Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Honey Collector and Vanishing Bees

There is a huge bee-hive right outside my widow and it never bothered me.  I believed,  we had a tacit understanding with each other ' live and let live'. I could see  the hive grow inch by inch and simply marveled their technology as millions of black bees clung to it with their lives. As I would sit sipping my tea looking outside my window I could see bees buzzing around.  BUZZZ....... they would zoom past.  Some flying away from the hive , some flying into the hive. They had no time to look around.
Busy-bees! They had a job assigned and all were at it- diligently- disciplined- dedicated to their job.  I envied their discipline and dedication. They were least concerned that I was watching them or the world around existed. I was so amused by the hive that I even began to conceptualize  a work in my head. I visualized the material that I was going to use.

Never ever I  had a thought of complaining to my society manager that there is huge hive growing outside my window and it needs to be removed. And yet one day  I saw some noise outside my window. A few bees had flown into my apartment- which is on  the seventh floor.  As I peeped outside the window I saw a  lean teenager  hanging on a rope.  Before I could have the  time to comprehend what was going on; following visuals unfolded before me in few minutes time.

The boy was hanging from a rope with a tin can tied to another rope.

He swung to the ledge quickly grabbing the sanitation pipes.

Next, he was in a touching distance to the bee hive.

A small branch of leaves with fire and smoke, was quickly pulled up.

In a swift move he dusted the bees hanging on to the hive with smoking branch  and with bear hands pulled the pieces of hive.

 As bees began to fly in frenzy. He had few seconds to collect honey.

In just couple of swoops he filled the tin can. Mean while bees had covered the sky.

He began his descend.

This when he saw me standing in the window clicking pictures. He requested me if he could enter my apartment, and walk down the staircase.

Grudgingly I opened the window and allowed him in. But not before admonishing him for destroying a harmless hive. He was fully drenched in honey. And few  bees were cling on to him. He quietly dusted the bees. He was not wearing any safety gear by which he could protect himself from bee stings. No gloves , a protective suit. or a head gear.  Yet not a single bee had  stung him.

"Honey chahiye" ( want to buy honey) He asked with out flinching an eye.
" Nahi" (No) I said emphatically.
No further words exchanged , he quietly walked out of the door, stamping honey feet on the floor.

I looked back at the hive. Still few bees were hovering around the place.
Their world had been destroyed in few seconds. But on a second look- I saw everything was not over. The boy had not completely uprooted the hive. Some bees clung on to whatever little bit of hive that was still remaining.  Probably Queen was still  in there. In few minutes they quietly restarted rebuilding their world. They buzzed in and out - back and forth- collecting honey.  No time to complain or lament over loss.

For moment I was transported in  meditation hall sitting besides fellow followers- and felt the words ringing in my ears " phirse shur karen"... " lets start again".. words hammered into my brains by my Vipassana guru. Late  S. N.Goyenka. There is no time left to think/brood/regret just start it all over again. Move on...

Bees had understood this essence so beautifully, and were demonstrating it for me how to live in present , now and here.

 I  was still shaken by the event- for few  moments world had stopped for me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why did I vote a looser?

"So you voted  a looser?" asked one of my dear friend, who is passionate about current politics. "Yes. I did" I said with a grin. ""why waste your vote when you know he is going to loose the election?"
My answer was simple - " I  have voted him for the next election."

Let me say this upfront. I don't like Indian politics and politicians. Politicians are a hated lot all over the world , so there is nothing new about such feelings. And Indian politicians are breed in themselves. I had refused to vote over the years, till I understood  the importance of voting  and my sovereign right. So last few elections I voted- rather grudgingly  - with a feeling "whats the point? You have no choice between one corrupt politician from another".

