Slaying the Dragon – Notes on Productivity and Procrastination

In my last post I talked about the complicated life and personality of children’s lit writer Enid Blyton, but didn’t delve into her awesome capacity to produce 6000-10,000 words a day without any drop in standard. So, what was the secret behind Enid Blyton’s prolific talent?

When it came to the time she spent writing her books and responding to her fan mail, it was the time that she took away from her family, who were mere props when it came to advertising her supposedly idyllic life. What’s wrong with this picture is the fact that women have been supporting men’s careers and tending to the “lesser” job of child-rearing and housekeeping for so long, that this wouldn’t remotely be an issue if she had been a man, even today.

So I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of discipline, because I’ve been disciplined to a fault before [1]. Discipline doesn’t account for nepotism, systemic discrimination, economic slumps, sabotage, having to bear the brunt of another colleague’s incompetence and having to micro-manage a reputation so that your work experience doesn’t go to waste. It doesn’t account for the choices that you’re forced into making that lead to derailing your career, how much ever you try to prevent it. It doesn’t account for having deal to with the self-sabotage of being the “nice” person which, considering all the pitfalls mentioned above, is a useless endeavour. After taking all this into consideration, I’ve gotten cynical as hell about hard work and living a balanced life.


Self-Discipline, ey?

To quote ace motivational speaker Mel Robbins, “You’re never going to feel like it”. I like to call it ‘starting trouble’. She’s right, of course—you’re never going to feel like it. As a solution, she gives this miraculous five second rule that shuts off the self-sabotaging voice that makes you avoid basic, boring or strenuous tasks, but it’s a rule I’m too terrified to apply, because I hang on to my self-sabotage like a warm cozy blanket on a winter morning. I get things done when the pile is so high that I have no choice, then spend even more time recovering from the effort. If it sounds like a cyclical nightmare, but there it is. It’s not perfect but it gets things done, at a price. I hang on to my abhorrence for discipline to a fault, because I lost my faith in it for the aforementioned reasons. To put it simply, productivity is just a lot more complicated than self-discipline. Moreover, when you wake up in the morning and you’re surrounded by a candy-shop of wonderful choices, why would you want to eat spinach?


Mel Robbins recommended the book Originals by psychologist Adam Grant, who is a proponent of procrastination, which is strangely the opposite of what she preaches. When I’m not being cynical, I’m a proponent of both self-discipline and procrastination, but to break this down: which one of them it is, depends on the task at hand. Chores need to be gotten over with, but that story you’re working on? You can chew on that a lot longer—Ursula K. Le Guin referred to it as “composting”. You can spend hours planning that giant artwork, in your head, on paper, but stick to a minimum drawing a day when it comes to your sketchbook. The key here is knowing when to do what and the only way that can be achieved is through mindfulness.


Let’s be honest, most of us are like the supporting cast of The Walking Dead [2], we don’t really question where we’re going. It takes a lot of intense introspection, some uncomfortable epiphanies and a whole lot of self-criticism to take control of your thoughts, your mind and your goals.

I know you’ve heard the ‘M’ word before and you’re probably sick of it, but meditation and stillness actually do help you focus. As for that ‘starting trouble’, it helps to visualize the task at hand. Imagine you are Sigurd or Bilbo and go face that dragon.

Courage Nap

Enjoy that deathlike sleep while you can. It’s how I face the second half of the day, but there’s always a danger of Rip Van Winkling it.


Motivation, according to Mel Robbins, is bullshit (but then she is a motivational speaker.) It’s followed closely by inspiration, which has got a bad rap in the past few decades.

I need my inspiration close at hand, because it makes me feel good, so I’m constantly feeding myself with art and reading. I plug into audio books while I’m doing my chores, because it helps me drag my reluctant, procrastinating ass to the sink and attack that pile of dishes. I’ve managed to finish a long list of books in that manner and I’ve done a lot of cleaning too.

The Anti-Bujo, Retro-Psych and All the Wonderful Things I did Yesterday

I joined the Bullet Journal brigade a few years ago and I’m still refining the original template to suit my needs. Here’s my biggest problem with it though—that task list, that one that resembles a skyscraper ? One look at it and I deflate like a cartoon balloon. My unfinished tasks pile up, the dust grows thick, pretty soon I’m living in a Silent Hill-like alternative reality and breathing in spores.

What do I do? I don’t look at the list. Instead I use the aforementioned psychs to tackle the most pressing tasks and then, at the end of the day or the next day, I cross off all the wonderful things I’ve done (like improving the air quality of my home). I call it “Retro-Psych” and it feels awfully good, and I temporarily get over that feeling of dread when I look at another task list.

How Did that Month Go?

On a good day, I can produce 2000 words but there’s no guarantee of those being a usable 2000 words. On a good day I can dedicate myself to finishing my chores, working-out, eating healthy homemade food and reserving at least a couple of hours to my commissions, provided I’m not interrupted by other housekeeping/secretarial/parental obligations, which are an inevitable by-product of having to work at home. I have to customize each day according to the time I have available and unfortunately, that leads to a lot of unfinished projects. But there are tiny goals that you can stick to. The ten-minute sketch, five minutes of conceptualization, two minutes of meditation.

The truth is, there are no balanced days. If you lower your expectations, you’re going to be a lot less stressed about achieving your goals because we all know stress can lead to bad performance. You can also mark your progress by recounting your achievements at the end of every month, like an achievement tracker, or figure out what held you up. If it’s people who are tripping you up, then you need to draw boundaries.

Five years ago, I had an artistic block fifteen years in the making as I had lost my faith in discipline, originality and effort. Waiting for inspiration just wasn’t working (Mel Robbins is right). Following the tiny goals rule, I’m more than over it. Fifteen years ago, I started working on a book that I restarted about twelve times, slacking off for months in between, because I wasn’t happy with the quality of my writing, and must have thrown away hundreds of hours of writing. I procrastinated, but the quality of my writing improved from garbage to passable. (Yay!) [3]

Am I Enid Blyton disciplined? No, definitely not. I don’t have the stamina or the ruthlessness. But this isn’t a how-to about diving gung-ho into a new lifestyle. It’s a journey, and sometimes you will feel like there’s no end in sight.



