Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Pub Culture that We Need Urgently

Union Minister for Health and Family Affairs, Dr.Anbumoni Ramdoss is also finally against the ‘pub culture’. The ruckus on pub culture started almost a week before when a group of youngsters rushed into a pub in Mangalore, Karnataka and roughed up the boys and girls who were enjoying their drinks and friendship. The television grabs showed how these ‘morally upright’ youth physically assaulted girls and the boys who opposed the attack. These ruffians belong to a splinter right wing party called Shri Ram Sena (SRS). Pramod Muthalik, a former RSS, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena leader is behind this ‘anti-pub’ movement. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Ghelot (Congress) made a public statement that pub culture was anti-Indian. The same sentiments were expressed by the Karnataka Chief Minister, YS Yeduriappa. National Women Commission is the only agency that came out against the attack and expressed its wish to involve in the case suo moto.

So with the Union Government also endorsing the views of a former Bajrangi Dal leader, we are now left with only one option: approach the court. And we know Indian courts are famous for the slow delivery of justice. Perhaps, Indian democracy is still functional because our legal system is slow enough to let things take their own course in the name of democracy. Otherwise, in which country the judges of the courts would refuse to declare their material assets!

Now let us come back to the point. The pubs are attacked because the young people, especially the girls, go to these pubs and consume liquor, which is supposedly against the ‘true’ nature of Indian tradition and culture. I don’t know where exactly it is written in our traditional scriptures that consumption of liquor is against Indian culture. But the logic here is simple; women should not go to public. The Hindu right wing fundamentalists do not directly demand purdah system for the Hindu girls. But I am sure it is in the offing. Today it is liquor consumption. Tomorrow it is jeans and top.

The incident has happened in a place, which is a few hours drive from Bangalore, which is the IT hub of India. Also it is one of the world hubs of international IT trade. Bangalore is famous for its pub culture. That is the great Indian irony. Because of this pub culture no social problem has arisen so far in this city. In all the metro cities in India, girls and boys go to pub and this ‘tradition’ has never resulted into a social or cultural calamity. Then why now, suddenly everyone is against the pub culture?

It is an indication that we are turning into a puritan state. The government would tell us, from behind the sophisticated and silken curtains of liberalism, that we should not allow our girls to go to pubs and clubs. Then after a point of time, they would decree that the girls should not go to malls and cinema halls without accompanied by a family member. Then they would order that the girls should be seen in public places with purdahs on. Then they would make laws to punish girls seen alone in the street. Any girl could be accused of having loose morals, therefore punishable in the coming days. This is how the Talibans made their laws stringent on their citizens in Afganistan. Is India turning a Taliban state fast that too without a so called right wing government at the helm of affairs?

Dr.Anbumoni Ramdoss is famous for his anti-tobacco campaign. Now he is against liquor consuming also. But these arguments so far are done in a very abstract way. It started off as ‘anti-pub culture’. Slowly, as I said before, it will turn into ‘anti-liquor’ and ‘anti-women’. Ban on public smoking is one thing. However, ban on pub culture is another.

Pubs are a bit more liberal places where, like in a restaurant, people mind their own business. Some people would drink there and some may not. If a boy and girl drink, dance and enjoy music together, it is not going to affect anybody’s life. Altercations can spring up in pubs. But doesn’t it happen in legalized bars? Doesn’t it happen in temples, churches, holy places, streets and cinema halls? Why only pubs?

If pub culture corrupts the Indian youth, then the government of India should ban 99 per cent of the consumer items in the market. They should ban all the movies. They should ban art, literature and fashion. All these things ‘corrupt’ the young minds with ‘ideas’ than a few glasses of beer would.

We should see the larger picture of things. When the general election is round the corner, such issues would drum up the support of the conventional vote banks. Pramod Muthalik who sent his supporters to a pub in Mangalore had been an aspirant for Lok Sabha election tickets in the previous elections. He was spurned initially by the RSS, then by Shiv Sena. His reason to start his own political outfit and create this ruckus is simply for fame and publicity. He can create a vote bank for himself through such obnoxious activities.

