Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Anindita Sengupta

Anindita Sengupta is a poet and freelance writer in Bangalore, India. Her first collection "City of Water" was published by Sahitya Akademi in February 2010. Get in touch at anu.sengupta[at]

Anindita Sengupta's full-length collection of poems "City of Water" was published by Sahitya Akademi in February 2010. Her work has previously been published in several journals including Eclectica, NthPosition, Quay, Yellow Medicine Review, Origami Condom, Pratilipi, Cha: An Asian Journal, Kritya, and Muse India. It has also appeared in the anthologies Mosaic (Unisun, 2008), Not A Muse (Haven Books, 2009), and Poetry with Prakriti (Prakriti Foundation, 2010). In 2008, she received the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing and in 2010, she received a writer's fellowship from the Charles Wallace India Trust for the University of Kent, England. She has contributed articles to The Guardian (UK), The Hindu, Outlook Traveler and Bangalore Mirror. She is also founder-editor of Ultra Violet, a site for contemporary feminism in India.

From the preface by Keki N. Daruwalla:
"City of Water is remarkable for its supple language and tensile strength. Her images are sharp and there is integrity about the core of feeling that propels the poem. One cannot spot any weak moments either in terms of emotion or language... Anindita Sengupta never lets a poem run away with her. Like all good poets, she is original both in her way with words and her personal angle of vision."

Friending nobody

There is a scene in The Social Network in which the young Mark Zuckerberg, jilted and drunk, invents a program called "Facemash" that allows boys to rate Harvard girls, two at a time. The program, conceived in a moment of rage and hate, is as malicious and misogynistic as one can imagine. This was the beginnings of "Facebook" and it reminded me of a "Facebook Application" called "Compare People" that retains quite the same flavour. It allows you to compare two friends at a time on the basis of various factors, including sexiness. When I first joined "Facebook", a lot of people including me were playing this. It seemed harmless. Except for the slight niggle that it made you look at people — and yourself — as if you were products on a supermarket shelf.

The "New Yorker" review of The Social Network says that the movie “suggests we now treat one another as packets of information”. Or attributes. A human being summed up easily. I was struck rather hard by this at the recent Hyderabad Literary Festival where people introduced themselves to each other, quickly adding, "we are facebook friends". I had one person claiming familiarity with me based on "I know her. I know her. From Facebook." In Sridala Swami’s "post on privacy", she points how Facebook’s “position on privacy is, if you have nothing to hide, you should have nothing to fear from having your data in the public domain”.
But the need for privacy is not necessarily the same as the need for secrecy. Privacy is also about safety. People share selectively based on comfort levels, perceived trustworthiness. It’s not always about having something to hide. It’s about not wanting the neighbourhood stalker to know your door number. It may be possible to unearth it but you hardly want to make it easy. As the movie shows, "Facebook" started off as an exclusive club. People had to know you. Or at least be part of the same educational institution, a supposed guarantee. What it has morphed into is something far less controlled. You get a friend request. In today’s network-happy world, you usually accept if the person is remotely in the same career, industry or interest area. I know that people interested in writing tend to accept friend requests from others who seem to be part of the field in any way.

Bam. Suddenly your friend list is nearly a thousand people and you’re using the page to let people know about book releases, events and so on. Except that you also have family pictures, and you also use it to keep in touch with friends who live elsewhere. Boundaries blur. It may not be like strangers knowing your intimate secrets but it is like strangers leafing through your family albums, checking out who your close friends are, sizing up your relationships with mom, boss, boyfriend. Of course, it’s stupid to think you know someone because you know them on "Facebook". It’s a curious half-light. When you meet the same person socially, they’re unlikely to respond to your polite ‘how are you’ with a line from Rumi or Neruda hinting love trouble. Facebook ‘fraandship’ does not make a friendship. But try telling that to people who tend toward familiarity.
One can always set limits, prune the friend list, control what one publishes or use the privacy settings. Except a self-publishing, narcissistic tool is also addictive. Some people check "Facebook" as often as they check Email. At various times, in various moods, in various states of sobriety. Enough personal revelation seeps through. It seems like a lot of work to set up customized lists for each feature. A friend told me she recently removed all her photographs — it seemed safer and simpler.

What finally got me was the noise.

I’ve de-activated my account. For the moment. It’s curiously difficult, like an itch. Every now and then, I want to sign back in and they make it so easy. All I need to do is sign in once for my account to be reactivated. In other words, the Facebook page is perennially waiting. It glows blue. It’s there when nobody else is.
ps: I’ve quit FB but I am on Twitter, and now on Tumblr. So, I may have exchanged one kind of noise for another. I’m also available on Email.  :-)

(to grandfather)

A fuchsia scatter in the courtyard:
the bougainvillea dishevels.

Sheila and I squat on the back porch 
where the clothesline frays in the wind.
Elephant grass gnaws at cement
and a spider silks the windows shut.

‘Weeds have outgrown
mangoes this year,’ she says,
rubbing her sheared head
with one hand. I light a cigarette.

We drag quick and sharp,
as if you’ll still tap down
the garden path, find us there,
grown-up children,
shame us with a frown.

The house falls in flecks—
our clutch of childhood
now wasteland, warm dust,

I came to find the essence of it,
to taste on my tongue its whiteness
like sugar crystals.
I came for the blur and hurry,
the blurry hurl, the hurly-burly
of devastation.
I rattled up in a red jeep, battling  
eyes open against wind.
Past my window flew bits of paper,
tin cans, a shirt from a forgotten clothesline. 
I hunkered down, gripped the wheel,
and pressed my big toe
on the accelerator. (Speed was essential.
It would distract me from fear.) 
I came for the infinite moment.
I came to chill the tornado’s coil 
around me like a giant python.
I came to risk blood.
I came to inhale the un-breathable breath
and fill up like a balloon.
I came to burst or rise,
to dazzle through air like Dorothy,
to dissolve like stardust.
I came to find that one moment
when nothing mattered. Not sex
or sin or ache. Not even love.
There are things a storm can do to you, darling,
that you wouldn’t imagine.

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