Tuesday, December 20, 2005

As I Like It

Opinion about William Shakespeare’s “As you Like It”, has often been polemic, what with some critics labeling it a ‘sentimental pastoral’, while others like G. B. Shaw contending that it is more ‘lucrative’ than ‘sentimental’. Shakespeare, Shaw tells us, ‘was forced to write popular plays to save his theatre from ruin’, and that ‘he did it (i.e. wrote these popular plays) mutinously, calling the plays “As You Like It”, and “Much Ado About Nothing”’.

William Empson’s critique is a departure from extreme polemics. He identifies as a pastoral any work that contrasts simple and complicated life, to the advantage of the former. In Empson’s view, this mode of life serves as an oblique way to criticise the class structure of society. Shakespeare’s “pastoral” adheres to this definition, though not in its entirety.

Shakespeare’s attitude to either the country or the city is not unproblematic. He cannot be accused of conventional “pastoral” oversimplification. His ambiguous outlook is presented through antagonistic juxtaposition of characters – Jaques Vs. Duke Senior, Jaques Vs. Touchstone, Audrey Vs. Phebe are but some examples of the same.

Classical poets have idealised pastoral life as possessing features of the mythical ‘Golden Age’, and ‘country life’ symbolizes an innocent alternative to ambition, disturbance and war. Here, the court, as Duke Sr. tells us, is nothing but “painted pomp” – it is “envious”, and full of sycophantic “flattery”. To cut a long story short, the country is the city’s antithesis.

If the court is corrupt, the Forest of Arden should have been Elysium. But as we step into the forest with Rosalind and Orlando, we are greeted with the negative – their precise tautology confirms Arden as a “desert place”. Also, the wind is cold, and the weather such that protection becomes preferable. If Andrew Marvell in his “The Garden” painted a picture of plenitude with lines like, “The Nectaren, and curious Peach / Into my hands themselves do reach”, Shakespeare shows us that labour is a sine qua non.

Unlike Ben Jonson, Shakespeare does not declare that “the painted partrich lyes in every field/ And, for thy messe, is willing to be kill’d”. Exploitation is acknowledged through Jaques accusing the Duke of being a greater usurper than the brother who has banished him. Humans are essentially “tyrants” and “usurpers” whether they live in the country or the city, seems to be the message that Jaques wants to convey.

Nevertheless, his moralizing is lopsided. He considers usury, exploitation and neglect of the “bankrupt” not just human, but also “natural”. The deer episode exemplifies this. In a way, he contradicts his own invective against the Duke by providing him a reason for usury – nature is no better than man, so why not exploit it? – capitalist exploitation is absolved. He considers the “careless herd” callous without realising that if they neglect the wounded deer, it is only because the herd cannot help him. Ironically though being a man, and hence being capable of aiding the deer, Jaques isn’t proactive. Pontifical verse is more than enough to quell the qualms of his conscience.

Deviating from the quintessentially romanticized picture of love and friendship that pastoral eclogues portray, “As You Like It”, does not provide a motive (it is either love/lust at first sight) for love. As one critic puts it, ‘Love is all romance and poetry in Orlando and Rosalind Love is pastoral convention carried to ridicule in Silvius and Phebe. Love is a parody in Touchstone and Audrey. Love is prose, matter-of-fact in Oliver and Celia. “As You Like It”, also questions the nature of “true love”. Rosalind and Touchstone are instrumental here.

Rosalind in her “hose and doublet” catechizes Orlando as regards love and informs him that though “men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love”. Touchstone parodies Orlando’s callow love-eclogues, and his love for Audrey is blatantly lecherous and debauched. To speak in capitalist terms, love comes across as a ‘mutual contract’ – an ‘investment’ with its own liabilities. Rosalind while educating Phebe crudely observes that “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets”.

What Helen Gardner calls the ‘Mozartian’ nature of the play also adds to their ideological refrain with its “Most friendship is feigning, most loving, mere folly”. This wonderfully witty play with its bold and outspoken heroine and core of optimism and romance pokes gentle fun at the game of love while praising its virtues and celebrating its triumphs.