[1] I spoke about fear-based discipline in my post on How To Get The Sketchbook Started

[2] Zombies, I mean zombies.

[3] No really—yay!












My Favourite Children’s Lit Author Was a Raging Narcissist. How’s Your Childhood Doing?


(Images copyright

Ever been shocked to find out that a celebrity figure you thought you knew might be narcissistic, petty and vindictive??

I felt that as I watched the BBC movie Enid, based on Enid Blyton’s life, with sober enthusiasm. Helena Bonham Carter gives a riveting performance, although the real Enid doesn’t sound quite so severe in her speech. Either way, just to be sure, I read a few articles, watched a couple of interviews of relatives, friends and acquaintances and an old documentary on her life and work. They all seemed to add up.

I’m not shattered with the knowledge of her complicated life and personality…. as much as fascinated. It’s worth criticising her sexism and racism, which somehow doesn’t come up in the BBC show. Since she was a product of her time (two world wars) xenophobia and sexism were pretty normal underlying biases. (Heck, it’s normal now.) As much as she loved children, her love for them apparently only extended to her audience, when her own daughters intruded into a very packed schedule of 6000-10,000 words a day. Yes, she was a terrible mother. If she was still alive, in today’s cancel culture she would have been cancelled into oblivion.

In any respectable library in post-colonial India her books were in high demand, so the children’s section was always stacked with Enid Blyton end to end. Her books inspired me to write shoddy stories at the age of nine (may those childhood drafts burn in eternal hellfire). My friends and I swapped and re-read tattered copies of The Secret IslandThe Boy Next Door, The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair books and Malory Towers until we parted ways. After that, childhood was pretty much over and so were any thoughts of adventure or escaping one’s overbearing parents. Her writing heavily influenced our misguided attempts at starting our own clubs and, I suspect, our morality. Although her popularity has decreased because of the emergence of new writers and politically correct children’s lit, she’s still going strong.


To know why Enid was the way she was, the movie connects to her father’s abandonment of the family when she was thirteen. The psychic trauma ran deep because it lead her to turn cold and distant towards her brothers and harried mother, who had a lot on her plate after the father left. This didn’t seem to garner much sympathy from Enid, who left at nineteen to make her own way in the world. She never attempted to connect with them again and also chose not to attend either of her parent’s funerals. She made, according to her husband’s second wife, an opportunistic move when she married someone in the publishing industry. Whatever they did, worked, and soon she was the country’s most beloved and bestselling children’s author.

I don’t want to get into the tawdry details of her affairs or the parties. Although her kids were well-cared for by nannies, it’s safe to say that after she had them she wanted to have nothing much to do with them, unless it was for a photo op. Her husband insisted on enlisting for the war effort which she resented. She eventually divorced him when he failed to live up to her expectations and to save her reputation, manipulated him into an agreement where she could initiate a divorce based on his adultery with his assistant, as long as he could see his daughters. After that, she went back on her promise, and he would never meet his daughters again.

Here’s where her vindictiveness runs really deep: she used her clout to have her husband removed from his contract with their publisher. All this behaviour points directly to the transference of her rage because of childhood abandonment, which her poor husband unwittingly had to pay for. Her father, whom she adored, initiated her psychic trauma, leading to her mental fantasies of endless childhood, leading to her single-minded pursuit of a career, leading to the books we read as children. Without Enid being the way she was, she would never have had that career that she did, and she was smart enough to know that regardless of her hard work, success rested on her being perceived as a maternal figure. If she had been a male author, the question of paternal worth would not even have come up, she would have just been accepted as a good children’s writer.

We have a tendency to be less forgiving with women especially when it comes to this issue. Just to put this in perspective, here’s a list of male writers whose behaviour is comparatively egregious:

1) Norman Mailer stabbed his wife with a pen-knife twice at a party, nearly killing her. She denied the incident in the hospital bed, possibly to save his reputation. He appeared the next day in an interview where he spoke of the knife as a symbol of manhood.

2) Leo Tolstoy – his wife Sophia Tolstaya birthed 13 children, cared for them, transcribed and edited his massive tomes and got his books published and also put up with his affairs as her health suffered. In return he gave his money away, which left his family impoverished.

3) French author Colette’s husband, Henry Gauthier-Villars (Willy), locked her in a room until she had produced a satisfactory amount of work, took the credit for it, spent the profit made from her effort because the copyright to her books rested with him.

4) Lewis Carroll took not-so-innocent photos of little kids. Plenty of people have defended these photos as a product of their time.

I’m sure there’s more examples where I’m going.

Enid Blyton was unreasonably protective about her reputation because the persona of the maternal figure was a necessary one. Her leaving her family at the age of nineteen too, saved her from the predictable tendency of the eldest female child being pushed into becoming a secondary mother to her younger siblings, putting their needs above hers. Instead, she put her needs above all and if she hadn’t been this ruthless, her books would never have taken off or endured the way they did and instead, become remnants of the past.

How to Get That Sketchbook Started

If you’re a sketchbook stalker, like I am, you must have heard that story about the art teacher who made all his students pile up their sketchbooks on a table and then, to their horror, poured a cup of coffee all over the pile.

The  art teacher was trying to make a point to his students about detachment, practice and the misguided urge to create the perfect drawing while learning.

That is a great lesson in itself, but I’m not going to ask you to do that. I believe sketchbooks should be cherished because they serve more than the purpose of skill improvement: they’re a fellow traveller, the silent mirror that accompanies you on your journey that you can open up a year later and reflect on how far you’ve come. It’s not going to judge you and it’s like talking to an old friend.

So…do you have a problem lifting a pencil? Does your imagination resemble a vast wasteland? Did the bright idea you had five seconds ago, after you finally picked up the courage to put it down on paper, look like a bonfire of grawlixes, when the original idea looked considerably more polished in your head?

Let’s be clear, it’s not a lack of motivation that got you here, it’s probably a series of cynical messages, bad advice and possibly some traumatic incident. Imagination, especially in artists (or writers), doesn’t have a timer on it. We even conceptualize when we’re sleeping, whether it’s world-building or thinking about what to make for breakfast the next morning.

So, do you feel like you have this giant cork stuck in your mind, blocking all possibility of creative thought ever finding a resting place on an analogue surface any time soon?

“Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”

My last post was about wet blanketing, ie., dealing with people who don’t believe art serves any purpose, or who believe that unless the outcome is perfect, it’s not worth producing. You and I know that both of those are false notions, but, depending our respective environments, whether you were always discouraged all your life or whether you were told you were special (and found out recently that you aren’t), you’re here, and you need to stop wasting precious time.

Let’s talk about where that is. It’s not the worst place to be, but close if you’re supposed to make a living out of it. Remember the times, long ago, when you fearlessly lifted a crayon and scribbled a masterpiece in a few minutes without fear of consequence, opinion or grades? Don’t you wish you could be there again?

In that, grawlixes are useful: they help loosen you up. If you’re short of a large enough surface, pick a newspaper and a crayon or piece of charcoal, sit yourself down and scribble away. Scrawl larger, scrawl smaller. Keep at it for five minutes or more if you like. Ooh? Is it a masterpiece? Should we give it a name?


Throw it away. The purpose of the exercise is to empty your mind and build the connect between your mind and your hand through touch, that deadweight that, under the worst circumstance, you’re so disconnected from. Do this exercise a couple of times a day until you feel empty or rather, clear-headed enough, to start an actual sketchbook.

How do you start?

I find sketchbook prompts highly dissatisfying. For one, I feel disinclined to do what people want me to. Secondly, some of the vague ‘draw an emotion’ prompts annoy me. I’m not ready to dig that deep! So, what do I do?

I know you want to fill your sketchbook with fantastical imagery like a pro-artist. I know you’re want to get that blood pumping, but trust me, you’re not ready yet. Why? Because you’re heading for disappointment. The purpose of this sketchbook is not achievement, it’s stillness. Focus on the mundane, not the fantastical. The magic will arrive on its own.

I begin with a list of mundane objects. A coffee cup, a pen holder, a fork, a spoon or a knife.

If you’re comfortable after a couple of drawings, move on to more complex objects. A chair or a table. Feel free to embellish it with flowers, polka dots, in or around it. Feel free to write down your mood after finishing the drawing. You’ve started a sketchbook. If you’re done with your first drawing, feel free to sit back and admire it. Congratulations, the cork is being wedged out, bit by bit.

The next stage is discipline. I know, discipline is boring. You don’t like reining in your imagination, you want to be free!

I was brought up on discipline, the dronish, robotic type and it helped me through a lot of dark days, because it was fear based. Once real adulthood came, the fear was gone and I was lost. True discipline, the kind that comes with freedom and from within, is a lot harder. That’s why constraints are going to help you.

I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci, the ace procrastinator, who said that “art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.” How can one bloom within constraints? Here’s the deal, the constraints are the shackles and you gotta work within them. What’s going to help you do that? Your imagination.


The first constraint is: Pick one, or maximum two mediums and stick with it.

The second constraint is: Draw mundane objects. Don’t rush it.

The third constraint is: do one drawing a day, minimum. If you feel disinclined, the grawlix exercise will help.

The fourth constraint is: stick to one sketchbook and don’t abandon it till the last page.

These are very basic rules. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts it, get the river flowing again.

Let me know how it goes.


How to Deal with Wet Blankets When You’re Young and Creative

There was a time when I still bothered complaining about people with no imagination— the kind that are ready to throw a damper on an idea because they can’t visualize it, or because they’ve never come across that sort of thing before, or they just see no point in it.

—OR the ultimate assessment of the value of the work in question: Will anyone buy this sort of thing??? A question like that posed to a ten-year-old isn’t the best encouragement, or for that matter, to a twenty-year-old, but it happens all the time, with aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, classmates or your local busybody. Ofcourse that’s no reason not to keep creating, but after the 100th “weyulll, what’s the points of the thing?” you really begin to doubt yourself.

These people serve a purpose, someone once told me wisely. They’re the accountants and IT types and see value in facts and numbers—-quantifiable stuff that runs the world, but I tell ya, they sure have good time stamping out creativity with the age-old creativity killers: what’s the point? What’s it worth? Will anybody buy it?

The complaint comes from someone who was allowed to enter the arts, albeit by parents who were often hypercritical and felt that unless you’ve produced something equivalent of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it really isn’t worth the effort. There’s this thing about parents, especially middle class ones, they’re always secretly hoping at least one of their kids will come out of the womb a prodigy.

Art doesn’t work that way. It’s sort of like mathematics, you gotta work at it to get better, which is something that they ought to understand but still don’t. I wonder whether it’s similar to my feelings about post-modern art that I don’t get. I get the feeling that with any given work of art, its value is inflated in proportion to the essay that’s used to explain it—-people keep questioning its worth or the need for its existence (unless they need a painting or sculpture for a hotel lobby) so them artists and curators have got to spin that shit for all it’s worth.

When I was ten and energetic I ate, slept and dreamt art (after I had finished my homework and studied). I had that inborn urge to display my art to whoever would appreciate it. After I had finished two years of work, I compiled my art into a fat folder and told my mom that I would go show it to the school principal.

“Um, why?” she asked, “What do you want him to do with it?”

Why indeed? What was the point? That question made me question my entire life’s purpose. At that point, the art was allowed only as an indulgence, a hobby that might help you get into a good school or college. Something that might aid you in the marriage market [1], not something you dedicate your life to. Still, there was some encouragement in junior school. I still remember my moment of pride when my fifth-grade science teacher accused me of getting my parent’s help to draw my diagrams. The interrogation lasted fifteen minutes in front of the entire class. I became the kind of teacher’s pet that a teacher picks on just show that she’s not biased against the other students. My other ten-year-old friends decided that I was getting ‘too proud’ and decided to pull me down a peg or two (displaying one’s work was considered showing off.)

My parents were light years ahead of other parents. Schoolkids were so creatively starved back then that if you handed them a set of colour pencils they’d usually wait for instructions on what to draw and then draw something generic but appropriate.

