christmas pigs, or the perils of inviting a poem-writer to lunch

what is it about
christmas and food?

the pig in the pot
of the
wild hills of home,
or the pig on a spit
of the
kiribati islands?

here we are civilised settled, though
and call it ham.

but with good friends
and laughter
(and potatoes on the side)

it is a feast;

and more,
it is christmas.

[thank you menaka, bruce and ashan for a feast fit for a north-easterner!]


did you know that horses can't vomit?

This is not a land of mysteries. Like most places in the world, this was discovered before Columbus set his grubby feet on what is now called America. Kupe was the first here, they say. Then came Abel Tasman and Cap’n Cook. And now every blessed inch is freely available to view and critique on Google Maps. But inside, what about inside? Has Google mapped that too?

For most of this year, I have been cleaning shit. Yes the S word. Faeces. First it was horse shit, then human. Explain? What is there to explain? I was at the RDA, then at a special school. Doesn’t that explain it all? But listen. I don’t want to talk about shit, I want to talk about travelling. I want to talk about discovery and fear and flying. The knot in the stomach, the bile in the mouth, the insane spinning of the skies. Have you ever jumped off a cliff?

This began, as all journeys seem to, with the jumping off a cliff, a quitting of jobs, a trusting of fate to the winds. And what a journey this has been. Did you know that horses can’t vomit? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Or that just like the rest of us, the disabled need care, not pity? That there are at least 22 Pa sites in what is now called Hamilton? That the koru of the Punga tree is also known as bush asparagus. That pine needles can substitute for straw when laying down strawberry beds. That you can be poor and happy. That normal is just what you usually do. That op-shops don’t sell just second hand clothes, but a chance to get away from the waste and pollution of half arsed consumerism. That riding a horse could be as good as riding a motorbike. That people who give freely of their time and money and energy need not be on the Left. Or rich. Or even young. That a funny song can make a point better than an angry poem. That the Japanese government is yet to acknowledge the ‘comfort women’ from World War 2. And that if you wrestle lions in your sleep, you probably can beat most things when awake. Did you? I sure didn’t.

And now, 10 months later, it is almost time to go discover another place. While I am a huge fan of Pearly and Cédric’s epic cycle trip through south Asia, I cannot shake the feeling that they went too fast. While Tasman’s name for this land has stuck, it is Kupe’s and Cook’s tradition that I am interested in- they stayed put for a while. And as we prepare to move again, I must remind myself. To stay put. For a while.

But it all starts with jumping off a cliff.

under the party tree

under the party tree lie
the carcasses
of ice cream cones
and the tortured remains
of a pizza

hell hath no fury
like a school on picnic.

the bottlebroke tree

bottlebroke has just gone international! (well, they always say that like it's a good thing). entered 'the bottlebroke tree' at this years trees at the meteor event. also saw some of the trees being prepared, and they are *brilliant! hope to see them when they are all ready.

the tree is an adaptation of the bottlebroke lamps, with the addition of discarded wood pallets and cycle tubes. it has been an exciting (and scary) time making this, as i have struggled with ideas, with techniques, with materials. and finally, i had to edit. in a funny way, the 'artist statement' helped me edit, and stop myself from putting in things that didn't add to the mix.

the bottlebroke tree is a meeting of urban inner city broke-as living, a number 8 wire mentality and a reduce-reuse-recycle ethic, dressed in the attitude and aesthetics of punk. hope does not grow in the gardens of the nice and pretty, it springs from the worm pits of despair. may you rage against the machine, this christmas and always.

i'm offering the piece for sale, to help raise money for the local group of amnesty international. any help much appreciated!