This is what exactly what Neeraj Jain did in May 2007 by attacking the works of Chandrasekhar, a final year MFA student of the Faculty of Fine Arts MS University, Baorda. Jain was seeking an assembly election ticket and he wanted the attention of the BJP higher ups. Hence, he took up an issue with the works of Chandrasekhar. He attacked the works in the name of Hindu morality. Gujarat was about to have the assembly elections at that time and Jain thought that he would create his own constituency by creating a moral-ethical issue. Though he did not get an assembly seat to contest, he could gather enough fame and support, which he would use in the coming years.

By playing into the hands of petty politicians like Muthalik and Jain, responsible leaders like Dr.Anbumoni Ramdoss and Ashok Ghelot are doing a disservice to the country and its secular and diversified fabric. It is high time they think that we want a Taliban state or a secular democratic country where people could exercise their rights (including the right to visit a pub irrespective of gender) freely and without fear.

We need to establish more pubs and attract more young girls and boys so that we can feel that we are living in a country with an egalitarian attitude. Isolating the moral police and giving them less space in media is the best way to keep them away from repeating such acts of vandalism in future.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Villain by Default: Big B and Slumdog Millionaire

I watched this movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan on the next day the Golden Globe awards were presented to it for four different categories. I got a pirated DVD from a friend of mine, who claimed to have got it from another friend who downloaded it from a website.

I watched the Slumdog Millionaire at home, the way I once watched some porn movies. As a responsible citizen in the country, I don’t feel like watching a pirated DVD, especially when it is an unreleased movie in India.

I wanted to write about the movie right then. But for the fear of persecution by the twisted arms of law, I resisted myself. I did not want myself and my friends to get into trouble.

But then within two days the national daily, Hindustan Times ran a story on the pirated DVDs of Slumdog Millionaire selling like hot cakes in the hug of pirated goods in Delhi, Palika Bazar. One shop owner told the paper that he sold one copy of the DVD for Rs.450/- . The paper asked the trade pundits about the negative effects of such pre-released piracy. They said, it would actually ensure crowded cinema halls. There is a twisted logic in it. May be first time piracy helping a small budget movie to become a big hit. Market has different routes to success.

Then a few days back, I walked into the local DVD rental shop and the smiling teenager at the counter instantly offered me a combo version of Slumdog Millionaire with other new releases in Hindi.

Aren’t you afraid of renting out unreleased movies? I asked him.

No, it is in English. It is already released in the west. You will get the Hindi version on 24th, he told me.

There is logic in it because the Hindi version is going to be released on 23rd January 2009.

I have digressed a bit. My intention was to talk about the villain in this highly acclaimed movie.

In my opinion, Amitabh Bacchan is the villain of this movie, may be by default.

The biggest hero of Indian screen, Amitabh Bacchan (otherwise known as Big B) had criticized the makers of the movie in his blog for selling Indian poverty in/for the western world. Ever since a mayhem has erupted in the public realm. The Big B bashers are out on prowl.

Big B critiqued the western investors (Interestingly Warner Independent Pictures is the distributor of the movie in the western world) for selling Indian poverty for making profit. He has his reason to say so. But my point is different. Big B is the villain in the movie, where he appears as a cameo (a hand of an extra seen from a down angle), as a poster and as a program presenter (Kaun Banega Crorepati, an Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, presented by Big B himself) by default acted by another veteran actor Anil Kapoor.

The film starts with the young hero being tortured in a Mumbai Police station. This young boy is a chai wallah. And he answers all the questions asked by Anil Kapoor. Now he is one question away from two crore rupees. But there is a break in the shooting. Meanwhile, he is handed over to the police because Anil Kapoor doubts that this boy is a fraud. Otherwise how can a chai wallah from the Mumbai slums answer all difficult questions?

While handing over the young boy to the police, Anil Kapoor screams, ‘Bloody, it is my show.’

The show must go on. If someone wins two crores, then how the suspense of the show be on for a long time?

Big B is the real time show presenter. We don’t know whether he had ever handed over any potential contestant to the police for winning the money.

But the sub-text of the movie is this: there is a foul play in this reality quiz program. If you show excellence, and especially when you are an underdog, then you must be a fraud. You should be given to the hands of law.

Anil Kapoor fades out and Big B comes into the minds of the viewers. Something is rotten in the city of Mumbai and we smell it.

There is the final question, ‘Who has the maximum number of classy centuries in cricket?’ (I am writing from memory). There are four answers. The boy opts for A. But then he asks for his last life line ‘fifty-fifty’. A and C are erased. So we have B. Ricky Ponting and D.Jack Davie (not sure of this name). Then comes the break.