Electoral system had thoroughly disappointed middle class people like me who felt helpless for electing 'criminal' elements in politics- again and again. And having exercised your right all you had to do was to suffer these people for five years. My blood boiled every-time I watched a neta on the television. If PM just starred blankly at you, others went to town with their gyans on TV as if they owned this country. Most of them criminal. Illiterate. Arrogant.  All major parties looked the same. Felt same. Talked same . Smelled same. Year or year it was same old story. Their typical CVs read like this. Age; 60; Education : School level ( This can mean even 4th or 5Th grade); Assets 100cr.; Criminal record: 15 cases pending; Parliamentary experience: siting MP for last 2 terms. Attendance in Parliament: 58%

As a citizen one felt humiliated for having to elect a  semi literate man, who has amassed huge assets through dubious means and having many criminal cases against his name can represent you in parliament. Their behavior in the parliament also showed that they were no capable of  dealing  with the  institution like parliament where one needed skills like debating and  counter arguing to make the point. It was obvious their  semi literate status and goonda culture only degraded image of Indian democracy.What can you expect from such people? And yet having come to  power they were untouchables.

Having said this -  this election is different. You have a choice. There is a hope.

This year in my constituency  I saw a CV of an candidate quiet different from others.  Age 45; Education: post graduate; Experience : former fund house manager of a leading Bank; Assets: 20Cr; Parliamentary experience : first time candidate. I had never heard the name of this candidate before. Nor did I receive any election information from his party.  Obviously- he is first time candidate standing on the ticket of a newly formed party- called AAP- aam aadmi party. A name probably was christened by Robert Vadra- with his famous words of 'Mango Man'.

AAP is a new hope for people of India. This party is formed mostly of highly professional people who have left their successful careers to clean up the corrupt politics of India. Since they are all first time  candidates they have a clean slate. Criminals have no space here- that what the convener of this party proclaims. They have no money to fund this election( no wonder no one came to my house asking me to vote for them). They have no much media presence( again no posters, banners or fliers explaining their stand) Honestly I have no idea what they are promising to this country.  Or What will be their policies.

Yet, I voted for this man who I know nothing.

People in general feel AAP is losers in this election. They have no hope to come to power.
Well they may be right. But that's not my point of view.

If we want to change our political system than who else can give us a better governance than educated, professionally successful aam admi like me and you who kept away from the political process and allowed lampoons to rule over us. Aap IS an idea that has the potential to change this country. It has similar roots like the freedom movement set out by Gandhi. If it was  not for educated men  like Gandhi who made the people of India believe that freedom is possible. And, had it not  for the people of India  believe and support  in Gandhi's idea of freedom- we would be still under British Rule.

You need to believe. Believe in Change. And Possibility of the change. The IIT graduate who started this mission is convinced that this is not just a belief but a reality waiting to happen. All we need to do is endorse and participate his mission- if we want to change . Like we believed in Gandhi and gave a chance to him- we need to give AAP a chance .
 Yes, I voted the candidate whose name I cannot recollect at the moment . And he is sure to loose this election. Only  reason I voted a looser - becasue I want to keep the IDEA called AAP alive. I want to keep this flame of hope alive till the next elections. In five years AAP should have ample time to prove its mantle. If it bytes the dust then, all I can say we as nation are still not ready for a mature democracy.

 Other political parties are trying to discount them for their inexperience. But let me ask you what was Jawarharlal Nehru's experience when he was elected as first Prime Minister of India? Did Babasaheb Ambedkaer who wrote an excellent constitution was experienced to draft such an important bill? When Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister did he have any clue of governance? So what makes you think that AAP will not do a good job? And finally if this man has been a successful fund mananger and if I have trusted this man with my money, why should I not trust him with nation? He will be anytime a better choice than a semi literate man who blabbers " boys don't rape but just make mistakes" Lets not forget there are sizable numbers of professional, intellectuals and experts  part of AAP. AAP has to survive in order to change India, and that would be true victory of democracy.

I know , I voted a looser this time. For the first time I won't grumble that I have no choice among candidates because all are criminals. I voted a looser because  I want to stop this family- raj.

I  have voted for change. And I am willing to wait patiently till next five years to see it happening.
So my vote is not for this election but for the future of India.      

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are you a feminist mother?

Are you a feminist mother, Amma?

Had I asked my mother this question, her answer would have been “  I don't understand what feminist mother means'.

Right. My mother died 20 years back. There was no term like 'feminist mothering' during her time. And even if there was, I don't think it would have changed any of her philosophy of upbringing her three children. And yet I feel by today's definition of 'feminist mother' she befits the term with out even subscribing to the  ideology of feminism.