For the more original kids, the stories didn’t go so well. One friend of mine was so industrious with her free time that she built an entire doll-house out of scrap in the loft: furniture intricately fashioned out of discarded bulb parts, bottle-caps, hair pins, stuff that wouldn’t be missed. Every moment spent with her was magical because we were always making things. Her parents forced her to try for medicine, which she had no aptitude for and she landed up working a job at a take-out diner. After a few years, she rose to manager. The question of applying her creativity never once arose and the complete waste of potential made me mad at her parents for years. The second classmate from high-school was moulded into pursuing a modelling career that didn’t end well, even though she had the intelligence and inherent creativity to gain entrance into any design or arts college of her choice. Another kid in my college told me how he had blackmailed his parents with suicide, threatening to slash his wrists if they didn’t pay his college fees. He opened his own animation joint and that’s the only story I know of that ended well.

I got into design school, an overrated one that people bust their balls to get into [2]. Until then I spent the entirety of high school sitting next to some rather nice, friendly and studious girls, hoping their shine would rub off on me, because academic excellence was paramount. As soon as high school finished I called them to find out what they were up to and all I got were monosyllabic answers and finally a bye-see-ya. By the third “bye-see-ya” I began to notice the pattern and figured that they no longer found it useful to remain friends with someone who was going into the arts.


That’s just the beginning. The wet-blanketing will get worse and more complicated when you join college. I studied beside people who escaped the painful aspects of visual education by sidling around it, almost always the artsy-fartsy kind, allergic to skill development of any sort but filled with a knowledge and egotism that I greatly admired (because I had zero) and conversely the master craftsmen and the Disney-lovers who hated them and vice versa. Then there were the people who did well out of sheer dedication, even if they had zero skills or exposure to begin with.[3]

Design was more abstract than marks on a mark sheet. Navigating this labyrinth of opinions and fiery judgments required a complex knowledge of human behaviour: let’s just say kissing ass, presenting your work in a stream of well-chosen words, dealing with up to forty-five minutes of ant-fucking (trolling) with good-natured wit. For someone who could barely articulate a full sentence, this was extremely difficult. All this is supposed to be training for the real world.

Feedback, while learning, is everything. Your senior students can really help figure that out, so it’s a good idea to stick around a few of them to figure out the ropes. However, the downside with asking help from people who do possess an imagination is that they can visualise a completely different ending to your process, whether in terms of technique, colour palette or well, sometimes everything. So get used to defending your vision if you want to keep it (mostly) yours.

There is such a thing orthodoxy, even in the creative fields, especially if you have the kind of faculty that’s been around for more than a decade (in my case, three decades) and stagnated. They’re insecure and deliberately vague, cling to ancient ideals/schools of thought and are rarely sincere. They expect your work to look a certain way, and their feedback can be self-centred. They love ass-kissers and obedient conformists. Yes, there are those in every field.

And then there are the Grey Vampires. To quote this brilliant post:

“Grey Vampires are creatures who disguise their moth-greyness in iridescent brightness, all the colours of attractive sociability. Like moths, they are drawn by the light of energetic commitment, but unable to themselves commit. Unlike the Troll, the Grey Vampire’s mode is not aggressive, at least not actively so; the Grey Vampire is a moth-like only on the inside. On the outside, they are bright, humorous, positive – everyone likes them.” Grey Vampires, even if they do know their stuff, enjoy confusing you: “They feed on the energy of those who are devoted, but they cannot devote themselves to anything.” If you went through college without coming across one, you’re not just lucky, you’re blessed. Your neurons haven’t been shaped to view each creative line with voices of doubt and dismissal before you even pick up a pencil to put down that idea. But here’s the deal, Grey Vampires have a lot of power, and no one is going to call them out. Escape and avoidance are your best choices, if you can identify them first.

There are also the design demigods, but they are few and far between, sharing knowledge that you could actually apply, because they’re in touch with the market. Thankfully I was taught by at least a few of those.

Cut to present day. I’m at a handicrafts market with certain female relative and she asks why I’m picking up assorted ceramics cups and bowls. I explain that it’s for props when I shoot my sketchbook pages.

“What’s the point of a sketchbook? Does anyone buy it?”

I answered very nicely, because I’ve got that question so many times, sometimes from the same person and made a mental note to avoid talk of work with my relatives yet again. Yes, I’m constantly surrounded by party poopers, people who can’t fathom the point of my profession. If you’re young that repetitive shit can get you down.

So let me tell you that it kinda happens to everyone. Amrita-Sher Gill’s parents thought her ‘odious’, although they supported her art education, because of her affairs. Her mom had an open hostility towards her and her husband because she did not marry advantageously, instead choosing a partner who granted her creative, social and sexual freedom. If she had married someone of her parent’s choice, her art career would probably have been cut even shorter. Van Gogh suffered from depression and wasn’t particularly appreciated by the art collectors of his time. Artemisia Gentileschi was given an art education only because she was part of a family of artists, and her story is tragic yet fairly predictable for a young woman who ventured into a male-dominated field. Margaret Keane had her work falsely attributed to her husband for years, who forced her to paint for him and kept all the money from her art. She inspired a lot of pop-surrealists of today but her work is still considered kitsch, which is a synonym for ‘inferior’. Maud Lewis was poor, arthritic and her husband was often abusive.

So don’t let people influence you so far into losing your originality. If you’re lost, build a better sense of self, because it’s better to be a Fan than a Troll. Become better at analysing feedback, because good feedback is precious (don’t be afraid to question it.) Take up more challenges as you go along. It’s easy to stagnate if you find a market for your work, so see how far you can stretch yourself. Take comfort in the history of artists who have suffered for their art—-you live in 2020 when everything is possible.


[1] Aw, nothing like a good housewife who also draws

[2] If you haven’t seen Art School Confidential and Ghost World yet, it’ll give you a humorous glimpse into the learning phase.

[3] The creative aptitude of each person does not directly correlate with success in art or design, in your college or your career.

Depictions of Childhood Trauma in ‘Jeremy’, ‘Daughter’ and ‘Bee Girl’

TW for mentions of suicide

I had never been like Jeremy, but at thirteen I felt sorry for him. I figured he had been screaming at those frozen figures of his parents, caught in the middle of an argument, because no one was listening. He’s bullied by his classmates and wildly sketches out his frustration/masterplan, imagining his enemies lying beneath his triumphant ‘V’ atop a mountain  (The dead lay in pools of maroon below). The national flag wrapped around his body signifies the telling problem of gun violence in American schools, leading to the last scene where the camera moves over the frozen, blood-spattered bodies of his classmates. In the unedited version, Jeremy pulls out a gun, puts it in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

The fictional Jeremy is a bit of a delinquent, and though he triumphs through his act of self-inflicted violence, the message, according to Vedder is that: “[…] it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.”

