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The Catalogue

Always keep evidence it will make you stronger or Learning to Photograph the Personal

Nan Goldin (1953-
Nan One Month after Being Battered, NYC, 1984

Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs along the route,
entering the dark alley way behind Mr. ______,
Oh, the witch? Whatever, my story is scarier.
On their knees, folded into gimps accessorized with standard
red ball in mouth, I’m sure you’ve watched Pulp Fiction.
Gretel, of course, is Victor in his Heidi-drag.
Breadcrumbs aren’t great measures,
birds come and take them away.
We here at Koshy’s haven’t heard of H and G since then.
But lessons we have learnt from this telling:
One: No one should walk around with standard issue table tennis balls.
Two: Heidi-drag is old-fashioned.
Three: Never mingle with drag queens unless you are in drag.
And Four: Gay men carry their hearts in their umbrellas.
We do the same thing in love,
led by a leash mimicking each of our favourite females and their follies,
and bookmark them with film songs, you know, another lover will come
and take the songs away.
We’ve learnt to hide our playlists and only weep over lost umbrellas.
We have learnt to imagine everything is better than getting wet in the torrents of love. But, sometimes, even the veteran spotters of this change
can’t tell it is coming. They stand out in the midst of the action, like Isaiah
and his neighbours in the fields of Tanzania, listening in for the aerial attack,
first comes the noise, then, the advance party followed by the swarm.

The swarm of red-billed quelea, locust birds. But these coffee-shop veterans have learnt it is the excesses of conversation that are the tip-offs,
the mumbled offerings, not the rambunctious approaching of the quelea.
You must pay attention to words said just before speeding off to the urinal,
always look out for the subtext in the sentence that led to ex-lovers walking out
for a desperate or even innocent cigarette, or the roving eye to spot the person one was actually supposed to meet.
Unlike Isaiah our shouting will not dispense with this friend: love.
Even all our vigilance will not alert us to this visitor: love.
The one who will throw out your heart and then set out looking for it: love.
Look at Nan Goldin’s face, it is battered. But she makes this photograph to remind herself that love, her friend, visitor and heart-thrower will find her. Even the next time, she will follow blindly but this time, she will bargain.
Perhaps, our approach to love should be Goldin’s approach to photography:
a healing art. Love like Goldin’s photography will teach us the indulgence of self-reflection, relearning the erotic and the slippage of gender.
And we will be the changed.
No, no. He didn’t batter me. This is not the story of abuse. He left.
Stay, don’t move. Perhaps, I will come back, we will meet again, are horrible things to say. Not to specify time is just cruel. It is April. Actually, it was like all Septembers in Bangalore, it rained in the evenings, it was chilly at night and it was always sunny in the day. Except, this September, you turned around, ah, to just jump forward like Bichonnade and bite your heel.
But no, I am Dibutades, I know my place, it is to chronicle, to make etchings, be it with word. Yours is with light and you weren’t told.
My man might have left, diving into the abyss of the world, discovering newer treasures and the perfect light. But, I stayed, remembering the half-forgotten truths, the fresh lies and the incisive moment.
This History bitch, she’s quite dramatic, you look at the setting.
Me: Int/Kitchen/Dim lighting
Him: Ext/Kitchen Door/Facing darkness
Scripted by a television serial director. But everyone is hooked.
The series finale is perfect. Such a twist in the plot, ending on a bottle episode
with a cliffhanger. Does he leave? Does she convince him to stay? Why is the father in the room? Does the father represent the voyeuristic values of the average television watcher?
Spoiler Alert: If I didn’t pop my head into an oven somewhere in the series. Then, he left. I stayed. He photographed, I wrote. We kept in touch.

Joshua Muyiwa, not yet 27, started writing because he was told, ‘it is time to stop seeming arty and pretentious and actually earn the tags by doing something’. He is queer. In Bangalore, he’s either at Koshy’s drinking tea, smoking outside, drinking rum & coke at Chin Lung or working at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2013 festival office. Earlier this year, he had his Miss World moment, when he won the Toto Award for Creative Writing in English for The Catalogue, a series of poems on the history of photography and poetry told through the breakdown of a relationship between a photographer and a poet. But, mostly, he likes to imagine that he spends his time making dosas and streaming tv shows.

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Sridala Swami writes poetry, short fiction. Her first collection of poems, A Reluctant Survivor,was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award in 2008. She has written three books for very young children, which were published by Pratham in 2009. Swami was the 2011 Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at The University of Stirling, Scotland. Swami blogs at The Spaniard in the Works.

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