Let me introduce you to my mother.
My mother had masters degree in home-science from Pune's SNDT Women's University. She was was very interested in the political science and politics of her time. She was a trained singer and used to perform for All India Radio . Fluent in Portuguese , French Marathi, English and her mother tongue Konkani she was a competent teacher in math and science. And above all she was an avid sports fan. Specially Cricket. It she who explained me what a googly means in cricket.
One of the first few women in Goa who started a school. I used often get compliments from my friends mothers who would acknowledge her by saying “ had your mother not begged with my father to send me to school, I would have remained angutha chap ( illiterate). She was very active participant in Goa's freedom movement. And her contribution has been acknowledged in  Goa's history

And in-spite all this she lived a very humble life of a 'Indian woman'. By no imagination a feminist. Suffering all the travails of patriarchal society. As a young widow- she shouldered the responsibility of bringing children at a very young age  -two daughters and a son .

why do I feel my mother was a feminist mother ?

“The term 'feminist mothering' suggests, among other things, the effort to bring up both boys and girls as human beings without socialising them into rigid and hierarchical gender roles. It also suggests that women will claim choices about lives outside of their roles as mothers. When I use the term, I refer to a commitment to egalitarian gender politics while raising a child, as well as the effort to create an environment where a child is able to make choices and exercise agency. I think the dilemma I attempt to engage with is that of wanting to give one's daughter choices and help her learn to negotiate various risks, and at the same time keep her 'safe' in cities that are often seen as dangerous. says Shilpa Phadke, a feminist and  one of the avid proponent of feminist mothering. 

If this is what feminist mothering is about, than I have a strong case for my mother.
And here is why.

When I look at my childhood, what I realize is my mother never gendered her children. If we understand process of gendering begins at birth. It may start with a simple issues like You buy dolls for a girls? And guns for boys. Make a girl wear frocks that are pink in colour. You put a sweet pony for a girl . In short you 'doll' her up. My mother did nothing of this. She never bought dolls for me.  Or guns for my brother. Or dressed me in pink. Blue for my bro.  Nor did I have a cute pony. Instead My hair were cut by the same barber who came to cut hair for men and boys in the house. There was no feminist thought behind this but a simple practical step.  It was cheap to cut hair from a barber. So till age 5, I had men's crew cut. And often guests would mistake me for a boy. I wore all kinds of clothes shorts, frocks in all shades but pink.
In short, I was just  a child in the house  and not a girl child.

I grew up in a joint family where boys outnumbered girls. In fact we two sisters were only two  girls in the house against five boys that includes my own brother.) I did what what boys did in the house. And never ever my mother told me you can't do this because you are a girl.

Since it was boys world.
I Boxed. Wrestled. Cycled. Raced and lost. Climbed trees. Fell. Broke knees. Jumped off the balcony in the sand pit below. And broke my hand. Played with marbles. Betting money, won some and lost some. Smoked my first cigarette standing in corner. Went on hunting expeditions. Got bitten by bees. Played cards. Carom, badminton, football , cricket, ( and braced body line balling from boys ) marbles. I had a stake in everything what boys did. And at no point I was told, hey you are a different specie and you can't come with us. 

If I go back to my mother with a blue eye all she said was “ when you go out with boys you must know what you are in for. They are rough. If you don't like their ways don't play with them . But if you choose to go then you must be prepared for something like this. ” Her solutions were simple never play a 'girl card' . Again, there was no conscious feminist  thought behind these words. Whether a girl or boy you have a level playing field out there . If you want something , want an equal role  than face it with equal consequences. Probably a lesson  she learnt during freedom struggle, that going to jail meant nothing different for men and women. 

Growing up as a  teenager was no much different. Same rules applied to my bro as well we two sisters. Same deadlines.  12 am max. We had access to same places as boys. And same pocket money.
In fact I remember when the school complained about me refusing to join a cookery class meant for girls as part of extra circular activity; I wanted to take carpentry lessons.  My mother wrote on my report card: “She should be allowed to learn what she wants to learn.”

Children don't need instructions in gendering. They learn watching people around them. Specially- one's mother if you are a girl. That is how one forms idea of your own gender role. I saw my mother reading books. Debating and discussing complex topics. I saw her attending lectures and music concerts. Going to libraries and mostly spending long hours writing. Solving our most difficult math problems. She watched cricket matches on television sometimes staying late at night if the match was played in London. And had a keen interest in world politics. But she was also a  fabulous cook. And loved classical music and dance.

