Sunday, December 25, 2011

In Search of a Very Costly Condom on a Drunken Afternoon

Rs.3600/- (Rupees three thousand and six hundred) for a condom. A Georgian artist named Irakli Kiziria designed this costly flute cover. I call it flute cover because someone recently sent me a sms joke: After having sex the woman tells man, hey you, your flute is so small. Then the man replies, ‘I did not know that I was going to perform in a town hall.’

Jokes apart, this condom is very costly. It is branded as Louis Vuitton though the company denies its connection with this costly rubber. But this going to be a style statement. Like the people who go to eat caviar to make their kids intelligent by birth or the people who go to Kochi (not to attend the Kochi Muziris Biennale) to spend their honeymoon only because the packaged deal of tourism (by private operators) say that visiting some temple in Kochi would beget them a boy child, there would be many who would like to have a shot with this Louis Vuitton rubber.

One bad thing about rubbers is that a single piece could be used only once. If someone tries for the second time would be naturally a pervert who finds it from the garbage or a child who sees it in a dustbin.

But if any rubber that costs more than fifteen rupees should be treated as a souvenir and very special. Now there would be more chances of people celebrating their wedding anniversaries with this rubber. I don’t think not too many are going to gift it to others considering the price tag.

The middle class couples are going to make a lot out of it. One of my friends says that as the recession has hit the market people would frame their last boarding pass and keep it as a souvenir as there would be lesser chances for them to fly again. If so, there would be chances of people seeing albums with a page (a secret one) devoted for a used condom.

You may think I am drunk. To be frank with you, I have just finished two bottles of Kingfisher beer (strong) as a part of a quite Christmas celebration. People these days do not need any reason to drink. They could even find a reason by reading the way the government of India treating Anna Hazare.

And I am thinking about rubbers because a few hours before I had a funny time hunting for a packet of condoms. I went to the main market here as I knew that there would be only one medical shop opened on Sundays as per the rules of the medical shop owners association. I went to the shop only to see a lot of people crowding that dingy little shop and I thought I found a familiar faces.

So I decided to make a call to a friend. He was on roaming and we had a very short talk. I made another attempt at the lonely medical shop where I found a woman around fifty years old making a very animated conversation with the shop owner. I spent time deleting a few text messages from my inbox and after five minutes of impatient waiting I found the woman still there.

I drove my car to another junction hoping that there would be another one opened. When I saw one I did not find a parking space. When I saw the next, parked the car and reached the shop I realised it was a Homeopathy store that did not sell condoms. Then I found another one in the vicinity, defying the diktats of the medical shop owners association, and finally that person gave me a pack of condoms.

I was happy to pay Rs.60 for that it remotely ringed Rs.3600.

Then I remembered a similar incident that had happened in 1990s. We were newly married and old by experience. One day we were desperate and did not find a piece at home. So I went out for hunting one packet of rubber. It was a Tuesday. On Tuesdays Delhi people do not open medical shops and meat shops. Even if liquor shops are opened they all look deserted. People abstain from drinking and having sex on Tuesdays. Even barbers close their shops on that day. They all compensate it on Wednesdays.

But being a rebel I thought of going out and searching for a pack. Those days we were not too sure of our safety measures without rubber as we were young and our muscles and emotions were not too much listening to the warnings of brain.

Finally as I was finding it difficult to find a shop, I walked into the clinic run by a lady doctor whom we knew as we consulted her once in a while, and asked without twitching a muscle on my face, whether she had some packets of rubber in her stock. She stared at me for a moment and then she broke into laughter. Then she said, no. Crestfallen I went home. I don’t remember what we did after that.

Now, I am writing this only to check whether I am able to articulate some stuff after drinking and having sex. In fact one could write anything after having sex. Only thing is that it should be guilt free. So make sure that a writer is not delivering quite regularly he or she is having guilt ridden sex life.

Also I am writing to know whether facebook and blogsopt would remove this objectionable content as per the government rules.

Coming back to the issue of rubbers; my friend was telling me that people would enjoy a costly sex with a costly rubber, but they would tend to ask whether the rubber would come with a girl in tow or not. Also he mentioned that this costly rubber would prove costlier if there would be a climatic rupture. is always safe to get down at NIzamuddin than New Delhi, I mean for safety.

PS: All the while I was asking I could not go to a shop and ask straight away for a pack of condoms the way I ask for a packet of ipill. Is that creation is so shameful and destruction is ruthless and accepted?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kochi-Muziris Biennale- The Biggest Story of Corruption in the Indian Art Scene.

In a candid interview with the young art critic and theoretician, Premjish Achari, India’s most popular art blogger, art critic, curator and writer, JohnyML unveils the backstage maneuverings of both Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu in misusing public funds to their own ends in the name of Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

(NO Bose Krishnamachari- from Bose' Dubai show. Sudarshan Shetty, Bose Krishnamachari, JohnyML and Shankar Natarajan)

Premjish Achary: Kochi-Muziris Biennale seems to have got into a controversy regarding alleged misusing of public funds and lack of transparency. And you are amongst the few people who have raised a voice against the proposed Biennale. Now as there is a controversy pertaining to it, what is your stand on this issue?

(Premjish Achari)

JohnyML: Kochi-Muziris Biennale was destined to get into this controversy from the very day of its inception. I have been only wondering why there is no public hue and cry against it till an article written by the noted journalist Viju V.Nair appeared in one of the prominent Malayalam weeklies called ‘Madhyamam.’ If you remember, it was in February 2011 the formal declaration of this proposed biennale happened in Kochi with much fanfare. Two artists namely Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu have been projected as the front persons of this project. But except for these two people none in the Indian art scene knew what exactly was going to happen with this project. Even today none knows what is happening inside this Biennale project. It was communicated in trickles that the project was going to be funded by the government of Kerala. And a whopping amount of Rs.72 crores is the project estimate. To an interview given to the Art Newspaper, London, Riyas Komu had said that one third of this amount would come from the State government, and the second portion of it would be raised through the central government agencies and the rest would be raised from the private sector. The government of Kerala gave an initial funding of Five Crore Rupees to the Kochi Muziris Biennale Foundation in March 2011. But today, by the end of 2011, the Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu say that the money is over and they need another Five Crores from the state government urgently. Interestingly, apart from the renovation of the Durbar Hall in Kochi they don’t have anything substantial to show or claim before the public. There is some mystery behind this biennale project; one, there is no accountability and two, there is no transparency.

