ANINDITA SENGUPTA

Yayoi Kusama at Marciano Art Foundation

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We had to take off our shoes and/or wear plastic slippers on top of them before entering. I was wearing boots so I had to take off my boots but my husband and my daughter wore their plastic slippers on top of their shoes. It was not inconvenient but it induced a sort of reverence-cum-anxiety in me. Once inside, I was aware of this feeling while admiring the work. How much of the admiring was weighed (up or down) by this anxiety? It’s hard to tell but it was a factor. There was the sense of being in the presence of “art”. There was a sense of reverence fostered by the ritual that had preceded the viewing.

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There was a man. Rather suddenly, loudly and with a tinge of impatience in his voice, he asked everyone in the space to move to one side so he could get the picture he wanted — two tulips angled in a certain way. Everyone complied. I’ll admit I was surprised. This is not something that would have happened in India and it was a moment of cultural reckoning. What surprised me was the way he said ‘please’, with some authority , as if he deserved this, as if we had been getting in his way by viewing the exhibit normally. I asked the docent later if this was common. She said it was not.

~

The museum itself is beautiful, another example of the architectural beauty Los Angeles has to offer.

Boys outside the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Two people sit in the lobby of the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

Written by Anindita

February 1st, 2019 at 10:46 am

Posted in Notes

Orphan Black (S5): Cosima and Rachel

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I was late in the game with Orphan Black but I’m finally on the last few episodes and the last season’s focus on Cosima and Rachel is fascinating.  Ok, fair warning to those who have not watched Orphan Black. There will be **SPOILERS** ahead.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The best thing about the show, as many have said, is Tatiana Maslany in her multiple roles, especially Cosima Neihaus, the scientist. Cosima’s primary struggle through the show is the greatest human fear — her own mortality. She plays it stoic through much of the season, even after her break-up with Delphine who represents both lover and savior/healer. In season 5, after she finds a cure and starts taking it, her character becomes more expressive, even quite tearful. This could be retroactive grief or fear finding release but it also builds her as the “humane” scientist in contrast to the other scientists who have no tears for others. In Rachel’s case, this is at least partly literal because one eye is a machine and a tool for exploitation– including her own.

“In the Odysseus, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours two of Odysseus’s men on the spot and imprisons Odysseus and the rest in his cave for future meals (Wikipedia)”. Rachel is the cyclops with Kira whom she invites into her cave with aim of harvesting her eggs for future clones. But Cyclops was also imprisoned by his father and Rachel is imprisoned by all her fathers. First, Adam Duncan who creates her, then Leekie who uses her as a lab rat and whom she thinks of as a father, and finally by PT Westmoreland who calls her ‘daughter’ but implants the artificial eye as a tracking device inside her. Obviously freedom will involve her gouging out the eye in a cold, gory scene.

Cosima and Rachel constantly play off each other in season 5, which is more satisfying than pitting Rachel against Sarah. In many ways, Cosima is the most evolved of the clones despite her illness. She’s the most intelligent, the most level-headed and the most giving. She has awesome hair to boot. She consistently takes risks for the people she loves and pursues self-actualization while the others are reactively flailing around their respective lives. Rachel is similarly strong-willed, hunting for ‘purpose’, but her’s is a search for self-actualization gone awry. “Follow the crazy science,” Delphine tells Cosima in one scene but it’s Rachel who puts the ‘crazy’ in that.

The two characters have interesting run-ins through season 5: in one scene, Rachel stands on the steps of PT’s mansion and Cosima is in the crowd. She takes the opportunity to run into the clinic and administer her own cure. She tries to inject herself but Rachel comes in — and our sense of horror gives way quickly to disbelief because Rachel is almost gentle. She administers the shot to Cosima. This is a far cry from the Rachel who stabs Sarah ruthlessly earlier. Sarah is her nemesis, the pencil-in-the-eye, the cause of her physical disabilities, but many of Rachel’s extremities seem muted around Cosima in these episodes.

