Thursday, November 29, 2012

Monday, 26 November: Mumbai Madness!


Thankfully, Scholastic changed my ticket from 5:30am Monday morning to the night before, so I was able to arrive, settle in, and actually get a night of sleep.  The Residency Hotel is upscale bourgeoisie but so much so that style sometimes bludgeons sense.  The bathroom, for instance, has all glass walls, so not only are you in grave danger any moment of face-planting into a floor-to-ceiling glass door or glass wall, but your options for having guests, spouses, friends, lovers, groupies, floppers, and flappers (who might need to heed nature’s call) is limited to those said guests, spouses, friends, lovers, groupies, floppers, and flappers whom you might not mind seeing hunched on the pot.  And that, at least for me, is a limited set indeed.
**since writing this, I've been told that there may have been a screen to pull down... I'm obviously not clever enough to figure these things out.**

But to return to matters of more meat, Monday was the beginning of a more intense school visit phase: three schools today, three tomorrow (with Sampurna Chattarji, yipyee!); and then in Calcutta, one day with only one special event (more on that later), and then a day with two and a day with three school visits.  And so off I went with Mohana Krishnana my Scholastic Mumbai Beatrice, to the first of three: the SM Shetty International School, in Powai.

SM Shetty International School

Scholastic seems to find it wise to send me to somewhat more internationally-minded schools, which in some ways is quite nice.  The students are sharp and willing to interact freely, without the trepidation that comes sometimes with too much stern discipline.  They also tend to have the skills to appreciate nonsense; that is, they are well-read, and their command of English is such that they can pick out the sense from the non-sense.  These groups are more comfortable getting a bit crazier in a school setting—and it’s therefore easier for me.  Still, I wonder how the set would work with different children, from less-advantaged backgrounds.  Of course, they have just as much nonsense in them—but how to access it, especially in a cross-cultural, cross-class experience… I suppose I won’t find out on this trip at least. 

Here are a few more shots from Billabong High, in Santz Cruz, and Ecole Mondial, in Juhu.  Thank you to all the schools for welcoming me in and letting me loose!
Ecole Mondial Madness!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday 24 November: Bookaroo!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

And so we come to one of the major reasons why I have to come to India now, squink in the middle of a bleeding semester: the fifth Bookaroo Festival of Children’s Literature in New Delhi!

On Saturday, since I had caught a cold, I actually stayed home for much of the day—but I dragged myself and my croaky extra-baritone boomboxvox out to do the doings.  I arrived in time to see much of Sampurna Chattarji’s session, dealing with her new YA book Ela, which showed a serious side to the festival amongst what can often be easy silly pandering to children. 

After several years, it was lovely to meet up again with Sampurna—who had been so instrumental in making The Tenth Rasa happen those years ago, with her incredible translations and her own kheyaal rawsh.  We have since had a few nonsensical adventures, and I was pleased as a syllabub sea that we would be sharing the session for this day.

Here are a few shots from our joint session.  I suppose we might have turned on a few nonsense lights this day--as the book sold out, both Saturday and Sunday!  

Sampurna and The Bong Tree!

Some of the students who saw me at my school visits found me at Bookaroo!

Thursday, November 22, 2012: JNU Nonsense Lecture

The event of note today was a visit to JNU (Jawaharlal Neru University) for a talk on nonsense.  My connection to JNU goes way back to Aradhana Bisht and her uncle Pushpesh Pant—the very two lovely loons who inspired “Bisht-Bosht Mudpies,” one of the poems in This Book Makes No Sense.  This time around, I was contacted by one of the Brave New Newminous Nonsense Noodles, Anurima Chanda, who is just finishing up a Master’s degree on----Indian nonsense literature!  Without the benefit of easy access to nonsense scholarship or nonsense scholars, and with some of the typical institutional prejudice against nonsense literature, she has managed to blaze a trial here, and for that, I sing her hozzannahs and zing her zazzonnas!  I helped Anurima a bit with her research, and she was kind enough to put me in touch with the Centre for English Studies, where Professor Saugata Bhaduri, the Centre’s Head, arranged a lecture.