Premjish Achari: Why do you say that there is no accountability and transparency? What kind of accountability and transparency are you expecting from these project managers?


JohnyML: I believe in the values of democracy and a non-corrupt society is what I am aspiring for. When public money is spent on anything, the public has the right to ask why it is spent and on what it is spent. When a cultural project like a Biennale happens, people have the right to see what exactly is going on behind the scenes. Let me tell you, the people in India or in Kerala are not dumb people. They want to know why the state government has agreed to spend Rs.25 crore on a project like this and what was the reason for believing in only two artists out of the millions of other artists, historians, art scholars, curators and experts in this country.

(Partners in Crime? - Bose and Riyas)

Premjish Achari: I would like to intervene at this point and need a clarification. Could you please make it a bit clearer? The problem is there in the Biennale organization or in the way the funds are used?

JohnyML: In both. Many people do not know that the idea of this Biennale originated almost two years back. The context was not exactly a biennale. Bose Krishnamachari owns a plot near Aluva (near Kochi) and his idea was to build a private museum for contemporary art. He had big ambitions as the market was booming and money was coming in. Bose had even made an architectural model of this museum and when he knew that the funds were not coming in, he had even exhibited this model in a couple of exhibitions in India and abroad. When the economic recession struck, it became impossible for Bose to continue with this project. To make this museum possible, he with his friend Riyas Komu approached M.A.Baby, the minister of education and culture at that time. M.A.Baby, it is said, told Bose that he would not be able to help to establish a private museum but if anything happens in the public sector, as a minister he could do something towards it. It was then this idea of Biennale had come up. There were a series of meetings between these three people in Mumbai and Trivandrum since June 2010.

Today Bose and Riyas claim that the government of Kerala approached them to do a Biennale in Kochi, which is very difficult to gulp without asking a few questions. First of all why the Government of Kerala approach two individual artists living in Mumbai to do an international show in Kerala? Secondly, when the idea was mooted there was no Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation. It was a quick formation with five members, Bose Krishnamachari as president, Riyas Komu as secretary, Bonny Thomas (a low profile cartoonist) as treasurer and V.Sunil of W+K as the member. Though the foundation’s head office is in Bose’s studio in Borivili, the foundation is registered in Sreemoolanagaram, a village near Eranakulam.

Within three months after registering this foundation, in March 2011 the CPM led government in Kerala allotted a fund of Rs.5 crores to this organization and it was routed through the Muziris Heritage Trust. In the MOU between the foundation and government of Kerala (dept of Tourism), interestingly there was no clause written so that the foundation stood answerable to the finance department. The idea of accountability was flouted at the initial stage itself. That means, the intentions of making use of this money and the amounts that were supposed to flow into the Foundation’s kitty were not that good. It is quite alarming that the so called cultural activists getting into large scale financial corruption.

(Suresh Kalmadi- Corruption charges regarding Commonwealth Games organisation)

Premjish Achari: How do you define corruption in the context of this proposed biennale?

JohnyML: Corruption starts when you obscure information. We have never asked Mr.Amit Judge (the head of former Bodhi) how he spent his money because it was his private money. Even if he keeps information regarding the working of Bodhi under cover we cannot question it because it is his private organization and it is his private fund. But here in the case of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the corruption is not just about misusing funds, it is about misleading people and safeguarding information.

(Bose Krishnamachari)

Look at the organization’s character. We have Bose as program head and Riyas as executive head. To read it in different way, they are the official commissioners and curators of this biennale. At the same time, they are the fund raisers as well as fund users. And now, if we ask who are these two people? They are two moderately successful artists living in Mumbai. Bose has curated a few significant and many insignificant shows. Riyas’ claim to fame is that he has once been in Venice Biennale. But we have several other artists better equipped and better qualified that these two. After all, if I quote an artist friend, ‘both of them are only BFAs’.

(A.Raja, former minister- in for 3 G spectrum corruption)

Besides, if you see these guys have asked for Rs.4.9 crores as their personal fee to conduct this Biennale. And biennale cannot be a short term affair. In the project report that the government approved without checking facts it says that the rent, renovation and functioning expenditure would be met by the funds provided by the state government. That means, as we know the biennale offices are Bose’ and Riyas’ studios in Borivili, in the coming years, if the agreement stands, Kerala government will provide money to do their private business.

(Riyas Komu)

When the declaration of this project happened in February 2011, Bose invited a few artists and the only art critic he invited to the function was Uma Nair, a newspaper columnist who writes on art. She was the only representative from the art scene other than a few artists. That means Bose and Riyas did not want, from the day one onwards, anyone from the art scene to have a say in this project. The organizational structure proves that Bose and Riyas want to make it a private affair at the expense of public money.

Premjish Achari: So, what? Why cannot we have two private individuals initiating a project like this? Why do you insist that there should be more people into it?

JohnyML: Premjish, if Bose and Riyas are using their own hard earned money and they raise some fund from the private sector to establish a biennale like this there is no problem. Even if government is strategically involved in such projects nobody can question it. Only thing is that then it would not be a ‘biennale’ of its name’s worth. There are several private biennales across the globe where anybody could get any kind of awards. But here this biennale is primarily funded by the state government. In that case, we cannot let the two individuals to call the shots.

