A Hindu wedding is dominated by colour: the red of the bride’s one-off sari, the tint of the gold chains around her neck, the white and green of fragrant jasmine flowers, the black of the groom’s hair and moustache – all illuminated in intense clarity by the camera crew’s megawatt bulbs. My first Hindu wedding was on merely my second day in Kerala, my venerable new neighbour eager to have the new saip present at his second son’s marriage, and the whole experience was utterly intoxicating. Some of that initial sheen has worn off after attending so many more, but enough of the magic remains that my enjoyment of each occasion extends beyond simply paying my respects, or ‘blessing with presence’ as one friend’s elegant invite read.
My day job involves a lot of sitting at a computer, wearing headphones and performing monotonous tasks. In fact, it involves nothing but these things.
When I just can’t take it any more, I like to go for a quick walk to Technomall’s small bookstore. There, I can awaken a few different areas of my brain as I process the new books that interest me, relish the prose of good writers and laugh inwardly at the cheap tack by the crap ones (until I feel guilty, because while I might think ill of these writers, it’s a certainty that someone out there who reads this will mock me mercilessly for it).
Usually I stick to the fiction section, with its stock of prizewinners and the cream of Indian literature in English. Today, however, I stumbled upon a section I’ve always avoided in bookshops: the self-help (or ‘personality development’) section. I mean, I read David Cain because he is actually kind of inspiring and not force-fed down your throat, but I’ve never felt a need to consume chicken soup for the soul, or to read one guy tell all about the differences between rich dads and poor dads like it’s some big secret. Speaking of which, I’ve sure as hell never been interested in The Secret.
But there are so many of these books.
I looked closer at the bookcase, but became steadily more uncomfortable as I contemplated this particular book’s title.
One minute had been enough. Those monotonous tasks weren’t so bad after all. I returned to the office, inspired back to work in a new and unsettling way.
(For the record, Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ gives value and meaning to this entire genre. Have you been inspired or helped to see things in a different way by a self-help book?)
Inaie Ramalho is the author of Inaie – out and about, a blog about her life and travels as a serial expat. Her homeland is Brazil but she has lived in Australia, New Zealand and the UAE, and is currently based in Bahrain with her husband and two daughters. She writes mostly about her and her family’s travels and lives, with plenty of accompanying photos, but also about all the people close to her in her life.
‘Out and about’ is certainly true, then, but one realises that she has her eyes wide open with curiosity as she goes from place to place, person to person, experience to experience. Her writing is typically open-hearted and direct – she has little use for self-censorship – but a sense of what really matters to her shines through, as well as a desire to learn and understand more about herself and the world around her.
I discovered her blog after she left a comment on mine, and was immediately intrigued by the fact that she double-blogs in English and in Portuguese (which she clarifies further below). Having looked into her archives and found them at times hilarious, at other times moving, I asked if she would answer a few questions, and she responded in record time. All photos used with permission.
Why did you start blogging?
When I left Brazil I started writing emails with “my stories” to friends back home. They were emails with my feelings, my discoveries and a bit about everything. A way to stay connected. 10 years later, I was still sending the same emails, but my “receivers” list was much larger and incorporated friends from all countries where I lived. I was writing my emails twice. In English and in Portuguese.
If I were tired, fed up, or just had nothing to say and did not write frequently enough, these friends would send me angry emails, complaining about my absence.
Because of it, I made a point of writing regularly, but Yahoo was blocking my account every other day, calling me a “spammer”. Every time I was blocked I felt so p’off, I would promise I would start blogging. But then Yahoo would unblock me, and I would forget all about it.
I also had several friends asking me to start blogging. BLOG! BLOG! BLOG! they would say…
Recently I met a FAB lady who is a professional blogger, she translates blogs from several languages, she does a pretty serious job with this blogging business. When she told me I should blog, I thought: Well, maybe I should. ‘A’ is someone who knows what she is doing… she has not been my friend for long and has no reason to say things just to please me.
I started the blog, thanked her for “making me do it” and received furious emails from all those friends who have been saying the same thing for ages, with no result.
