raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Friends! hello. I feel like I don't talk much about things as they go past, these days, and I ought to. My new year's resolution this year was to enjoy more about my charmed life as it happens to me, rather than always driving towards something new. So I am in the habit now of making lists of things that make me happy each day - and if that all sounds rather nineties-self-help-book, the one rule of the game is that it has to be something that did make me happy, and not something that ought to have done. So the lists are all things like "new flavour of Kellogg's breakfast biscuit" and "I got a desk at work today" and "my boss said my grounds of defence were beautiful" and "there was an extra egg in my soup" and "my new dress has a cute dipped hem" and "Jack and Phryne flirted in tonight's Miss Fisher" and "A. told me I was pretty".

(I don't actually think small things are enough for happiness. I think you need deep water for contentment. But I'm no good at surface ripples and that's what this is.)

So I was on holiday! Several days in New York - we got an Air BnB in Williamsburg, which was super hipster but kind of delightful with it; we bought a lot of books at the Strand, hung out with [personal profile] macadamanaity, went to bars, sat in parks, and really didn't very much of note. It was what I wanted. And after that we went to a wedding! Some of you met my cousin N. at my wedding; well, she's married now, after a four-day extravaganza in Indianapolis the week of the Indy 500. I'm not sure what I thought of it. It was very impressive and there were a lot of people, and she seemed very happy, and I suppose that's the part that matters, so. I liked her fiancé very much. He's a nice guy from the south, where wedding traditions are very different. One of my favourites of the southern traditions is the one where the groom gets up early the day before the wedding, gets his umbrella, stick and dhoti, and declares to all that he's going to Kashi (otherwise Varanasi) to be a holy man. Oh no! shout the bride's brothers, chasing him down the street holding pictures of their sister. Don't you dare. Come back and get married.

Okay fine, he says, after they have extolled her virtues to the skies. And everyone comes back and has a decent lunch and lives happily ever after. Unless you have no brothers and have to enlist my male cousins (and my partner) to play the role, and also that your fiancé is very charming - so the boys go to get him back from Kashi, and come back declaring they, too, have seen the light, and wish to renounce all material things and walk barefoot to Varanasi with nothing but what they're standing up in. (Luckily, a family friend has a seventeen-year-old son who was quite the most sensible person in the wedding party. He single-handedly persuaded them all to once again take up the shackles of this life.)

It was a lovely wedding, actually. Lots of ceremonies and a lot of outfits, more than my tolerance for femme, but it had many sweet grace notes in between all of those things. I liked all the hanging out with my cousins, late nights and jet-lagged early mornings. And the outfits are much more bearable in retrospect. Here is a picture of me on the steps of the Indiana Statehouse:

it's quite pink )

We were due to return on the Sunday, 31 May, and accordingly decamped with an entourage to the airport. After the wedding, just getting to talk to people without rushing about and worrying about outfits and ceremonies was lovely, and I was really sorry, leaving behind my cousins and uncles and aunts and parents at the airport Starbucks. As we went through security, I turned to Shim and said, "That was fun, I wish we'd stayed another day."

Four hours' delay on the domestic. "Oh, well," said the gate agent, "you're going to miss all the transatlantic flights tonight, but we can put you in a hotel for tonight in Newark..."

"No," I said, very firmly, and we picked our bags off the carousel, went downstairs to arrivals, and met my dad doing the next of the day's runs to the airport. And it's funny how these things work, but that extra, halfway-there day, is going to stay with me as one of my favourite things that's happened to me. We went back to the house, where there were still enough guests for a moderately-sized party. We were around to see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon. We ate dosa and sambar in the cool light of the evening. In the morning we went via Dulles - where we were stuck for ten hours, four of which were spent in a plane on the tarmac with malfunctioning air conditioning - and in the end arrived home 28 hours later than planned, but you know, I don't mind? My boss answered my frantic not-coming-to-work email with, try and enjoy yourself, also I got stuck in Nigeria one time for five days, don't worry.

And I didn't. Being on the ground for that extra day was settling. I am trying to stay settled.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
Happy Diwali to you and yours, my friends. It's been an exceptionally long day, so I'm just going to give you the usual image, and three short stories.



[image description: a darkened room, with several candles and a candelabra in this window, and an orange lamp

That's from last year: but we're still here.

dancing in the dark
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Rosa/Amy.

in the middle of all the yelling )

always one last bell to ring
Imperial Radch, Breq, Seivarden, Tisarwat & co. [NB re: spoilers for Ancillary Sword - they're minor, but to be honest this won't make sense without it!]

hanging the lights )

two drifters off to see the world
How I Met Your Mother, Tracy and Robin

moon river )
raven: TOS McCoy and Kirk frowning, text: "Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful" (st - MADDENINGLY UNHELPFUL)
So if you have the misfortune of following me on Twitter you may know I am having a Star Trek renaissance. This happens every couple of years and mostly goes like this: show! Feelings! Oh my show! Oh my feelings! This time around I am having love for TNG, which is odd - I've never liked it as much as DS9 - but interesting, and having thoroughly abused the 140-character format I think I would like to be verbose as to why.

So I am for the most part not really interested in generalised discussions of race on Star Trek? I mean, spoilers, Trek isn’t very good on race! Most of the time - but what it is great at is ideas. And nothing mainstream, for me, has ever done anything like it on cultural assimilation. There’s this one episode of Voyager that gets this really well and I’ve always thought is underrated. In "Lineage", pretty late on in the run, B’Elanna finds out she’s pregnant and it’s basically adorable. Gossip travels at warp ten, everyone on the crew wants to be the baby’s godparent and/or namesake, and Tom realizes the only person on the entire ship he knows who’s a father is Tuvok (!!) and they have this sweet and genuinely poignant awkward conversation in a Jefferies tube. (Every time Star Trek does this conversation it’s amazing. Dax advising Sisko on fatherhood! O’Brien advising Worf on marriage! ….anyway.) So B’Elanna finds out that her baby, who will be one quarter Klingon to three quarters human, will nevertheless look Klingon (“Klingon traits are dominant!"). And through a series of fights with Tom, fights with Janeway, and, eventually, an incredibly unethical application of her engineering ability to the Doctor’s programming, B'Elanna persuades him to alter the baby’s genetic make-up in utero so she’ll look human. Roxann Dawson, who plays B’Elanna, is Latina; Robert Duncan McNeill is white. A baby who looks more like him will look… oh, you get it. And I just cry and cry and cry at it, because whether or not you agree with her choice, she’s making what she thinks is the best choice for her baby. Tom tries telling her that there are Vulcans on board, Talaxians, Bajorans - and B'Elanna turns around and snaps, "And one hundred and forty humans!"

