Damn, Victoria! History, Mystery and Whodunnit

Excerpt from the final scenes of Mulgrave Manor:

DAVIS (shaking his head): When we really first met. We were in London they had just announced the end of the war and you were there taking care of Lady Weschester….that night…it changed my life. It gave it meaning.

S. HARROW (shaking her head violently): We talked. Nothing more. You’re reading into it too much–what about Lady Victoria.

DAVIS: Damn Victoria! It is you that I love.

The invitations were sent. The silver polished. Footman stood at the ready for one of the finest soirée’s Buckinghamshire had ever known. All that was left was for the director to call action.

For the last two years I’ve participated in a murder mystery club. It started with a friend’s birthday party which was set in the 1920’s–your typical murder mystery out of a box with villains, heroes, heroines and of course……murrrrrrrrder.

Somewhere along the way three of us started to write the mysteries ourselves, taking a gander at figuring out motive, means, opportunity and a gaggle of red herrings to confuse and bewilder our guests. In the past these investigative forays took place in the Wild West, the land of fairy tales or at an intergalactic peace accord signing (guess who wrote that one). For this spring’s adventure I embraced my love of pop culture, gossip and history and set the tale on the set of a Downton Abbey rip-off called Mulgrave Manor.

Continue reading Damn, Victoria! History, Mystery and Whodunnit”

2012: Turning, Turning, Turning Through the Years

writingWhen I started this blog in 2009 I had intended for it to serve as an outlet for these words I constantly have churning in my head. Words floating around after I step out into the world, asking–begging to be written down. These words are more than just a way to express myself, they are a way for me to paint a picture, tell a story, form a narrative. They are letters that form sentences that lead to ideas.

So when I look back at my words this year, I realize that 2012 was filled with milestones. When this blog goes live it will be my 108th post*, and the nineteen posts that made up this year have a few common themes. Some were labors of love (the history of Jim Crow, and my piece on public history, the American Revolution, and 1865) while others looked to my travels from Wisconsin to Washington State. I also attended some gorgeously produced theatre productions that pushed storytelling to the next level (not to mention the big Disney buys Lucasfilm news). With every word I put down I tried to embrace the connections between what we read, see, and watch and what we think following these experiences.

Continue reading “2012: Turning, Turning, Turning Through the Years”

Reality and Fiction//Fiction and Reality

Scene. We are on a stage. Literally sitting on. a. stage. Below us the members of Black Watch are joking around with one another and we can all sense what is coming. We’ve heard live gunfire, been engulfed in the drifting fog, and felt the tension as they fought a choreographed dance with one another and the invisible insurgents in the middle of Iraq. We were given a history lesson, punctuated by uniform changes all to the sounds of the Scottish Highlands. We are in an enclosed space in the middle of Washington, DC, and yet….we are transported. We are somewhere else. We are anywhere but here.

Scene. It’s a story we know by heart. Jane. Beautiful Jane, who we know can’t be beautiful for nothing, trying to be stoic when something that seemed so real, so true, is suddenly over. And her sister, our narrator, is feeling the loss, and looking to understand the sudden changes, but unhampered by 18th century propriety and expectations. This time we are experiencing a 21st century Jane Austen, which includes an Elizabeth Bennet that is someone we all know, someone we could be friends with. A Lizzie Bennet sharing her life on YouTube and Twitter, through the very modern online social world we all live in.

Continue reading “Reality and Fiction//Fiction and Reality”

Smelling the Flowers and Taking in Tech in Milwaukee

The Mitchell Park Conservatory

Earlier yesterday, this post went up on the PreservationNation.org blog.

In the next two weeks I will find myself in Milwaukee, WI (where I am right now) and Ft. Worth Texas. Both trips are professional in focus, the first for my annual pilgrimage to a new US city for the National Council on Public History. This is a conference that every year introduces me to new people and new conversations.

Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.

We hit the ground running here in Milwaukee. Not only did I get to stay at the historic Ambassador Hotel the first night, I also got to visit the Domes, three modernist greenhouses that are a part of the Marshall Park Conservatory. If you think the exterior looks cool, check out the inside….the three domes had flowers and plants from a tropical ecosystem, a desert ecosystem, and the final one, which demonstrated the human effect on landscapes and flowers.