Do you keep a journal? If so, what relationship do your blog and your journal have with each other?
Nah. No journal. My mother used to break the lockers to read my teenager journals. Initially I would make up these horrible stories, about unthinkable things, just to terrify her. After a while I just lost interest. If I could not be true to my journal because my darling mother would read it, what was the point? I never went back to journal writing, unfortunately. Today, my revenge is to write things she would not want to know in an open forum – and I know she still reads it.
What is your first memory of writing creatively?
I always enjoyed writing, I remember being 8 or 9, and spending hours making up stories… As I grew up, I realized real stories are far more fun!
Describe something that is beautiful to you.
This is going to sound so tacky, but my girls’ smiles are the most amazing sight. When they look at me and smile, the whole world changes colors, all sounds seem far more clear and beautiful. It is just amazing!
I have pictures of them on my phone; when things get rough, I just look at them and smile too.
You blog in both English and Portuguese. Do you try to convey the same feeling in both languages, or do you attempt to express yourself with the difference nuances of meaning to which each language lends itself?
You are mistaken. My blog is both in BAD Portuguese and Pidgin English, as I explain in the first line of the blog, but your question has its merit. Initially, my idea was to write in one language and then translate to the other – but as I started doing it, I found it just impossible. I write one story, then when I tell the other one, I remember different facts, I use other visuals; I just write all over again instead of just translating it. Sometimes the texts are completely different, although they talk about the same thing and they are both true.
Have your experiences living and travelling in various different countries changed your belief system(s)?
They sure have. This lifestyle taught me to be more tolerant with the world and see people under a different light. I used to think WE were right (whoever we were) and THEY were wrong. Now I don’t believe in us and them. People are just submitted to different stimuli, grow up under different circumstances and form their values based on these experiences.
People behave different because they see things different. In most cases, there is no right or wrong, in my opinion.
All this traveling made me want to travel more, want to know more, to learn more… life is a fascinating journey!
In your Blogger profile, you mention ‘several Inaies living together under one identity’. Would you say the ‘blogger Inaie’ is distinct from the others, or more an attempt at representing all of them?
Inaie the blogger is the one who cannot keep her mouth shut, and she tells on all other Inaies. She is the gossiper. She would get in trouble, but would not lose the opportunity to tell her story. With my life story, I do live many different realities in one. I am an only child, but I live far, far away from my parents. I love my dad desperately, but I have not seen him in four years. If you ask how I would feel if I did not see my children for a year, I would say it would just not happen. I could not survive without them. Both of them. I am Brazilian, but I am not your “regular” Brazilian. I am a workaholic who is in a huge crisis because I just found out there is life beyond the office desk (but don’t give me an office desk, I will get stuck in it), I am all for equality and sometimes catch myself being so totalitarian. I am a walking contradiction. I have always been told I am different, but no one ever managed to explain “different” how – and it haunts me. I would really like to know who I am. Sometimes I have no idea what I want or how to get it…
Michael, a friend of mine, once gave this close definition about me:
‘I want it all – and I want it now…’
That sounds pretty real.
Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?
To be honest, my blog is a window into my soul. It is not supposed to be pretty, fun or anything specifically. It is just meant to be a piece of me, to tell my story, my thoughts, my feelings. And to register my journey… I am not afraid to show my ugly sides. I have plenty of them. I guess I am proud of having my blog, and I am sooo grateful (and surprised) people actually read it.
Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.
I would love to visit Iran. And Morocco. And India. I also would like to visit Oman and see sea turtles. Mexico too. I would like to go to Turkey and fly over Capadoccia. Ireland is in my list of countries to visit, so are Vietnam and Lebanon… oh, sorry – you said ONE! But there are so many other places I would like to experience…
A country I would revisit? To be honest, I am not ito revisiting places. Given the opportunity, I will always choose the one I have not been to. In saying that, I would like to take my teenage girls to Egypt and to Jordan, to share the beauty of these places with them, especially because we are so close and these destinations are so magic…
I would not consider going to these places again if it were not to show them to Anita and Lia.
Do you believe in God?