In the loo, Anil Kapoor mumbles; how this underdog can win it away from me. The boy is in the same loo, inside a closet. Anil Kapoor inscribes ‘B.’ on the mirror covered with steam from the hot water pipe. Then he walks out.

‘B.’ The capital B. Here is a suggestion for the young boy. You choose B and you win. But B could be a wrong answer. Who knows? You have to rely on your instincts.

‘B.’ Big B. Do you see that suggestion? The big villain?

But the boy opts for D and he wins.

Was the surrogate of Big B was playing a foul game? The Big B could be deceptive, we are forced to believe.

Let me cut it back to one of the flashbacks.

Here we see the young boy in a rotting makeshift toilet in Dharavi. Amitabh Bacchan comes by a helicopter and lands near the slum. The boy is still in toilet. He wants to see his super hero; the angry young man of the times. He jumps into the shit pool and covered fully in shit, he runs towards his hero and gets an autograph from him.

This is the same angry young man who betrays him later in the contest. Can you read out some connection?

This is the failed project of the angry youth of India.

The boy grows up, seeing Amitabh Bacchan’s movies and posters. He remembers all these and he answers one of the questions pertaining to Big B, just from memory.

This boy is the representative of all the underdogs who do not forget the things happened in their lives. They learn from life, and when asked, they have an answer. The issue is they are never asked for an answer.

He does not remember whose head is there in the Thousand rupees note? He does not remember because he has not seen a thousand rupees not. Even if he had seen it and remembered it, he would not have said it BECAUSE HE WAS NEVER ASKED THAT QUESTION. The question was about the head in the hundred dollar bill.

(See the irony in Idea mobile phone advertisement, where Junior B, Big B’s son Abhishek Bacchan, solves a huge policy problem by asking people for their opinion. First time the Indian underdog is asked a question because he holds a mobile!)

Big B, who once symbolically fought for the rights of the underdogs, now becomes an oppressor by default in this movie. I don’t know how many people saw this subtext.

This movie is all about the winning possibility of an Indian underdog (or underdog of anywhere in the world). But at the same time this movie is about betrayal by icons. Here we have Big B as the big betrayer. He becomes the villain of Slumdog Millionaire.

But unfortunately, Big B reiterated his villainy by commenting against the movie. That could be a providential intervention.

Everyone knows the importance of being Big B, because he was the one first showed us how an underdog really felt when he is hurt.

I love Jamal Malik, the underdog and I still love Big B because end of the day both of them stand at the either end of underdog-hood.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Warning to Warner Brothers

We are in twenty first century. But Warner Brothers think that we Indians are still in early twentieth century, when traveling film projectionists showed films for us. They showed the moving visuals in the temporary tents and announced, ‘Now the train is coming.’ ‘Now look it is Vittoli coming by a horse.’

We, then knew, a train was coming and Vittoli was coming on horseback. But then there was no sound track. So some sonic interventions by the projectionists were needed. Above all, they believed, as a primitive people we did not understand the visual language. May be in retrospective, we are ready to take such arguments. Fine.

But what about ‘Chandni Chowk to China’, a much hyped film with Akshay Kumar in the lead role? It is produced with a budget of Rs.80 crores and is heavily funded by the US based film company Warner Brothers. The trade pundits say that including the publicity expenditure, the total cost of the film is a whopping Rs.100 crores.

India has the dividend of population. The surplus population does not indicate enhanced work force and labor capital alone. It indicates the power of consumption too. If a minor section of the people decides to watch this movie, then also, Rs.100 crores and more will be collected with no difficulty. So the Warner Bros does not have any problem to fund such a movie.

But my problem is not that. In the globalizing scenario, any multinational corporate can invest in Indian ventures and ethically speaking they should be invited to do many more investments like that. However, my problem is with the attitude with which they went through the script of this film. I am sure that they would make several layers of scrutiny before they decide to fund any such film.

The story line is simple: Siddu (Akshay Kumar) is a struggling cook at his father’s (Mithun Chakravorty) small restaurant in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. He behaves like country bumpkin and falls for all conmen who predicts his future. Meanwhile, in China the followers of a slain warrior Lu Shung are waiting for him to reincarnate. Some China men find the reincarnation of the warrior in Siddu and take him to China. There he goes through several problems finally to emerge as a great kung fu fighter by defeating the villain Hojo.