In conjunction with love, we see Shakespeare ostensibly questioning what it means to be masculine or feminine. Orlando to Rosalind, to use a cliché, is like the candle held to the sun. Rosalind’s scintillating wit has endeared her to many feminists. Consequently, they have been able to excuse Shakespeare for his rather tawdry representations – namely, Phebe and Audrey – one a coquette, and the other a fatuous country lassie, who not unlike Mr. Morel in “Sons and Lovers”, can make no sense of Touchstone’s poetry and incisive wit. (Weird, isn’t it, that some feminists should find this double indictment of gender and class innocuous?)

Shaw locates the reason for Rosalind’s enduring popularity not in her feminine traits, but in her masculinity. He points particularly to her male attire during most of the play, and to the aggressive manner in which she makes love. Shaw calls her an “incomplete human being”, but contemporary critical verbiage would probably term her behaviour androgynous.

Shakespeare’s vocabulary throughout the play makes it quite clear that Rosalind’s comportment is unlike that of the “natural” Elizabethan female – she is masculine. And if she is successful as a character, it is masculinity that must be lauded. Shakespeare’s transvestite intellectual thus does nothing to blur the gender divide as proposed by a certain faction, but only compounds the binary with obscure misogyny. Once again, to borrow from commerce, femininity is ‘unprofitable’ !!(Nevertheless, one can excuse Shakespeare, because he was not free from discourse – patriarchal or otherwise).

Shakespeare subverts the tradition of the pastoral ‘moral eclogue’ through Corin and Touchstone. Corin’s bucolic pro-pastoral sermon that applauds the ‘dignity of labour’ is negated by Touchstone’s mercantile repartee – he points out that Corin earns his living through the “copulation of cattle”.

In the Touchstone-Corin eclogue, the tension between literal and figurative language is palpable. No wonder then that C. L. Barker feels “As You Like It” is a ‘language play’ – a play wherein there is an almost Metaphysical alliance seriousness and levity. Through adroit verbal callisthenics, Shakespeare exposes how ‘Ways of Seeing’ are negotiated by one’s perspective. Though one can’t agree completely with Touchstone, one sees that Corin is no religious figure – he is not the figure of Christ as the God Shepherd. Rather, Corin is a country capitalist.

Thus we see that Arden is no pastoral idyll. Economy is not elided - the fact that economy directs sociology is acknowledged. Nevertheless, Shakespeare does not produce a counter-pastoral. The Country-City binary is not dismantled. Though Shakespeare exposes pastoral exaggeration, he still maintains the binary. The country is not an Elysium, but nevertheless, it is ‘simple’.

All the original country characters are ‘simple’ people who delight in ‘simple’ things. Hegemony is seen at play when Corin calls himself “a true labourer” who earns what he eats. Even Adam, though city bred, is a ‘loyal’ proletarian. Orlando laments that there aren’t more like Adam in whom is seen the “constant service of the antique world”. Incongruously enough, the proletariat is never shown at its labours. So though, there is no ‘magical extraction’ of the curse of labour’ (Raymond Williams) by the simple process of the extraction of the existence of labourers, there is an elision – there are labourers, but there is no actual labour !!

Thus, we see that though Shakespeare does not fall prey to what Raymond Williams calls the myth of the conventional ‘Golden Age’, he successfully creates a new ‘Golden Age’ that is based on hierarchy. The Lord’s in his manor, and all’s well with the world !!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mumbai Local

The LCD told me that the next Churchgate Slow would make me wait for six tedious minutes. I grimaced.

Why hadn't I done my usual 20 metre sprint across the Santacruz bridge down to platform number 2 ? Why had I let the earlier local grate out without me?


Time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions.

On the platform the hoi polloi come and go,
Talking of Cutting Chai & not Michaelangelo.


Hallelujah. The train cometh.

Sleek. Very sleek. Futuristic.

This was my first encounter with the new coaches introduced by the Western Railway. All steel, its insides gleamed in the evening sun. The first class compartment had plush peach seats, more easily accessible handholds, and all the fans actually rotated.