(Bose and Riyas)

Now let us take the way the international biennales function. There is an organization and there are collaborations between the public and private sectors. There will be an advisory committee and committee of experts and there will be members with executive charges and powers. These committees work in tandem with each other and there is a decentralized way of functioning. That is at the organizational level. Coming to the intellectual part of it, there are several expert committees that organize seminars both domestic and international, there are educational programs and many other reach out activities. Look at the Think Fest organized by the Tehelka in Goa and the Jaipur literary festival. Both are world class programs with strategic partnership with the local governments. They are not getting into controversy. Why? Because they are transparent and they don’t do it to pocket the public fund. Here in the case of Kochi Biennale, none of these formalities are followed. There has been no activity apart from the renovation of the Durbar Hall which is another huge controversy.

(Yamuna-Elbe Project in Delhi)

Premjish Achari: You are talking about misinformation, obscurantism, lack of transparency and now lack of activities. How do you elaborate on that?

JohnyML: Let’s take two recent examples in India- ten years of Khoj and the more recent Yamuna-Elbe project. Both are initiated by private agencies with the strategic government participation. There have been several layers of preparation including various seminars, reach out programs and artists’ exchanges. Most of them have happened under the public eyes. Now we have had this Delhi Biennale project almost ten years back. This was looking for the possibilities of creating a Delhi Biennale. Instead of straight away going for crores worth of government funding, the Delhi Biennale Committee went for a series of discussions, seminars and debates, and after two years of thorough brainstorming the project was shelved for the time being and even one of the leading figures of the Delhi Biennale Committee, Gita Kapur declared that Delhi Biennale would remain as a platform to discuss and theorize the biennales. Everything went on record. And this effort had all the intellectuals’ support and it was an inclusive platform.

Now, one year gone by with the Kochi biennale, with adequate government funding, not a single public project or seminar has been organized by the foundation. No advisory board has been instituted. Not a single person from Indian art scene is apprised of the activities of this foundation. It raises questions about the intentions of both Bose and Riyas. Why didn’t they want to organize a committee which has the stalwarts from the Indian art scene that include the art historians, theoreticians, cultural theorists, critics, gallerists, collectors, social scientists, city planners and so on? Hence, we understand that for Bose and Riyas it is an ego trip with no respect for the public or government.

If you look at the website of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, which is also listed amongst the other thirty seven biennales all over the world in the Biennale Foundation website (a unified portal for the world biennales), no information is available. It has a flash driven home page with the images of a few dilapidated structures in the Fort Kochi area. The written information is limited to a mission statement, an about us, a press release and two photographs of Bose Krishnamachari sitting with a laptop in front of him. Most of the links are blank. I am told the foundation has conducted some secrete seminars in some five star hotels in Kerala. If so at least there should be some pictures and information regarding those should be there in the website. This is what I again say that there is a tremendous about of lack of transparency and secrecy in this project which leads naturally to the issue of misuse of public funds to private ends.

(Durbar Hall, Kochi- in the name of Renovation)

Premjish Achari: Now it is alleged that the renovation of Durbar Hall in Kochi has eaten up all the money and the Biennale Foundation is in a cash crunch situation. What exactly happened in Durbar Hall issue?

JohnyML: Had it not been Durbar Hall issue, the corrupt practices of both Bose and Riyas would have continued away from public scrutiny. One of the agreements that Bose made on behalf of Kochi Biennale Foundation and the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademy was that the foundation would renovate the heritage building, Durbar Hall and in return to that the foundation should be given the permission to use the premises free of cost in every two years for during the biennales. As per the initial agreement the renovation was supposed to be completed by mid 2011 and was to be handed over to the Lalit Kala Akademy. However Bose could not finish the work within the stipulated time. So he approached the academy again with a request and the then committee accepted his request and gave him a four months extension to finish the work. As per the second agreement the work was finished and the building was handed over to the academy. By that time the new government has come up in Kerala and as per there were changes in the academy administration also. When the renovated Durbar Hall was re-presented to the state with an exhibition organized by the Lalitha Kala Akademy, to the horror of Bose and Riyas, they found their names were not written on the plaque. They went to town with a press conference alleging that it was they who spent the money and they were not acknowledged in the final outcome.

(Viju V Nair's article in Madhyamam- the first open opinion against the highhandedness of the Biennale organizers)

This press conference by Bose was the first one since the declaration of the Biennale. That too was not for displaying the accomplishment but to complaint. Now let us ask a simple question: How did Kochi Biennale Foundation itself came as the ‘contractors’ of the renovation of the Durbar Hall? If they wanted Government involvement why didn’t they ask the government directly to renovate it but under their supervision? How did Bose’ brother became the chief contractor of the whole renovation process? How did the foundation claim that it was ther money? Today, it is said that Rs.3.5 crores is spent on renovating that one single building. I am told that except for the new lighting, false walls and split air conditioners no fundamental changes have been done in the name of renovation. And this unearthly sum of Rs.3.5 crores is just spent on this. Ajayakumar, the former secretary of Laliha Kala Akademy says that in his tenure when the renovation was done it had not exceeded Rs.25 lakhs. And also the then cultural minister T.K.Ramakrishnan was skeptical about air-conditioning the whole building.

(This costed Rs.3.5 crores !)

Today, it is clear that split air conditioners do not work in such huge buildings. We need centralized air condition with an external air cooling unit. As it is a heritage building you cannot build cooling units near by the heritage building. So you need to find a different place to set up this. Bose has not observed any of these formalities and there is no account for how this 3.5 crores is spent. Also it is said in the project report submitted to the government by Bose and Riyas (read the foundation) it is clearly mentioned that part of the money will be used for setting up and enhancing the offices of both Bose and Riyas in Borivili. As we all know from the given address that these offices are nothing other than their personal studios. It is also said that the people hired as office staff were not given salaries for a long time and most of them left the organization in due course of the last one year. So we need to ask where the rest of the Rs.1.5 crores gone?