Khalid Mohammed, the film critic had rightly pointed out that the story is line strangely resembled the famous animation movie, Kung Fu Panda. There is no dispute about that. But then, the treatment of the whole film is also like an animation movie that primarily considers kids as its viewers.

So when you watch this movie, ‘Chandni Chowk to China’, you find yourself as a stupid child, who is ready to lap up anything shown to him in the name of comedy (kids would kick my ass for making a comment like this. These days kids are very intelligent).

You find a pack of fools going to China and meeting a pack of aggressive fools there. So basically two sets of fools fight each other to take prominence in the hierarchy of fools. Warner Bros looks at the Indian viewers and Chinese viewers as two sets of fools who would make this movie a blockbuster only because this temporary super star Akshay Kumar is in the lead role.

Akshay Kumar acts like a clown. When he emotes he looks like a real stupid. Certain roles suit him and when he is at the hands of good comedy directors like Priyadarshan, he could emote well. Here the director Nikhil Advani has completely failed in direction or controlling Akshay Kumar.

Basically this movie treats the viewers as stupid jokers, that is my primary problem. And second, the ideology of the movie re-iterates the patriarchic notions of the society, which the new age India desperately wants to do away with.

Here we have an Akshay Kumar fighting for the legacy of Lu Shung. Before that he is treated like a kid by his father Mithun Chakravorty. Then Mithun lays down his life for saving his son’s life. Later exhorted by his father’s ghost, he fights to save the lives of one Chinese inspector who sires two female interests in the story played by a single Deepika Padukone. One of the Deepikas fights for the villain (to protect another man) while the other Deepika serves as an adrenaline jet pump. Finally, Akshay Kumar fights for the ‘male rights’.

How long our mainstream films work on the male chauvinist themes? And how long they treat the viewers as stupid kids?

Trade pundits say, the film will not collect as expected. If it does not collect that shows, the Indian audience is matured enough to spurn such ‘anything goes’ attitude.

Ghajini of Amir Khan is a super hit because it shows that Indian people still has suppressed violence against those people who make them temporary amnesiacs.

Rab Ne Bana di Jodi worked moderately and saved Shah Rukh Khan’s face because Indian audience still imagines in split living; one in the real world and one in the fancy world. And still they have not forgotten the transcendental spirit of love.

Chandni Chowk to China is a blot on the Indian screen. With all due love for Akshay Kumar, I would tell him, stick to his talents. Don’t behave like a bumpkin and make his fellow Indians feel like hating him.

Warner Brothers is still welcome to Indian screen, but with much more cosmopolitan and egalitarian scripts.

We became independent in 1947. And we opened up our economy in 1991. We have a history and great talents.

Remember that before you fund any stupid films like Chandni Chowk to China.

(I thank Mrinal Kulkarni, my wife and art historian for telling me that Chandni Chowk is nothing but a product of political plot to frame Indians and Chinese as grinning fools, by the Western ideologues)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Say no to Rape: Park Benches can Revolutionize India

A week before at Garhi Chowkhandi village near Noida Sector 71 (Uttar Pradesh) an MBA student was gang raped by ten village boys. The girl was inside a car with a friend. These village ruffians while coming back from a local cricket match found the boy and girl inside the car. They roughed up the boy and raped the girl taking turns. Some of the rapists were arrested immediately.

But the anti-climax of it: the village women and men came in support of the arrested boys. They accused the girl of having loose morals. The former village president exclaimed, “After all it is just a rape case.” Newspapers published the photographs of a group of village women crying. It could have been passed for the image of the affected girl’s family members or it could have been passed for the photograph of a young army man died in a combat.

But it was the picture of the women from the hooligans’ families. They demanded justice for their sons. They still demand it.

Police investigations have proved that these guys have been on prowl in this area looking for couple who are alone in a secluded stretch. They used to threaten the boys and rape the girls with them.

Reason: The girls have loose morals. And that’s why they are ready to go with their boy friends to such secluded places.

Now the debate is on the urban-rural divide in India. Especially when it comes to the ethical and moral social behaviors, the rural populace considers that girls cannot go out with their boy friends. If they go out, there is no problem in raping them. Rape is a form of punishment.