The real Jeremy was quieter and had a habit of passing notes to his friend during class, eerily signing his last note with ‘Later days’ instead of his usual entreaty to ‘Write back’. He was the victim of a broken marriage and insufficient counselling. His suicide is the basis for this song, combined with memories of a problematic kid Eddie Vedder knew in school. I confess that the more I learn about the source of inspiration of such songs, the less I like them, but such is the nature of writing.

The childhood stories are telling, as if Eddie himself has been there. Daughter describes a scene in a spartan room, with a mother trying to teach her child something that’s beyond her capabilities, and when the shades are drawn, the abuse begins, hidden from the neighbours. Eddie talks about dyslexia and how “They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just fucking destroyed.” The message hits way too close to home, where I’ve witnessed such perfectly “good, creative people” become shadows of their original selves. With daughters, it’s a twofold blow when sexism and parental narcissism intertwine. The estrangement (Don’t call me daughter, not fit to/ The picture kept will remind me) is an active desire to cut the cord, while maintaining a bare reminder of the relationship.

There’s actually a thick line between self-indulgent victimhood and true expression of trauma and grief. If you were a teen in the 90s you might know how relevant Pearl Jam was to your life with each musical release. The band has an uncanny skill in writing profound songs about these themes without slipping into sappy sentimentalism. Musical genius, combined with lyrical genius, produced something that can wrench at your gut even thirty years later.

Bee Girl, written in 1994, was supposedly an ode to the little girl who played the central role in Blind Melon’s No Rain, but in actuality is about Eddie Vedder warning Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon, to rein in his drug habit.

No Rain [1] is an ambivalent take on loneliness and depression, because it’s almost chirpy and heady, and if you danced to it as a teenager you might have misheard the lyrics (macabre in my version). The star is a chubby and adorable misfit who is laughed at and rejected after a dance performance, displaying her (less than adequate) skills to random people on the street because, obviously, she loves to dance. I’d interpret the first half, beginning with “You’re gonna die” as a warning, referring to the death of the Bee Girl’s unique self: You don’t wanna be famous/ You wanna be shy/ Do your dances/ Alone in your room/ Becoming a star/ Will become your doom. Although, to be honest, No Rain, video and all isn’t about stardom, it’s more about finding friendship amongst misfits. All the same, the song warns her darkly that: those who can be trusted/can change their mind.

I’d say the lyrics covers both of them as Shannon Hoon, sadly, died in 1995 of a drug overdose.


[1] The song was written by bassist Brad Smith, inspired by a girl he knew with depression who slept through sunny days and then woke up, asking why it wasn’t raining yet (because she’d have to go face the day).


Monstrous Fathers and Wayward Sons: ‘Tumbbad’ is More than Just a Parable About Greed

Director: Rahi Anil Barve

Producers: Sohum Shah, Aanand L. Rai, Mukesh Shah and Amita Shah

Vinayak’s mother, head shorn and red sari clinging to her frame, cuts a lone figure in the pouring rain. She’s waiting in the courtyard of an ancestral home at the command of her feudal lord. The gold coin sitting in the hands of the infant god in the altar is her reward, provided he is satisfied with her service. It’s a chance at a second life for a widow if she serves his sexual needs indefinitely.

But it’s been twelve years and Vinayak is old enough to know that his mother has no status and therefore, neither does he. A lack of status here means poverty, and the only way out of this dual prison of inferior social rank and bondage is the acquisition of wealth: quick, unearned and cursed with suffering.

The sons of Tumbbad are defective creatures. Hastar, beloved offspring of the Goddess of Prosperity, has a craving for his mother’s gifts of gold and wheat. When the other children have had enough, about to destroy him and scatter the pieces across the firmament, his mother comes to his rescue and traps him inside her womb, promising them that he will be forgotten. The promise didn’t last as the Sarkar of Tumbbad builds an altar to Hastar, again, angering the other gods. As punishment for worshipping the delinquent god, the village of Tumbbad is plagued with incessant rain, giving the backdrop a gothic, parochial feeling that could make any indie movie-lover weak in the knees.

Life is complicated for the unacknowledged son. His father doesn’t care if he exists and the knowledge chafes at his psyche, mutilating it over time. He’s intelligent and looking for a way out, but he has no legal rights to the dynastic property. He has to fill that growing void and even when his brother dies, it’s all he can think about. His impotent greed surfaces the same way it has plagued the family for generations, and the four-hundred-year old matriarch hidden away in a dingy house is the only one who knows where the rest of the treasure is hidden. She’s ancient, monstrous and cursed with immortal life, and she warns him about what’s to come.

The mothers: the goddess, the old matriarch, Vinayak’s mother and his wife, are all moral gatekeepers in this story but have no power over their wayward sons. Vinayak, so excellently played by Sohum Shah, has no qualms about becoming the very thing he despised. He softens at the sight of the woman clad in the red sari, rescued from sati the same way his mother was and turns her into his mistress. His son Pandurang follows suit, his clubfoot is his own psychic mutilation and he tries desperately show his father his worth by outdoing him at every vice. Tumbbad might sell itself as a parable about greed, but its flawed characters outshine the principal theme.

The monstrous feminine has a significant presence here. The movie employs several aspects of maternal horror: the dark, claustrophobic recesses of the goddess’s womb, her son’s entrapment, the festering bodies of victims putrefying against its walls, but the true villain in this movie is the father figure. The timeline follows the chronological events in a country that takes any shape its conqueror moulds it into: the British Raj builds itself onto a feudal base it found convenient to exploit and the central government continues the rampant acquisition of land after Independence. Any which way, Vinayak has to serve a more powerful master and his access to Hastar’s secret gold is about to end.