(Riyas Komu- An Ambi- Valent explanation)

Premjish Achari: There is also an allegation against Bose and Riyas that they have not observed the rules of the Archeological Survey of India that takes care of the heritage building, Durbar Hall.

JohnyML: That is quite a serious allegation to which these two parties stand answerable. But interestingly, when asked by a journalist from the Indian Express Newspaper, Riyas Komu said audaciously that it was not the concern of the foundation as the building was handed over to them by the Lalitha Kala Akademy and to which it was given by the government of Kerala. First of all, this man with a simple BFA degree in hand does not have any respect for the people of this country as he is out and out here to plunder the public funds. Otherwise how as an artist he could have said such a dismissive answer? Now after spending this princely sum of Rs.3.5 crores on the renovation of Durbar Hall, he says that he is not responsible for observing the directives of the respected Archaeological Survey of India. Interestingly, this is the same person who started a very ‘revolutionary’ newspaper from his studio this year with its first issue dealing with the lack of sanitized toilets for the poor migrants in and around his ‘home town’ of Borivili. The same person, after a few months is out there to grab the public money for private use. In of the press reports it is said that Riyas wanted to bring political art to India through this proposed Biennale. And even they were trying to get Ai Wei Wei from China. I wonder whether these guys have ever understood anything political about art or art about being political. May be they have learnt the art of politics along the way and the corruption accompanying it.

(M.A.Baby- former Culture and Education Minister, Government of Kerala)

Premjish Achari: Where does the former minister M.A.Baby stand in this issue?

JohnyML: M.A.Baby is not a novice in politics or in organizational activities. After student politics and an active political career in Kerala, he was sent to Delhi by the CPM. Baby was here in Delhi for around ten years and he was one of the major supporters of Swaralaya, a cultural organization that promoted music. I believe M.A.Baby was sincerely hoping something to happen in Kerala during his tenure as a cultural and education minister. But when I look beyond that, I have all the reasons to think that Baby had some strange fascination for these two guys. In June 2010, when I was invited by the Film Akademy to set up a video show along with the international short film festival, M.A.Baby took a special interest in introducing Bose and Riyas to the press, almost avoiding me and Gigi Scaria, who was a participating artist and an already declared Venice Biennale invitee. He introduced Bose and Riyas as ‘internationally acclaimed’ artists. I believe the discussions for this biennale was already on or about to begin then. It is quite surprising that Baby went to the Venice Biennale in 2011, with Bose and Riyas and attended a lavish party thrown by these two guys there. It is strange that even after becoming an opposition MLA, Baby was requesting the present Congress government to give more funds to Bose and Riyas. I don’t understand the psychology behind this. One needs to probe further on this nexus. Also we should ask why the government of Kerala has never given such kind of funds to the other academies working from Kerala. Just look at the annual grants given to the Lalit Kala Akademy, Sangeeta Nataka Akademy, Sahitya Akademy, Cartoon Akademy and so on. The Cartoon Akademy gets an annual grant of Rs.10,000/- (Ten Thousand only) from the government of Kerala. Isn’t that amount ridiculously inadequate for an acdemy which has been there for more than ten years? How did a government with Baby as the cultural minister overlook all these and then suddenly decided to give a grant of Rs.25 crores to a newly formed foundation by a few private people? And once the government has agreed to do so, these guys are going to get an annual grant and full-fledged government support for the rest of their lives because Biennales are not done over night. It needs round the clock activities in all the 365 days in a year. This is one of the most strategic corruption cases in India in which unfortunately M.A.Baby is involved.

(Different in appearance always- What about this time? Bose Krishnamachari- Picture Courtesy- Malini Ramani's website)

Premjish Achari: Everyone knows that you were a good friend of Bose. But now you are very critical about him. Is there any personal reason to do so?

JohnyML: Bose is a good friend and I am sure he would remain one if he steers clear this controversy and comes out clean. I have written a lot about him and his works. I have helped him in formulating several of his curatorial ideas. He used to ask me for help because he could never articulate things theoretically. Even today, if someone asks me to write about his works I would happily do that. But he seems to have developed this ego of being the ‘biggest’ artist in India who could do anything under sun. He is fashion crazy and is boastful. He had even declared that he is a communist and bourgeoisie at the same time. That means he has not digested the theoretical polarities of these two notions. Off late, he had even compared himself with M.F.Husain. But for me, Bose is one of those artists left the home land to struggle in Mumbai and made it to the top. He is one of the many. He is a restless person with a lot of aspirations to do things. But I would have appreciated his efforts if he had approached this ‘biennale’ in a democratic fashion and stood in public clean and uncorrupt. He should have asked this question whether he and Riyas stand qualified to do a biennale all by themselves. He should have respected the people in this country and also the artists and art fraternity in particular. He has proved himself to be power hungry and prone to corruption. I wish he could come out of it soon with clean hands.

(How long shall we blind fold the law? Bose with Prasad Raghavan and his work)

Premjish Achari: Okay, (smiles). Where does this Biennale stand now? And are you out and out to stop it by asking for clarifications and all?

JohnyML: As far as I know, further funding of this biennale has been stopped by the government of Kerala.

I am not against a grand opportunity that Kerala would have perhaps through this biennale. I want it to happen in a very democratic and intelligent way. I demand transparency and inclusive methods of functioning. I do not want any position in this biennale. I have a clean history and I am not power hungry. My strength is my conscience and the artists, writers, cultural activists and well meaning politicians in this country. I want India to be a strong country in all the fields including arts. And I believe, if we are against Rajas, Kalmadis and people like them, why should we not stand against the people who do corruption in the name of art?