And of course he tries to argue and she tells him he doesn't understand: "When the people around you are all one way and you're not, you can't help feeling like there's something wrong with you" - and I cry.

And it's not just about race, of course, but culture; not just how you look, though of course that matters, but what you are. (B'Elanna's Klingon fighting instincts! How hard her human father found her to live with!) Oh, I cry so much, because how can you articulate that? That feeling of being four or sixteen or twenty-seven, and you're in someone's house or at a party or at your desk surrounded by your colleagues, and someone says something and you're just - at the precipice of your lack of understanding. When the people around you are all one way, and you're not.

And it's kind of odd and counter-intuitive, but this time around I’ve realised the application of this same narrative to, of all people, Data. Not all the time: I think the show sometimes misfires on this, and sometimes does it really well – it seems to depend on the particular episode and set of writers? But, okay, Data. (He's an android and, because this is Star Trek, operations officer on the Enterprise.) I adore Data and always have – I was saying to someone recently that my Star Trek feelings are getting on for twenty years’ standing, owwww – and I’ve always mostly thought that I love Data and Spock for the same reasons. In different ways, they both serve as a moral compass for their respective captains. I mean, with Spock it’s usually an outright, Jim, don't do this, this is a terrible no-good idea, and with Data it’s more often from the mouths of babes, truth - but I love that. (And, the other side of the trope which I also love: the few occasions when it’s reversed. When it’s Kirk reining in Spock from murdering Stonn, or from complicity in horrors in “Mirror, Mirror”; when Picard tries to pull Data back from the brink with Lore - I love that narrative arc.)

But… okay, with Data. In “The Measure of a Man”, which by the way is my favourite courtroom drama ever and probably one of my favourite episodes of anything, some dude shows up and gives Data transfer orders: he’s being sent to the lab to be dismantled so they can figure out how to make more of him. Data’s answer is, huh, what if you can’t put me back together again? Rather than do this, I will resign – and then they tell him, you can’t resign, you’re property of Starfleet. And Picard is forced to argue in court for the position that Data has rights over his own body. It's a story about humanity, and sentience, and life. It's a story about transformation. And it's a story that allows Guinan to say this to Picard, when no one else will (for those playing along at home: Guinan is the Enterprise’s venerable bartender, played by Whoopi Goldberg): "Consider that in the history of many worlds there have always been disposable creatures."

That gives me chills. That if Data is property, then property obscures sin. In the history of many worlds, there have been those whose bodies were marked. I'm sorry, Riker whispers into Data's ear, and reaches in to remove his hand.

And then, the ruling, when it comes, is very narrow. spoilers for a 25-year-old TV show )

But then, they do lots of episodes where Data wants to be human? Which I've been thinking, misses the point that that episode makes so succinctly. Sometimes it’s understandable – at one point Data tells Geordi that he’s afraid of outliving everyone he’s ever known – and sometimes less so. Spock, of all people, tells him: “There are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you've been given by design." And Data can't defend why he would rather be human, though he does point out that it's a choice - like Spock's choice to be Vulcan through and through, despite his human mother.

So I've found myself thinking, isn't that kind of... colonialist, if that's even the word? Data wanting to be a person is a very different thing from his wanting to be human, especially if the narrative embraces the latter as though it were unproblematic. And the show gestures at this distinction quite a lot without ever quite making it: Picard comments at one stage that Data might be a culture of one, but it's no less valid than a culture of billions; when he's dying, Noonien Soong tells Data that he will grieve, "in your own way"; and there's also the spot-on sweetness of the way the show never questions Data's right to refer to his two human creators as his parents. His mother describes him as "the child of two people who loved him and each other" - which is lovely, but they never take the additional leap and say, Data's is a form of human life. If that has value, then why should he aspire to a different kind?

But then - here it is. Data, who is different from everyone else around him, even more so than half-human half-Klingon B'Elanna and half-human half-Vulcan Spock – and there's nothing wrong with him, but, well. Well, darling, wouldn't you wish to be white? You would lose what you were, but without your soul in doubt. What it is, is this: Data doesn't want to be human, he wants to be normal, unmarked. Like B'Elanna wants for her daughter; like Sarek wanted for Spock. What gives me the feelings is that the show for all its failings, engages with that desire so closely and gives it to these characters who are gifted and loved and flawed, and gives them the consequences of that desire, Data's loss and B'Elanna's desperation and Sarek and Spock not talking to each other for thirty years, because, by god, it sucks to be different. It's okay to want to assimilate into the majority culture; to not just be yourself. It's okay to wish for whiteness; it's saying, sometimes, not all the time, we all do.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
I have finished my re-read of A Suitable Boy and don't have much to add to what I said about it originally. (Hey, [personal profile] silly_cleo! Don't click that link and don't click this cut that's coming up. At least, not yet!)

cut for spoilers )

I feel like this was more a burst of feelings than any kind of review? But it's that sort of book.

Diwali

Nov. 3rd, 2013 05:34 pm
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
Happy Diwali, all. Thank you, everyone who came to the party last night - it was a lovely time - and everyone else, I hope your days and nights are full of light.

Diwali - image of windowsill and table with a red candelabra full of candles, and an orange lamp

This is our living room, from last night. Everything there is a gift - the candelabra and candles are from the wedding, the bookends were a gift from my colleagues, the little stone candle-holders are Diwali gifts from previous years - which seems oddly fitting. In lieu of other gifts for y'all, I offer four short stories, on the usual theme:


building normal
Deep Space Nine, Sisko, Kira, Dax et al.

increased efficiency on Deep Space Nine )


hope
Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil/Carlos.

on one of the dark days )


comparative religion
Parks and Recreation, Tom, April, Leslie, gen.

an overwhelming smell of kerosene in the Parks Department )


love in a hopeless place
Gentleman Bastards, Locke and Jean, gen(ish). No spoilers for The Republic of Thieves!