It’s interesting to see how the show’s central theme of knowledge expresses itself in these two characters.  Cosima’s parents know too little about her life. In one scene, she says this is because she is trying to protect them. Rachel’s parents, including all those claiming that position, know too much about her life. Privacy is a luxury she’s never had and this need is part of her manic drive. By establishing her superiority to the other clones, she hopes to gain personhood and privacy. To be more than a number but also, to gain freedom and safety from being examined. Cosima is also examined because of her illness but it is of her own free will most of the time, much of it is done by people she trusts. Even in the end, she tries to administer her own cure. Yes, it’s hard and she finally lets Rachel do it but this too is an act of consent. Compare this with Rachel’s examination at the hands of Coady which takes place suddenly and without her prior knowledge. In fact, Westmoreland’s betrayal of her privacy seems to tip Rachel over the edge (towards good) at the end.

Here’s a clip of their first encounter–


___

Also, the opening credit sequence is all kinds of gorgeous.

Written by Anindita

September 13th, 2018 at 3:15 am

Posted in Film/Television

Thoughts on letting go

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1. From Ross Gay’s poem ‘to the mistake’, which is in his collection catalog of unabashed gratitude.

“I am lecturing on the miracle
of the mistake in
a poem
that hiccup or weird
gift that spirals
or jettisons
what’s dull and land-locked
into as yet untraversed i.e. cosmic”

This made me think of wabi sabi. “Wabi sabi embodies the Zen nihilist cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back to nothing.” (Andrew Juniper in his book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.) I crafted a neat little poem for my second book while thinking of wabi sabi. It was too neat, it talks about letting things go, and making it rough and all that, but it’s precisely laid out with every little word in place. I put it at the beginning of the book because I hope the ones that follow it will do something else, something more.

2. Living between places is antithetical to hoarding.  I’m a collector of spices, yarn, books, vintage jars and bottles.  I have spices I will never use. I will not finish my stash of yarn before I leave. An immigrant life described not as sunlight or dreams, but as ‘all that yarn I bought and won’t get to use.’ A psychiatrist once told me the mind creates decoys. Faced with something it doesn’t want to face, it creates little fires to put out elsewhere. As the plane leaves LA, my mind will be on the Wool of the Andes worsted. Color: hollyberry.

3. If I was struggling into a notebook, what would I be struggling with? The word seems to be at the surface today. The struggle to swallow down spice. Blood burst in the throat. The struggle to sit.

There are bird sounds. I saw a white butterfly sit on a parsley plant. The parsley is struggling to hold its place because a Broccoli plant, unwise-layed, is also threatening to sit on top of it. As an experiment, I’ve stopped tending the garden. How will things grow in my absence. Just fine, thank you, it says to me. Everything in the garden is going to seed. It’s beautiful.

4. We lost our car in the desert. It broke. We never repaired it–the cost of repairs being more than the cost of the car–we left it there in a garage owned by Rusty whom I never met. We got $100 for it and drove back in a rented orange car. It’s the beginning of this next phase, we said, of learning to let go.

It was just a car. Curiously, I kept thinking of our dog as we drove back. Cars are not pets. Cars are not pets. Yet, that silky black nose. That soft underbelly where the beige fur went all white. 

People react differently to a child dying. Some never leave the house where it happened–they believe the child lives there. Others leave the house overnight, bags boiling with grief. After our dog died in LA, I wanted to leave the city. When I had survived the loss, I wanted to stay. Not because he had died here but because there was something in the place that had allowed me to live anyway. By live, I mean enjoy things.

(I’m not saying a dog is like a child.)

5. I’ve been reading about surrogacy.

 

Written by Anindita

February 20th, 2016 at 6:10 am

Posted in Notes

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In the desert, we don’t know our names

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It’s been eventful. We went to Death Valley and I was suitably overwhelmed by the salt, wildflowers, snow, sand and ‘lowness’ of the place. Death Valley is below sea-level and the sense of constantly traveling on land that once wasn’t land hung over me as we traveled across the miles of it. Lots has been said about the magnificence of the place — it’s all true. It’s surreal. It’s majestic. It made me sad.