Hastar, named after Hastur, borrowed from Stephen King’s short story Gramma, with the black entity from Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos, formed the inspiration for this story. It doesn’t fail in the originality of plot and character design and to add to that, it’s set in the past with charming antique props that further establish the time period [1]. The soundtrack has is its own story, adding to the dizzying tilt from the entrance of the goddess’s womb through the pulsating enclosure of the live, sinewy red walls. A dramatic element that comes into play à la Chekhov’s gun, defines the beginning and end, and I’m sinking into my seat and watching through the gaps between my fingers. I’m overwhelmed, unable to bear the abject horror… and I don’t want anything bad to happen to these wayward sons.


[1] I have a tiny issue with 1940s British women traipsing through a bazaar in ankle length gowns.


Review by Rhea Daniel. 

Water, Not Oil: A Case for James Bond

Scannable Document on 03-Sep-2019 at 11_01_06
Artwork by Rhea Daniel

There’s no hope for James Bond, he’s a narcissist caught in a cycle of revenge. His love has all the appeal of fly paper, it’s sticky and it kills. Almost every woman his penis touches dies in some gruesome way, but to cushion the impact she’ll die in a visually pleasing manner. He’ll avenge her to bolster his ego, because if he turns inward into that empty shell he’ll find nothing to go on. He’ll do this until, invariably, another unwitting woman stumbles onto his killer penis.


But today, I’m going to defend him. Don’t get me wrong, words cannot express how much I hate this guy, but after several years of sibling peer pressure and many hours invested in trying to understand the appeal of this egotistical, racist male chauvinist, I found a movie of his that I kinda liked.

Quantum of Solace is named after one of the shorts in the collection For Your Eyes Only, it refers to the level empathy one human has for another in a relationship. The plot of the movie revolves around the shady organization known as Quantum that’s up to all sorts of villainy in Bolivia. Dominic Greene is this billionaire environmentalist who wants to purchase a seemingly useless piece of land, but the CIA (who never got up to any shady business like, EVER) believes he’s after oil, so they’re okay with it. They assume that he’s courting a potential puppet dictator, but Mr.Greene, who seems to be interested in helping the environment, actually wants to harvest all the water in Bolivia and sell it at exorbitant rates to the Bolivian people. Stealing water in a parched country is as evil as it gets, y’all, and he definitely fooled everyone with that greenwashing name.

Bond sets out undo Greene’s nefarious plot. With him is Camille, who has spent her life planning to wreak revenge on the aforementioned dictator who had killed her family and has been using Greene to get to him. Greene is smart enough to figure this out and tries to derail them both through Quantum, but James, haunted by the line of ghostly lovers behind him (including Ms. Strawberry Fields, who touched his magic sceptre and died) is going to bulldoze his way through this movie with a level of violence that’s higher than any other 007 movie. He lets Camille seek out her own revenge, however, with a few words of advice, “The training will tell you that when the adrenaline kicks in you should compensate. But part of you is not going to believe the training; because this kill is personal. Take a deep breath. You only need one shot, make it count.” Camille gets thrashed badly but succeeds in killing the man who murdered her family.

Of course sexism is JB’s USP (1). M has been reeling him in for the past fifteen years with some eloquent guilt-tripping admonishments, but he’s also grown over the years. He’s not just a douchebag with a swagger; he’s become this broody, Byronic, stoic dude and this is the one movie where he’s is not a total sexist prick. Look at him, biting back all those feelings—it almost makes me like him.(2)

So let’s step back a bit. What if all those greenwashing European villains were real and what if Bolivians had really been screwed over by their leaders? What if all that water privatization coming to the rescue was actually a ruse to exploit a weak political system and rake in profits? What if this could be done, legally, all over the world, at great human cost? (3)

I was curious to see how this movie played out because of the source of inspiration. Quantum and the real-world water-profiteering companies are the same: neutral evils only interested in profit. To quote Dominic Greene: “We deal with the left or the right, with dictators or liberators. If the current President had been more agreeable, I wouldn’t be talking to you. So, if you decide not to sign, you will wake up with your balls in your mouth and your willing replacement standing over you.”

To avenge the death of Strawberry Fields, JB leaves Mr.Greene in the middle of Atacama Desert with nothing but a can of engine oil. His body is found with the engine oil in his stomach, a symbolic death/suicide as fossil fuels cannot replace the need for the life-giving water he was planning to monopolize. Somewhere in a village in Bolivia water begins to trickle from a common tap. JB saved the day——–except he didn’t. The real-world Quantum was kicked out not by some white saviour spy, but through a people’s movement. The problems still continue.

(1) Okay, it’s mostly every Hollywood action movie’s USP, but JB perfected the script on fridging.

(2) To quote a friend of mine, “James Bond doesn’t cry, and he’s supposed to be an a-hole.”

(3) Link leads to a 1hr.41min. documentary which is worth seeing.

Father Archetypes in Guillermo del Toro’s Films

The original version of this review appeared in BitchFlicks in 2014.

There are patterns in Guillermo del Toro’s dark fairy tales, one of the obvious ones being the ease with which he puts children in harm’s way, some of their trials being so painfully harsh, one can’t help suspecting that he puts them in his stories just to tear at our heartstrings. Thankfully, the stories of childhood loss are balanced with protective Nurturer figures, some women, some men, but I’ll be focussing purely on the men because of the clichéd figure of the female nurturer.

The Father archetype takes the form of king, tyrant, judge, doctor, executioner, devil, god, priest, take your pick, anything that traditional male roles offer. In real life as on reel, if their characters slip into the feminine role of nurturer (which should not be mistaken for saviour) we gush with praise, because he’s done something so contrary to his nature. On the other hand, we hold up the Mother to some very exacting standards, and are less likely to let her deviate from her primary role. While I’ve examined women’s roles in movies (because I felt there was such a dearth of complex ones), it jumped out at me how many men in Guillermo del Toro’s movies fit into archetypal Fatherhood roles, their characters too being complex, sometimes contradictory.


The Tyrant – Captain Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Vidal fits perfectly into the role of Tyrant. He is your model patriarch; as a fascist, he represents the worst of the patriarchy. Part of Ofelia’s trial is escaping his clutches and trying to save her mother at the same time. He values sons over daughters, females are only valued as hosts to create the next generation of tyrants. In fact, the entire movie is ridden with imagery and subtexts of the oppressed feminine battling the militaristic autocracy of the tyrant. While he was willing to allow his wife to die if it allowed his son to live, his Nurturer side, though selective, surfaces when the child is born.