Excuse me, are you talking about India? Yes, it is in India and the incident happened a few kilometers away from the Noida city centre, which is the IT hub, industrial hub and also the entertainment hub of Uttar Pradesh, the neighboring state of Delhi. Here rape is a way of implementing social justice. Social justice by who?

The Gurgaon residents (Gurgaon, as you know the IT hub of Haryana and it is hailed to have international living standards), especially women, say that they cannot speak even to the policemen because these law and order keepers, mostly hailing from rural backgrounds, behave as if they behave with their own women folk. They are chauvinists and irresponsible.

I don’t want to talk about these village boys or police men. Let the law of the land take its own course. But I want to talk about something which could bring about a lot of changes in the society. What we need is a political and governance will to implement what I suggest.

The girl was raped because she was alone in a car with her boyfriend. So what? She was with her boy friend. She was partly undressed. So what, she was doing it willingly.
My question is not that. Why did they go to a secluded place like that to catch some private moments? An MBA student and her friend could not find a suitable place in Noida to spend some private moments and that is the truth.

Look, I am talking about human beings. They need privacy. You may suggest that they can go to a mall or a cine hall. A mall is not a place to have private moments while a cinema hall is. But you cannot go to a cinema hall every day.

What about the apartments where they are living? The landlords would not allow their young tenants to entertain guests from opposite sex. What they are going to loose? Condoms are available, if not i-pill. Say the word ‘condom’ with pride, the government advertisement says. I-pill, I will not advise it to girls. It is not that effective all the time.

Whose morals are you trying to protect?

Let’s come back to the point. Suppose, if there are enough park benches along the roads, eateries, city squares and other public places and if the couples are allowed to sit and spend their time, and if we are not there to ogle them and voyeur them, then nobody would go to the secluded places.

If a couple kisses passionately in the street, what is my problem? Why do we think that the girl is a loose character? Why do we let the boy go scot-free? Why should be bother at all? It is their privacy, it is their life and it is the happiest moments in their lives.

We can solve the moral prejudices of these cities with one simple thing. Place park benches by the sides of mains streets, bus stops, metro stations, popular joints and wherever possible and encourage the youth of India to spend their time in public. Ask them to show all their love in public. Ask them to share their intimate touches in public.

That can change this country.

Things will change.

I remember, there was a time when bikers chased the couples on other bikes only to see the panty line over their sarees or churidars.

Then, when the low waist jeans came into fashion, they chased to see the protruding panty belt.

Then things became common. Now none chases to see a panty line.

On the contrary I have seen boys chasing the newly married girls behind veils, just to get a glance of her face and imagine whole lot of things.

If the government and local governing bodies establish park benches all over the city and depute educated and hip street cops to patrol the streets, none will go to the secluded roads to share a kiss.

Yes, right in front of other people couples can kiss. Why not.

They should.

And that would change a lot in this country.

Let us make park benches.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Images, Text and Life’s Lessons

Some photographic images stay in your mind forever. Family albums are unforgettable events. Yes, I say, family albums are ‘events’. They capture the deepest memories of life events and store it for the posterity. But there are some other images, which are out of the family albums that travel along with you in life. They could be from some books, from some newspapers or from some cursory references. I remember the image of Kim Phuk, the Vietnamese girl, running nude with her skin peeling off after the Napalm bomb attack. I remember the young man receiving a bullet at his temple from a fellow Vietnamese man. I remember the three men in their Sunday best, a picture referred by John Berger. I remember the dark long penis of a black man, jutting out from his pants, a picture taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. I remember a photoshopped image of a vagina wall- I don’t know whether it is a work of art or the outcome of a perverse genius’ work, later found its due place in the virtual world. Images haunt you, stalk you, titillate you and at times they make you to think about the beauty of life.

I was sitting with my artist friend, Deepak Tandon on a cold evening. He is an abstract artist who debates abstraction as a ‘linguistic structure’. He loves traveling and taking photographs. Of late he has started doing video works also. I like to spend time with Deepak because his interests do not simply limited to abstract art. He loves life, likes to have a few pegs of rum with close friends and also takes a special interest in seeing the works of young artists. He does workshops for children and his philosophy is simple: “You give the children the best equipment you have and show them how to use it. They would give you wonderful results.” I love that idea because I too have observed one thing, if you use any equipment with responsibility before children, they too would handle the same equipment with responsibility. If you warn them, be sure, they are going to break it.