Some juvenile graffiti decorated the walls, but it was welcome for a change. "Smita - a crudely drawn heart - Anil", made me feel a wee bit at home in these alien surroundings.

Plugging the ears with never severed electronic umbilical cords dangling from omnipresent FM Tuners/I Pods/ MP3 players/Cell phones. Reading. Applying make up. Brushing hair. Nose digging. Etcetera & etc.

To cut a long story short, all the normal "Mumbai Local" functions had ceased. We were actually looking around, and at each other.

I am told that the "Second Class" ladies generally share a great rapport, and over time form their own micro communities which discuss everything from nits to nervous disorders.

Being a part of the elite "First Class", I had barely exchanged a word with my co-passengers. 'Mind your own business' seemed to be the creed, and so I was in for a surprise. Sheepish, almost apologetic smiles were exchanged.

"This is my second time".

"This is my first".

"Cool na ?"...

...was interrupted with the unusually clear and surprisingly not nasal,

"Attention please. The next station is Khar Road. Agla station Khar Road hai. Dhanyavaad".

Deja vu! Deja vu!

The Kolkata Metro anyone? The only difference being that they didn't announce the exit direction. (By the by, why do they always have female announcers? I wouldn't mind a Bacchanesque baritone).

More smiles, and some gawking at the LCD which many (yours truly included) had not noticed initially ensued.

Smiles. Grins. Giggles. Chuckles. Chat.

Such a Long Journey ??

No. Non. Nein. Nahi.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Brown Skin, White Masks

Fair & Handsome !! A fairness cream for men with a double peptide bond for "tough male skin" !! What tough skin?? Skin is skin, is skin, is skin, ain't it?

By the by, what happened to tall, dark & handsome ??

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Kid on the Block !!

Yes, there's a new kid on the block. And no, I am not talking of Donnie, Jon, Joe, Danny or Jordan. He's all of five months, and he's my nephew !! With more nieces and nephews than I can count, I'm definitely headed for senescence. :P

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Baby's Day In

Click. Flash. Grin. Then back to crying or wailing or tugging your hair off. When a camera stares her in the face, my niece Ananya looks straight at the lens and gives you her best toothless all-gummy grin. A definite child prodigy !! Classical Conditioning anyone?

Monday, August 08, 2005

In Theory

Another application of all the literary theories we canvass in class....

But before that, it is very
important that all of you attempt the following psychological test !!

No cheating. Pick your dessert, then look to see what
Psychiatrists think about you!
After taking this dessert personality test, copy,
paste and send this e-mail on to others, with your OWN application of
the various theories that you are aware of !!

If you were making a dessert and you had your choice
of those below (or some great bakery was baking the
dessert of your choice), which would you choose?

> *Angel food
> *Brownies
> *Lemon Meringue
> *Vanilla with Chocolate Icing
> *Strawberry Short Cake
> *Chocolate on Chocolate
> *Ice Cream
> *Carrot Cake
> NO ... You can't change your mind once you scroll
> down!
> So think carefully, what your choice will be!
> OK - Now that you've made your choice, this is what
> research says about you!
> Angel food...
> Sweet, loving, cuddly. You love all warm and fuzzy
> items. A little nutty at times. Sometimes you need an
> ice cream cone at the end of the day. Others perceive
> you as being childlike and immature at times.
> Brownies...
> You are adventurous, love new ideas, are a champion of
> underdogs and a slayer of dragons. When tempers flare
> up, you whip out your saber. You are always the
> oddball with a unique sense of humour and direction.
> You tend to be very loyal.
> Lemon Meringue...
> Smooth, sexy, & articulate with your hands, you are an
> excellent after-dinner speaker and a good teacher. But
> don't try to walk and chew gum at the same time. A bit
> of a diva at times, but you have many friends.
> Vanilla with Chocolate Icing...
> Fun-loving, sassy, humorous. Not very grounded in
> life; very indecisive and lack motivation. Everyone
> enjoys being around you, but you are a practical
> joker. Others should be cautious in making you mad.
> However, you are a friend for life.
> Strawberry Short Cake...
> Romantic, warm, loving. You care about other people
> and can be counted on in a pinch. You tend to melt.
> You can be overly emotional and annoying at times.
> Chocolate on Chocolate...
> Sexy, always ready to give and receive. Very creative,
> adventurous, ambitious, and passionate. You have a
> cold exterior but are warm on the inside. Not afraid
> to take chances. Will not settle for anything average
> in life. Love to laugh.
> Ice Cream...
> You like sports, whether it be baseball, football,
> basketball, or soccer. If you could, you would like to
> participate, but you enjoy watching sports. You don't
> like to give up the remote control. You tend to be
> self-centered and high maintenance.
> Carrot Cake...
> You are a very fun loving person, who likes to laugh.
> You are fun to be with. People like to hang out with
> you. You are a very warm hearted person and a little
> quirky at times. You have many loyal friends