And so skipped in I, with my bushels of bosh, whistling a merry kazoon, to be welcomed by the Rusticated Religiously Regulatory Registry of Rasa-gollas (known as the RRRRR), the grand and grumpy school of truly gifted aesthetes.  The RRRRR let it be Known that there was no such thing as the Tenth Rasa, that it was impossible, that the mere idea of it purplified them!  You see, since the ninth rasa, that of shanti or peace, is meant to contain them all, there simply couldn’t be a tenth. Such fizzdom!  Of course, Sukumar Ray, and many million Bengalis, might have a thing or two by say by way of a response…  After decided declamations of purplification, the students finally had the chance to ask a question or two, and much fun and nonsense was made.  Many thanks to Professor Bhaduri, the students of JNU, the RRRRR, and Anurima.

Exploring nonsense around the world is indeed often a perilous undertaking—especially when some Orientalist (tee-hee) foreigner comes in with his Bosh Blunderbuss, telling unsuspecting folks that some of their ancient and honorable artistic traditions might participate in a bit of nonsense.  Oh the hubbub!  Of course, the hubbub only lasts until one understands exactly (or, well, as best we can) what a truly magnificent, trans-continental, and kingly title “nonsense” really is. 

And as Blake (a true nonsense genius—just read his “An Island in the Moon”) once put it, “I have also The Bible of Nonsense, which the world shall have whether they will or no.”  Or something like that.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, 21 November--Maxfort School, Dwarka

Wednesday, 21 November

Another day, another school visit!  This time, I headed out with Himanjali as Beatrice to the Maxford School, a newer institution in the Delhi area with several locations.  It took us quite a while to find it as we rolled through some frustratingly ubiquitous Delhi streets, but time is wibbly, and so it wasn’t a problem when we arrived a bit late.

After a quick chat in the Director’s office, we were whisked away to a huge covered amphitheater, chock full with what must have been around 500 students in their red and tan uniforms.  As I approached the stage I was greeting with a few rousing cheers--and then repeatedly buffeted with chants of my name!  My goodness!

I did what is now becoming a regular set—with a few tweaks here and there as to how to explain nonsense. "The Bathing Hymn" and "I've Got a Teacher, She's So Mean" are becoming the go-to gold. A wireless mic let me do a bit of crowdsurfing. 

Nonsense Faces!  Click to see the kids...
Tea and bikkies afterwards with a few of the school officials… everyone was very kind, and the students hopefully were indoctrinated into the rebellious and mysterious ways of nonsense!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

British School Babel!

Because one of the potential school visits did not happen today, my take-off time was moved to 11:30, meaning that I was able to sleep in… which, in my current state of jetleggedlaggedness, meant waking up at 5am.  Alas.

After a rousing gobi paratha with ginger pickle breakfast (far, far from Cornflakes Land (or even Cornflex Land, as it sometimes is spelled here)), I was whisked away by another Scholastic Beatrice, this time Shailee, a Marketing maven.  We cabbed it to Chanakyapuri, the ritzy district full of wide, leafy lanes and huge consulates and embassies.  (It was here, about ten years ago, that I went to a Fourth of July party at the American Embassy, where I found to my surprise not only real beef hamburgers, but an entire baseball stadium within the embassy compound.  Figures, eh?)  We headed to the British School, which is housed in the British Embassy.  I was led in and around and up and down, until we came to the school, and the teacher’s lounge—where I met many pretty, personable pakora-bearing pedagogues, and also a passel of grandparents, as it happened to be “bring your grandparents to school day.”  When they asked if there was anything I needed for the performance, I requested a chair, a glass of water, and a pony.  After tea and bikkies (and much more), we went to the venue, where about 80 children were seated on the floor (classes 3, 4, and 5)—and as I walked through to set up, they sent up a hearty cheer!  Huzzah!
It was a diverse crowd—with many flavors of Indians, along with ex-pat children from around the world.