Yet she was very 'feminine' . Almost docile.  A typical 'Indian mother'. Being a staunch Gandhian she had very simple living taste. Wore cotton saris. And performed most of the jobs by herself in-spite of having litany of servants in home.  Beauty parlour and salons were not her reality so she never introduced us to that world as girls would. We grew up as plain Jane-s or country girls. When my friend told me how her mother used to oil her hair and groom her with specific perfume and make her stand in the church at a specific point to attract 'right' boy's attention. I was shocked to learn how my mother never told us such things. In fact when one of my distant cousin was being 'shown' to a boy for a arranged match , my mother clearly told us “ you don't have to go through this experience .”
Looking back, I don't remember her spending time in front of mirror. She was not interested in jewelry or dressing up, what generally women love. Whenever the family jeweler came home to take orders, my mother would never participate in it. She would walk away by saying 'tell him exactly what you want and he will do it”. In short she never did girly talk or girly things. I realized, in my college days why I was so unpopular among girls.

Interestingly mother had a very liberal and secular views specially on matters of gender. She had a very dear friend who was lesbian ( read my earlier blog. My mother's lesbian friend) )
And when a Nigerian classmate of mine would visit our home she would take keen interest in learning his cultural background and never told me not to befriend African boys.

I can go on and on, why think she was true feminist mother by today's definition and yet for her such tags had no much meaning. Being a Gandhian,  her project was how to bring up  her children as good human beings. Not as girls and boys.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What about Picasso Baby?

    Photographed by Mimi Ritzen Crawford

Recently a very erudite artist posted a question on his  status wall -

Is it possible to think of 'art, without thinking of the 'art world?'

Most of the answers were in a single emphatic word YES!
But take a second look. you will find question has many questions within.
And it cannot be answered in a simple word YES.
For example the question contains following questions-

Why we make 'art'? and for whom?

who is buying 'art'? and seeing it? who is talking and writing about it? 
Is there any intrinsic relationship between an 'art object' and its collector? and does viewer really matter?
If 'art' is done without the concern/gaze of art world?  then will that art be recognized by the 'art world'?
Ok .. let me stop this BS and put it this way-  Is today's art an insider job? where the artists, critic, curator, gallerist, collector collude and decide what should be ART? and therefore "art cannot be made without thinking of art world"?

I think Jay Z,  the celebrity hip hop singer  has answered this question through his recent performance. Now Jay Z needs no introduction. On 10th July he invited who is who of art world and his fans at the New York's Pace gallery to release his recent single presented in a ART Performance. Dressed in a squeaky white shirt , and equally squeaky white sneakers, adoring his trademark bling, Jay Z performed live for six hours , inviting artists , art critics gallerists to shake a leg with him while mouthing some famous names of the art world. One by one he would drag a celebrity audience on the stage look into their eyes and move in an impromptu gig. Marina Abramovic the doyen of the performance art was the highlight of the act. Dressed in a loose black gown she and Jay Z whirled around each other like two ferocious felines that are about to attack each other . In another video clip of the same performance showed an elderly lady wearing loose green shirt, with a a leg plastered in bandage circumambulating the dais in a children's scooter. While Jay Z gyrated in his regular hip hope moves, his guests moved in strange gestures that can be hardly identifiable to any dance forms. Some pretended talking. Some jumped like monkeys. In any case the whole performance was an impromptu tamasha. The world media covered the event as a marriage between two art movements, and labeled it pop- performance.

For moment you wonder Is this is art?
So I turned to lyrics which I could not hear while the performance was on.