From: Pallavi Mogre
Date: Sun Nov 30, 2003 5:10 am
Subject: I chose Brownies, BUT according to POSTCOLONIAL tenets.....

...there's a big problem with this test !!! Edward Said would probably
call it "Eurocentric" !!

I may have heard of angel food, and lemon meringues, but I have no
idea as to how they taste etc. Plus, this test OTHERISES vegetarians,
and those whose sweet tooth never erupted !!

Maybe we should invent (or should I say CONSTRUCT, because I don't
particularly believe in these tests) a psychological test with stuff
like jalebis and rasgollas ... or would that be called NATIVISM ??

Also, I can't be sure that these rasgollas were originally Indian,
right? For all I know, they may have come to India from Timbuktu. So,

And would I be justified in making these UNIVERSALIST ASSUMPTIONS?
Some people don't even get one square meal a day.

MARXISTS would declare war on these jalebis and rasgollas, and
FEMINISTS would probably brandish statistics telling me that though
chefs at 5 star hotels may be male, the scene at home hasn't changed
all that much, and that women are still frying the jalebis !!!

Oh well.......

..........let's just enjoy our dessert, eh? ;)

Friday, July 22, 2005


"Is that Bal Gangadhar Tilak?"

"No, it isn't. Tilak was hideous, and he most certainly isn't !"

The portrait hung in what used to be the drawing room of a palatial two storeyed colonial style bungalow. The red turban, grey moustache, and the regal customary shawl made it distinctive. What was peculiar about the portrait was that its eyes followed you regardless of which corner of the room you chose to occupy.

Bringing out the family tree, and directing my attention to its apex, my grandfather told me that this was the man who built the place I then called home. My friends told me it looked spooky by night. Maybe it did. But it was home...surrounded by gardens, a well and stables, it must have been magnificent two hundred years ago.

Gradually, the old place in the heart of Girgaum had been hedged in by towering concrete structures. A part of the garden was rented to box-makers; and the stables were converted into a dumping ground for kitchen waste, where a cat and her kittens found home every year.


"Don't worry beta ! Aap mujhe bas do sau rupaiye de do, aur main aap ko berth dila doonga. T. C. ko hum sambhaal lenge. Aap ghode bech ke sona."

Squirming inside the linen closet of the first class A.C. compartment of the Guwahati bound express, the strains of a soppy Hindi oldie kept reverberating through my mind. "Karvate badal te rahe aadhi raat hum" was my predicament, the only flipside being that roaches had replaced romance.

I kicked the air as yet another cockroach attempted to scale the Everest that was my shank. A small shower of sweat beads accompanied every bid to do away with affectionate insects. Streams of perspiration branched out into tributaries as they encountered epidermal cilia. Lying chained to my own luggage, the fatuous optimism with which I had boarded the train at Dadar oozed out of every pore in sauna like fashion.

Securing my suitcase to the adjacent basin pipe had proved unsuccessful. The bright red VIP Eleganza had been inadvertently splattered with frothy fluoridated sputum spewed by compulsive brush-before-going-to-bedders, some stray droplets making their way to my makeshift bunk.