Locke can't walk )
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
Notes on a week in Delhi and Mumbai:

-So this time I flew into Mumbai from London, to visit friends for a couple of days, and it's lovely. Unlike Delhi, it has reasonable weather all year round rather than two months out of twelve, and although it has its problems, it doesn't have Delhi's perennial issues with water. (Lately, in Delhi, you just want to cry watching water go down the drain; it's like throwing away gold dust.) Anyway, so I went to the beach and ate street pav bhaji and saw the Gateway of India (which you can't go in, any more; there was the beautiful open lit empty space inside, occupied only by a police dog having a snooze) and had tea at the Taj and generally was quite, quite useless. It was great. My mental health hasn't been the best, lately, but I think a dose of warmth and sun is never bad. Delhi, once I got there, is in the smoothing-off period, the pre-Diwali time where the shops and businesses are beginning to turn off the air conditioning. It lingered around a pleasant, dry thirty degrees, which was nice.

-Since I was last in India about eighteen months ago, my parents have sold their old house in Delhi, which was by New Delhi Railway Station, and given that it was my father's ancestral house and he did to a greater and lesser extent grow up in it, and also, it was where I spent the little time I did with my paternal grandfather, a deeply formidable gentleman who was kinder and gentler to me than he had ever been to anyone, given all of those things, god, I hated that house. When my father was young it was a nice house in a residential district, running on the rhythms of the railway station (one of the things I did like about it was the brief moment, halfway between wakefulness and sleep, every morning at five am: this is the night mail / crossing the border, in this case, the Kalka Mail), but now it's surrounded by developments, hotels and construction work, and to make things just that little bit worse, the water pressure in the area has long since fallen to basically nothing. We spent four months there the summer I was four, and it was forty-eight degrees in Delhi with no air conditioning or running water, and those days, you had to ring up Emirates to confirm your flights the day before travelling. (Did you know that? I've never met anyone who knew that. We were bumped to standby. I missed my first two months of school. I was put off my ancient and magnificent homeland for not-quite life.)

-(A related note, also: I occasionally see non-South-Asians refer to us as "desi", which is just, beyond not on, from my perspective. "Desh" means, homeland; "desi" means someone from that homeland. To presume to give that word, because it is a gift, is rank imperialism.)

-The new place, oddly enough, is very close to my mother's family. It's in CR Park, the Bengali colony which my maternal grandfather, my Dadu, was instrumental in creating in the seventies, and it's beautiful – it's a second-floor flat with two actual bedrooms (which, in south Delhi, is positively palatial) and trees in leaf brushing up against the windows. I adore it – partly for itself, because it's quiet and clean and comfortable, and as part of my family's continual quest towards non-Western modernity, it's outfitted with Indian-style bathrooms and kitchen, all cool, smooth granite and rattan and ridiculous drapes from Fabindia, and Ikea's finest in the kitchen drawers – and partly because, well. Last night I couldn't sleep, and it was maybe three or four in the morning and I got up, went to the kitchen and got myself an apple and rasmalai from the fridge, and cut the apple and put the rasmalai in the bowl, and sat for half an hour with my laptop, and ate them, then washed up the bowl, spoon and knife and put them in the rack to dry. I think maybe you have to be me to understand the significance of that. But I have my keys to the place. It's my home, too.

CR Park, too, is a good place to live. It was created as a gated community before the phrase acquired the connotations it has now – that is to say, the emphasis is on the second word. It's large and getting larger all the time – we are a short walk from the CR Park police station, CR Park Market No. 4 and the CR Park Kali Mandir Society – but all with that dusty-tree, homely feeling. Annoyingly, it's equidistant between two metro stations, Nehru Place and Kailash Colony, and thus not really walking distance from either, but just as I was complaining about that someone reminded me about the Phase III Metro work, which will build a third radial station closer than either of the others, so really, I'm very happy. I kind of want to take Shim there for a week one winter without telling any of my relatives I'm in town, and just hang out and explore.

-Speaking of which. I can't put my finger on it, and it's kind of frightening, but this kind of middle-class Delhi life has become a lot easier for me to navigate, just recently. I've been married five weeks and those five weeks have done more for my social capital than my previous decade of adult life. And it doesn't matter that Shim wasn't with me, or even that Shim isn't desi; somehow, something has changed. It's deeply insulting, of course, but that's maybe epiphenomenal? I picked up a book in the airport called Lady, you're not a man, which I liked mostly because it's basically a slim Indian feminist tract masquerading as a self-help book, and rule one is, never apologise for being a woman. This is the sort of self-help advice I can get behind. Anyway, so it is insulting, and maybe it is psychologically destructive to be a woman in a society that demands such apology (I applied to get the natural gas pipeline connected; the gas company wanted to know my husband's name before I could apply), but I don't know, I think the best way out is to carry on living the life I do. After all, India is an idea – a grand, ancient idea, for sure, but a thousand dialects and cultures, old states, new states, rural and urban and mixed, 1.1 billion people, one in six of all the people that there are, all pushed together like they fit, like it's possible for them to be one noisy nation, under no god. If there's no room for me in India, then what the hell's the point of it. (One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me, ever, was said by my second-year institutional politics tutor, herself a desi: "She is the argumentative Indian.")

(Rule number whatever in the book is addressed to single women, living in a society that believes they need to be married before they're complete: remember all the other women who support you, cheer you, admire you, are you.. It keeps telling you there's nothing wrong with you and you don't need help, it's the worst self-help book ever.)

wedding stuff )

Anyway. It can't be helped. I am back now for seven weeks (wouldn't it be nice if I got a job in those seven weeks, gosh), peeling off the jet-lag, and listening to Jiya Re on repeat this morning, if anyone needs something cheerful to help them out of bed, and going on.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
This story came about as a response to a discussion I was having with [personal profile] thingswithwings a while back about Night Vale, queer theory, safe spaces, race, and many other things. It's about Night Vale as the small town in the desert that can be home to everyone, in its way, which isn't enough, but is something, I guess, and that in itself goes a lot of the way to why I love this stupid show so much.

