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Babel

Constant is the Rain

Constant Book
Praise for Constant is the Rain

“Relentless pessimism about the state of the nation infuses Sexton’s … accomplished poetry and short fiction … The title piece, about hard life and untimely death in the ghetto, introduces the book’s dark atmosphere: ‘Being and begetting, struggling and/ enduring … as gunfire crackles and sirens wail/ and her fate is sealed with coffin nails.’ Sexton’s characters – Nowhere Men as much as Everymen – are war veterans, hobos, sex workers, and blue-collar employees facing job losses … His settings are urban wastelands. In ‘The Penworn Papers’ an impoverished artist recalls his degenerate life … in ‘The Gift,’ a Jewish satire redolent of Shalom Auslander, a young man reverts to emptiness in his old age … The palette is Edward Hopper’s, the ironic tone O. Henry’s. ‘Our Town’ playfully affirms Thornton Wilder’s morbid vision through gloomy imagery. The poems (are) rich with alliteration, internal rhymes, assonance and puns … They have broader application, universalizing human depravity …Sexton’s talent for social commentary and character sketching marks him as – in a title he gives a character in ‘Chop Suey’ – the Modigliani of the Mean Streets”

Kirkus Reviews

“Earnest and emotional, Constant is the Rain embraces desperation in tone, subject, and even in diction. A yearning for meaning in a nonsensical world comes to shape much of the text, forming the image of a people and a country existing without any defined meaning.
“Sexton’s poetry generally forms isolated scenes of hardship and makes up the bulk of the work. ‘Like crucifixion crosses dangling weary ghosts,/ the telephone poles along the lost roads of America/ flash past me.’ These images, producing small segments of reality, combine to show the complete picture of a fragmented people looking for solace in a world of hard truths. From the individual seeking understanding to the drug addict seeking a reprieve from existence, the characters are … easily recognizable and empathetic figures.
“Complimenting Sexton’s poetry is not only prose but his artwork … most impressive about the prose … is the continued attention to detail in diction and syntax … the result is a work accessible to all … that imparts a feeling that is for the people rather than simply about them.”

Alex Franks
Foreward Reviews

    Immigration is not a crime

    I am fortunate enough to live in a country that has made rapid strides in poverty alleviation over the last few decades, and if I wanted to move out of India, the reasons would be no different from why Western expatriates (a posher word for short term immigrants) look for jobs in emerging Asian countries. It would essentially be a combination of better pay, an opportunity to learn a new language and be a part of a new culture, and just to experience some new kind of adventure.

    However, I will be the last person on earth to judge those who are trying to escape poverty, strife and violence and start a new life in another country, even if they are going on rickety fishing boats. Sure, mass immigration to a country with large unemployment and depleting resources is not the best scenario for either the immigrant or the host nation. But then, these people whether they are Latin Americans trying to sneak in to the United States, or Africans and Arabs looking for a better life in Europe or Burmese refugees trying to reach Malaysia, essentially what they’re doing is no different from what Europeans did for centuries.

    Europeans invaded North America and built the country on the enslavement of one race and the genocide of another. Where was the legality there? Or for their invasions of South America and Australia? Was colonisation legal? Did the British, Dutch and Portuguese ask the Indians, Indonesians and indigenous people of Brazil for permission to come in live, loot and oppress?

    The present world order was set by the very same people who broke every tenet of decency when they dominated the world.

    I am of the firm belief that African people should overthrow their Western-backed dictators and focus on building their own nations. Right policies can lead to a revival in Africa, much on the lines of what happened in Asia. But, labelling everyone who is in search of a better life as a criminal simply disgusts me. If we’re going to use this as a yardstick, we might as well stop glorifying people like Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

    Tailpiece:

    Asia was doing fine enough before the Europeans came here on a “civilising mission” and introduced the concepts of identity cards and the nation state.

     

     

     

      Russian hospitality needs to be experienced to be believed

      A family I once knew in Sakhalin (an island in the Russian Pacific Coast) spoke to me about the first time they hosted a couple of foreign business associates for dinner. This was in the late 1990s when the country had just begun to recover from chronic food shortages and a few years after people had to queue just to get some bread. Despite not being very well off, the family managed to get the best local seafood, good Bulgarian wine and other delicacies to make their English visitors feel comfortable. The guests, who were on lucrative contracts with oil giants, gifted the family two packets of biscuits!

      Before judging these guests from the UK, it’s important to understand that there are strong cultural factors behind this kind of behavior. Russians tend to have more vivid and meaningful relationships with friends and excessive individualism hasn’t largely swallowed Russian society outside of Moscow. In the so-called West, for many, an emphasis on this individualism has made them thrifty. This is also reflected in the way, Europeans tend to be far more conservative spenders while on vacation compared to the Russians.

      Just like Indians believe in the concept of Atithi Devo Bhava- the guest is God, Russians traditionally consider guests providers of good luck. There is certain logic to this kind of thinking as in most cases guests bring enthusiasm and positive energy. I particularly enjoy taking my guests around town since I always get some fresh perspective on where I live and manage to see things in a different light.

