you.

You- Absolutely nothing! My Muse writes through me, I am a humble vessel of divine writing.

Racist Questioner-
Your Muse has very poor character delineation skills.

You- My Muse said to tell you that you better shut your mouth lest the hand of the Almighty Muse fall on thee and smite thy face until it is dead, verily, verily.

Because it would be awkward to just end the post there, I end it with the song
My Lovely Horse from the show Father Ted. I like this song very much.



Lavanya said...

K, I will have to thank you very much and be forever and aalways indebted to you for introducing me to Jay Smooth.I am loving him very much too..:)

I was going to read your stories but clicked the link to the rant which then directed me to the very big debate about why it is not very nice to write wrong things like legions of peacocks landing on the lawns (though I very much wish they did. Land on my lawn, that is.).
But for all its worth- I am so glad you brought that up!! It was refreshing to read some of your fiction precisely because it wasn't set in an India that does not exist (or about the same old same old immigrant experience and nostalgia. not that that is bad, except when it becomes representative of 'Indian Fiction' ).

Lavanya said...

Is the tagline on your blog a reference to the awesomeness that is the rajkumar tic tic song??..Just noticed it and am now listening to the song after ages!!

Delux said...

"Well my Muse just DEMANDED it."

Bwaahahahaaa! Your words are glittering jewels as always.

Anonymous said...

Awesome kalarininja skillz. I am all inspired to go do some bad writing about the other so I can justify it in these new and totally badass ways and maybe get some cookies also. Please check The My Lovely Horse link though, it's screwy.

kuzhali manickavel said...

@ lavanya- i wish legions of white peacocks would land on my lawn too. i also wish i had a lawn that they could land on also. i don't have a problem with immigrant fiction or that kind of indian nostalgia writing you mentioned, provided it's done well (which i don't think is an easy thing to do). i think it's very frustrating and unfortunate when that kind of writing becomes representative of the complete spectrum of indian fiction. and yes, the tagline is from the tic tic tic song only! what did you say? hey! what did you say?

@ delux- aw thanks :) but it would be dishonest of me to take the credit because but I did not write these words, my Muse did. she DEMANDED I write them. she also demanded that I set my foot on fire, maybe I'll go do that later

@ anonymous- i wish you all successes and I hope you enjoy the cookies you get also, they're usually very nice. fixed link also, thanks :)

Liv said...

Awesome! I laughed until I cried and then I laughed some more.

Lavanya said...

Kuzhali- "i think it's very frustrating and unfortunate when that kind of writing becomes representative of the complete spectrum of indian fiction" - Yes that's exactly what I meant

btw- read your "This Old Man" and loved it!

kuzhali manickavel said...

@ liv- thanks very much for reading i say :)

@ lavanya- yay, glad you liked it :)

hemant said...

I woke up this morning and googled you.

Details such as "The afternoon settles in the corners like bundles of thick wool," "…her fists are perched on the table like tiny anxious birds," were stuck in my head. There is another one which I cannot remember about "time tossing you out" or you tossing out time. I will ferociously google some more and find it again.

Where were you all these years? How do you look when you are really pissed off?


kuzhali manickavel said...

hai hemant, thanks for googling and reading :) when i am really pissed off some people say i look really angry. also, i feel i must have been somewhere all these years but i'm not very sure where

yoga4dogs said...

"Don't put scene"

I thought that phrase died when I left college. Thanks for resurrecting it; wait, may be it never died. It is beautiful.

On a serious note, how influential would you say contemporary literature in the regional language was on your writing style? Some of the flamboyance in material such as, "her fists are perched on the table like tiny anxious birds" has interesting resonance with poetry in regional languages where beautiful analogies have been core contributors to the poem's appeal.

Finally, the "small temple town in South India" description in the bio is a masterstroke. It is the antithesis of what people are "conditioned" to expect; all these jholawalla types with beards, khadi attire on Jeans struggling for the sake of art leading a bohemian and nomadic existence in some dump in a metro.

So, how do you kill time in the temple town?

kuzhali manickavel said...

hai yoga4dogs, i'm not literate enough in any of the regional languages to read beyond bus signs so i haven't read any contemporary lit in these languages and i find something is often lost when read in translation. maybe the regional language itself has had some effect in its different forms tho (spoken conversation, movie songs, ads).

i am very fond of the phrase 'don't put scene', i feel it should never die because it is very useful

yoga4dogs said...

I wanted to combine the Jay Smooth's link in one of Kuzhali's posts with a MIA reference in the comment section, so pardon the cross-post references in this comment.

I am not sure if I buy into Jay's logic. Someone can correct me if I am wrong but what I hear is that one should be judged based on what one "says and does" as opposed to what one "is"? By that logic, one can get away by saying and doing all the right things directly and doing all the wrong things covertly and people who subscribe to Jay's logic would not be offended. That being said, this is precisely the technique that politicians use to stay in office. Jay probably to his defense can say, if your core is clean, it will show in your words. But then, no one is a saint.

I would say that people like MIA, Padma Lakshmi, writers and countless other artists conveniently leverage this non-white outsider sentiment by the right amount and mix their exotica to create a package to cater to a market of buyers who are trying to be more individualistic and appear more progressive in a quest to brand their own selves.