(Also, it's about the federal government shutdown. I'm super-predictable.)

fic:: when you lay me down you'll bury only bones
by Raven
7000w, Welcome To Night Vale, Cecil/Carlos, Dana and Intern Vithya. Dana's back. Intern Vithya is new. Cecil and Carlos are just the same, but different. Today, Night Vale is the safest place on earth.

this above all )
raven: (misc - inside the box)
So, you guys, I want to talk about Cecil (possibly Baldwin - I remain unconvinced that he has entirely the same name as his voice actor) and what he looks like. In all my stories so far, I've deliberately not given him a physical description (except in "jus sanguinis, jus soli", in which he doesn't get a physical description just so's I can avoid spoiling the plot twist), because I'm kind of delighted at the idea of a character who really has no appearance specified.

(And, also, I have kind of a headcanon - which I think was given to me by [personal profile] such_heights - that while his voice is utterly distinctive, Cecil's looks don't really register in people's minds, so they go away and describe him as "Well, he's not tall. Or short. He might have been wearing a hat.")

But, okay, this next story I'm writing, he needs to look like something. Maybe he looks different to each person (and Steve Carlsberg imagines him as white, and he hates that - someone else's headcanon that I love), and I also love this Welcome To Night Vale fan trailer, which suggests he looks like a super-cute Richard Ayoade; but mostly I'm just really happy - so, so happy - that I can just unilaterally decide that he looks like me. If you do not know what I look like, kinda like this, only not that pretty.

And maybe there aren't that many South Asians in the American Southwest. Maybe Cecil is Native, or Hispanic, or both. Maybe his mother was from Nigeria and his dad was English. Maybe he embodies Night Vale itself, brown like the sand. I love this show so much.

(I'm aware that this is where I ought, by some sort of unstated obligation, offer comment on a certain tendency for certain people to imagine Cecil as white, and what this (intelligent and interesting) graph has to say, and, ah. Stuff. I have very little to add to that debate. If I may be lazy and link to something I've said elsewhere, this is why. I don't believe in opening my presence up to debate. I am here. I am the "you" in A Story About You. I am Runner Five. And I am Cecil, too.)

In other news, today I bought a new handbag and organised the things I carry around with me, and got a new external hard drive and organised the other things I carry around with me, and now I only have to press one button for my computer to trash 125 GB. I'm saving it for when I'm in particular need of catharsis.
raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
In absence of anything else cheerful to talk about, then. On Shim's recommendation I have spent the last few days reading through George MacDonald Fraser's McAuslan books, The General Danced At Dawn, McAuslan in the Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin. They're short stories, together an account of life in a Highland regiment in the immediate post-war period, set in Scotland and North Africa. For some reason they're largely billed as the adventures of Private McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, but the protagonist and first-person narrator is a very young Scottish officer, Dand MacNeill (who on at least one occasion refers to himself as "that idiot MacNeill, Lieutenant, D."), who is responsible for McAuslan but also thirty-five other Gordon Highlanders, and the whole thing is both magnificently evocative and funny as all-get-out. There's no overarching plot, beyond MacNeill becoming an officer - which, spoilers, he does in the first few pages - they're all vignettes and reflections from a distance of decades.

Some could very easily be episodes of M*A*S*H - especially one where MacNeill is told at eleven pm, just seconds before he was finally about to roast the regimental chaplain at snooker, that his thirty-six Highlanders, all out in the souks and brothels spending their pay packets, have recently unwittingly come into contact with smallpox, and what is he going to do about it; also the delightful story where MacNeill, after upbraiding McAuslan for being the dirtiest and least-well-turned-out soldier alive, finds himself in front of royalty in front of Edinburgh Castle fully aware his kilt buckle is about to give way.

(It's 1946. I wonder very much what would have happened should MacNeill and McAuslan somehow find themselves in Korea four years later.)

The thing is, Fraser's an ass of the worst kind, indubitably, and MacNeill is almost certainly entirely Fraser. (Even the name is arch - the stories are bylined "by Dand MacNeill"; the regimental motto is "Bydand".) And there is a lot of casual racism in the stories, and some not-so-casual - if you wish to miss eighty percent of it, don't read "Johnnie Cope in the Morning". And even that upsets me rather, because the bits of "Johnnie Cope..." that don't make me sick are stupidly, screamingly funny. (The regimental pipe band have decided it's their sworn duty as Highlanders to wake up the officers every Friday at six am by playing "Johnnie Cope" two feet from their window. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.)

It makes me unhappy in the worst way, but somehow ... somehow. What can you say. The best of the stories, in my opinion, is the haunting "Night Run to Palestine", in which MacNeill, through a sequence of incompetencies, winds up commanding a troop train from Cairo to Jerusalem and everything, throughout that long, frightening night, goes wrong. (At one point he ends up helping a young woman with two babies. "And so we worked away, myself the brutal soldier singing a Gaelic lullaby, and the gentle mother opposite rebuking her daughter in terms that would have made a Marine corporal join the Free Kirk.") There really is something haunting about it - something inarticulate under the surface, lacking resolution in the way that means it must be true.

It all comes down to the fact that in the end, MacNeill, who is Fraser, who is who Fraser was, aged twenty-one and a long way from home, has a kindness and humanity that isn't what you immediately think of, when you read an army memoir. I was oddly touched by "His Majesty Says Goodbye", the story in which MacNeill and McAuslan are demobbed on the same day, and MacNeill is watching from across the street outside Waverley as McAuslan gets into his first trouble with a policeman in civilian life. "It's nothing to do with me," he says aloud to himself, startling passers-by, and crosses the street to sort it out. And at the very end, Fraser recounts a Flashman book-signing where someone turned up with battered copies, not of his latest Flashman book, but of the first two McAuslan books. It's the Colonel, Dand MacNeill's commanding officer, the man that at one point, he thinks, he's sure he described as a "crafty vulture", which is fine, it's all fine, everything is absolutely fine, he is entirely not panicking, he signs the next woman's book "George MacDonald Vulture".

I have no idea if this is a recommendation or not; do with it what you will, but it's kind, which is something.

Diwali

Nov. 13th, 2012 11:04 pm
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
Happy Diwali.

p1230731

That's me in the background; that was Diwali in 2008. I took mithai into work today, and another lawyer stopped by my desk to wish me a happy Diwali, and to thank me because I had reminded her to write to her daughter's girlfriend to wish her a happy Diwali too. What a wonderful world.