Then we had the second annual THATCamp NCPH. If you remember from last year this is an unconference, an informal learning experience having to do with digital and new media in the humanities. The sessions I attended had to do with the future of blogging, the issues surrounding bringing scholarly publications to the digital realm, and a closer examination of branding and promotion for organizations and projects. I walked away, as usual, with a plethora of really cool websites and links.

I’m hoping to do a more analytical post about content at the end of the conference but I wanted to emphasize my goal for the next two weeks as I experience Milwaukee and travel to Texas:

I’m feeling the pull — that urge to make sure that I don’t miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.

Hodge Podge: Aside the Fourth Wall in the Arena, the Stage, and a Hotel in Chelsea

This is perhaps a post more about narrative than anything else. As I work on another story for May I am ruminating on how to pull together disparate pieces into something coherent and meaningful. And so for this post I thought I would take a look at methods of storytelling in film and theatre. Specifically, the role of the fourth wall in narrative.

The first is a look at the recent book turned into film The Hunger Games, followed by a reflection of a recent adaptation of Eugene O’Niell’s Strange Interlude at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC. Finally, I wanted to look at the role of participant theatre through my experience at the creepy, yet satisfying production, Sleep No More, a version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The Hunger Games

Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in THE HUNGER GAMES. Photo credit: Murray Close
(www.thehungergamesmovie.com/?section=photos&item=13)

A story about a world controlled by violence where children are held hostage to a Capitol determined to hold society under their thumbs through an annual gladiator style rite called the Hunger Games. By now, most of you know about this series, and there isn’t much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been addressed by others….

  • Do I see Katniss as a strong female character? Check. (Fangirl | NYT)
  • Do I recognize the stories precedents in classics such as the Lottery and to some extent Lord of the Flies (and, yes, Battle Royale) Check.
  • Do I see in the narrative a reflection of our obsessions with 24 hour news, and reality television? Check.

From a storytelling angle, I have to approach the book and the movie separately. The book looks to tell the story from one point of view. We only see and learn what Katniss understands, we know what she knows. It’s like looking at the history of a town or a place and using one person’s diary to tell the tale, sans broader political or social context. We know she is only a piece in a larger machine, but we don’t know what role she plays until later.

In the movie, this tale is approached from two or three different perspectives. We still have Katniss’ point of view—primarily in the arena, but we are also given information as a part of the viewing audience along with glimpses of the undercurrent of malevolence by President Snow and company. And here is where the fourth wall comes in (props to my friend Rob for bringing this up). In the film adaptation we’re pulled into the film primarily through the use of the “hand held (shaky) camera.” The fight scenes feel un-choreographed – and we are amidst the chaos, grappling for some purchase and an upper hand.

The fourth wall is a theatrical term that refers to the barrier between the audience and the events on the screen or stage. “Breaking through the fourth wall,” is when that audience is acknowledged directly, no longer invisible. While the Hunger Games film never directly acknowledges our presence, I did feel at times that the camera work, and the “reality” based storyline made us more than just an unwitting audience member – and made you think of how complicit we are, in our world, of feeding the unreality of reality television.

Strange Interlude

Baylen Thomas (Ned Darrell) and Francesca Faridany (Nina Leeds).
Credit: Shakespeare Theatre DC
http://www.facebook.com/ShakespeareinDC

The story starts with a man talking about his daughter, Nina. Her fiancé has recently passed amidst the fighting of World War I, and her father worries that she will never rise up from her grief and sorrow.

Over the next 3 hours and 45 minutes (a shorter version of play that is normally almost over 4 hours, and often includes a dinner break) viewers are treated with a strange tale. One of grief, manipulation, love (can you call it love?) and expectation. This is Strange Interlude.

I’ll be honest, when we first heard how long it was my friends and I made an unofficial pact (one we probably would never have gone through with, because we aren’t really like that): if we hated the show we would bail during the first intermission.

Luckily that was never necessary. It’s hard to describe Nina Leeds. On one hand she is held up as someone who will not do what is expected, refusing to listen to her father or to an old family friend until pushed. On the other, she and most of the males in her life believe that happiness comes with marriage and children, a daunting task for someone who lives her life for her lost love. When she finally does wed, she discovers a hidden secret in her husband’s family that forces her to live her life dedicated to putting someone else’s happiness above her own.