Premjish Achari: Thanks Johny!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mario Miranda- The Artist who Gave a Little Bit of Goa in Our Lives

(Mario Miranda 1926- 2011)

On 11th December 2011 morning around 10 am, in Goa, at artist Subodh Kerkar’s home, he was showing me one of his latest gadgets, an Ipad that he had bought from the Dubai airport while coming back after visiting the Venice Biennale. He showed me the books that he had already downloaded and was mentioning how easily now he could cut time now while waiting for some meeting to take place or a flight to announce its departure. As a facebook activist I was curious to know whether one could access facebook in it. He then opened the overtly familiar social networking site with a flourish.

While scrolling down his home page, I saw artist Norman Tagore’s status line, ‘Mario Miranda’. ‘Anything wrong?’ I asked Subodh. Mario Miranda, one of the most familiar names in the field of Indian cartooning and illustration, had been keeping unwell for quite some time. Anxiously we rolled the page down to see whether some other people too had said something about the veteran graphic artist. Journalistic instincts got worked up both in Subodh and me alike and we made a quick google search to see any updates on Mario Miranda’s health and we did find none. We felt some kind of emotional solace as we generally do not expect those people who have enriched our lives with their personalities and works to sing their swan song or make their curtain call. But that feeling was a short lived one. Within a few minutes, Subodh, who is also a pocket cartoonist for the Times of India, Goa edition, got a call from a friend which said Mario Miranda was now history.

(cartoon by Mario)

It was quite a coincidence that I was in Goa when Mario Miranda, who gave a different profile to Goa other than its touristic one to the world through his chronicling of Goan life through exquisitely complicated, breathtakingly revealing and aesthetically charming graphic lines. I had never got a chance to meet Mario in person. However, during my frequent visits to Goa during the last three years, I got a chance to imbibe the milieu that created the cartoons, graphic chronicles, hagiographic landscapes, characters studies and visual commentaries on Goan life by Mario Miranda. Gerard da Cunha, the architect, art collector, expert in Goan history and above all a close friend of Mario Miranda was instrumental in publishing a well documented volume of Mario Miranda’s works with well researched articles by Manohar Malgonkar and Ranjit Hoskote. In fact, this book was a great entry for me into the world of Mario Miranda.

A few years back, Gerard da Cunha had created a private museum of Mario’s works adjacent to his home designed out of exposed latterite stones, a special building material in Goa and a hall mark style to da Cunha himself and to one of the most talented architects from the same state, Dean Decruze. We thought it would be a befitting tribute to the departed master if we made a visit to the museum. While driving to the museum, Subodh received a call from his daughter, a young economic undergraduate student, from Mumbai. She told her father that in the Mumbai streets people were talking about Mario Miranda. We really felt great. In a country where the demises of politicians and film actors make headlines and the departure of artists make four inches news (M.F.Husain was an exception), if common men in the streets talk about the death of a cartoonist and graphic artist, it should be news. We felt really great.

(Subodh Kerkar and JohnyML in front of Mario Miranda Museum in Goa)

I am sure many people in many cities in India, and in many streets must be talking about Mario Miranda. Despite my status as a cultural activist, I too feel that I am one amongst those common men who could admiringly talk about the departed master. Growing up in 1970s, we all had the chance to see Mario Miranda’s cartoons in the then famous ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’. Under the editorship of Mr.Kamath, Mario Miranda literally illustrated the weekly that made it illustrious amongst the common men in India. People in those days came to know about cricket, art and Mario Miranda through the ‘Illustrated Weekly’. As a person who was born and brought up in Kerala, I got the first taste of Goa and Bombay through the cartoons and illustrations of Mario Miranda. Though I grew up with the cartoons of Sankar, Abu Abraham, O.V.Vijayan, B.M.Gafoor, Toms, Somanathan, Sukumar and none other than R.K.Laxman, it was in the cartoons of Mario Miranda that I got the life of a land with real characters that operated outside the political lives, which in fact had been the anchor of many other cartoonists especially during the turbulent times of Indira Gandhi and Emergency.

(Work by Mario Miranda)

Speaking in retrospect, there is a little bit of Goa in everyone’s life. It would not be fallacious to say that it was Mario who gave a face to Goa and to certain extent to the Goans in Bombay. If Remo Fernandes gave Goan pop music to India, Gerard da Cunha, architecture, Wendel Rodricks fashion, Subodh Kerkar land art, earth mines, the politicians party hopping and scandals, beaches sunshine and alternative music and Sandra to Bandra, it was Mario who gave Goa to the other Indians with palpable and laughable characters. Had it been R.K.Laxman who gave a common man to the Indians the way Sankar had given the quintessential Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, it was Mario who gave the ‘common people’ of Goa to the world. Mario transcended the common people of Goa, their typical and typified characters rooted to their colonial past and the post-colonial present and he presented them as individuals with proper personalities like Ms.Nimbupaani, Miss Fonesca and so on.

(Where is Sandra? Still from the Movie by Paromita Vohra)

It was Mario’s cartoons and the character of a ‘private secretary’, a sort of surrogate blonde in the Western imagination that led me to look for ‘Sandra from Bandra’/’ Where is Sandra?’, a short film by Paromita Vohra, an alternative film maker. Raising a critique on the depiction of Goan women in the popular narratives as women with not so tight morals and a bit of idiocy, in this film Vohra searches the origins of ‘Sandra’ she often comes from a place called Bandra in Bombay. It could have been a critique applicable to Mario also but Mario escapes from such feministic readings and critique because Mario approaches ‘Sandra’ with sympathy and love. Being an insider, Mario up to an extent typifies them but he does not make them the perennial stereotypes that could become ‘lap top’ private secretaries or vamps on order. A closer look would reveal that many such stereotypes in Mario becomes a stand in character for the common man as in Laxman’s world who remains a silent witness to all the good, bad and ugly deeds.

