Tipping the Velvet

It begins slowly

at first.

And then, there is a slithering pause

after which

only an explosion

up the thighs,

and then behind the ears.

Nobody dares to leave the neck behind –

that’s why it was made in the first place–

to feel goosebumps of velvet,

tipping the eyelids into a well-

now closing,

now opening.

 

London

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet took me around a London that was a lot more fierce than the London in The Paying Guests or even in Fingersmith. When Kitty and Nan see London from the window of their carriage, I saw a London that was distant and hungry. It suddenly felt like I was reading a lot more Dickens and less Waters. I cared more for Whitstable than London. By the end of it all, I wanted the damn oysters back.

Even so, the London in Tipping the Velvet left a lot to be desired. Which is why I spent all of last Sunday riding quite high on London mania. I finally watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. After recovering from drooling all over Andie MacDowell, I watched Peter Ackroyd’s documentary on London. For an hour and a half, I was zapped by London and its history. I took particular interest in all of London’s great fires.I kept wanting to begin writing about my trip to London but it still seems like I am not ready.

Over a cup of mushroom soup and a mug of tea, I watched London in its finest black and white form. In his deep fascination with London, Peter Ackroyd acknowledges how cities become strangers and then people. But they become people who will always remain that little bit strange, that little bit mysterious. They will lure you into their stories, seduce you with their history but they will never be able to tell you exactly what happened on those streets.

I remember getting off a mini-bus in Kurukshetra ten years ago and wondering if the mud was really red because of the war. It is the same fascination I saw when Ackroyd stands on the oldest street in London and calls it so. Virginia Woolf too, writes maddeningly about a London that she grew up in — that she is not satisfied by, because she is convinced she will never fully learn its streets or its scars.

In Arts & Culture one day, a student asked me which my favourite area in the city was. I didn’t have to think much because before I knew it, the long, snake and laddery streets of Cottonpet came zooming back to me.

You’ve Got Mail

My fascination with London has grown after Tipping the Velvet. Like always, Sarah Waters has left me craving for London – the city, its streets, its history, its bridges and its theaters. I cannot bring myself to write about visiting London last year, something seems miserably amiss every time I attempt a description of its big red buses and big red post boxes.

When I was done, I looked up and smiled like I always smile after finishing a book. I can imagine most people doing this. But moments after I had finished reading this, I leapt at Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s The story of a Widow.

I don’t know if it was Sarah Waters’ doing or Farooqi’s but between these two, I find that I have become very susceptible to words. The Story of a Widow has me by my balls. It’s a simple story told even more simply. So much so that I can imagine how writing it must have been annoyingly difficult. The portrait of the dead husband is funny, yes but told so unmarquez-ly that it is refreshing. I am halfway through the book and very often, I don’t even notice the page I am at.

In the middle of this, I have rediscovered what a little delight You’ve Got Mail is. Meg Ryan is my dream woman. Everything she says or does in the movie, I want to say and do. My London madness lent its energy to salivating at New York. I loved everything about the movie, from its little coffee shops to how unbelievable Tom Hanks looks and Meg Ryan’s hair and sweaters and home and books and the little walk she takes every morning to work.

Somewhere in my head, many Meg Ryans are living my life for me in London. The coffee shop scene where Ryan and her boyfriend break up in the most convenient yet totally believable way had me smile endlessly.

I liked how the movie teased us, teased Meg Ryan till the very end–. After falling in love with her all over again, it felt as though I deserved to see her watch Tom Hanks striding towards her in the garden to finally reveal himself. I just checked to recall if I am sober as I have had to check very many times this week, and it turns out, yes – I am sober. You’ve Got Mail is stunning.

Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests

I finished reading The Paying Guests today. Sarah Waters is a delight. I am afraid of saying very much now because I finished reading it only minutes ago and I don’t know how much of what I say is going to be out of pure admiration for the writing and how much, out of my own fascination with what the book took from me: Time, thoughts, energy, conversations. When we claim to like a book, isn’t it odd to separate the liking from our closeness to ourselves?

Before I start talking out of my ass, I must quickly get to why I liked reading Sarah Waters. It’s how she wove the house from scratch. Its importance to the plot may have been central, grotesque even. But I was carried away by how much the house was like Frances herself. Her movements in the house, her chores and eventually having to watch her endlessly prop one wall after the other to keep the house from falling. Her nightmares were real. And she showed me that.

My back straightened with caution everytime I read her descriptions about the abortion. It was far more exciting to read than the sex bits. Not that I didn’t change postures while reading the sex bits. I remember a time when reading took a lot of effort. I had to tell myself repeatedly that I must make an effort or I will never be able to finish it. I was nasty with some of this book’s predecessors, impatient and shifting maniacally from laptop to phone to book and then eventually to sleep itself. I think this book taught me how to read, in its own limited way along with everything else it did. I am patient with prose now, in a way that welcomes constant shuffling back of pages to mark a word, a metaphor, the yellow ink leaving its trail on sentences that I know I will not go back to but I marked, nevertheless.

But so much of reading is also rereading but I doubt I’ll get to that any time soon. Having learnt to read only now, it’s an ugly ambition to think of rereading. I don’t know if I have it in me. I am still warming up to the idea of reading closely.

What I remember also is how I managed to get irritated with Lilian more than I want to admit now. But maybe because the ending was happy, I think I have forgiven her.

Things that I thought unreal were made real. Like spaces growing with tension and producing distance between people who want to touch each other and hold each other. And when the spaces are overcome, this is said: ‘The space between them was alive and wanted to ease itself closed’. ‘The kiss unfurled, unfolded like a bolt of rippling silk’.

I will come back to Sarah Waters, I’m sure. Meanwhile I should try out what I learnt about reading on other books to see if it works.