A patriarch deigns to give his name only to those he prizes as legitimate offspring, the age-old system of the patriarchy wields its power as long as its descendants hold its dynastic title, and by being denied the right to perpetuate his name just before his death, The Tyrant is truly defeated.


The Mage-The Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

The Faun’s role is significant because his character displays the duality of the Mage/Trickster archetype. As an ancient being, with ‘old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce’, he occupies the noble archetypal roles of the Mage – a Magician, for he is capable of magic; Holy Man for his ancient wisdom; Guide – because he helps Ofelia find her way home; Nurturer–for the advice, comfort and help he gives her when she needs it.

When Ofelia bungles her tasks, however, he shows his ugly side by turning into Tyrant, and finally when the time arrives for the final test, he turns Trickster by posing a moral dilemma to Ofelia: if she allows her brother to be harmed she would gain entry to her father’s kingdom, if she doesn’t she will lose that chance forever.

Ofelia proves her worth and gains access to the fairy kingdom through unintentional sacrifice. In the real world children might be rewarded for their bravery but not for their innocence, and the director sure rubs that in.


The Alchemist – Trevor Bruttenholm in Hellboy (2004)

The Alchemist can be wizard or scientist, he represents transformation and change. In a negative context, he nurses a destructive ambition to exploit the natural world for profit. Trevor Bruttenholm as the occultist is the positive Father-Nurturer, transforming a demon-child, a monstrous thing born of another dimension, into a force for good. Rasputin on the other hand represents the other side of the Alchemist’s persona, destruction and change for the sake of personal gain.


The Sage – Dr. Casares in The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

This movie is also set in a militaristic background, the orphan children are again victims of tyrants. Dr. Casares plays a true Nurturer figure in The Devil’s Backbone. As a man of science, he is a rationalist who denies the existence of Santi, the ghost child that tries to warn them of a coming disaster, emphasized by the unexploded bomb in the courtyard of the school.

His impotency might portray him as half a man, since virility is a necessary part of the Patriarchy, as it symbolizes power and regeneration. Casares is anything but a cold rationalist. When he takes a sip of the panacean Devil’s Backbone elixir, at first glance it’s a half-hearted attempt to cure his impotency, but by being teacher, guide and saviour to the fatherless children, he ultimately sacrifices his life while performing the role of Father-Nurturer, a role that requires the strength and willingness to put oneself in harm’s way to give one’s progeny a chance to survive.


The Knight– Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim (2013)

The Knight is a warrior with a code. He fights for justice, for the innocent, for the weak. He is chivalrous and stoic and that contributes to his sexism. The argument between blind obedience and freeing oneself of the Father-Tyrant is explored several times in the movie. The ability of the Knight is limited, he can’t always protect his children, so to avoid becoming the hated archetypal Tyrant, the Knight has to free himself of the glory of his saviour role and acknowledge his limitations. Stacker Pentecost learns to let go, his eventual acknowledgment of Mako’s maturity shows his growth. He does not have to let go of his gallantry however, to “clear a path for the lady,” so she can make her own choice whether to risk her life in the battle.

The juxtaposition of the characters of Giles and Colonel Strickland in The Shape of Water (2017) continues this exploration of father archetypes, Giles representing the peace-loving Sage and Strickland the Tyrant. Giles’s reaction to the Amphibian Man after he mutilates poor Pandora, his cat, is that of a father-nurturer extending his forgiveness and understanding to a disobedient child. Strickland on the other hand, quite obviously, represents the Tyrant, exploiting and punishing the child for smallest slights and perhaps, just for being unacceptably different.

The Secret Life of Cats

Cats are the queens of the internet, supposedly because in its nascent days the people behind all those web sites were socially inept cat lovers. Another theory goes that we never really stopped worshipping them.


The internet is playing favourites with a lot of other animals now. My daily feed consists of adorable animal gifs and videos, mostly cats, but also ‘birbs’, dogs and an assortment of zoo animals. I could while away half an hour every day watching Reginald get his first mani-pedi or Lo on guard duty, safe from behind my computer screen.

Discovering that I was a cat person took me a good many years. My neighbours owned seven cats with eyes like emeralds and shiny, black sinewy bodies that would have been apt next to a witch’s cauldron. My parents considered them a nuisance because they turned our balcony into their toilet and the cacophony of demonic mating calls in the middle of the night could make anyone grumble. I secretly petted them and fed them cream from my hand.

I was told that cats weren’t just dirty, they were bad luck, so when I tried to bring one home from an abandoned litter that my friends had found, the answer was no. We had to deal with the demise of the litter at the claws of an adult cat. Turns out in cat world, the law of the jungle prevailed.

I was pretty much done with kittens… or so I thought.

Turn the clock a couple of decades and I rescued my first stray. I was still clueless as to how to look after animals and poor Moon-Moon (named after a popular Tumblr meme) had to deal with being kept at arm’s distance for two months before I found an adoptive family for him.


While the local animal feeders preferred to deal with dogs and ignored the kittens, I managed to find a couple of people who were willing to help: one nice lady who accompanied me to all his x-ray appointments and another nice lady who gave me sample size kitten food, a litter tray and lots of much needed advice. I visited her house to see her prized rescue cats: Sheru, Chutki and Lola Kutty, well-fed beautiful things with shiny coats and glimmering eyes.

Sheru had been a miracle kitten, delivered to Mrs. R a week after the untimely death of her original cat, a white stray to whom she had been very attached and whose demise had left her feeling so depressed that she swore she would never keep another pet. She was a regular animal feeder in the area and the guard on duty called her to say one of the building dogs, Sir Sits-a-Lot (or something, I forgot his name) was hiding something and not allowing anyone to come near him. He did allow Mrs. R however, and between his paws nestled a little ginger male that she was compelled to adopt. She swore Sir Sits-a-Lot had gifted the kitten to her because animals are capable of sensing depression. Chutki came along after that and then it was Lola Kutty, who had been run over by one of Mrs. R’s relatives. After many visits to the doctor, Lola managed to recover completely, her slightly misshapen ribcage the only evidence left of the accident. Mrs. R’s relative was ready to take Lola Kutty back because they felt responsible for her after the accident, but she couldn’t be separated from Sheru because ‘they were in love with each other’.