I sure do. I just feel very sad for all the atrocities men do in name of Him. I am sure it pisses him off too.
This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click here.
1. Introspect. Throughout the years covered in the book, Gandhi interrogates and investigates himself. He wonders why he dislikes bathing the sores on his father’s feet. He feels certain, for a while, that in order to become powerful one must eat meat. He questions whether his all-natural earth treatments are effective. On almost every page, he remains convinced that he hasn’t yet everything figured out. It is through this constant self-questioning that he attains a deeper understanding of himself and crystallises that understanding into a way of life. With so many distractions around us today, it is surely valuable to sometimes consider why we do what we do – especially the things we take for granted – and then consider whether we have good reason to keep doing them.
There are a few commodities in Kerala that will always be in high demand. Rice, obviously, and the coconut products that invariably accompany it at mealtimes. Liquor, as previously mentioned, is on an upward consumption curve. And then there’s gold. Even as ubiquitous and controversial as liquor has become, it cannot hold a candle to the influence of gold in the average Malayali’s life. The desire to acquire and hoard it seems to be hard-wired, a vital element in the struggle to survive and, if you’re fortunate, to be upwardly mobile. To put it simply, in Kerala, gold – like Gordon Gekko’s greed – is good.
Eion McNaught (aka Illstation) is the artist behind Ill Station, a deviantART site showcasing his sculpture, drawing, painting and animation. His work generally has a macabre-but-playful feel, but is sometimes more macabre, and sometimes completely playful.
While it’s a bit of a stretch to call Ill Station a blog, I feel it fits within the Wikipedia definition: a site ‘usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video’.
I’ve known Eion for about 15 years and, growing up, I enjoyed accompanying my brothers to his flat, where various pieces of art would be displayed about the place. I remember thinking for the first time that he had actually created a lot of the stuff I was looking at, unlike most people (including myself) who consume rather than produce art. Recently, he’s been responsible for all the artwork behind my brother’s Cartoon Beats label, as well as this wonderful animation of Margaret Mahy’s A Lion In The Meadow read by my sister-in-law.
On those visits, I always had questions to ask but we inevitably talked about other things – he never really drew attention to his art, it was just what he did. I’m lucky, then, to be allowed this opportunity to get some insight into his creative process and general thoughts. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Why did you create Illstation/your deviantART artist page?
Illstation is my alter-ego. Ill Station is also the place I go to see amazing things and be inspired. The name came to me in a dream (so cliché, but true (groan)).
DeviantART is the first place I displayed Illstation work – basically because it was free and easier than creating a website (which I didn’t know how to do). It also seemed like a popular site, so I hoped my stuff would be seen.
What work of yours has been exhibited publicly in the past, and where?
I have yet to do an actual exhibition of Illstation work as such … However, my work has ended up on animated tv shows (for Disney, WB, MTV, TVNZ and others) and at the cinema. I have worked on advertisements for tv, the cinema, internet, in print (billboards, magazines, children’s books etc.), even in a Nintendo DS game (for Ubisoft).
Illstation’s paintings have been sold at the New Zealand Art Show in Wellington. Illstation’s work can be found online (as well as deviantART there is a Facebook page and stuff on YouTube), including a music video for the record label Cartoon Beats. Also there’s the album artwork for all of Cartoon Beats Record releases to date. That may or may not be everything …
What is your first memory of drawing, painting or sculpting?
I guess this story applies … When I was about three I remember my brothers and me painting our faces to look like Kiss. I wish I had a photo of that.
Describe something that is beautiful to you.
When I’m on a mountain and there’s fog below and the other mountains look like islands rising out of a sea of mist.
A lot of your work has a disturbing or off-kilter feel about it. Is this the kind of atmosphere/tone that you are drawn to most?
Definitely. Illstation emerged as a result of limitations being put onto my creativity while working as a commercial artist and animator. The more people try and tell me what ‘I should be drawing and painting’, or try and tell me what ‘art buyers are going to be interested in’ (and they constantly do), the darker the work will become, perhaps … It’s not about being contrary or offensive. It’s about creative freedom and drawing what I love. I have a natural affinity for spooky stuff. Always have.