The stomach churned bile. The aroma wafting from the loo added to the nausea.


She had more holes than a normal person does, and the reason was not genetic. She needed her nose rings, her eyebrow rings, her navel rings and of course her earrings to face the world.

Smart. Pretty. Intelligent. Arrogant. These were the epithets used when Nancy Misquita was mentioned. But she knew better. It was only in the bathroom of her plush Bandra flat that she shed her inhibitions as well as her clothes.

Devoid of props, she shuffled onto the weighing machine. The scale hand traced an almost acute arc and stood still. "Perfect", she murmurmed and then looked up to face her fogged reflection in the mirror. She didn't really need her kilograms to tell her that she was eyecandy. Catcalling roadside Romeos confirmed that almost every other day.

That was not to say that obese and ugly women were spared. But at least they called her "Sophia Lauren" and not "Moti Mausi". Where such riffraff came across Lauren she failed to fathom...


As the Virar fast lurched away from the Charni Road platform, a silent scream escaped Nancy. Wailing was futile. There was no one in the empty train compartment to hear her cries. No one except that cold-blooded thing, that glinted at her with unblinking eyes. And what was worse, it was advancing, and even her martial arts training could not keep it at bay.

She eyed the “In Case of Emergency Pull Chain” sign. Did she dare yank it? Wouldn’t it be awful to be stuck with this pintsized saurian between stations? And how could she face the Railway Police in case it escaped? She couldn’t jump off after pulling the chain, could she? What if a train was chugging along the adjacent track? What if…what if…

Her close encounter with it when she was all of ten years had left her traumatized. As dusk approached, she would go around shutting all windows and pulling the curtains across. For fifteen years she had followed this ritual daily. Not a chink of light could escape. It was a complete blackout…more complete than the prescribed blackouts during the Indo-China war. And after all her precautions, she was stuck in a train compartment with it !!

The train slowed down. “Mumbai Central” blurred past her watering eyes. The train stopped. How? Why? What? rushed through her frantic mind even as she alighted.

“Platform No. Do pe aaiye hui train yard jayegi. Yatriyon se vinanti hai ke we is train ko khali kare. Yatriyon ki asuvidha ke liye khed hai. The train halting at Platform No. 2 is going to the yard. Passengers are requested to please vacate the train. The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted”, blared the usually unwelcome nasal voice of the railway announcer as Nancy ascended the bridge en route to the taxi stand. No more local trains…ever !!

Nancy was convinced that she would die of a heart attack if she had to share a train compartment with a wall gecko again !!


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Famished Five

Apart from applesauce, there's plenty to be had. Where's the menus you ask.

Well, here goes: jugs of creamy farm fresh milk, homemade orangeade and lemonade, cold ginger beer, warm squishy loaves of home baked bread, jammy buns, butter, hard boiled eggs, fried eggs, omelettes, bacon, ham, tongue, pork pies, apple pies, mince pies, buttered crumpets, gooey macaroons, smashing salads, a variety of sandwiches, chocolate cakes, cherry cakes, fruit cakes, tureens of peas and potatoes, mouthwatering stews, plum pudding, date pudding, tinned pineapple, tinned peaches, tinned sardines, potted meat, potted shrimp, bars of chocolate, toffee, boiled sweets, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, strawberries, apples, peaches, licky ice-creams, meaty bones, dog biscuits...

...the list is sempiternal and in most cases, the eatables are alien. It is evident that Enid Blyton's gustatory modality is rather acute. Nevertheless, it would be much better if she spared us the details. Read. Chomp chomp. Chew. Crunch. Munch. Read. Munch. Munch and munch !!! It's true. I've never been able to read "The Famous Five" (or for that matter, any other Blyton book) without having something at hand to feast on.

The Five eat between their adventures. I eat between meals. They no doubt burn all the calories they consume while they climb hills, row to Kirrin Island, go fishing, cycling, hiking, skiing, camping, and of course, adventuring. I, lazing on the sofa, merely add another unwanted kilo to my weight !

Avoirdupois anyone? And no, that's not pabulum !!