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Yes, I reminded myself of the diversity of life, and the yellow wildflowers were coming up in many places. Apparently, there will be an explosion of them this year.

Then we got stuck in the desert. We were driving to the ghost town of Ballarat and on a washed-out stretch of gravelly dirt road, our car made horrible noises and died. It was just past noon, the sun in the sky. Things I thought of: bread, cheese, bananas (food in the car); water (six small bottles); knitting, books (entertainment for me); crayons (entertainment for my daughter). We settled in to hail passing cars. There was one every half hour or so.

We stopped three or four, asked them to contact a ranger. They assured us they would. We took it on faith. Nobody looked keen to give us a lift. We didn’t ask. We decided if help hadn’t come by 4 pm, we would. We took turns guesstimating how long help would arrive in. I aimed at knitting 12 inches before help arrived, then 18 inches.  Our almost-four-year-old tried to sleep in the backseat. I had washed her face and neck with water and taken off her jeans. She was ok.

Help arrived at around 4 pm, about an hour before sunset. The cop (turned out this was actually outside park limits and not in the ranger’s area) said there had been three or four calls about us. He bumped the car to the side of the road, called a tow truck, gave us a lift to the nearest desert motel. Cell phone signal–aha! We drank beer and ate a lot of fries. We let our daughter make a meal of fries and ice cream.

It was after dark when the tow truck arrived and we drove back to the same spot to pick up the car. The desert was silent, we passed no cars for miles. I don’t remember passing any but maybe I missed the one or two that I did. Or maybe there really were no cars. Sam, the driver of the tow truck, turned up the music and jigged about. He sounded annoyed when my daughter was chatty. I shushed her. We sat in silence, except for the music, for two hours, bumping along, the towed car hulking behind us. When we reached Ridgecrest, a town with lights and shops and grocery stores, I laughed nervously. Even Sam seemed to thaw. “We even have a Hilton,” he said.

Here is a far scarier story about Death Valley.

And from this article:

“It’s important for people to know that only a tiny portion of Death Valley has cell phone reception,” search and rescue coordinator Micah Alley wrote in an e-mail. “GPS units are not only fallible but send people across the desert where no road exists.”

Over the past 15 years, at least a dozen people have died in Death Valley from heat-related illnesses, and many others have come close. Another hiker vanished last June in Joshua Tree National Park. His body has not yet been found.

These are not just stories of unimaginable suffering. They are reminders that even with a growing suite of digital devices at our side, technology cannot guarantee survival in the wild. Worse, it is giving many a false sense of security and luring some into danger and death.

Written by Anindita

February 18th, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Notes,Places

Transplants, Essays

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A lovely short essay by David L. Ulin on the California Incline here:

Transplants have to stay somewhere for a while to make it theirs. For me, the Incline has become a shabby-chic monument to this idea. Now it is closed for reconstruction, and I worry about what will be left when work is done. Will it still resemble the landmark I invested with weight, the road I drove with my children? Will I recognize it, recognize my memories, or will all that be erased? Southern California, its critics like to insist, is a landscape of forgetting, but I no longer believe this to be the case. Rather, like the Incline, it is a landscape of association, in which the connections we make, our attachments, are what render us native.

And a rather hefty list of the 100 best Articles and Essays of 2014 and 2015.

Written by Anindita

February 2nd, 2016 at 4:38 am

Posted in Notes,Places

Where I live now

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Driving into a freeway is like diving—the roar in my ears, a sense of being submerged, almost drowning, and somehow, I’ve surfaced onto the right lane. I coast along, buffeted by a force greater than me, like wind, the collective will of people wanting to get somewhere.