(Comparison of Alex Fernandes' Tiatriste series with the works of Mario Miaranda)

When Alex Fernandes, a Goa based photography artist who takes interest in Goan contemporary and past history through making character studies through the generic studio photography style, did his Tiatriste and Goan Musicians series, Ranjit Hoskote found a strong resemblance, though subconsciously inspired, between the characters created by Mario Miranda and Alex Fernandes. In this sense one could say that Mario was an inspiration to many artists including fashion designers, character designers and photography artists as Mario could portray the Goan people in their inherent personalities, characteristics, mannerisms often seen through an exaggerated lens tinted with humor and satire. This quality of Mario has paved way to the establishment of a sort of Mario industry in Goa and in Mumbai. Several Mario’s works are translated into mosaic tiles, post cards, cups, utensils, T-shirt pictures, murals and so on, at times with his permission and involvement and at times with no copy rights.

(Subodh Kerkar giving telephonic interviews as a tribute to Mario Miranda)

Born on 2nd May 1926, Mario was a true gentle man with a cut glass personality. “I have seen rogues making good art but here in Mario you see a gentle man making wonderful art,” observes Subodh Kerkar who had a rare opportunity to share a cartoon column in the Illustrated Weekly of India when he was a medical student. “I would consider Mario at par with F.N.Souza and V.S.Gaitonde,” says Kerkar and also he insists that though the departed master had been conferred the Padma Awards (Padmashree and Padmabhushan) by the government of India, the state government of Goa is lacking in perspective and vision as it could not honor the legendary graphic artist. While giving innumerable telephonic interviews to the journalists Subodh asks them to make demands to the state government to award Mario Miranda with the highest award of Goa, the Gomantak Award posthumously.

While guzzling down beer after beer in a moderately hot afternoon in a shack called ‘Flying Dolphin’ at the Calangut beach in Goa, with Shaji Mathew from Niv Art Centre, Mrs and Mr. Peter Mueller, Indian art collectors and gallerists from Munich, I listen to people talking about Mario. What more an artist could have asked for in his life?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Delhi Calling: To My Children Series 24

(Vivekanand Rock and Tiruvalluvar Statue in Kanyakumari)

Delhi or Mumbai? Sitting on the boulders at the sea shore of Kanyakumari (Cape Comerin), where the Arabian Ocean and Indian Ocean meet, against the backdrop of a setting sun and rising hopes in our minds, Mrinal and myself asked this question several times to ourselves. I had an offer from Trivandrum Fine Arts College as a temporary lecturer through a relative who wanted me to marry his daughter. Now with another girl on my left side I could not have approached the person to get that job. We were looking for a place to stay and work and one common ground on which we stood firm was that we did not want to stay in a place where either Marathi (mother tongue of Mrinal) or Malayalam (my mother tongue) was spoken as the primary language. Ideas to migrate to Mumbai were put to back burner because of Marathi language. Delhi was the other destination. It was 1995.

I had some Mumbai phobia then. Though I had never visited Mumbai at that point of time, there was something dreadful about that city in my imagination. I thought that Mumbai would gobble me up. Now looking back I could discern two or three reasons behind this special kind of urban phobia I had. First of all I was a small town boy. Trivandrum was big enough to be called a city but not huge enough to be called a metropolis. All my ideas about city were formed through literature and films. For me, Mumbai was a place where underworld dons and Shiv Sena activists ruled the streets. I thought people who had gone there to eke out a living were living under the constant threat of these two parties. In our village, there were some Shiv Sena activists. They formed their club near a temple and most of them played volley ball by evenings. They were just next door youngsters and none of them looked harmful or threatening. But the village grape vine used to inform the young kids like that they were very dangerous people and they had links in Mumbai. In those days Mumbai was called Bombay.

As a young boy I could not have escaped the political milieu of Kerala. Though I don’t claim that my home was a hub of political discussions and related events, as I have described in previous chapters, there used to be a political feel to the meetings that my father conducted at my home along with his friends. I used to work as an errand boy in these meetings, bringing tea for them and at times making some wise cracks to which my father reprimanded me sternly either by rolling his eyes or giving me a smack at my thighs with his bare hand. My father was an avid reader of newspapers and political magazines and I picked up this quality from him though my interest was more on rape cases, robberies and above all some pulp fictions and barely clad women’s photographs. From the newspapers and magazines too I had gathered that the Shiv Sena guys were really dangerous and they were terrorizing the migrant communities in Bombay though I did not know the gravity of things at that time.

(Ajay Devgun as Don)

Films were the other source through which I had formed my ideas about Bombay. In the Malayalam movies that I watched during those days, the heroes went to Bombay and fought the underworld dons there only to become more powerful underworld kings. Though they helped in pumping my adrenaline quite well I never thought of going to Bombay even for a visit thanks to the invisible fear that had roosted in my mind while watching these movies. Besides I grew up listening to the stories of those guys who tried to go to the Gulf countries via Bombay. Many of them used to fall prey to the greedy middle men who offered them visas and entry passes to these hapless guys. Mortgaging their properties and gold in banks and in the lockers of the local money lenders, these young men with dreams in their eyes took the money to these middle men who often cheated them and left them stranded in Bombay. After endless wait these young people came back to Kerala only to try their luck again with more convincing middle men.

The major reason should be lying in an incident that happened sometime in 1993. I was trying to reach home from Baroda by road. I was desperate to reach home because my girl friend of that time was under house arrest. She wanted me to go back to Kerala and take her out of her confinement. Though nothing happened even if I had rushed to Trivandrum, I had a very strange experience in Mumbai. I remember reaching there at Bombay Central railway station one early morning. I was wearing a blue shirt and a pair of blue jeans and was sporting a pretty long hair and beard. It was a time when the Indian intelligence got wind about the LTTE activists moving to Indian shores. I was stopped at the Bombay central railway station and was thoroughly frisked and cross examined. It was a very humiliating experience and I thought that I would never go to Bombay again. Though I was released from the Police custody, I was totally dazed and I do not remember how I moved from Bombay to Pune by bus and then to Kannur, a northern district in Kerala. I was almost sleep-traveling.