Discussing general aspects of life took us to the topic of traveling. I have never been a serious traveler. But life has taken me to several places. Now I am at a point in my life, where I feel that it is necessary to go out to see people and places, not in foreign shores, but here very much in India. I was just mentioning this idea of a road trip (of course I don’t belong to the generation of Jack Kerouac) planned to start by mid-February 2009 with artist friend, Somu Desai and photographer friend, Feroze Babu, who gives me technical assistance in doing Then Deepak told me about his road trip with a friend, two years back. In 2007 March, Deepak took his SUV, Scorpio and hit the road. For almost a month he drove around in India, mostly clicking photographs. He expressed his interest to join our road trip also.

I was interested to see the photographs that Deepak took when he was on road. He kindly opened the computers folders for me. There are a number of pictures in this collection, some of which Deepak has worked on according to his fancy, but keeping the raw image intact. These photographs reveal the beauty of India, not seen through exotic eyes. What attracts me in this suite of photographs is the beauty of people, the real Indian people. They are not stereotypes and these people have a story and the places have a story. They are not just frozen in time. They move the time, they activate the time and they tell us about a country, which we fail to see in our life time!

Deepak seems to have fallen in love with ‘this’ lady. I don’t present the picture of that ‘lady’ here, but I would like to say a few words about her. She is not a she! But she is a eunuch. She is not a part of any gay movement or hijra group. She ‘mothers’ three children. Look at her dress; Deepak says her shirt is of her brother-in-law and the skirt is of her sister. Both of them died in some calamity. She wears their clothes as a memorial and she mothers these kids and the youngest child calls her ‘mother’. She is bold and beautiful. Deepak, obviously is in awe of her personality. The photographs tell the tale of his admiration. Another picture is from a village near Aurangabad. In this village no house has got a door. There is no concept of door there! People live in trust. I remember the documentary film of Michael Moore, ‘Bowling for the Columbine’, where he contrasts the gun culture of the United States with the ‘open door’ culture of Canada. I also remember my childhood when all the houses in the village kept their front door always open.

But I want to write about two photographs that touched me a lot. One of the photographs shows an old woman, bent in age and walking towards somewhere. Deepak recounts the story of the photograph. It was somewhere in South India. Deepak was just standing in a small street (that runs between two rows of houses) with his camera and he saw this old woman coming out of a house. Her gaze was fixed on her foot steps. She was keenly watching the floor and her left hand automatically touched whatever support she could find on her way. First she touched the left wall. Then on the composite idol of bulls and….And next to that Deepak was standing. He extended his hand as a support. She held on it tightly and crossed the street and walked towards the other row of houses. She never saw who held her hand in support. She never waited to say ‘thanks’. She trusted the supports on which she placed her hands. And each support was a ‘god’ to her. I love this photograph. May be I am too sentimental. No problem.

In the other photograph, you see a couple in road going towards somewhere. This young man has a huge hunch back. According to Deepak, ‘he was seriously malformed’. But the energy of their gait and the strength of their bonding are quite noteworthy. They don’t have any doubts about their existence. They like their life and they progress in their life, together and with love. ‘They walked before me, crossed me like a king and queen. They were feeling as if they were on the top of the world. I was humbled,” recounts Deepak. I like this photograph because this ‘positive’ gait you don’t even see even on the faces of the highly salaried corporate couples; they are always in doubt. They doubt their clothes, their shoes, their kids, their shopping, their eating outside and their looks. But look at this couple…they are so confident and cheerful despite all their physical problems. Again I am sentimental about it. But I like this picture.

Once I was down in the dumps. Things were not going smoothly. Dilip Narayanan, my friend too was also going through the same phase. While sharing our mutual woes, he told me the story of these two women in his town. When he drove to his office every morning, on the way, he saw these two women walking vigorously towards somewhere. They were twins and they were dwarfs. They were middle aged and were from the lower income class. They wore cheap sarees but in those clothes they carried themselves with dignity. They could not have aspired too much in life. But they walked every morning to somewhere, with a sense of mission and accomplishment. “Even they feel happy about their life, what about us? Why don’t we learn something from them?” Dilip had asked me then. Yes, life’s lessons always come from the street. Life has a lot to teach us. Such images as captured by Deepak give us a lot of lessons. That’s why, they never fade away from our memories.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Shock Doctrine of Simple Things