NOTE: much thanks to dee for helping with the pictures, the listing, and generally putting up with the grumpy artist-fartist at work!

almost tolstoy

whoopee we're all gonna die

and it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for
don't ask me i don't give a damn, next stop is afghanistan
and it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates
ain't no time to wonder why, whoopee we're all gonna die

(adapted from the wise words of country joe)

christmas smells

this christmas has a different smell.

none of the pine quickened
charcoal fires
of a biting winter night

or the pork-and-mustard-leaf happiness
the stench of tribal feasting.

this christmas is lush
fed by a swollen river
and shaded by the broad leafed trees
of tane's mighty garden.

and try as i might
i cannot smell a feast.

note: tane is pronounced to rhyme with the 'ne' of the english word 'net'. tane is the maori god of the forests.

strange spring

the sky
is a surly sodden blanket
the river
bloated with mud

strange spring, this
at the end
of a long dark winter
strange spring, this
dressed in autumn brown

strange spring this-
and what will summer

another grin!

got news that a few poems have been accepted for publication in a blackmail press ezine:

"blackmail press is a resource created to give poets, students and poetry lovers in New Zealand a site to read, submit and find great poetry. The impetus was to promote New Zealand poets and to provide an environment for emerging New Zealand poets to share their works."

rather kicked- i've been *really scared of submitting poetry to zines! i really like some of the
poetry on, and am honoured to be a part of this!



to my shame, it took a student film called sharnarthi for me to be aware of events that occured almost in my backyard. made by rituraj sapkota as part of an honours programme, sharnarthi deals with the issue of ethnic nepali bhutanese refugees in nepal, and then in aotearoa new zealand. bhutan is georaphically close to north east india, and i knew many people from that lovely country as a student. pity it has taken so long to hear about this!

the film, like watani habibi i wrote about earlier, struck me as remarkably lacking in anger, at least on the surface. there was a lot of laughter, situational as well as on-screen. i tend to be an angry person, and this tone of gentility first irritated (where were the protest slogans, dammit!) and then charmed me.

the primary question the filmmaker seemed to be asking is one i can relate to very well: where am i from? even though the refugees are ethnic nepali, they consider themselves bhutanese, and taught the children the bhutanese national anthem. some of them, like rituraj, moved to india, and as refugees recognised by the UN are being resettled in other countries including the US, canada, australia and aotearoa new zealand. as a geographically mixed-up person myself, i have some empathy for the questions of identity this raises. where does one belong? what does one call home? as one of those interviewed in the film says, he considers himself a bhutanese nepali, but does not have citizenship in either bhutan or nepal. what he does have in permanent residency in aotearoa new zealand, and as any migrant will attest, that is no less fraught. this was underscored by the comments of another interviewee, who pointed out that once a humanitarian solution (relocation to a third country) had been reached the world would no longer care about a political/ideal solution (return to bhutan).

i loved that the information pamphlet that went with the screening had a few questions the film-maker wanted the audience to respond to in the discussion time. here are my responses.

Q: Does the film bring out the problems and challenges faced by the Bhutanese Refugee community during and after their stay in the camps?

A: it does, if the primary challenges are those of identity and an ability to settle down to a 'normal' life. possibly the UNHCR and aid agencies are looking after the more 'material' needs.

Q: Does the film clarify the historical circumstances which rendered these people refugees?

A: no, it does not. in the discussion that followed the screening though, rituraj mentioned that looking into the causes and history of the displacement was not his intention. (then why have this question here?)

Q: Do you think the film works for a global audience, both eastern and western?

A: as a person in the audience pointed out, some of the english spoken on the film may have been helped by subtitles. as rituraj responded, though, it seemed a little rude to 'correct' the english when subtitling the interviews.

Q: Do you think the film works for the people of the community and presents their case?

A: i asked rituraj what he, as representative of his community, would have us do. he responded that his own response was to make the film, and that he would leave viewers to their own responses and actions. while i respect and appreciate this position, it highlights the fact that the film does not present a 'çase'. not that i am sure it should!

Q: Does the filmmaker treat, portray and represent the subjects of the film ethically?