The sun went down in the horizon. We became two other shadows lingering on the sea shore like many strewn all over the place. The Vivekananda Rock became a silhouette occasionally washed by foam and water by the rising tidal waves. A few meters away from the Vivekananda Rock, the rock where Swami Vivekananda had done penance during his visit to South India, the government of Tamil Nadu was sponsoring a huge statue of Tiru Valluvar, a great poet who authored Thirukkural and believed to have lived between 3rd Century BC and 8th Century AD. The foundation stone and a part of the pedestal were lying there like a ruin waiting to be completed and gain the status as of one of the tallest sculptures in Asia (133 feet).

“Shall we go to Delhi?” I asked Mrinal.

(N.N.Rimzon, a still grabbed from a documentary 'Speaking Stones' directed by myself in 2009)

She looked at me and said yes. We did not know anyone in Delhi. Suddenly I remembered an offer came from an artist namely N.N.Rimzon in 1994 when I visited a sculpture camp at the Nirmithi Kendra, a government run architecture research institute in Trivandrum. I was coming back from the Cholamandal Artists Village in Chennai after doing my research for the final year dissertation and when I reached Trivandrum someone told me that there was a sculpture camp going on in Nirmithi Kendra where I could meet a few sculptors. When I reached there, N.N.Rimzon, Valsan Kolleri and K.P.Soman were doing their site specific works. Some of them knew me by name and I had an opportunity to talk to them closely. Before leaving Rimzon suggested if I had any plan to go to Delhi, visit him there as he was living there. I smiled at him, thanked him for the offer and left the place.

Now, at Kanyakumari, though the sun had gone down a hope was rising in our minds and we knew that there was at least one person who could help us if we went there. We contacted a few friends in the days followed and made sure that Rimzon was in Delhi. Some people gave us the contact address of Amit Mukhopadhyay, who was working as the editor of the Lalit Kala Contemporary, the Contemporary Art Journal, published by the Central Lalit Kala Akademy. Someone also suggested that we could live in the Lalit Kala Akademy guest house dormitory for a meager amount of fifty Rupees a week. But we just needed to get a recommendation from someone like Amit Mukhopadhyay. With two names and two suitcases full of clothes we set out for Delhi though we did not know the capital city of India would become our home soon.

It was in June 1995 we reached Delhi. The Kerala Express, the train that runs between Trivandrum and New Delhi crossed the Faridabad station after two days and two nights. It was drizzling and with widened eyes I looked at the shabby huts that had sprung up along the railway line. I saw rickety autos and buses plying on the roads that ran parallel to the railway tracks. I saw people squatting behind the bushes defecating. Women stood up with their sarees down but the legs apart when the train arrogantly rushed past. On a roughly painted white wall with a black line for a border I read, ‘Gupt Rogi Milen, Dr.Gaba’ (Meet Dr.Gaba for treating Sexually Transmitted Diseases). That was the first notice that welcomed me to Delhi. I need not have been a socio-cultural specialist or critic to understand that the people who lived in these shabby shores were prone to sexually transmitted diseases.

(New Delhi Railway station now)

Water drops fell on my face. I did not know whether I was day dreaming or thinking anxiously about our future together in a big city called Delhi. Whatever be the case, the touch of the water drop woke me up from a land where I was lost myself. Mrinal too was silent and a bit tense. She did not know what would happen to her if nothing worked out for us. We had already taken a decision not to do any other work than doing art criticism. We thought that art criticism would give us food and shelter and we were young, and we were dreaming a lot. We also had thought that we would never get married formally. We thought that we would be a revolutionary couple who would always operate from outside the mainstream life. We imagined ourselves to be an ideal couple who would defy social rules and live a life without marriage and without kids. Even if we wanted kids at some stage, we told ourselves, we would adopt them because India had so many kids who desperately wanted parental care.

Between idealism of our private lives and the city called Delhi, the Kerala Express wheezed into a stop at the 12 number platform of New Delhi Railway station. I had never seen such a big railway station in my life. Mrinal told me that she had been once here and she came with her friends to visit a Triennale conducted by the Lalit Kala Akademy. The first thing came to my mind was to turn back, run into the train and go back to Kerala. I did not want to become anything. I wanted to live a small and inconspicuous life in my village. But that was lying a neat 3000 kilometers down south. Between my village and me there was three days and two nights distance. And that distance was further made wider by the responsibilities that we had taken together on our shoulders.

(kerala Express)

We waved down an auto rickshaw and got into it. We huddled together in the backseat of that rickety vehicle that puffed and panted like a fox. We were like two puppies terrorized by invisible creatures that came around them when they mother was away. We reached the Lalit Kala Akademy premises at Mandi House. Unlike today, it was a very accessible place. None asked from where we came and why we came. Today if you go anywhere near Lalit Kala Akademy, the private security men would ask you the reason for your presence there. We asked for Amit Mukhopadhyay. Someone showed us where he sat. He was inside a room shared by two other people, Avani Kant Deo and Vikram Mehra. He was leaning against a chair, with his right hand crossing across his chest. And on his table covered with a thick glass sheet there was a packet of tobacco, cigarette paper, match box and a cup with the tea stain inside it.