It goes like this-

I just want a Picassso,/In my casa / No, My castle /I am a hassa/ No am an asshole
I am never satisfied/can't knock my hustle/ I wanna Rothko/ No I wanna brothel /
No/ I want a wife that fucks me like a prostitute/ Let's make love on a million/ In a dirty hotel/
with the fan on the ceiling /All for love of drug dealing / Marble floors / Gold ceilings/
Oh what a feeling / fuck it I want a billion/ Jeff Koons balloons / I just wanna blow up /
Condos in my condos / I wanna row of/ Chirstie's with my missy / Live a the MoMA/
Bacons and turkey bacons smell the aroma


Oh what a feeling / Picasso baby / Ca Picasso baby / Ca ca Picasso baby / Ca ca Picasso baby /
Oh what a feeling / Picasso baby / Ca Picasso baby /Ca ca Picasso baby, ca ca Picasso baby

It ain't hard to tell / I'm the new Jean Michel / Surrounded by Warhols /
My whole team ball / Twin Bugattis out side the Art Basel /I just wanna live life colossal/
Leonardo Da Vinci flows Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes / See me throning at Met
Vouging on these niggas/ Champagne on my breath/ Yes / House like the Louvre or the Tate Modern / Because I be going ape at the auction / Oh what a feeling / Aw fuck/ I want a trillion
Sleeping every night next to Mona lisa / The Modern day version / with better features
yellow Basquiat at my kitchen corner/ Go ahead lean on that shit Blue /You own it


Oh what a feeling / Picasso baby/ Ca Picasso baby / Ca ca Picasso baby / Ca ca Picasso baby/
Oh what a feeling / Picasso baby, Ca Picasso baby / Ca ca Picasso baby, ca ca Picasso baby

I never stuck my cock on the fox's box but / Dammed if I ain't open Pandora's box/
They try to slander you man/ On CNN and FOX/ My Miranda's don't stand a chance/ With cops/
Even my old fans like old man just stop /I could if I would but I can't
I am hot / And you blow /I'm still man to watch / Hublot / On my left hand or not/Soon I step out of the booth / The cameras pops niggas is cool with it / Till the cannons pop/ Now my hand on the Bible/ On the stand got your man in a jam / Again / Got my hands in cuff / I'm like god damn enough/ I put down the cans and the ran amok / My hairpin / Pierce skin ruptures spleens /
Crack rips, go through cribs and other things / No sympathy for the king huh / Niggas even talk About your baby crazy / Eventually the pendulum swings / Don't forget America this how you made me/ Come through with the 'Ye mask on'/ Spray something like SAMO/ I won't scratch the lambo/
What's it gonna to take / For me to go /For y'all to see/ I am the modern day Pablo/ Picasso baby

Lyrics of the song clearly  explains today's art scene very eloquently.  who makes art and for whom ? Who is buying  art? and for what reason he is buying it. It also explains why art should be made in first place? What the **** the art world is all about?   Doesn't it explains the 'existential dilemma' of today's artist when he says I am the modern day Pablo.?

This is nothing but art.
And hey if you don't trust my judgement,  here is esteemed critics words.

Jerry Saltz, NYC art critic, who was invited for the performance warned Jay Z that he is an art critic and he better watch out what he does on the stage. But after going through the six hour performance He writes,

“I went in doubting. I left elated. Any performer who can get a room full of strangers chanting, "Picasso baby" over and over again is good in my book. Better yet, Jay-Z even got me to actually start liking Marina Abramovic. That's art”

" Oh what a feeling/ Picasso baby/ Ca Picasso baby"
I am loving it!
if you want my honest answer.
The 'real' art happens out side the bounds of art world.
what happens in  the art world is "Picasso babies" 

Image courtesy

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Last Telegram

As I opened the door , courier boy thrust a small paper through the grill window.

"Sign here", it's a telegram" he said.
"What?!! A Telegram??? Are you sure you have got the right address?" I asked the man across the grill in a very bewildered tone.
I could not believe the word Telegram. who would want to send a telegram in this age? I wondered.

The man , in his mid forties definitely had no time or patience to appreciate my amusement and repeated the words now more sternly “ sign here”.
I signed on the paper he gave me  then he handed me a small printed paper in my hand.
I was still trying to make sense of the chit he had given me. “This will be one of the last telegrams you will ever receive. Open it carefully.” he muttered as he walked off.  It was a small printed chit stapled in one corner. As I  opened the stapled pin , it said


Of course some friends had used this last opportunity to send a telegram to wish their friends well.

Honestly, I had never seen  a telegram in my life. I did hear of it in my child hood through literature, movies and songs, but never had received one.

This would be my first and the last telegram of my life.  I would like to thank my friends for this special experience.