I don’t want to give away the story (especially for those who may consider attending this show), but I wanted to look at two specific elements. In terms of set it’s a blank canvas. Three pale walls that take up only half of the stage at the Harmon Center for the Arts (the rest of the stage is dark). During scene breaks, scenes of the time/mood/tension are flashed on these walls through black and white silent films.

Credit: http://www.facebook.com/ShakespeareinDC

Much of what we learn about motivations and feeling come from regular asides from each of the main characters. An aside, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is when a character steps out of the normal conversational dialogue to add….an aside, something only we can hear, but none of the other principal actors can. In Strange Interlude we glean sincerity and a version of reality (as each of them see it). Not quite the fourth wall, but certainly insight that we would not get if this was written as a straightforward play.

Don’t want to take my word for it? Let others sway you, and then go see it yourself. (If I didn’t mention it before, this is also a comedy).

Sleep No More

MACBETH.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word. —
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Mask and Ticket for Sleep No More
Credit: Priya Chhaya

Picture this. You check in your bags, and receive your ticket – a playing card that leads you up some stairs and through a narrow dark passageway that transports you from there (Chelsea, New York City,  New York) to here. You are told it is a hotel…the McKittrick Hotel, but it is also a speakeasy where suited up guides use breaks in the music to call out numbers for the much larger show. This is how we are herded, prepared for what is to come.

You get a mask, reminiscent of the masks from V for Vendetta but much more ghoulish, and are told to stop speaking. No cell phones. No outside communication at all. After all you are no longer there…you are here.

And up, up, we go and step beyond the realm of typical theatrics and into the show itself.

Have you ever watched a play and wondered what it would be like to walk on set, walk through doorways, and wander about fake libraries, dining rooms or battlefields? In the McKittrick that is what we get to do. On one floor we are wandering through a graveyard. Small crosses dotting a hallway that is nearly pitchblack. I can smell the dirt, and hear the sorrow. The graveyard turns into ruins, half built brick walls, with a statue of Jesus (or was it an angel?) raising their arms towards us. (Aside: This would have seemed less menacing had I not recently seen the “Don’t Blink” episodes of Dr. Who.) It’s a maze that ends in a wall of glass doorways, and peering through the frosted glass you are given a glimpse of a bedroom filled with other silent, masked attendees.

We walked through the glass and spotted the white, porcelain tub in the center of the room. Papers lay scattered about, and when you pick it up you see a familiar name. Macbeth, writing to his lady love.

And then, he walks in followed later by his wife – and though they never verbalize the conversation we figure out that this is the moment. When she convinces him that regicide is what he must do to achieve the throne.

Then we have a choice. To stay with the Lady, or to follow him as he runs to his fate. We stay, others go. We wait, knowing that when Macbeth returns he will have hands stained with blood. And so he does.