A: i think so. it was pointed out by someone in the audience that most of those interviewed were men/boys, and rituraj admitted he felt more comfortable talking with men. while there were sexual attacks on women during the events leading up to the exile, he did not know how to discuss it, and deliberately left it alone. while the film may have gained perspective from the filmmaker's willingness to push himself out of a comfort zone, i can empathise with the ethics of keeping to areas he felt able to deal with.

and that brings me to my complaint against the film - a lack of depth. i felt that many of the interviewees hadn't managed to go beyond the immediate facination of being on camera. i don't know if this was due to techniques in shooting or editing, or even if it is unfair criticism. please remember, i am more opinionated git than film critic!

during the discussion, rituraj mentioned that the indian media largely ignored this issue of the bhutanese refugees, and that in south east asia, if the indian media ignored something, it pretty much got ignored internationally. if this is true, it increases our responsibility as bloggers to talk about things that cannot afford to be ignored. rituraj has suggested that he may try and turn this into a longer production, and i would be glad to watch that when it is done.


most poets/artists live on appreciation and critique from friends and family, and i am deeply thankful to all the comments i have received. rather extra chuffed, though, to hear that amnesty international (aotearoa new zealand) has recognised one of my poems, 'in your language, not mine', and might be publishing it in their next mag.

much thanks to poets Tim Heath and Helen Tionisio who chose the poem, and actress Elizabeth McRae who read it out on courage day. special thanks to the subversifpoet who submitted the poem in the first place!

i feel particularly glad that this is not a prize that is *only literary, so to speak.



now there is no god but development
and chidambaram is his prophet

so sacred hills must be mined
so sacred forests felled

for the god demands a sacrifice
and it is always a lamb
to slaughter.

take this bauxite
my body
take this coal
my blood

for it is your dharma
to tear it up
your karma
to follow through

for the god demands a sacrifice
and it is always a lamb
to slaughter.

NOTE: for more information on niyamgiri go here. thanks also to subversifpoet for inspiration.

resistance art-palestine

I need to (uncharacteristically) put this down while it is fresh in my mind and heart.

Watched a movie this evening, called ‘Watani Habibi’. Made by filmmaker couple John Mandelberg and Janice Abo Ganis, the film is a 20 odd minute documentary on Palestinian musicians and dancers. While I expected a look at Israeli occupation and its effects, I did not expect a discussion/practice of art as resistance. Here, writing and singing songs were political acts in themselves, and enough reason for Mustafa al-Kurd’s expulsion from Israel/Palestine! The music in the film is hauntingly beautiful and the lyrics are simple, but deeply cutting. There is no Attenborough style commentary in the movie, and it is entirely in Arabic, with English sub-titles. The characters/artists speak for themselves, sometimes verbally, but more often through dance-drama and song. The film has avoided giving ‘background’ information to the situation in Palestine/Israel, and lets the artists speak about their current situation without trying to put it in context. A very interesting movie, and not least because it is quite literally resistance art in action, an idea that singer/musician Rim Banna is very conscious of and presents as a counterpoint to the guns and bombs of the occupation.

This was a very appropriate climax to another piece of art about Palestine, Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine’. I love the graphic novel/comic format, and am delighted that it is being used to tell ‘important’ stories in a much more engaging manner. Reading a comic is *much more pleasurable than Wikipedia or a dry (if knowledgeable) history book! I’m going to avoid a review, as this one seems to say all I want to. While I am not sure if Joe’s graphic novel is ‘resistance’ (sorry about so many inverted commas), seeing as he writes from the (relative?) safety of the west, it is definitely political art, and definitely good.

And that’s all I wanted to say.

[special thanks to debbie, jay, blade, bruce, menaka and ashan!]

UPDATE: found this news about research on palestinian music on a blog i love, called resistance studies.

in your language, not mine

in your language, not mine
will i abuse and curse at you
and scream and rail and rant at you
in your language, not mine.

in your language, not mine
will i tear at your histories
claw at your imposed geographies
in your language, not mine.

and when this well of anger
has boiled away
and the wind has scattered
the ashes of our pain
we will sit
and eat
and drink

and laugh and even talk,
though in your language,
not mine.

the river walk

i'll take the river walk
from the shops
or the street named after
a dead (once murderous) queen.

i'll take the river walk
ancient waka landings
and memories of other rivers
in other places i call home.

i'll take the river walk

a bullet point history of recent maori art

This 'history' of recent Maori art is based on Damian Skinner's introduction to his PhD thesis, submitted to Victoria University of Wellington in 2005. While it is a pity to reduce a well researched piece to bullet points, this seems the best way to draw out the content as well as to illustrate the inadequacy of any summary. Much of the material in this thesis (and more) is available in 'the Carver and the Artist' by the same author.