Telegraph service in India has 160 years of history. It was one the important services of communication of modern India and played a significant role during freedom struggle. People received news of birth, death, success failure joy and despair through a telegram. Often news of receiving  a telegram was linked to a tragic news. There are many bollywood songs that celebrated the life of postman for bringing that mail or a telegram. I can imagine how important this service might have been for the people during those days. It must have been as indispensable as today's email or sms . With time the technology might have changed but the essence of human communication and emotions remain the same.

On the 15th July 2013, the worlds' last telegram service will stop.
So long for a Telegram...

here are some interesting sites.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Turkish Connection

The Turk 

It was long flight. An elderly man was seated next to me. As our eyes met he smiled . A smile a stranger flashes at you when you are stuck in a time and space not knowing what to do.

Are you a Pakistani?” he finally asked after dinners were served.
No. Indian, and You?” I asked just to reciprocate his question.
Turk. Turkish” He said with a smile.
I popped up now with the word Turkish.
Oh .. I had been to Istanbul once and I feel deep connection to that land . I want to go to Istanbul again. ”.
You should. You should. Turkey is beautiful country. With ancient history. You must go there to discover its mystery” He said patronizingly.
Strangely I felt longing in his words. As if he was talking about his land he knew. I waited for a while for him to speak more, but he seemed to be lost in some world. As sky outside as began to darken I buried myself in the screen before me .
This was 2010.
Arab spring had just started in Tunisia and Egypt. And Flotilla event was making news. Turkey was always in the international news headlines in someways.
We remained silent most of the journey

As the pilot announced the landing instructions passengers began to get restless. There was movement in the gangway and people began to rummage through their overhead luggage. Turkish gentleman who was lost in his own world, came back to life again and smiled. This is a familiar smile a stranger flashes at you as the journey comes to end. 

After small talk on the tourists interests in Istanbul, he suddenly turned serious.
I am worried man these days.” He said stressing every word but still holding his smile. I could see that. But just kept silent allowing him to speak. He was lost again.
I worry for my Turkey. It is sitting on a political crisis. I pray lord. I pray lord..” suddenly he realized my presence sitting next to him. With an apologetic smile he wished me luck for my forward journey, and reminded me to visit Istanbul soon. We never exchanged our names and parted our ways on that airplane with a polite handshake.

There was nothing significant about this meeting.
Except his deep lost eyes and his longing for his land.
Why did he worry so much about Turkey?

A Kilim

I opened the package carefully before the cleaners to show the piece of kilim I wanted to get dry cleaned.

“Can you do the job with extra care without damaging this piece?” I asked the man on the counter who was trying to judge the age of the carpet.

'I will try. But it looks very old and fragile” he said his eyes still fixed on the kilim.

“ Yes It is very old. Perhaps 200 years old. And it carries so many memories.” as I said these words I shocked myself.

What ?!! did I say that? Did I say it is 200 years old ? And it carries so many memories? These were not my words. These were the exact words of the salesman who sold me the kilim in Istanbul's grand Bazar.

Like most of the tourists we landed in the grand bazar while visiting Istanbul.

It reminded me of the Crawfard market of Mumbai. But much better organized. Much bigger. and much cleaner market. But ethos was same. Crowded, colorful and buzzing with activities. I had nothing specific in my mind to buy but couldn't stop falling in love with the market. We moved past shops finally stopping at an old carpet shop.

As we gazed at the carpets and kilims spread before us, the man who sold me this kilim said he is making a cheap sale. Just because he believed that this kilim belonged to me.  I could not stop smiling  as I heard his desperate pitch to sell his wares.

The man was in his early thirties, young and charming and certainly knew his art of salesmanship . On his lean frame he carried a checked shirt and faded denim pants and a light leather jacket. I was determined not to fall for his glib talk. Just two days in Istanbul , we realized men in Istanbul had a ways with women. Be a taxi-man . A waiter- boy. Room boy. Men would never pass by without complimenting a woman. It was quite strange behavior for our Indian sensibilities . But we learned to take in our stride and accepted it as part of their cultural trait.