We are a part of the play. We are the silent observers to the madness. It is truly like stepping in, almost like a voyeur, into the play itself. The actors never really acknowledge our presence, but they react, dance and float. They fight and we are moved along with the motion, physically working to find out what comes next.

~~~

If anything comes close to truly breaking the fourth wall, this production by Punchdrunk (who champions this type of immersive theatre) does. In this play, Sleep No More, “Lines between space, performer and spectator are constantly shifting. Audiences are invited to rediscover the childlike excitement and anticipation of exploring the unknown and experience a real sense of adventure.” (www.sleepnomorenyc.com). The sets are meticulous, and successfully provide visitors with the opportunity to investigate, opening books, touching tables and wandering.

It is, however, not for the faint of heart. While I explored as much as possible, the silence is unnerving, at times frightening (especially when you are on the upper floor filled with signs of growing insanity by the inhabitants), and I was grateful to have my sister standing next to me.

Like Strange Interlude and The Hunger Games the fourth wall still exists, but it is transparent. While we cannot affect the outcome of the show, we are a part of it, and though you do not need to know the story of Macbeth, it helps to make connections and to understand motivations.

At the end of the night as we stepped from here to there—back into Chelsea, New York City, New York, and reality once again.

Sleep No More is currently being shown through the end of June 2012. For more information visit www.sleepnomorenyc.org.

Life is Bigger

I am sure many of you have heard the news. REM is over. After 31 years of working together Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills have decided to move on.

I’ve taken so long to write this post, one because I was traveling (I started this on an airplane and am now finishing it on another trip), but also because I wanted to think about how I felt, especially since reactions elsewhere ran the gamut from surprise, befuddlement, to sadness.

A band born two years before my birth I am quick to admit that my gateway song into REM fandom was the ever popular Losing My Religion. As my musical education grew I found myself being drawn to songs that were a little off the beaten track (by which I mean, not Orange Crush, Stand, Man on the Moon, or Nightswimming). At present my favorite is Walk Unafraid.

Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me
High

Say “keep within the boundaries if you want to play”
Say “contradiction only makes it harder”
How can I be
What I want to be?
When all I want to do is strip away
These stilled constraints
And crush this charade
Shred this sad masquerade
I don’t need no persuading
I’ll trip, fall, pick myself up and

Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me
High

I’ll also admit that I kind of loved the CD reviled by many (Reveal). Especially She Just Wants To Be.

It’s not that she walked away,
Her world got smaller.
All the usual places,
The same destinations,
Only something’s changed.

It’s not that she wasn’t rewarded
With pomegranate afternoons
And Mingus, Chet Baker and chess.
It’s not the stampeding fortune,
Of prim affectations.
She’s off on her own
But she knows

Now is greater than the whole of the past
Is greater, and now she knows

She just wants to be somewhere
She just wants to be
She just wants to be somewhere
She just wants to be.

Perhaps I can say that my relationship with REM was solidified by seeing them live at the Patriot Center in 2003 where despite floor seats among a largely apathetic crowd I loved Michael Stipe’s dancing and steady vocals in addition to the energy from the whole band.

That being said REM’s last swing through Merriweather Post a few years ago with Modest Mouse and The National remains the best concert I’ve been to. With three fairly well known bands I expected a short set but REM stayed on for over two hours and put the other two to shame.

While I wrote this post I was listening to an old episode of All Songs Considered called “Splitsville: Breaking Up With Your Favorite Band“. I know that many fans out there broke up with REM a long time ago. Perhaps it’s because nothing could really compare to other earlier work, or because they stayed within their musical boundaries, which dated their sound in a world of Lady Gaga and pop music. Whatever the case may be, there is something sad about never hearing another new nonsensical yet soulful lyric.

As my bro in law said when I shared the news:

“You know, everybody hurts but I find that if I surround myself with shiny happy people holding hands, I don’t feel like I’m losing my religion…in fact, I feel like the man in the moon.”

I think what I will miss the most of all is the poetry of REM. The way the lyrics flung me into new visions and played in the background of all of my early attempts to write fiction. Despite their disbanding I look forward to their catalog inspiring me for years to come.

Oh this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high alive
Blind to the tide that turns the sea
This storm that came up strong
It shook the trees, and blew away our fear
I couldn’t even hear

…..

Oh this could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away

My Heart is Aching

Dear Charisse.

How can I even begin to say goodbye.
It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It doesn’t even seem real.
I’d like to think that you’re looking down
Finally able to see the brilliant azure of sky
And green of earth the way God intended.
But all I can think, all I can hear is your voice, your laughter
A daily comfort from 9-5

Who will I talk to about the practice of writing,
Of finding time to give beauty the time it needs
To learn to not hasten, or look forward to the light
Or the Spark! of inspiration.

Idris Elba doesn’t know what he missed
But I do. We do.
It’s like one of your paintings