As in previous years, I am sorry I cannot ask you all round to my house for food and sparklers and lights. Here are some stories, instead.

home
Vorkosigan, Ekaterin, gen.

she wouldn't bump her head on things )

*


making light
Fringe, Peter, Olivia, Astrid, gen.

Peter is eyeing up a jar of Red Vines )

*


all that you let in
HP, Hermione, gen.

Hermione gave up writing with quill pens )

*


Extract from public meeting on Utopia Planitia budgetary requirements, 22 October 2364, Earth Shipbuilding and Public Works Commission, United Federation of Planets
Star Trek, gen.

once upon a time )


In the spirit of that last story, here is an image that has been floating around Tumblr and Facebook as "India on Diwali night, as seen from space" and variations thereof. I can't find a source for it and to be honest I have my doubts about whether it really is that.

But - well. There are so many Indians - there are so many religions, there are so many languages, there is so much, there is even this chilly brown diaspora out here in Ultima Thule - that every day, on the ordinary days, we make a lot of light.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
I have been putting some Vorkosigan trope meme fic from a month or so ago on the AO3, like so:

the last winter (Miles and Ekaterin, apocalypse)

something in the autumn that is native to your blood (Aral and Simon, telepathy)

gendha phool (Simon and Alys, pretending to be married)

A brief note on these. I put "something in the autumn that is native to your blood" on the AO3 pretty soon after I wrote it for [personal profile] philomytha, and "the last winter" I hadn't time to put up until about a week ago. But I had no intention of putting the other one up. When [personal profile] hedda62 and the trope meme yielded "Simon and Alys pretend to be married", I gave Shim a joyful grin and said, "LET ME SING YOU THE SONG OF MY PEOPLE."

We were pottering around making lunch and putting the washing out at the time, and we talked it over while we did that and plotted it with me grinning delightedly most of the time; and later I said to [personal profile] forthwritten, "So.... what do you think the Planet of the Indians would look like?" and they started getting gleeful and we decided instantly that there would be no police force, of course it would be a network of aunties and chachis doing their thing with gusto, of course.

And I wrote it and put it in the comment box and didn't post it anywhere else, because of course it is self-indulgent idfic. Isn't it?

But, then, saat phere, Alys says in this story: she's talking about the seven times you walk around the flames in a Hindu marriage ceremony. A little more than a year from now I will do that: I'll stand up in front of a hundred people and walk around those flames, and when I sit down again I'll be married in the eyes of my people. The folk-etymological derivation for the ceremony is that the seven times symbolise the seven lifetimes you'll go through together, and while this is logistically complicated (what if you're not on the same reincarnation cycle as your partner? and believe me this is the sort of thing Hindus and their religious leaders worry about) I believe in the spirit of that idea: that you walk around those flames in place of walking through them, you come through irrevocably changed. That's not self-indulgent. It's not for whimsy that Shim and I will become part of one another. And I was raised as a daughter of the oldest continuous religious tradition on earth, and of one of its oldest, richest, most flamboyant cultures.

So I have been promising myself in this tentative adulthood that I will keep track of this, the slow decolonisation of the mind, and my little story is silly and light but not because of its content, so it goes on the AO3 as a "real" story, with thanks to [personal profile] hedda62 and everyone else: gendha phool, with some amendments from when it was written first.

For those wondering about the title, I recommend Google image search. Those people later down the page are the cast of my mother's favourite soap opera, Sasuraal Genda Phool! The nice-looking chap in the glasses has amnesia, it is the BEST.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
I never do have enough hours in the day. I'm very, very lazy - when I work it's in very intense bursts, so as to get it over - but I've reached that point of the year where the intense bursts are lasting days rather than hours. I am still ill, but haven't stopped moving yet - today I got up, went back to bed, got up again, gritted my teeth, went to work at lunchtime and hit my targets, but through kind of a haze (the other trainee, who has known me for two weeks, said, "You are really ridiculous", in a loving manner that reminded me deeply of [personal profile] gavagai and [livejournal.com profile] hathy_col and makes me think she may be getting to know me rather well) - and I was going to drive to Leeds tomorrow, but was thinking better of it, what with a) general haze in head and b) so much work to do this weekend on various things. I am making the first steps towards my post-training-contract life, as well as taking evening classes at Hills Road. (I went to the first one on Tuesday and it was a delight: the teacher is wonderful, the class engaged and enthusiastic, and I think I might make friends who aren't lawyers! And also, isn't it amazing to be in a classroom? To put your hand up? To make notes? To not have to be responsible for anything other than your notes? I think I would recommend adult education to everyone, it's such a joy.)

So, yes, there are good and worthy reasons for me to have lots of homework this weekend, but the fact remains I do. But, genius idea: take the train! So I am taking the nice smooth East Coast main line up to Leeds tomorrow, and I won't have to drive, and I'll get some work done, and I get to see [livejournal.com profile] tau_sigma and [livejournal.com profile] hathy_col.

What else, what else? I am still writing trope ficlets, in around sleeping, working and working - it's a treat.

And courtesy of [personal profile] elb, I am listening to a lot of songs by Niraj Chag, of which my favourite by far is "Ur Jaa". It's a lovely, haunting, wistful love song, and I've listened to it a couple of dozen times today thinking all the time, this reminds me of something. Not even that - not even a reminding of something so much as, somewhere in my mind there is something aligning like a tectonic plate.

I just figured it out. A while ago I recced a beautiful Vorkosigan fic called "L'oiseau qui vole", which is a delicate love story with a central theme evoked by a single line from a (fictional, I believe) old French ballad: "l'oiseau qui vole n'a pas de maître", and it wasn't until I remembered that, that I understood it. Ur jaa, tu jaa paharon ke pichhe - yes. Yes, yes. Such a deeply lovely piece.

As for why the resonance - partly just the dovetailing of themes. But I was thinking about this the other day, about languages and what they feel like, to write in. I don't write in any language other than English, but I have enough grasp of the others to know, dimly, what it might be like to write in them, what it might feel like. When I was writing the trope ficlets, the first one I wrote was called "something in the autumn that is native to your blood" - it was a little thing that I wrote while terribly, terribly sleep-deprived, for [personal profile] philomytha who wanted something about Aral Vorkosigan, Simon Illyan and telepathy. I wrote it and then spent ages trying to find a title for it - the title it does have comes from a Canadian poem that [personal profile] thingswithwings introduced me to originally, and it's a perfectly good title - but, initially, I wanted to call it "tu jaa". I couldn't think of a reason to title it in Hindi, in the end: neither thematic, nor, well, Barrayar Has No Brown People, as we all know.