Do you have a standard creative process, or is it different with every piece?
Well, I always have my sketchbook with me. Most of my little art seeds are planted in there. A finished artwork may come about as the result of a tiny sketch in the corner of a page which I never planned to go anywhere with, or I may start doodling with a painting, sculpture or animation in mind. I have done whole short animations based around one little drawing/idea in my sketchbook. I really need to work at a piece too. They rarely come easily from my mind onto canvas or whatever. Oh, and I always work to music.
What sort of an effect has travel and living abroad had on your belief system(s)?
There is one answer which springs to mind, I guess (I’m hoping I haven’t misunderstood the meaning of belief system). I would describe myself as spiritual. I believe that I am open minded as well. I had previously entertained the idea that maybe Buddhism could be for me. I visited a beautiful Buddhist temple at the top of a hill overlooking a lake in Korea last year. My observations made me look into Buddhism a little further. However, I found I couldn’t identify with the Buddha at all. He experienced every indulgence and then great hardship on his journey to reach nirvana, and I know that I never will. I realised that I don’t actually feel the need to achieve a complete state of bliss either… I grew up in paradise.
Is there a piece of art or blog entry on your site that you are most proud of?
Hmmm. Since I can’t decide on one I’ll say no. There are a few I’m very proud of for different reasons.
Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.
I would like to visit Russia (Actually, I would love to go to Europe – I have never been). I would like to visit Mexico again (I feel I didn’t give it a decent chance the last time and didn’t see enough).
Do you believe in God?
I believe in God. I don’t believe every story I hear or read. And I cannot believe in businesses that profit from claiming to be a way of communicating with God. I believe that knowing God really comes down to an appreciation for the gift of life.
One of the things that I miss about New Zealand is fish and chips, or fush un chups in our delightful accent. I do presently live in a tourist town by the sea and can eat very fresh and delicious fish and chips if I take a short walk out to the cliff, but to my mind, that is not real, pukka fish and chips – not that of my memories, at least.
I don’t know if every Kiwi has a fish and chips memory that romantically sticks in the mind, but I certainly do. It was one of those great, hope-filled Friday evenings of childhood – with a whole weekend of sun and bikes and whatever you wanted ahead – and I was about six or seven. The whole family was still living at home in Tokoroa. My oldest brother Ed told me that somehow I had more pocket money saved than anyone else in the family had disposable income, so the bill for this week’s jaunt to the local takeaway was on me. This was a cause for great excitement. I could provide for the whole family! (How the mighty have fallen.)
I went down with Ed and maybe my mum or my dad, I can’t quite remember. Mrs Ransley greeted us as we entered. She taught at the school I had went to but owned our local fish and chip shop and worked it – overalls, apron and all – in the evenings. After we placed the order, I watched my brother play spacies (coin-operated video games) until it was ready. I paid, full of pride, and we took it home.
Unwrapping the newspaper, we met with an unfamiliar sight. Fish and chips are usually jumbled together – a bed of chips with pieces of fish, hot dogs, donuts etc arranged around/on top of it – but Mrs Ransley knew us all personally and had added a personal touch: she’d organized the whole meal into five little parcels, one for each of us, all labelled by first name. I eagerly grabbed mine and took it to the living room to watch TV, ripping a corner off the parcel through which to extract steaming pieces of potato, soggy and delicious.
Much to my embarrassment, I didn’t actually enjoy fish in really any form until I left NZ just three and a half years ago – first Japan opened my mind to sushi, then Kerala to meen curry and meen fry – so my little parcel probably contained a hot dog and chips. Never mind.
As I say, these were not great chips. They were not crispy, golden, perfect jacket wedges like you would get at some expensive boutique fish and chip shop nowadays. They came from a frozen packet, as did the fish fillets, and were deep fried to hell and back. They constituted the kind of grease-heavy meal that, upon finishing, you would think, “I’m never eating that again”. But it was so exciting – that Friday night reward at the end of a week of school, or a special treat whenever we went to the beach. The fish, if I had it, was generally pretty tasteless and improved vastly by a vat of tomato sauce.