Cats fall in love?

“Yes!” Mrs. R insisted emphatically.

Lola Kutty was maturing and Sheru had been sterilized, so he had to bear the rage of her frustration—scratches, swipes and bites–because he couldn’t perform. Chutki, meanwhile, was intensely jealous of Lola because she didn’t understand why this new young thing ought to have any hold over her old mate Sheru.

I liked to think cats possessed as dramatic a love life (despite the missing parts) as we humans did and began to sense the tension in the room with the three cats in it. Sheru began to paw at me and Mrs. R told me to leave the room before Lola Kutty went apeshit with jealousy.

So Moon-Moon, by a stroke of luck, got adopted by a lovely Bengali family who lived five minutes away and happened to be looking for a kitten on the internet.



My second, Flash, was rescued from the gutter where he had been hiding from the neighbourhood strays. When I brought him home I left him in a cardboard box on the stairs, but he meowed so loudly that a local tomcat came to investigate. I opened the door to the stairwell and found Mister Tomcat staring intently at the cardboard box in which I had hidden Flash. After a long staring match between us, he turned around and left, much to my relief. I didn’t think I could take the sight of another mauled kitten.

Flash turned out to be so feral that it was impossible to handle or feed him without two layers of jeans on and pair of thick gloves. He was built for the streets, ferocious little kitty with the sharp little claws that had to be unhooked from one’s flesh. I managed to keep him for three months before he got too big to handle and then, failing to find a family for him, I got him vaccinated and let him go in the fish market, hoping that perhaps he would find his way back to me with a promise that he’d behave himself.

Well none of that happened.

By that time my family had had enough of my animal social-service and luckily, I didn’t come across any more abandoned kittens to prey on my conscience. For a brief time, and because I had plenty of cat food left, I fed a cat name Pookie who turned out to be the most adorable stray I’d ever met. He’d take a bite of his food, return to rub up and meow lovingly against my ankles, then take another mouthful, return and rub up again and so on. He loved a good petting, but I didn’t like the idea of taking him away from the territory he’d gained in a colony overrun with strays. Plus, if I came home with a full grown unneutered male stray I was pretty sure my family would lose its marbles.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 3.33.43 PM

After that, I was packed up and ready to move cities when I heard from my vet that a nearby Persian had whelped a litter of furballs. I couldn’t resist and just had to pick one. Timo was welcomed because he was a domestic breed and cute as a button. He is the worst of the kittens I’d dealt with when it comes to potty manners and I had to change his feeding pattern several times before I figured what his delicate inbred constitution required.


I heard from Nice Lady No. 1, who had helped me rescue Moon-Moon, that Pookie was, of all things, fostering a male kitten and sharing his food with him.

Pookie’s foster son

This was unusual for a male cat and just proved that Pookie was angel sent from heaven in cat form. The youngster that he fostered didn’t make it though, and I’d like to think Pookie might have mourned his death just like Mrs. R had done for her beloved kitty.

Drowning in the Wonders and the Was


Back when we were in our late teens the future hung on a precipice and one’s mental health as well. What we made of ourselves was our primary focus and some handled it better than others. Some were born with silver spoons in their mouths and weren’t as obsessed with success as the middle-class kids. We didn’t have an open relationship with our parents, there were things you just didn’t tell them: failure, harassment, the decisions we made purely ruled by tranference; kids who came from divorced parents, the ones who had lost someone important along the way, the lower middle-class ones with no money to spend, the targets, the narcissists.

Books and music were a substitute for therapy. I still have a tender spot for all the musicians from the 1990’s who saved me but I don’t do that anymore, not so compulsively. If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself and everybody else to chill, but I do miss the riot of emotions and the solipsism that came with every indulgent music binge, lyrics from the cassette case clutched in my fingers.

I’m gonna make a mistake/ I’m gonna do it on purpose/ I’m gonna waste my time…

An artwork of a woman with her calves crossed to the viewer, playing with her tresses and the lyrics to Fiona Apple’s Mistake scrawled around her body adorned the door of my room, scandalizing my hostel warden, and when I moved back home, my dad, who asked me to take it off the wall. When she played, I’d have someone begging me to turn her off. Others, mildly interested, pointed out how this woman seemed to have been through every kind of relationship on the planet. The moodiness, the sound of her piano was like tumbling down the stairs of a haunted mansion–her crooning was both sonorous and soft and somehow effortless.

Oh, you creep uplike the clouds/ And you set my soul at ease/ Then you let your love abound/ And you bring me to my knees

Many years after I had gotten over my rock/pop obsessions, she managed to find her way into my Tumblr feed. This post was a quote from an article on her in Spin magazine, 1997:

[…]She’s standing there, staring hard at the photographer, who’s saying, “Give me sexy, seduce me.” I can see why she hates photo shoots.  “There’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women,”she says during a break, like she’s the white girl rapper speaking out for her homies[…]

The reporter tries hard to fit her into a box. He is, however, perceptive enough to point out how no one is really in control of their own exploitation, or how their sexualized image will be perceived by anyone who sees it. Now that I’m smarter about that sort of thing, the Criminal video resembles an American Apparel ad: Fiona vulnerable on the kitchen sink, Fiona vulnerable inside the closet, Fiona in the middle of motionless teenage bodies in their underwear. Fiona in her underwear in the backseat of a car that reminds you of a flashy paparazzi shot.

She was way too young to be in any sort of control of that image. So what purpose does Criminal serve anyway?

These ideas of mine/ Percolate the mind/ Trickle down the spine/ Swarm the belly, swellin’ to a blaze/ That’s where the pain comes in/ Like a second skeleton/ Tryin’ to fit beneath the skin/ I can’t fit the feelin’s in

Let’s say you’re drawn by the wink of a diamond in a deep dark cave. That’s Criminal. You go closer and you discover the cave is stacked from corner to corner with gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. That’s what Tidal was. They did try to package and sell her like a pop star, but the waif-like sexy image faded quickly because her music was so strong. Now I see her, twenty years later, banging away at the piano or dancing with her dog and being the genius weirdo that actually she is.