But... I wanted to call it "tu jaa". Not "tum jao", nor "aap jaiye". It means, "you go", an imperative. But so do all those three. Only "tu jaa" is something you can say to someone you love, to someone you despise, to someone you'd protect and adore and own utterly. You can say that, and I just wrote 17,000 words trying to explain that sort of relationship in a language that stands back from that sort of feeling. One day, maybe, when I'm old, I'll be able to write in languages other than English, and it will feel different. And perhaps - if I feel that resonance, deep below- Hindi and French have a texture like each other. I hope so.

So much nonsense. Right. Productivity. Why do I always pick such convenient times to be ill.

Mary Kom

Aug. 5th, 2012 08:36 pm
raven: (misc - we win)
I want to talk about Mary Kom.

Mary Kom is an Indian boxer, from Imphal in Manipur (the northeast of India, for those who don't know - more than a thousand miles from Delhi). She's a light flyweight, which means she weighs rather a lot less than 51kg, and her name is Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom. The name in lights she was fighting under was Mangte Chungneijang, but they announced her as "Mary Kom" probably because that's what she calls herself, and the crowd in the arena had, delightfully, done their homework - they chanted, "Mary! Mary! Mary!" when she stepped into the ring.

From where we were sitting, we had a perfect view. When she stepped into the ring to fight the Polish boxer Karolina Michalczuk I thought she looked so tiny - and she is tiny; her customary weight class, light flyweight, isn't an Olympic weight class, at least this year, so she's fighting women with 5kg on her - but she laid a couple of punches and she was electrifying. The crowd loved her. An Irish kid a few rows down from us folded over his flag so he could support India with it. She was aggressive and clever and graceful and the crowd were chanting her name and when she won her match I stood up and shrieked. She's through to the quarter-finals and fights against the Tunisian contender on Monday.

I just... say whatever you like about the Olympics, the corporate bullshit, I'll probably agree. But she's a five-foot Indian woman from Imphal stood in a boxing ring this afternoon and had a crowd of thousands screaming her name, and if she does go on to win she will not only be India's first gold medallist this time around but the world's first women's boxing Olympic champion.The BBC have profiled her as favourite for gold; the Economist have done it as well.

(Natasha Jonas, the British lightweight, beat her American opponent decisively also with thousands of people cheering for her. She's from Liverpool! She went to Edge Hill, and she's a youth worker for Toxteth Council. Doesn't it amaze you how extraordinary people can be.)

In the meantime, NBC's analyst magnanimously allows that women's boxing ought to be permitted, after all.

On names

Mar. 28th, 2012 10:58 pm
raven: (misc - thine own self)
I have been thinking a lot recently about names. Partly this is because the sunshine and change of job have given me the energy to work at languages again, so I'm thinking about words and grammar and such more generally, and partly this is because of this being the Year of Weddings. I witnessed a deed poll at a wedding recently, and then the other week, during Maria's wedding ceremony, it was very obvious that the somewhat smarmy officiant said her first name at normal volume, but her patronymic and surname very softly.

I think you must already love your friend, if you're there to see them married in the second row with your tissues out, but if possible, I loved her a little more at that moment: she had been speaking softly, but she said her names clearly and loudly for the world to hear. The officiant had the grace to look embarrassed.

For reasons I have explained many times, I have a Western, Scottish use-name. I have my surname as well, though; it's not at all a Western name. As this is a public post, I'm not going to tell you what it is. It's the same surname as a lady in a television show whom you all love. Which is, okay, me being flip, but also that is important: I look back now, and think, if I had been in primary school and there had been a woman in a TV show whom all my friends loved, with the same name as me, well. Imagine how life would have been, then.

I hated my surname then. I hated it for being weird, for always having to spell it, for never knowing how I ought to say it, for being weird weird weird. I was twenty years old by the time I sat up and said, thought, I have one of the commonest names on the planet. There are heads of state with my name, there are mathematicians and poets and sports people and there's also me and I am a person too. But before then, I had learned to mispronounce it - to say it like white people say it. Because then they will spell it right; then it's only one letter different from a proper white-person name, it's almost a real name. Then I won't be weird any more.

I will never change my surname. I don't plan to take my partner's name on marriage; I am unlikely to change it for any other reason. So here, today, I have decided: I am going to say my name the way it should be said. If people mispronounce it, I will correct them; if people mispronounce the name of the nice lady in the TV show, I will correct them, gently, and go gently named true.

And if they can't spell it, they can look it up.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
I am almost obscenely fond of Seat61.com. I have just spent a happy hour planning fantasy routes and itineraries along the route of the Silk Road. Some day, some day, etc.

So. This is 2012. For the first time since 1990, I slept through New Year entirely. I meant to stay up and I meant to stay up, but jet-lag hit me hard around 10pm. Terribly pathetic, of course. For the last week of 2011, I took Shim with me to India, and that, at least, was a good end to a very mixed year. In one week, we went (sometimes very briefly) to Delhi, Solan, Shimla, Chail, Chandigarh and Agra, and not disappearing from places between places, as you do on an aircraft: all the way the landscape between, stopping for coffee and chaat in dhabas, watching the mountains and the plains roll on past the windows, and the wheels raising the dust.

We went to Solan first. It's a small city in Himachal Pradesh, and it took us a day to travel there from Delhi, on a smooth flight into Chandigarh and then a boneshaking drive upwards.

My family's house in Solan is called "Chinar", which Google tells me is known in English merely as Planatus orientalis, and it's on stilts on the side of the mountain heading down towards the valley. As a result the roof is on a level with the Kalka-Shimla railway line. It's a narrow-gauge railway, tiny, built a hundred years ago by the British to move to the summer capital from the plains to the mountains, 100km with more than eight hundred bridges, 103 tiny, numbered tunnels, climbing into the Himalaya metre by metre of perilous altitude until it reaches Shimla with the clouds beneath. I love everything about it.