It’s not the taste of the food that I remember, though – it’s the feeling of unwrapping that parcel in the living room or by the sand, tapping into the thrill of opening a gift at the same time as being allowed to eat food that is bad for you. Maybe that’s what I miss – that nostalgia-tinted memory of a simple childhood joy – and not the fish and chips themselves. That feeling never quite dies away completely, though. As those boutique shops replace the Mrs Ransleys of this world, it’s harder to recapture, but if I get to return to NZ this summer, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to find it.
Paprika (2006, dir. Satoshi Kon): This fine director’s last film as usual demonstrates his metaphysical insights, this time on the nature of dreams and reality, and uses the potential of animation to create art that really wouldn’t be possible in any other medium. Vastly superior to that other dreams-within-dreams movie that came out earlier this year, give this a chance and be prepared to just go along with the ride… understanding everything isn’t absolutely crucial. Recommended.
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black: I don’t know exactly why I never gave this a go before; probably my distrust of anything too popular. Well, it’s tragic, artful, beguiling and flat-out incredible. Her songwriting is raw but very poetic, and she has this incredibly captivating swagger and charisma. There are a couple of more filler-ish tracks, but they’re still good, and the highlights – like ‘Rehab’, ‘You Know I’m No Good’ and ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ – just have me sitting and shaking my head in astonishment. Jools Holland said she has one of the best voices of anyone of all time, and he knows what he’s talking about. Essential.
Since the previous Indian English lesson brought a greater response than expected, The NRI has decided to schedule a second lesson – starting now. After the freeform approach of the first class, let’s try and be a little more focused this time. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and make comments at the end of the lesson.
To get you back into the spirit, let’s complete a brief exercise. In the following passage, there are a number of examples of Indian English we learned last time. Identify them.
‘Kind Madam/Sir, details of concerned products would be arriving in your mail today itself. Orders for Green Bay Packers Hand Glove should be filled at the earliest as product is likely to get over quickly due to demand. Deadline for all orders is by 3:00 PM Friday. Kindly do the needful.’
Last week, I dissed NBC’s new sitcom ‘Outsourced’ for being inaccurate, unfunny and offensive, but said I’d give it one last chance with the third episode. And you know what? Everything turned out better than expected!
It was true to life. Virtually all the characters behaved in recognisable – and interesting – ways. The cross-cultural interactions make sense, as do the intra-cultural ones, even if the show’s basis in American culture and humour means that the dialogue rushes by a bit faster than is natural and some outlandish scenarios are thrown up. Still, those less believable moments are made funny and interesting by good writing and performances. The rest of it seems pretty much right on the mark. All the characters are really growing into themselves now that they each have some space in which to do so, and they are all great to watch.
It was funny. Jokes! Funny jokes! After the cringe-filled disaster of the first two episodes, I was delighted to find myself chuckling throughout. There are several memorable lines – “I just wanted to inform you that Gurpreet is making a personal call”; “There’s no unsubscribing”; “Again… you are not my equals” – and they are crafted into some excellent, laugh-out-loud scenes. The moment in which Todd and Charlie decide to step out onto the dancefloor was classic, and the whole dinner date was hilarious. This was my biggest problem with the first two episodes: the lack of decent humour made the show a chore to sit through. This time around, it was genuinely entertaining.
It was completely respectful and inoffensive (almost). At last, America was removed from the pedestal. Todd was shown to be sometimes a bit of an asshole and Charlie bumbled his way awkwardly through all of his interactions with Tanya, and on the Indian side, the show gave simple, knowing insights into (among other things) the idea of arranged marriage in India and didn’t try to tear any of them down. One problem: Tanya, the token white girl (who also happens to be Australian), is a total nymphomaniac. She’s not above shoving foot into crotch under the table or dropping ludicrously broad innuendos in the street. While this is a stereotype that is occasionally true, it really didn’t need perpetuating.
That makes for one bum note in an otherwise very enjoyable 20 minutes of television. I will definitely be tuning in for the next episode. Things are looking up!