Naomi Klein is an author and a logo. She wrote one of the best selling anti-consumerist literatures, No Logo. Then she came out with her anti-imperialist critique, ‘Shock Doctrine’. In this book she speaks about the use of shock therapy, first in treating mental cases and then in military torture plans. Shock therapy is a way to clean up the mind; shock and erase the existing inscriptions out and re-inscribe it with a new history. In military torture plans, shock treatment grows in scale and dimension. In torture chambers, prisoners of war are treated with electric shock in order to yield confessions and revelations, then they are shock treated to clean up their minds. In war fields, precision bombing is one way of shock treating the people of the target country. Bombard a particular area continuously, destroy it beyond recognition so that people would come out as clean slates, where the aggressor can inscribe his ideologies.

In Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein reveals the story of an old woman who was a political suspect during the Second World War. She was captured by the military and put her in a hospital accusing her of mental illness. She was treated with electric shocks continuously for several years. At one point of time, she even believed that the shocks were doing good to her. After her release, slowly she realized that she was erased of her memories. Her hands were shaky and needed constant self reminders to stay in life. Whenever memories flashed before her mind, she wrote it down in small bits of papers and pasted it on the walls and furniture. She remembered her life, about her own self by looking at these small notes. When Naomi Klein met her for doing an interview for the book, this woman was living in a small apartment filled with notes stuck all over.

Recently I watched a movie titled ‘Ghajini’ with Aamir Khan in the lead role. He suffers from memory loss. And he is here to avenge the villain who killed his girl friend and made his life terrible. He needs to write down things on pieces of paper or take photographs to remember things. His room is also filled with notes and photographs. His body is tattooed with reminders of revenge. He needs constant reminders to fulfill his mission. And finally he does it. I am not going into the details of the movie. But I want to ask a question myself: are we also not suffering from memory loss and we need constant reminders to live our lives fruitfully. We may not be writing reminders and pasting them everywhere. But everything seen around us behaves like reminders of our own selves. We may not be mental cases. We may not be here to wreck revenge upon a villain. But we are amnesiac and we need reminders.

But we refuse to remember things. Forgetfulness is an easy way to survival. We like to think about complex things and analyze them deeply. We feel that life is a complex thing and we need to analyze it thoroughly. We don’t understand life is a very simple thing that is why it is very complex. When we approach complex things, we get an escape root from the simple facts of life, which we don’t want to face. But simple things always remind a creative person of his own self and his relationship with the people and things around. The world is filled with such simple things, the reminding notes and we refuse to see these notes. And let me tell you, those people who are shocked and awed by the complexity of things, should ultimately see these small reminder notes.

I chanced upon a book in one of the bookshops in Bangalore. It’s name was ‘Simplexity.’ In normal case I would not have bought that book. The title attracted me and I bought the book. This book deals with a simple fact in life: it says, complex things are not complex as we think. Simple things are not simple as we imagine. The author takes the example of pencil to prove her point. She says, pencil is such a simple thing in our life. But if we think about it, it takes us to very complex problems. Where does the wood for making the pencil come from? Where does the graphite for the pencil come from? Does the making of pencil lead to deforestation? Are the mine workers in the graphite mines happy with the working conditions? Is there a monopoly in pencil industry? Who are the victims and who are the gainers in this industry?

A simple thing like a pencil can lead to a world war. Simple things are just reminders. We don’t see the reminders. But artists and creative people can see these reminders. Only an artist can say that she ‘could be as identity-less as an ‘M’ sign of the Macdonalds in any city in the world’. An artist could see what an M sign speaks to her. May be to someone else it means nothing but meaty burghers. Another artist friend of mine, while walking together along a street, asked me once, ‘Where are these nuts and bolts coming from?’ He had noticed several nuts and bolts lying in the middle of the road. “They must have fallen from some moving vehicles,” I told him. “What might have happened to those vehicles?’ he wondered. Then he developed a series of drawings based on these fallen nuts and bolts. Another friend of mine went to Chandigarh and he was supposed to participate in a public art project. He did not do anything till the last date of the art project. On the final day, he stood in the middle of the road and painted the image of a needle at one of the yellow broken lines that divided the road into two lanes. “This needle is stitching the road,” he said.