Solan station [all pictures are Shim's] )

(Also, Railways! I guess most people who know me get to know after a while that I love trains (and planes, but not automobiles) with an irredeemable romantic love. Upon enquiry, my father sagely informed me that there is a gene on the 23rd chromosome that code for a love of railways of all kinds. This, he admits, is entirely a lie, but my father has never lived anywhere where you couldn't hear the sound of trains; my grandfather ran his household on railway time; my great-grandfather was the station master of New Delhi Railway Station.

And, me, I love trains: I love the vibration they make inside your bones, I love the lights streaming past in the dark, I love waking up for a moment in the middle of the night as the train passes through above. The world's as it ought to be when the train comes through on time. And then, take a train in India and you can go anywhere. You can take the train from Thruvanathapuram to Jammu. What a train is, is freedom.)

this is the night train )

From Solan, we drove up to Shimla, which I have described before in these metaphorical pages, and to Kali ka Tibba (it only means 'Kali's hilltop'), which is a hilltop temple at Chail, and you reach it through a meteoric rise in altitude that involves driving inches from a hundred-foot drop around bends. It's dizzying, and on the day we were there, a little transcendent: the sky was polar blue and the sun felt close. The family's temple of choice in Delhi is the Hanuman Mandir, where we go on Tuesdays where possible; it's large, chaotic, noisy and a little frightening, and monkeys steal your shoes. I am having trouble with religion, lately; I end up feeling like all those people who say, politically and spiritually I'm a lesbian, I'm just in a relationship with a man! (I do that too, sometimes.) Well, I am politically and by inclination an atheist - I'm just... not one.

That I'm not an atheist is a fact, not a fact like my height and eye colour but like how I'm a writer, and a thoughtful person, and in love with a particular person. But there's that and there's being a person whose faith carries her; who carries something of value around with her because of how the world is. It's easier in those high places, it was easier in that hilltop temple with the toothpaste-clean air, the polished marble, the single tree so wrapped with red and golden thread that you couldn't see the bark. It's a thoroughly modern temple - it runs on solar power. And you remove your shoes and go barefoot, as you do in every temple everywhere, but the marble was freezing and salutary under your feet. I'm working on what kind of belief I have and want to have, but that was a wonderful, invigorating, close-to-the-sky place.

Kali ka tibba )

We came down from the mountains on the fourth day, drove to Chandigarh and took a bus on to Delhi. All of that was much less painful than I thought it would be. In Chandigarh we had lunch at the Indian Workers' Coffee Cooperative, which offers lunch for such strangely precise prices as Rs. 30.20. In Delhi the family's house is shut up at the moment, so we were staying in an apartment at Green Park Market, and from there we went to Agra to show Shim the Taj Mahal (which was beautiful, but very surreal - my family and I could be Indians and got Rs. 20 tickets, but pretending Shim wasn't a foreigner was more difficult; his ticket ended up an eyewatering Rs. 750). The Taj itself is, well, it's beautiful, and what more can you say about it, but I'm not very fond of Agra itself, which is hotter, dirtier, and dustier than Delhi, which is hardly a cool, clean, comfortable place in itself. I did like the camels, though. All camels have ridiculously long, flirtatious eyelashes and immensely disdainful expressions. Sadly, we did not get a picture of them.

the Taj Mahal )

And then, one day in Delhi - one day to see Rashtrapati Bhawan and India Gate. Having Shim along was delightful, but particularly because my aunt went to see the Taj Mahal for the first time, my mother went to see the president's residence and Parliament House for the first time. Both lived for years in Delhi. We went to Connaught Place and wandered, and got the Metro back to Green Park, and I was completely and utterly delighted by it. The Delhi Metro is new - well, ten years old, now, but new - and smooth and marvellous. (My mother was talking mournfully about how much more fun college would have been for her, if the metro had existed then.)

The metro is symptomatic, but, generally, Delhi is a different city from the one I first knew. Of course it's been twenty years, but it's larger, louder, noisier, chaotic, as you would expect, and I'm not sure the march towards development is permeating down to all levels. In fact, I know it isn't. But we came back on December 30th, drove to the airport through the fog, and this time, again, more than last time, more than the time before, I didn't want to go, I didn't want to go, don't make me go, I don't want to go home, I want to stay home. And I don't know what to do about it. I don't. My family reported that after we left, they went back from the airport to a four-hour power cut and we left at just the right moment. But given the lack of power, given the chaos, given the dirt and dust and stray dogs, given the mountains, given the temples, given the city and the railways, I wanted so much to stay.

I read a lot of Chetan Bhagat novels this week, and the dedication in his latest is: To my country, who called me home. Bhagat is like that only: words have power in simplicity. I don't know what to do about it.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Life. It continues. Itemised:

1. Last night, after five, I was tidying my desk and flipping through Farmers' Weekly (really, by god), and the Caped Crusader rushed by, came to a sudden stop, rushed back and said, "Iona, can you witness a stat dec?"

"Yes," I said, a little doubtfully, read the document, watched him read the document, watched him sign the document, and then wrote my name, address, occupation, and signed to say that the above-named individual had signed in my presence in accordance with the 1835 Act, etc., and then thought to ask, "Why are you making a statutory declaration to say you read over someone's will?"

"Blind testatrix," he said. The funny thing is, I thought later, that the testatrix in question is a young woman. If she lives her allotted span, that document will be pulled from its envelope along with the will a half-century from now. If it becomes part of the root of title for something, well, I have a will in my files that was signed in the presence of witnesses in this year of our Lord seventeen hundred and forty-seven. That scrap of paper with my writing on it will outlive me by centuries.

2. Still quite depressed. Ahaha, I say "quite". Went to see new GP yesterday, which I hadn't done since arriving in Cambridge. He turned out to be very kind and very nice, and alarmed me somewhat by turning to his computer screen and saying, "Right. I think I should sign you off work for a week and put you on something."

I persuaded him not to do this - it's ten days till Christmas - but he told me to come back in January and rethink. (Actually, he was really nice; he said I had a sensible approach to things.) And I think he was right about January being different - I always find January and February harder than December. Usually I look forward to my birthday, but for some reason I don't want to be twenty-five. I feel like twenty-five ought to be, to have done, to have become something... and me, I read Farmers' Weekly. You get it.