A splash of color, and shape
Full of meaning, full of heart
Full of soul

I’d like to think you can see us–can see how much you will be missed.
But I know, that you know, that I won’t see your reaction
That tilting head, that eyebrow raised….
The face that says so much with so little
It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It doesn’t even seem real.

~*~*~

Today I found out that a dear friend and coworker passed away. Like much in life we aren’t prepared for, you don’t quite know how much someone means to you until they are no longer there.  Charisse painted with skill, and wrote with the weight of her history and her life experience. Every day that I got to know her was a lesson in how to be more optimistic, unselfish, and to imagine that greater things are just on the horizon. My heart is aching–for her family, for her friends, and for those of us who will no longer be able to tell her how very much she meant to us.

Prelude to The Power of the Cover: The Deathly Hallows

Eleven years ago July (ELEVEN years!). I’m on my way home from an internship, just a few weeks before I go to college. It is Pre-Twitter. Pre-Facebook. Pre-easy access to the internet.

Map of the blue line. We started off at Federal Triangle and continued straight on until Franconia Springfield.

I settled myself on a blue line train at Federal Triangle with a woman who is holding a pretty hefty book in her hand. It’s a green cover with a cartooney looking boy with horn rimmed glasses.

She ends up sitting across the train from me, but still within my line of vision, and as we travel I find myself without anything to occupy myself, choosing to look out the window instead….and people watch. We approach Crystal City. Stop. At this point I notice the woman looking up with the classic oh I missed my station expression on her face. She half stands, then sits back down, pulling out the book to read again.

She reads on, and we travel past Braddock Road, King Street, and Van Dorn Street easily 30 minutes past what must have been her original stop to the end of the line. She closes the book, finger firmly marking her place, exits out of my train and then renters the one waiting on the other side of the tracks to take her back to her destination.

As I move up the escalator I can see that she is lost to the outside world again, engrossed in whatever is written between the hard green covers.

It was the Summer of 2000, and the book was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I want to say that I was drawn to the series because of the cover because even then you could see it in bookstores, coffee shops, and on the Metro. But I wasn’t. I was drawn to the texts ability to draw in the mind, and clearly the imagination.

But it was the cover that told me what to read.

Now, eleven years (ELEVEN!) later I spent the weekend watching the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga on the big screen. Nothing is more exhilarating than Midnight Madness for a movie of a book that changed how you look at fantasy and storytelling. Feeling slightly otherworldly, you find yourself playing Harry Potter twenty questions for two hours as a stream of kids roll by dressed up as the Hogwarts Express in a conga line. In my head I was thinking that this must be how those moviegoers felt when they sat for the first Star Wars movie in 1977—the feeling of wonder and surprise that a story of dragons, and quests, heroes and heroines opens your hearts and makes your imagination travel to new heights.

But while the on screen spectacle was arresting, it was another reminder of just how strong of an impression a book can make. I testify that this series made me smile and at times, cry. There were tears when Deathly Hallows book first came out, and again as the revelation that we had all misjudged a certain potions master played out across the screen. While this series grew up with its primary audience, I can say that it saw me through my twenties–through college, grad school, job uncertainty—essentially the start of my adulthood. And so while I was never in the same age range as the trio of friends, I recognize the impact the story had on my love of storytelling and writing.

My Harry Potter Books, along with a few other of my favorite titles. PS: If you haven't read Little Dorrit I highly recommend it.

As for my physical copies of the books? I really did end up choosing them based on their covers. Even though I was curious after that initial metro ride, it wasn’t until a trip to India that I started collecting my personal copies. Each book has its own story: 1, 2, 3 & 4 I got in Mumbai during a family vacation (though at the time 1-3 were in paperback, my mom got me the hardcovers after someone donated them to her library). Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix) I bought in the States, until a fortuitous trip to visit a friend revealed that this was the only book where she had the British version, so we made a switch. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince made it to my shelves after a midnight purchase in 2005, another midnight trek to a bookstore in the London suburb of North Harrow.

For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I was in New York City, moving my sister into her first apartment. I stood in line, by myself, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, until someone told us (well past midnight) that there was another store a half a block away with no line and plenty of copies. I’ve never read a book faster in my life. (Once again playing switcheroo helped me complete my matching set as a friend visiting abroad made an exchange when she returned to the states.)

After seeing the movie this weekend, I wanted to write a piece in farewell. However, I realized I’m not quite ready to say goodbye, and probably never will be. Many articles this week have listed favorite parts, characters, objects—and have posited clever praises on Rowling’s femininity (or lack there of). Instead I thought I would leave you with a passage in the book that made me think—one that speaks to the power of imagination, but also of knowing your own self—and trusting what is in your own heart.