What MIA sells is an accessory (music) that people can purchase to be more appealing themselves. It is no different from buying new clothes at the nearest clothier. The people who purchase her music aren't really sure if they like it but they will buy it anyway because they want to align themselves with the "coolness" associated with being part of a compassionate group of people who listen to music of the oppressed people. After creating/listening to this music, both MIA and her listeners correspondingly go back to dine at the nearest steak and lobster place.

kuzhali manickavel said...

I don't think he's talking about judging people at all, he's talking about holding them accountable for what they say, regardless of what they are. I think he was also saying that when you call someone out for what they said, don't let that slip into an argument about what they are. Those are separate and different arguments and the issue of accountability often gets lost when the argument turns into a discussion about who or what that person is.

As for MIA, I'm pretty sure I like her music and I don't eat at any steak and lobster joints ;)

yoga4dogs said...

Ms Manickavel,

Thanks for the prompt response. In theory, Jay's logic flies but it is a purist's view; sounds good to the ear and is a blue-sky-sun-shiney thought. However, I still fail to see the practicality in Jay's differentiation. It is a slippery slope at best.

For the sake of an argument, let us take an album by someone like Ludacris with a generous sprinkling of the n-word all over the lyrics. Now,if we applied Jay's logic, no one would be making any Rap albums except may be Common. The same logic can be applied to stand-up comedy, or creative writing for that matter. Moreover, it is somehow OK amongst Black people to call each other the n-word; you don't really see an uproar. Having said that I don't mean to suggest that it somehow grants license to non-Black folk to use the n-word.

Here is another example. Bono used the "F" word accepting an award. The "hold-them-accountable-for-what-they-say-and-do-and-don't-let-it-morph-into-a-discussion-of-who-they-are" doesn't really fly there. Bono said the "F" word so what? Let us call Bono on it. Did he mean to suggest a sexual act? No. I understand the Bono example is not tied to "racism" but the logic is open enough to be applied anywhere.

In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino being white, utters the n-word asking if his house was considered a place for dead n******. Let us call Tarantino on it. Now would anyone crucify Tarantino for that? No, it is artistic license. Once the "artistic license" argument is used in a court of law, all things get thrown out of the window.

Now the challenge lies in deciphering what is artistic license and what is not. To determine this, one ought to put a context around the said verbiage. Once you setup a context, the persona comes in and the logic of "hold-them-accountable-for-what-they-say-and-do-and-don't-let-it-morph-into-a-discussion-of-who-they-are" breaks down.

Recently Whoopi Goldberg came out in support of Mel Gibson suggesting that she knows Mel and he is not a racist and that he has been to her house and her kids know him well. Let us call Mel Gibson on it. Somehow,this does not compute! May be she is trying to turn the conversation into what he "is" vs. what he "said." May be she is or may be Mel is really a decent guy, we don't know. We give too much importance to what our news sources say.

Regarding MIA's music. Whatever rocks one's boat; it is a free country. I still think MIA sells exotica as a brown woman with a cockney accent and a dubious Sri Lankan story thrown into the mix delivered as a neat package with a Made in America label.

kuzhali manickavel said...

yoga4dogs, I appreciate your posts but I'm afraid I just don't have the time to reply to them in a justifiable manner. If you'd like to continue commenting, that's fine with me but I probably won't be able to respond, thanks for understanding.

yoga4dogs said...

Not a problem, Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

I am generally kinda bored with the American/British discussion of racism... which includes Jay Smooth vs. Mel Gibson vs. Quentin Tarantino vs. Yoga4Dogs. It's so caught up with white/black and European colonial history... and I feel like that stuff is all going to become irrelevant pretty soon. I'm more interested how Africans feel about Gujaratis and Cantonese-speaking Chinese people, how Mexican immigrants in middle America get along with Asians. The simple fact is that with population growth curves what they are, white people are going to become a tiny minority everywhere, and pretty soon.

Yoga4Dogs, this is what I love about M.I.A., and why I think you're way off base: She's connecting up all these scenes from parts of the world that Americans and Brits usually ignore... Rio Baile Funk with that Deise Tigrona sample in "Bucky Done Gone", her collaboration with Buraka Sound System in Angola. She's working on new urban musical cross-fertilizations between countries of "the developing world". I think people who dismiss her as "selling exotica" are missing the point... maybe they're just not quite able to grasp anything that doesn't have Anglo-American cultural power at its center.

yoga4dogs said...

Ms K,

"what it seems for her, ya? what for her face it seems?"

That was an absolute Jem of a line. I really would love to meet your friend who delivers such mindblowing stuff! I secretly and sincerely hope this is the same person who ate the aforementioned six samosas with copious amounts of green and red chutney.

I really wish we could have her talk at length about her day, her hobbies, and what she does on weekends. Some of the other patrons who might be of interest are at the following link. Pardon me if this is old news. I discovered these recently.

@ anonymous: I will respond shortly.


kuzhali manickavel said...

yeah, that's a pretty awesome line. thanks for the link


kuzhali manickavel Design by Insight © 2009