Arroy Seco Parkway. Credit: Wikipedia

The 110 or Pasadena Freeway is also called the Arroyo Parkway because in parts it runs next to the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river and canyon, literally “dry stream” in Spanish and now after four years of drought in California, certainly dry in most parts. Being a Parkway (a road that connects to a park), it’s prettier than many freeways and more dangerous. This was the first freeway in the western United States, the first of the great American roads on this strip of coast. It’s a dangerous distinction. It was built for 45 miles per hour; cars swoosh past at 70 miles per hour. Because it opened in 1940, and because America is a new country, the Parkway is lovingly called the ‘Historic’ Parkway. Coming from a country where we take history for granted, we find this both amusing and faintly moving. We live on a hill above the freeway—Adsmy husband of fifteen years, our  daughter, almost four, and I.

We moved to Los Angeles in September 2014 so I could study screenwriting at UCLA film school. Ads didn’t get his work permit for 6 months. For those months, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood, surrounded by aspiring models, actors and writers, and some lovely seniors. Outside our gates, there were junkies, homeless people and other aspiring models, actors and writers. We were at the heart of all the glamour, traffic, beauty, sleaze and messiness. It was a good introduction to LA.

Fall turned to winter. I went to class, learned about Hollywood–the industry and the place, went to the gym. There were movies at Arclight, at the Dolby Theater (where the Oscars are held), Hindi movies at Burbank. I wrote my screenplay. We rationed our money, ate and drank cheap, explored parks, drove the Pacific Coastal Highway, drove the canyons, prayed for the work permit. Once the initial glow of tourism faded, I missed Indian food, Indian textiles, Indian film, warm weather. I felt awkward among the blonde models at the gym. I was tired of being broke. Our roof fell down. Or rather, the layer of plaster that had been caked on cheaply and thickly, fell down and lay about our living room in huge heaps of debris and dust. it took a week to repair.

It was February. Our dog got sick. He was old, 13. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong. It could be an infection, they said. It could be cancer. We fed him pills, thought he was improving. Three days before my birthday, he died.  He died in the night, between 3 am when I went to sleep and 7 am when Ads woke up. I was not with him.

We drove around Hollywood, trying not to see the pet shops, we cried, we ate at Canters, wordless. On my birthday, Ads dragged me out of bed and drove me to Malibu where we stared at the sea and ate oysters. After that, I stayed in for a long time. During this time, I learned how to crochet, pouring energy into balls of wool and acrylic. They helped me cope with a house that gradually emptied of dog fur, the empty spot near my feet where our dog used to curl up.

*

As spring came, so did the work permit. I wrote my second screenplay. We moved east to a house that was a little bigger and came with no appliances, but had a stretch of bare, brown land around it and a view of the hills. I looked at the land and the hills and said yes even before going in. I grew succulents, drought-resistant grass, vegetables. We put chairs in the porch and sat there all summer. We went to flea markets, art shows, museums.

Up here, the cars are a hum in the background. The birds of the surrounding Arroyo Park visit our garden. Squirrels dig up lettuce, hunting nuts they’ve buried. I find the nuts sometimes, odd half globes of hope. Cats sleep. The windows look out on surrounding hills, the houses on the hills. There is a chair by the window, sunlit. There is a basket of yarn by its side, a book, a throw I knitted in memory of our dog. A mug of tea sits on the window sill.

It has been a place of healing and adventure, beauty and discovery. It has become home.

A month from now, we will pack our bags, abandon our plants, close the house and leave. We may come back. It’s not up to us.

This is to do with gods and immigration authorities. I suspect the two may be the same.

The title of this post says ‘where i live now’ and of course, ‘now’ is the important word. It seems like a strange time to start blogging again. This space–the blog–has been abandoned, quiet and dusty as an empty apartment, for almost two years. Maybe it’s precisely because I’m losing my moorings in actual space, that I feel the need for this space again. What is a website?–An anchor hanging in nothing, in air. And yet, an address.

I admire people who have less need for an address. Who feel comfortable traveling because whatever they need, they carry it with them. Maybe they are so comfortable in their own skin, that all they need is to carry themselves.

Lower Arroyo Seco Park

Colorado Bridge

Written by Anindita

January 22nd, 2016 at 12:09 am