Cupcakes from Midnight Madness. Three for each of the Hogwarts Houses. Recipe for Cake and Buttercream from Real Simple Magazine (Click to view).

From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pp579)

“Tell me one last thing,’ said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

The Sorting Hat Says Goodbye

When we first met he was very young
As, of course, were we
But as we grew, he found his place
To fight Voldemort and be Free

In our minds the wonder sparked
And imagination soared
Whimsical and fantastical
We were never bored

And then the end in published form
Came to say goodbye
But we all knew we’d still have
On the movies to rely

Soon there will be no more Harry Potter
To look forward to in time
No Hallows, Horcruxes, or Hogwarts
And I’ll have nothing left to rhyme

So join me on the 15 of July
As the stroke of midnight chimes
And we’ll say fare-the-well to the wizarding world
With a flick of our wands, our hearts and our minds

—P. Chhaya 6/21/2011

Note: More on The Power of the Cover will follow next week.

Come As You Are: Maximum India on Homespun

Suspended from the ceiling
A map filled with arts
Culture
Symbols
Dancing over a wheel, a chakra
Calling for virtue from the people.

And at the crowded, energetic stage
Sounds of Rajasthan flow into the melody of the violin

Embrace the dance styling of Punjabi rhythm
Din. Dinaka. Din Din. Dinaka. Din Din.

The art, the dance, the music, the film
All merge together amidst the written word
Imagining the city, embracing the politics
Tagore debates Gandhi
Margins and Majority on the silver screen

India is more than just the sum of its arts
More than a saffron-colored sari, or an exotic smell
But for a short while there is a glimpse,
An attempt to encompass, to gather, to embrace
India at the Max.
Maximum India.

I recently spent the first part of March attending a bunch of events for Maximum India. Today I published a review at the Smithsonian Homespun blog. Unlike the literature panel I wrote about last week, this time I tried to take a broader view of the entire festival as a whole–looking at the music, art, dance and what it told us about India and identity. So stop by the Homespun blog–if you saw part of the festival, let us know what you thought.

Pushing Language Towards the Joyful

I am maxed out.

For the last twenty days the Kennedy Center in Washington DC has put on a vision of India. A vision filled with art, music, politics, literature–a vision filled with noise and texture and soul. Maximum India looked to grasp an idea of Indian culture and bring it to the United States. On Friday I attended my last event (though the last of the festival will be a free performance by Panjabi MC) a literature panel with Salman Rushdie and Nayantara Sahgal.  The first is the author of Midnight’s Children (an RPSNE book club book) and is known for his incredible use of the English language, while Sahgal, an author in her own right, is known for setting her books against the backdrop of change in the South Asian subcontinent–in addition to being the niece of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Ahdaf Soueif, a political and cultural commentator, moderated the panel.

So the discussion kicked off with a question to each of the panelists about why their work in literature is suffused with discussions of politics. The short answer? Writing is a form of resistance. That the written word proves that identity is not a collection of stereotypes, but rather what you want it to be. Each looked to their generation, Saghal of the revolutionary, and Rushdie from a transitional India, and found separating what happened around them from what happened at home was unfathomable. For both writing involved an element of the public and the private –and that the only way to make sense of change, to reconcile that change with the vision of India the republic, one had to integrate narratives from the personal and political.

Sometimes dealing with current events, sometimes a lively exercise in humor this lecture touched upon some serious ideas. I was drawn to, as I usually am, to the conversation about language. Rushdie, after being complimented on his lack of “respect” for the English language and his ability to embrace its malleability, spoke of how this malleability makes writing about India in English possible. That he had to find a way to break down the “cool, quiet, formal” English of the British Raj to be compatible with the “hot, noisy cacophony” of languages from India. He said that he wanted to “take English away from the English.”

He wants to push language towards the joyful. Hear. Hear.

This thought, amidst the many other topics from this lecture, inspires me. The way we speak to one another, the way we articulate reactions and actions on the familial, local, regional, national and global stage says much about who you are, who we are, who I am.  That politics and literature define these identities and often are linked together to tell the stories that official history neglects to tell.

Naturally, this part of the conversation led to the question re: who owns the narrative? Who owns the past? What perspective is the most valid? A subject near and dear to every historians heart–and it is acknowledged that the closer you are to the event/situation the harder it is to see beyond your blinders. Writing in the moment has some value, but taking a step back (that is an act of time mores so than a physical taking a step back) can bring details into focus that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

An obvious assertion, one that I’ve heard a few times in a few different places. Distance and time bring truths closer to the one reality. For literature that is deeply rooted in the larger public narrative of the place in which it is set, that distance and time makes a story stronger, more reliable, more resonant….

More Joyful.