Damian has divided the thesis into four chapters, each chapter covering a phase of Maori art.

MAORITANGA: Ta Apirana Ngata (1920s to 1940s)

- massive land loss and rapid social and economic changes for the Maori tribes (Iwi/Hapu)
- in Ta Apirana's words:
a) emphasis on the continuing individuality of the Maori people
b) maintenance of such Maori characteristics and such features of Maori culture as present day circumstances permit
c) inculcation of pride in Maori history and traditions
d) retention so far as possible of old-time ceremonial
e) the continuous attempt to interpret the Maori point of view to the pakeha in power.

- conservative renovation of customary culture
- drawing on Maori cultural traditions, while using modern functions and construction materials
- centered around the marae and the whare whakairo (carved meeting house)
- concentration on craftsmanship and preservation of traditional skills and techniques

Maoritanga: Hone Taiapa (1950s to 1960s)

- continuation of Ta Apirana's philosophy

- whakairo (carving) becomes an internalised template, and operates without reference to originality and innovation
- new economic formations (e.g the tourist market) and new patrons (e.g the Mormon church)
- artist (head carver) as supervisor, and art piece (carving) as team/communal work

- Hone Taiapa, Pine Taiapa, Henare Toka, Piri Poutapu

Maori Modernism (1950s to 1960s)

- Maori artists emerging from Pakeha art schools
- Art educator Gordon Tovey's (National Supervisor Art and Culture) encouragement of experimentation in Maori Art
- Department of Education's patronage of Maori Modernists

- Artistic practice that was "individual, innovative and original"
- intentional positioning as different from the art of Maoritanga
- oriented away from 'customary culture' audience, and towards a Pakeha/International discourse

Pratene Matchitt, Arnold Wilson, Buck Nin, Cliff Whiting, Katerina Mataira

Contemporary Maori Art (1970s to 1980s)

- massive urbanisation of Maori in 50s and 60s
- Maori activist movements and increasing political consciousness among Maori

- attempts to bridge the critical distance (with Maoritanga) that Maori Modernism sought to establish
- a return to the marae as cultural centre
- an appeal to continuity with cultural forms older than Maoritanga
- articulation of Maori art as a tradition of change

Part of my interest in Maori art stems from a need to understand my own practice as a 'tribal' from North East India, with all the questions each of those terms beg to ask. In that context, here are some of the ideas that stood out.

a) 'Tradition' is as fluid an idea as 'contemporary'. On the one hand, much of 'traditional' Maori art today goes back to the 1930s and Ta Apirana Ngata's Maoritanga. On the other hand, Katerina Mataira's 1984 essay appeals to a 'tradition of change' in Maori culture when speaking for the legitimacy of Contemporary Maori art. Question to self: Which of the many available traditions am I interested in? Does it matter?

b) While there are varying perspectives on tradition, there does seem to be a visual continuity in the motifs and images used, especially in sculpture. While I cannot substantiate this without detailed study, and the work of the Maori Modernist period may well have been influenced by western Primitivism, motifs such as the 'koru' and the three fingered image seem to hold 20th century maori art together. Question to self: Are there common motifs in North East India I can use? Should I?

c) There are different ways to negotiate conflict and change. Ta Apirana chose to standardise some aspects of tradition, while allowing modernity in others. The Modernists defined themselves in their break from Ta Apirana's Maoritanga, and the Contemporary artists seem to be trying to make peace with Maoritanga and Modernism. Each of these negotiations have elements of separation and assimilation from/with dominant Pakeha/European/International culture. Question to self: What do I want to separate from, and what do I want to assimilate with?

More questions than answers, really. Ah well, story of my life!