      Russian society is very much open and people are often curious to know those from strange and exotic lands. I could fill up hundreds of pages writing about experiences on interactions with hosts and even strangers on long-distance trains that led to meaningful and long-term friendships, but one particular experience stands out.

      It was the summer of 2003 and I decided travel with two friends from Sakhalin to St Petersburg by (ferry and then) train. We had around 21 hours of transit in a town called Vanino in the Khabarovsk territory. The small town is pretty and is surrounded by hills with views of the Tatar Strait, but we felt there was little else to write home about.

      In the afternoon, while sunbathing by the river, a friend of ours went to have a conversation with a local. He asked the lady whether there were any waterfalls in the nearby hills. After laughing at his question, she asked where we were from and when he mentioned that it was two Sakhaliners and an Indian (all of us in were in our early-20s at that time), she offered to show us some places in the town and its outskirts. She drove us up hills from where there were the most stunning sea views and then took us to a local outdoor sports club, where she giggled as she introduced friends to a visitor from India out of all places. We were honestly overwhelmed with the hospitality and the kindness of the person who was a total strange hours earlier.

      Of course, this was in “another world,” a place where the Internet was still developing and there was no social media or smartphones. We did manage to stay in touch for several years after this chance encounter. Vanino and nearby Sov Gavan turned from pretty yet unexciting towns at the end of the Russian mainland to beautiful and cultured places where people lived quite but interesting lives.

      Contact with strangers comes with its own risks in this day and age, but then sometimes your own intuition can be a great guide.

      I also witnessed great hospitality when visiting cousins and grandparents of friends in smaller Russian towns and cities. What was really touching was the way the family members of these warmly embraced me like I was one of their own.

      One of the keys to really enjoying a more unique Russian experience is to learn the language. English is not even close to being widely spoken outside of Moscow and St Petersburg and there are generations of cultured, well-readand sophisticated people who know so much more about India and its traditions than many of us know about Russia. Of course, I have seenfriendships conquer the language barrier with people somehow finding a way to communicate despite not being under the influence of alcohol.  Being fluent in Russian is the best way to really build strong relationships in the country and also to be part of a society that is open, welcoming and embracing.

      A version of this article was published in the Russia & India Report

        Aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake

        The world greeted the news about Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and claimed more than 2000 lives (and destroyed cultural treasures in the Kathmandu Valley), with absolute horror. This was unfortunately a disaster waiting to happen.

        I first visited the Kathmandu Valley in 2004, when the country was in the midst of a Maoist insurgency that finally ended up toppling the monarchy. Although there were many tourists in the country, the infrastructure was decent enough at the time to manage the numbers. The air in the Nepalese capital was clean and the now-infamous tourist ghetto of Thamel was actually a relaxed place where tired trekkers cooled off their heels and adventurers waited their Tibet permits.

        Fast forward to October 2014…I was horrified at what I saw when  returned to the valley after a 10-year gap. Thamel had been over-developed to death. It was a congested tourist ghetto where buildings sprang up in every corner and the roads, without sidewalks, grew narrower.  The effects of commercial tourism were visible everywhere: over-crowding, a 20-fold rise in the cost of just about everything and a new industry of scam artists to con unsuspecting tourists.

        The air was smoggy and the pollution levels were much closer to what they are in Delhi. As I travelled to villages and the countryside, I noticed the excessive development that was wrecking havoc with nature.  Trekkers told me of their counterparts dumping plastics and other garbage on the once virgin hillsides.  Deforestation ruled the day and mountains were losing their green cover and slowly becoming barren.

        Like in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where overdevelopment and deforestation thanks to the religious tourism industry lead to major floods, Mother Nature struck back in Nepal.

        The greatest tragedy no doubt is the loss of life and homes. However, the world has lost some historic and architectural gems as well.  The wonderful and imposing palace squares in Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, which showed the best of Pagoda Architecture (something that spread to South India and Korea, China and Japan), have been destroyed. No matter what kind of efforts are made to restore them, the squares with such magnificent temples will never be the same again.

         

          Oh Calcutta!

          Crumbling heritage buildings, a communist legacy, buses and automobiles from the 1950s…It’s no wonder that some call you the Havana of India. For more than 30 years, the ‘City of Joy’ stood still and stayed in a time warp as the rest of India moved on and entered the age of globalisation.

          Now, however, the last bastion of the Left has fallen to the capitalists and multinationals. Your antiquated streets are getting filled with Dominoes, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and the likes.  The cars are flashier and there is a genuine attempt to rid you of those cute 1950s buses! It, however, does look like the rickety trams of yesteryear will stay.

          So what’s better for you? To stay a living museum that we outsiders can visit and admire before going back to our normal lives? Or for you to catch up with the modernisation bandwagon?

          Maybe a middle path will suit you a la Vienna?

          The traditionalist in many of us dream of a Calcutta with restored old buildings, but cured of its excessive poverty. A city where all things new can make their presence felt albeit not at the expense of past glories.

          Changes happen, but you still stay the friendliest city in all of India. Never change that about yourself!

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