"200 hundred dollars is very cheap bargain for a 200 year old kilim.. But I am making this sale because I know this kilim belongs to you madame " Salesman carefully worded his statements  with his wide open eyes peering straight at me. I was bit embarrassed .

"it is bit too small for my need" I told him still trying to make up my mind

"Madame", he said "I am not selling you a kilim ... but I am selling you memory"

"Memory? what memory?" I asked stunned at his words.

Now he got an opportunity to make the final bid and he went on with his speech moment he realized he has got my full attention. "This kilim is very very old madame. I can say this from its weave. This craft is no longer seen these days. It is very detailed work which no one does it now....Istanbul is huge market and we receive goods all over from east Europe and Persia. I will not be able to tell you from which part of East or West this has come to my shop . But I know so much it is an authentic piece and very old handcrafted Kilim. My experience in the business tells me this was a large piece and with time it has been cut into smaller pieces to salvage its beauty. I can tell you this kilim has stood witness to time.... time that you and I cannot imagine. Touch this piece and you will know what I am talking about.....” He paused dramatically and suddenly mellowed his voice and requested last time “Take it Madame it is a good buy, I tell you” The man spoke in a broken English with thick turkish accent.

There was silence after his long speech.
Without saying a word, I pulled out two $100 bills and said “Shukran” the only Turkish word I had learned in last two days. With a broad smile on his face salesman then neatly packed the kilim in a brown paper cover. Looking back I still don't know what made me buy that Kilim. Was it his emotional sales pitch, his charming manners . or was it an impulsive act that felt right.

When I spread that kilim in my living room in Mumbai, a thought crossed my mind- now that the humble Kilim has traveled to a new destination, it would stand witness to my life here on. Adding one more layer of memory.
When I told the dry cleaners to handle the rug with extra care , did I mean, “don't clean the memories?”.
I am not sure.


For a long time I ignored the book by Orhan Pamuk- Museum of Innocence. Honestly, I am not too fond of Pamuk's writings. This 700+ pages, book was far too thick for my linking. Finally I gave up my resistance and ordered a copy .
For two reasons. One it was all about city of Istanbul ( albeit of 70s) and secondly it was a book about memory.

The book first published in 2008, is a novel, a love story set in Istanbul. Pamuk, etches out a fascinating socio cultural picture of Istanbul society of 70s. To quickly summarize the story for those who may not have read the book. Kemal, a wealthy heir of business family engaged to Sibel meets his distant cousin, a shopgirl -Fusun and falls in love. Kemal and Fusun are separated due to various circumstances. Unable to reconcile with the desire for his lover and obsessed by her memory Kemal goes on to construct a museum in her memory as he believes museum is an expression of “ collection of expressive of the soul of that 'experience'.
Every object that is either surrounded or touched by his lover becomes and object of nostalgia for Kemal. For instance when Kemal suggests “we can identify our happiest moment by selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now..... but to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return and the awareness therefore, of that very moment is very painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant”.
Here I want to ponder how an object becomes a conduit of a memory? A object by itself may not contain any specific emotions but what we project on to it and how we construct these memories defines the the significance of that object. In case of Kemal, whether it is Fusun's earring that got lost when they made love, or her tricycle on which she played as child, cigaret she smoked, clips, pins buttons shoes , dress so on and so forth become the objects of memory bank that constructs his idea of love. Every move, every action of hers transported him to a time where his real time froze and turned into a magical moment of 'happiness'- nothing besides her was more meaningful and thus the memory becomes the only point of reference of the 'meaningful time' of his life. Kemal goes on to justifies it “ the power of things inheres in memories they gather up inside them, and also in the vicissitudes of our imagination, and our memory...”


Today when Turkey is in turmoil, I remember the the Turk whom I met on the airplane in 2010. As I said he looked worried, I wonder, is this what he was foreseeing when he talked about his land back then? Resistance?

I don't know

We have got quiet used to media images of protest all over the world. Images more or less look so similar that one can hardly make out if the footage is from one country or other. Sea of people in an ant parade walking through roads , then stopped by police barricades, dispersed with water cannons and tear gassed. What remains is plethora of images as spectacle of human trauma,- sharply embedded in your memory.

Tahrir square, Taksim square, Frankfurt, Jantar Mantar, Dhaka...

Brown. Black. White. Yellow.....