*This is NOT a comprehensive list of names associated with this period/movement.

two conversations

a few weeks ago we went to a movie screening at the hamilton disability pride film festival. i'd heard about it by chance, and almost missed a brilliant film! 'king gimp' tells the story of artist dan keplinger, who has cerebral palsy. the film is an honest documentary of 13+ years of dan's life. though the background music can get a little over powering, the movie is largely shot in an unsentimental matter-of-fact style. in fact dan quite effectually punctures one of the more emo scenes with some bitingly dark humour. dan managed to make it through school, and decided to go on to college to study art. in spite of rejection from some teachers, he makes it through, graduating to a standing ovation. more than just a record of daniel's struggle, the film also effectively speaks of how we can individually make a difference to the lives of others.

around the same time, i was reading 'growing up severely autistic-they call me gabriel' by kate rankin. written about her autistic son, this book gave me a kick-in-the-balls perspective on what it means to be the parent of a severely autistic child. again written with little sentimentality, it is a journal of life with gabriel and the sheer amounts of work it takes to bring up an autistic child, even with physical and financial support from the government. how do parents without that support cope?

all of which brings me to two conversations i had. the first was with a care-giver for an autistic child at the RDA. she mentioned that the child had never been visited by her parents after they gave her up to full time care, which was a few years ago. it quite upset me then, and still does, but after reading this book i think i can understand why some parents would be unable to cope. taking care of an autistic child has a social cost in addition to the already high financial and emotional costs. while some autisic children have special talents to 'make up' for their disability, most (like the rest of us) do not, and are stuck in an internal world that often doesn't make sense to the external one. like many autistic children in aotearoa NZ, gabriel eventually had to move to full time care in an institution set up for the purpose.

the second conversation(s) was with a lady from mumbai visiting family in hamilton, who was paralysed waist down after a gymnastic accident. JA was delighted at the chance to ride (with help) and only got off each day with the greatest reluctance. while she resolutely refused to complain, we spoke of how her sister had to carry her up three flights of stairs back home because the building they lived in didn't have a lift and how difficult it was for her to get around in her wheelchair- apparently even hospitals do not necessarily have disability access. she was working from home, as any trips outside were emotionally and physically fraught. in spite of all this, JA's spirit seemed unbeatable. she was always glad to ride, even when it was in the most extreme cold she had known. she was always ready for a trot and managed to push us, horse and sidewalkers, to do more and do better. i have had the most exercise in the weeks she was here. back in mumbai though, she will be confined to her third floor flat again.

while most of us are (rightly) horrified at the persecution of the disabled that the nazi party unleashed, i sometimes wonder if it is really very different now. we have tucked the disabled away out of sight. our lifestyles make little provision for their needs, and government policy often ignores them. even the human rights organisations seem to have forgotten them, rarely speaking out for disability rights! one of the senior teachers at a special needs school i have just joined pointed out two boys to me, and said that with their behavioural problems, they would have been in jail if they weren't in school. makes one wonder-how many disabled people actually are locked away in jails, institutions or homes? out of sight and out of mind?

watch some clips of 'king gimp' here, and read the first few pages of 'they call me gabriel' here.

...when prime minister manmohan visits shillong...

just heard the news of prime minister manmohan singh's planned visit to meghalaya, and remembered one of my favourite poems. by kynpham sing nongkynrih, it speaks of another visit by another prime minister, yet seems to ring very true even today. to twist the arm of tennyson's brook, prime ministers may come and prime ministers may go, but the hills go on for ever.

bah kynpham's writing has been described (aptly i thought) as "provide(ing) an acerbic take on contemporary life in the Northeast", but it has also been pointed out that "he returns constantly to the idea of roots – sometimes couched in the figure of a mother, sometimes as land or language itself." [taken from trisha gupta's piece in tehelka]. writing in a matriarchal society, he has also courted controversy for his infamous "blasphemous lines for mother". read that and other poems here.

the english translation (by the poet) is reproduced in full in this post, go here to see it in the original khasi language. or here for a newspaper review of an anthology of poems from the north east.



When Prime Minister Gujral
planned a visit to the city
bamboos sprang up from pavements
like a welcoming committee.

But when he came, he was
only the strident sounds of sirens
like warnings in war-time bombings.

The bamboos watched in silence.

He came with twin objectives
a mission for peace and progress.
But he was a rumbling in the clouds
a prattle in the air.

And some say he came
homing in like a missile
and left flying like an arrow.

In between?

Some say he dropped
like a falling star
and was sighted by a few
disgruntled leaders.

He came like a threat
and scam-stained ministers
were in a cold sweat.
But he left like a defused bomb.

They wondered
what he could have seen
of the land
what of the people
he could have learnt
when he came
like the snapping of fingers.