3. Speaking of Christmas. This year as most years, I am out of the country. (Once, on Christmas Eve, I spent eight hours on a departure gate floor, listening to "I'll Be Home For Christmas" on repeat over tinny airport speakers. It was hell.) Today at work, I went to see one of the partners to get something signed, and not only is she a lovely person, she has an endearing relationship with the two departmental trainees (me and the Caped Crusader): she's new, and she doesn't want to annoy her secretaries or make her colleagues think she's dim, so when she wants to know how the photocopier works and where the spare envelopes are and what idiotic thing her computer has done now, she asks us and thus feels she owes us a favour.

So she signed my letters, and asked, "Are you going home for Christmas? Where's home for you?"

And, and, I have this issue with home and going home and homelands. Y'all know. Since coming back from the States it's only got worse. Every day I track people and plans and landscapes - I call Land Registry, I register interests, I use documents and time to map people onto the water, rocks and earth they call their land - and I get more worried, theoretically speaking, about what any of it even means and if it means anything. Me, I own no land. (To get technical about it, I do hold an interest in land, but whatever.) But I sometimes worry I own no land metaphorically: that I grew up in one place and spent all my adult life in another, that I've lived in three countries and left bits of myself in all of them, that I never sit still, that I never go home.

All very melodramatic and banal, as per; I guess I have a homeland in my body, all five feet and seventy-percent water of it, and the spaces I pass through.

All of which is a ridiculous prelude to the answer to the question, which is: India. I am going to India on the evening of December 23rd, for the first time in two years, and the real first: Shim is coming with me. I think it will be strange, but good.

4. Possibly related to 2, writing is not going so well. [livejournal.com profile] yuletide, it is a hollow laughter. I have written, oh, 300 words, and I have a perfectly serviceable plot which for some reason I do not write down, why, self, why. The novel is going a bit better, but I'm stuck in chapter nine. I don't know why. Nothing very exciting happens in chapter nine. Some people talk to other people. (Actually, that describes my entire novel. Absolutely nothing happens, and then characters talk to each other about it. It reads rather a lot like the sophomore effort of a woman who has spent the last decade writing fanfic. (Be glad you weren't around for the freshman effort.)

And so on, and so on. Still flying, still breathing.

Diwali

Oct. 25th, 2011 09:15 pm
raven: lit tealight against dark background (stock - diya)


[image of small tealights in coloured holders on a table]

Happy Diwali, flist. May it be full of light and promise.

I don't have much of a celebration planned this year - quite by coincidence, dinner with friends tomorrow night, and I shall take sweets in for my colleagues - so here's something for y'all. Four little stories, each on a general theme. Enjoy, and pretend there are sweeties.


mysterious ways
M*A*S*H, gen. Mulcahy, Hawkeye & co.
boy, bear, agnostic )

watch
Discworld, gen, Carrot, Angua and Vimes.
the regulation breastplate and sword )

emergency
Sports Night, gen, Dana, Dan, ensemble.
every light in the building )

night driving
X-Men: First Class, gen, Charles & Erik.
light all the way )

Holi!

Mar. 20th, 2011 11:10 am
raven: lit tealight against dark background (stock - diya)


A happy, messy, brightly-coloured Holi to you all! I am going to New Orleans today, and the sun is still shining.
raven: (misc - inside the box)
My con law prof, this morning: "You're contradicting yourself. Yesterday I asked you if you thought McKinnon's Indiana anti-pornography ordinance would be upheld by the Supreme Court. You said no. Have you changed your mind?"

"No," I said, "today you asked if I thought the ordinance was constitutional."

"You're a cynic, Ms. [my last name]," he said, thoughtfully. And when I opened my mouth to argue: "I didn't say you're not right."

I heart my con law prof thiiiiiis much.

On the whole, it has been an aggravating day. Apparently I am whatever the opposite of a First-Amendment cheerleader is, for one thing, and after that the Siren and I attempted to go to the pool: she had forgotten shampoo; I had forgotten where my towel was, we couldn't find anywhere to park, couldn't find change, forgot the third person we were supposed to pick up and then it started to snow. Not what one would call an enormous success.

That said I had a very nice dinner and have made a start on some work, so.

My homework for this week: drafing a legislative amendment to a defence appropriations bill authorising funds for dredging a harbour, subject to two points of order: no separate authorisation of funds, and no affirmative substantive legislation. I am having ALL THE FUN IN THE WORLD doing this. I sometimes wonder whether I'm doing the right things with my life. Then I remember I am the only person in the world who actively loves legislative drafting, and then I don't worry so much.

(Okay, but I do love it! I do! It's like some kind of cross between formal logic, writing fanfic and doing cryptic crosswords, and it's a buzz to get it right.)

So, anyway, dredging of harbours. It's fascinating. Oh, and I finished The Merlin Conspiracy. about that - no real spoilers )

Oh, and, I knew this, but Diana Wynne Jones is rubbish on race. I've read ten of her books in the last six months, and it annoys me that only one character in all of those is brown. (And Nirupam Singh only appears in the one book!) I know people are going to object and say Tacroy, but, well, Tacroy doesn't come from, say, Asia in our world, or Asia in Chrestomanci's world, or wherever: he comes from the EVIL WORLD OF BROWN PEOPLE. (edit: I forgot Millie, as well - Millie, whose origin story is very indicative of her being brown, to my delight, but then this is never so much as mentioned again.) In Deep Secret, Rupert's list of potential Magids is supposed to cover the whole world - and somehow everyone on it is white. And in The Merlin Conspiracy, Pudmini is quite probably Indian, and she has an Indian name, and she's... an elephant. A talking elephant. But nevertheless. An elephant.

Oh, and Nick (and, presumably, Maree) is dark, but the narrative deals with this by telling us that he keeps being mistaken for Asian, and doesn't like it. And there's this running gag about how some of the other characters talk about his "Oriental mysticism", and I get the spirit of it - it's meant to make fun of the people who do talk about that sort of thing - but at the same time I sort of think, okay, is it that hilarious that the magic-using protagonist of a fantasy novel could be brown?

So much as I have enjoyed her books so far, I think I am setting them down for the moment. I have The Wind's Twelve Quarters from the public library, which is the last Le Guin short-story collection I haven't read. I'm looking forward to that one.

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