The set was longer today--about an hour and a half.  I started with Sarita Padki’s “The Bathing Hymn” (sure-fire favorite!).
Because this piece is me, pretending to meditate and chant prayers—but all in the service of taking a bath—the children find it hilarious and outrageous.  Such spiritual subversion!  I went through superheroes and other things from yesterday—but added a few more—like “Chandrabumps,” a hilarious story by Kaushik Viswanath about a fellow who can’t seem to keep his pants on.  The story ends with the hero asking questions of his own pants… and so this segment ended with the children telling me questions they ask their pants—and how their pants respond.  We made portmanteau nonsense words together about school, and I also threw in some throat singing for good throaty measure.  One of the children said he knew Tuvan, but I have my doubts!
A story about huge tracts of land, apparently

The kids were great—and it was nice to have a somewhat more intimate experience than yesterday.  I’m still waiting for my pony.

After the event, we went back to the staff room for more food and tea and a roundtable discussion on the virtues of nonsense.  The gospel continues to spread!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nonsense arrives at DPS 45 School!

Nothing like meeting a fully fuliginous 4am to stimulate the stomata!  It’s a big day, but I had no idea how big it would be… {cue harp run}

A heaping plate of aloo-stuffed parathas went some way in alleviating jetlag, and soon I was whisked off by Himanjali Sankar, one of the This Book editors at Scholastic, to the DPS Sector 45 school in Gurgaon.

DPS Sector 45 School
As we approached, the massive structure (and this photo is just a tiny corner of the compound) I noted a dull roar, a writhing soundcloud of jeers and cheers, chatting and splatting: the  multitude of a massive public school.  Himanjali and I wandered about through courtyards and passageways packed with chatty chirpy uniformed kids until we were told to hang a right at the Gandhiji, to find our hosts.  After a quick tea, I was escorted into an enormous auditorium, every seat filled with a bright and squirming 9-year-old.  Each and every of the 600 or so seats.  As I stood with gob falling on shoe, holding my guitar and bag, I was announced.  I dropped my bags, walked to the podium, and spoke gravely into the mic:  “Nonsense!”  I may have said a few other words, after which I ran over to set up…

The show soon began, starting in a spiritual vein with Sarita Padki’s “The Bathing Hymn.” “Om” I intomed, and when I chanted “haveum bathum namaha” the crowd giggled.  The kids knew it was a joke, but the teachers panicked, fanning out into the crowd to suppress the laughter at such a deeply spiritual moment.  Even the teachers caught on, however, and the session began with a laugh.  I went through my brand new set list, with Samit Basu’s superhero poems, and They Might Be Giants’ song “Particle Man,” my “Bisht-Bosht Mudpies,” a little tutorial on nonsense and school subversion using the Appendix/Alice mash-up at the end of the book, followed by Barry Louis Polisar’s song “I’ve Got a Teacher, She’s So Mean.”
They mainly laughed where there were supposed to, and participated fully in chanting “Awk nok diddy wok, dicky picky poo!” (the phrase I still remember from my elementary days, though I think it was my brother and not I who saw Polisar do that song).  And so I learn: trust kids and nonsense.

We all filed out, and I had a quick tea before being escorted back into the auditorium to do it all over again for the next class… another 580 students. The second go-round I think was even more solid, and afterwards, as the children filed out, one asked me to sign his hand.  I did.  Then another asked me to sign his paper. I did.  And then another.  And then, within thirty seconds, it was a flurry of bits of paper and flailing appendages— I had to shimmy up the stage as the teachers shooed them away. The teachers apologized, saying the children were not supposed to do that, but I was just glad that they seemed to appreciate a little nonsense!