They wondered
and sought answers
like little children.

Only the bamboos watched in silence
too used to the antics of men.




witi ihimaera - like coming home!

They say (you know how 'they' are always saying things) that the joy of travel is in the finding of difference-the alien and the exotic. If you keep away from resorts and star hotels, that is. And I would, in the most, agree. There seems little point in going halfway round to world to find one self at home. There must, however, be something wrong with that thought, for it completely fails to to explain why Witi Ihimaera's stories have been so engrossing when they feel like a homecoming!

Ihimaera's stories revolve around Waituhi village, with occasional excursions into Wellington. The lines are fairly clear- Waituhi is Maori and Wellington is European, and many of the stories speak of the tension between he two cultures. While there is a sorrow at at a dying way of life, there is also a recognition that the new ways are very attractive. Ihimaera's stated claim, in the early stories, was to acquaint 'Urban' Maori with the old way of life and its values, and to help them understand their roots. This gradually moved to a more political stance, and sharper criticism of the effects of European colonisation and the struggles of Maori in the present.

What I found striking, though, is the constant feeling that these stories could so easily have been set in the North East India (an artificial unity I stubbornly cling to) that I grew up in. The experiences of the characters could as easily have been mine, from being a tribal in a world that didn't think much of tribals, to the struggle to succeed in a system one did not quite understand, even the easy laughter, sense of belonging and claustrophobia in a 'close-knit community'. It is strangely comforting to recognise characters in the book, from the dominating figure of the Matriarch to the kid torn between the old world and the new.

The setting and style of the stories beg comparison with R.K Narayan's Malgudi, though Ihimaera's writing is much more politically loaded, and much more accommodating of what has variously been called mystical, magical or superstition. They are however as pleasantly easy to read as Narayan, with none of the twisted complexity that afflicts a lot of literary writing today. One of the books has also been turned into a rather engrossing film. Very strongly recommended!


this is the
side of town
and we are
with sharp edges
like the bits of bottles
that are sometimes
strewn on the footpath
and sparkle
when they catch the light.

this is the
side of town
and we sleep
under bridges
and hide our stash
in the lavender bushes
that smell of scented grandmothers
in long abandoned childhoods.

this is the
side of town
but we have lavender bushes.

so there.

math at the pentagon

2995 deaths on 9/11=4350 deaths in afghanistan+155350 deaths in iraq
=>1 american life=51.86 iraqi+afghan lives

even the hebrew god only wanted an eye for an eye.
how many eyes does the american god want?

sa-um bur

sa-um is pork fat fermented in a gourd (bur), and a much loved part of zo cooking. there have recently been studies linking sa-um to stomach cancer. the things we love can sometimes destroy us. a lot like how our addiction to electricity is killing the earth.

electric bulb
jute thread

I sometimes think the tragedy of north east India is not so much that we are under developed, or that India cynically exploits/ignores us, or that we are caught in the crossfire between Indian armies and the rebels- it is that our own leaders are so willing to sell us out. This has been a consistent trend across party lines, with sucessive governments, it just doesn’t change. Just when one was getting used to the horror that the government of Manipur and Ibobi Singh (with complicity from the ‘opposition’) is inflicting on the sate, now comes the news that the Meghalaya government led my D.D. Lapang is pushing for the UCIL to mine uranium in the West Khasi Hills.

And it’s not as if the resistance has any real solutions either. When the Khasi Students Union, currently the only group really fighting this, got timber felling banned, they had no alternatives to offer for people who eked a living out of the industry. A similar story here- people are selling their land to the UCIL (happily the government cannot grab it) because at least they get ‘something’ from it. So there are your choices- you live and die in extreme poverty or live and die with uranium mining. There, that’s democracy. And while the KSU stand makes sense, they have no alternatives to offer. The same story played out across- In Assam, Hiteshwar Saikia’s ‘Surrendered ULFA’ cause(d) as much terror (more?) as the ULFA, only they have government backing. Ex rebels Zoramthanga and the MNF have done little for Mizoram, and were routed in the last elections.

One can hardly ignore these things even- while it is sordid politics (as Cabir put it), real people are suffering. And how does one ignore that?