The yellow line was just a reminder for him. He saw that there was a reminder. While driving, I look at these small reminders; the simple reminders. A shoe suddenly appears from nowhere in the middle of the road. Where has it come from? I think about all the abandoned shoes in the world. I remember the installation of Christine Boltanski. I think of Vincent Vangogh’s shoes. I remember Jalianwala Bagh. I remember my college days and the streets after a police lathi charge on a students’ procession. I see a helmet kept right in the middle of the road. I see a patch of red and imagine it as dried blood. I drive through a dead man’s soul. I see a doll, fallen from the hands of a child who was sitting at his mother’s lap, behind a scooter. I can hear the cry of the child for his lost doll. Life becomes so meaningful when you look at the simple things around you. Life is full of associations.

I wrote all these because I was just looking at a yellow cup kept in the middle of a chair cushion at the right corner of my office room. A couple of hours back I had a visitor, a young woman artist from Chandigarh. Whenever she comes to Delhi, she drops into meet me. My office assistant makes the famous ‘nimbu chai’ and she likes it. She could not find a place to keep the cup and I told her to keep it on the chair cushion. She has gone now. But looking at that cup, sitting alone, lost and silent, I remember her aspirations and frustrations as an artist. I think of her story as she had recounted. I go to Santiniketan, cycle around there, go to the Kopai river, see several angels there at the river bank. I see a face blooming into a spring. I see a face fading into the vibes of a Baul song. I see a life beckoning me from a garden of peacocks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Chance Beauty of a Grocery List

‘The chance beauty of a grocery list’- I was waiting for some expression like that to occur in me. But like the beautiful lady who never talked to Gabriel Garcia Marquez during a long flight, such expressions, at times evade you. They would be very much there, right in your vicinity. You can feel it, but you fail to give a verbal form to it. But if you intensely desire for it, it would come to you, may be through someone else you know thoroughly. This expression, ‘the chance beauty of a grocery list’ came from an artist friend of mine. She was referring to some conversations with her friends, who talk of many things that apparently look insignificant and out of context. However, suddenly she felt that these conversations too had ‘the chance beauty of a grocery list’.

“When you write a grocery list, you are completely yourself, unaware of watching or of being watched. Things fall on the list just through memory and not according to order. The flow of something not being structured is also a flow. It is like a hastily written post-it note stuck on your cupboard. Such haste and brevity can be shared only with familiarity,” she explained it to me. While listening to her words, I was thinking of a poetic expression by Comte de Lautreamont, the French poet. This young poet, who died at the age of twenty four, while narrating the beauty of a young boy wrote, ‘as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.’ The Surrealists and Situationists were influenced by Lautreamont’s poetic masterpiece, Les Chants de Maldoror.

Chance meeting of disparate ideas and imageries would cause the birth of terrific beauties. The beauty of a grocery list is that chance meeting of disparate elements. Going by the definition of my artist friend, I would say, grocery list is one of the best form of poetry. It is not premeditated. It is not consciously conjured up. It flows from memory, may be not as emotions recollected in tranquility, but as necessities recollected in urgency. Then grocery list and the post-it list on the cupboard, on a fridge door or on a notice board, must be the most beautiful forms of spontaneous poetry. The poetry that cannot be avoided. The poetry that is to be performed. Grocery list is a poem in performance.

Grocery list, going by Lautreamont, is surreal too. It can bring in two different and disparate elements purely driven by chance. The chance could be another term for auto association, a sort of writing and imaging practiced by the Surrealists. An item in the grocery list leads to the other one. The monthly need for a new tube of tooth paste can trigger the image of a tube of cold cream. Grocery list has no apparent logic in it. There kitchen towel could be followed by the name of a shampoo. But read together or in a sequence, it has a logic in it; the logic of poetry. It is the poetry of every day life. The items in it become the metaphors for energy and beauty; appearance and reality, illusions and desires.

The chance beauty of a grocery list cannot be wished away by citing its quotidian nature. Art is all about chance beauty. All great works of art have got this chance element it; the chances that thwart the premeditations of the artists. The chance beauty of a grocery list is the stuff that gives the final quizzical twist to a work of art or a piece of literature, which otherwise would have gone flat. But chances are not to be sought, they have to happen on their own. Chance beauties are chance beauties. That’s why art happens even during the saddest moments in an artist’s life.