Sunday 18 November--First Day

While I will do my best to spare you the flotsam and jetsam of my trip, I take the liberty of chipping in a nonsense nugget now and then.  And so... my first full day in Gurgaon, a suburb outside of New Delhi, where massive modern steel and glass skyscrapers meet the mud.  How d’ye do? How d’ye do?  I present here a “Touching Moment,” and perhaps a little nonsensical.  For lunch, Sayoni and Paul (my most magnanimous, munificent, and mutton-bearing hosts) brought me to Delhi Heights, which is neither very high nor in Delhi, where we were seated near an impressive keyboard, behind which was an even more impressive dude with a massively impressive pony tail, and himpostrously impressive soul patch.  He appeared to be singing and playing to Men At Work’s “Down Under,” but then we realized that the keyboard was a sham—and that he was actually hired as a professional karaoke singer.  Here he is:

We spent lunch being serenaded by the greatest hits from the 80s, in full soul patchy, pony-taily, karaokey glory.  But I think my favorite part is the poor fellow at the table there, looking at turns grumpy, and confused, and grumpy. At our table, we were anything but...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It begins blearily in Amsterdam... New Delhi or Bust!

What better place to rest my flippers and conkimplate the crockery than here at a Mad Tea Party at Schiphol Airport.  I’ve not had a moment to spare in the last few days, and so finally I begin this latest leg (surely at least an octopod or dodecapod by now) of the Nonsense Way.

For those just tuning in, I’m beginning a little tour in India for my new book, This Book Makes No Sense: Nonsense Poems and Worse—just out now through Scholastic.  It’s long in coming, longer in humming, and extrapolatedly belated, considering that this kind of book is more or less what I had wanted to do way back when my teeth were less long, well nigh on eleven donkey’s ears ago, when dastardly Penguinish forces steered me away from a book primarily for children.  I can’t complain about The Tenth Rasa, but I never did get around to doing a children’s nonsense book.  So here I am, different publisher, different dhoti (thankfully), same pair of shoes—with a book filled with nonsense poems and stories by some of the top nonsense dogs of India, and some very good eggs (dogeggs?), like Sampurna Chattarji, Anushka Ravishankar, Samit Basu, Kaushik Viswanath (to name a few!), the ever-tubular translation talents of Anita Vaccharajani, plus a special guest appearance by none other than Jonaraja, aka JonArno Lawson, the Prince of Protopappadums.  And it's all topped off with Priya Kuriyan's amazing illustrations. It’s a Floyal Rush, if ever a whever a Wiz there was!  And this time around I managed to fling a few of my own nonsense falafels, including some poems and an Alice mash-up that teaches the younguns how to write nonsense and subvert authority with both hands and extra kapow.  The book is out in India now—but not available out of India, unfortunately.  I hope that may change at some point.
So the trip in a nutshell… I’m flying in to New Delhi, where I’ll be staying in the airy climes of Platypus Books (S. Basu, A. Ravishankar Proprietors) the newest hippest publisher of children’s books.  In Delhi, my primary target is the Bookaroo children’s book festival, where I’m doing a session with my nonsense partner of yore, Sampurna Chattarji.  Connected to Bookaroo and also separately through Scholastic, I’ll be visiting several schools, performing pieces from the new book, from The Tenth Rasa, from Jethro Tull, from They Might Be Giants, from Barry Louis Polisar, and anything else I can mustard up and catsup down.  I’m then off to Mumbai and Calcutta, to visit more schools.  My goal is to start what I’m calling the Indian Spring, a nonsense revolution.  Huzzah!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This Tour Makes No Sense: Stay Tuned!

My dear Nonsensettes,

Tune in to this station as I blog my latest Indian adventures... all in support of my new book, This Book Makes No Sense: Nonsense Poems and Worse, which features the delightful talents of many...  I'll begin Friday, November 16 and end around December 1st.  Here we go!

Yours nonsense nubbin,

Scrabble of the Gods