Amit Mukhopadhyay welcomed us. He was happy to see a boy and a girl all determined to become art critic in a city where they did not know anyone. He was quick to patronize us. He asked us to go to the Lalit Kala Akademy guest house and keep our luggage there. We went, got freshen up and came back to Amit Mukhopadhyay’s office as if we had found someone to lean on. I was posing to be a tough guy. I still remember that I was wearing a black shirt and a pair of blue jeans. With a full grown beard and long hairs I looked more than my age. I was twenty four then and Mrinal was twenty one. She was lean and thin. When she wore skirt and blouse she looked like a school girl. When we came back to the Akademy it was already five o clock. Many eyes were staring at us. Amit Mukhopadhyay took us to the canteen behind the main building where he got us tea and some snacks. He asked more about us and we were more than willing to share our ideas and aspirations. We were not worldly wise then. So we revealed our likings and disliking so quickly. I believe, Amit Mukhopahdyay had assessed us on that very first meeting itself.

(National Lalit Kala Akademy, New Delhi)

Night came and we were left alone in the city. We did not have any place to go other than the guest house where the girls had a different dormitory and the boys had a different one. It was time for dinner and I did not know where to go. Mrinal knew that there were two different dhabas (way side eateries) where they served good food for cheap price; one was near ITO, next to Pragati Maidan famous for its industrial expositions and erstwhile theme park called Appu Ghar. Appu Ghar was named after an elephant that became the mascot of Asiad, a sport extravaganza of the commonwealth countries in 1982. This elephant had come from Kerala and its train journey from Kerala to Delhi had made news. I never knew that one day I would also take the same route and reach the same destination. This dhaba near Appu Ghar was a called Hanuman Dhaba. This was called so because it was located behind a huge statue of Lord Hanuman, the monkey God. The second dhaba was near the Bengali market where the affluent class of Delhi came for their gossips and snacks. This dhaba was rightly called ‘Refugee Dhaba’ for mostly the refugees went there to eat. Besides, the refugees from both the East and West Pakistan were once given shelters there by the government of India. While crossing Bengali market at night and heading towards the refugee market, Mrinal told me that in Bengali market Super Star Amitabh Bacchan used to come for snacks when he was studying in Delhi. I glanced the lit innards of the sweet shops on either side of the Bengali market. And I was wondering whether I would ever be able to go inside and eat one of those sweets on display.

(Asiad Appu, the mascot)

“Alooo palak, dal fry, gobhi masala, aloo paneer, palak paneer, tinda, bhindi….,” a boy who was looking elsewhere and mechanically wiping a steel plate with a piece of dirty cloth recited these words non-stop. He was responding to a query from Mrinal. I looked at Mrinal because I had not understood a word from what he said. Mrinal negotiated with boy and ordered something. After a few minutes the boy came back with a small steel plate with a few pieces of chopped onion, cucumber, radish, green chillies and a piece of lemon and threw it before us. I looked at Mrinal. She told me it was a salad. Not that I never had any experience with different kind of food. In Baroda I had feasted on a lot of potato, onion and two different types of lentil soup called, Punjabi and Gujarati. Punjabi tasted like lentil soup and the Gujarati tasted like a sweet dish. In Baroda things were simple. You could scoop up any amount of potato mash and onions. And whenever you wanted these regional lentil soups you just needed to shout either ‘Punjabi’ or ‘Gujarati’.

Finally the boy came with two oval shaped steel plates. One was filled with a steaming thick black daal and the other had a green paste where potato pieces lay dead. ‘Dal fry and Aloo Palak’, Mrinal explained to me. I nodded as if I got the meaning. Hot tandoori rotis were placed before us on steel plates as big as the rotis. In South India we eat rice from the main plate and curries from small dishes around. Here in North India people ate differently. They kept the curry before them and ate roti from side plates. They broke rotis in small pieces and made a spoon out of it, scooped the vegetable or dal in it and then pushed it into their mouth. Later on I realized that it was more a class oriented eating style. Poor people ate like that and we were sitting amongst a lot of poor people who could not afford sophisticated food from the Bengali market. The poor people ate with relish. They took the Tandoori rotis in hand and clapped them against their palms to remove the black soot from the tandoor oven and ate with a lot of festivities. It was like dumb charade. They hissed once in a while as they bit their teeth into ferocious green chillies. They gulped unfiltered water from the dirty drums covered with dirty clothes.

(aaloo palak)

I was learning to eat Delhi for the first time. And Delhi ate with a passion. And I was becoming a part of the passion. I did not know there were many other eateries in the city where people ate from huge plates, in silver wares served by turbaned bearers. I knew Delhi through the refugee dhaba. Mrinal was eating silently, occasionally looking into my eyes asking whether I was enjoying it or not. I was thoroughly enjoying it because I thought at least I could grapple with Delhi in terms of food. I did not know what palak was. Mrinal told me that it was Spinach. It took me many more years to know that it was the same spinach that Pop Eye ate for all the energies. With faceless people we too sat and ate without face. Some people ogled at us because at that moment Mrinal was the only girl in that dhaba and she obviously did not look like one who frequented such places. She was more defiant than myself and with the defiance inherent in her she dared the gazes which went back in shame after sometime.

We walked back to Mandi House and then to the Akademy guest house. Night was thick. There were no familiar faces. We sat there for a while in the hall of the guest house. I did not know what I was feeling. Mrinal was tired after three days of train journey. I too was tired but I was not feeling sleepy. After chatting up for some more time, planning the next day though we did not have much to do in the city to begin with, we said good night to each other. Mrinal went to the right wing of the guest house where the girls’ dormitory was located and I went t to the left wing where boys were supposed to park themselves at night. I sat silently on the bed for some time. Some boys were on other beds. Some were sleeping and some were looking at the ceiling. Someone was rolling a few paintings. I did not know anyone of them. I was posing like a brave young man till then. Now I felt like crying. Here I was in Delhi. Alone, in the midst of hopeless strangers. Then I calmed myself down. I went out to the drawing room and made sure that Mrinal latched the room from inside for she had told me that no other girl was present there that evening. I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling for a while. All those twenty four years paraded their highlights before my eyes. I heard a vehicle screeching to halt somewhere out there. I let myself fall into a deep well that I thought was a metaphor of Delhi for that night.