You don't understand the language

You don't even understand the politics behind such protest.

But you do understand the INTENT

And you do feel their pain.

Egypt, Lybia, Syria were just images

You sympathized with the people and moved on.

But Turkey is different.

Today, it is more than a memory.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lessons from Bollywood

At the end of a hectic seminar day on art education in India, as friends and colleagues sat for a relaxed chat, I asked a very senior respectable art historian and critic, “ At the time of Indian independence movement, there were two distinct aethethic schools that dominated Indian art scene. The progressives on one hand and Bengal and Shantiniketan school of art the other. It is evident that India chose Progressive way and where we are today is the choice we made as a nation in adopting the aesthetic destination. Had we chosen the other two schools as a preferred aesthetic model, do you think we could have much different story? An art practice rooted in its cultural history which in turn could have led us to stable art market than today?”

Erudite as he is, he answered in a typical cautious tone that I expected.” It is really hard to answer a hypothetical question like this... but I do understand from where your question is coming from.”

My question was coming from a simple observation and noise that was clamoring in the art world why there is so much of lack of enthusiasm in the art market in-spite of repeated efforts to booster the art market in terms of investment talks by corporate honchos.

Lately an article published in e-journal, one of the gallery owner of contemporary art complained of the prolonged state of depression in current art scene, that forced him sell his business and take up a job as a paid salary worker at his own gallery- further sparked the rumor of deteriorating business of art in India. Indeed some galleries have quietly shut shop. Some are counting days. There is palpable gloom and doom in Indian art market. As a result this has given rise to all sorts of insecurities, paranoia , rumors, immoral trading, cartel practices, and verbal slugfests. Are these first visible signs of collapse of order in art world?

Art world is an ecology, composed of artist, art schools, dealers, gallery-ists, alternative platforms , collectors, art critics, art historians, museums, auction houses, publication houses, art fairs, biennales, triennial's etc. Etc., and last but not the least art viewers. If the artist is the foundation of this structure it is the art viewer who completes this structure. If the structure has to be solid every component has to perform its role in best possible manner. If we feel today market is in doldrums then something is wrong within the structure. Either some elements are not performing its role or are simply missing.

One of the serious problem faced by today's contemporary art world is in the fact when it comes to art and culture; government has no policy in place even today after 66 years of independence. Any art practice, be it films, music, visual art, performance art or any other form of art was never a priority for the government. How can government pay for the entertainment of few rich people when there are millions starving in our country is a convenient argument plastered on the face of those who have argued in favor of funding for arts.

Considering , economic political environment in India, if any cultural practice has to survive and flourish it has to find its own method and model of economic sustainability.

And has any art form found that key to success?

Yes, Bollywood did.

Today bollywood is the most successful product of India that has captured global market. It is essentially an INDIAN cultural product replete with song, dance, melodrama, a predicable story line and kitschy dialogues. And yet the world consumes it with same interest that of Mcdonald burger with french fries and cola as a combo meal.

Bollywood must have done something right when it comes to understanding its market. I am not an economist nor a bollywood historian to give facts and figures of the industry to map its graph of success . But I do understand its cultural positioning since it was part of my growing . I can say this as a lay person how bollywood worked for me- because it told stories that I could relate to, I could comprehend and I could identify. Not that I liked all that I saw, and not that I agreed what I saw, yet I ( we) would go to see a film and talk about it. Argue. Critique. Reject. Enjoy, feel Happy. Sad. Angry. Humiliated. Elated... you name it and every emotion was captured through a memory of bollywood flick. I know of stories that people would skip a meal for the family ( because they were so poor) but not a bollywood film. Such stories make you believe, somewhere bollywood understood its market correctly.

Today in market economies the countries that have biggest market rules the roost. It is no secret that all the top countries are queuing outside India, China, Brazil only because of its strength of market. And yet why the art market in India is in doldrums, in-spite of having such a strong market at their door step? There must be something seriously wrong the way art world is functioning today.

So if bollywood has done something right and art world has done something wrong in understanding its market what could it be? Because both are cultural products.

This is where I want to propose the issue of visual literacy. To give a simplistic definition of visual literacy- for me is it is a learning that takes place through visual data that he/she accumulates in the process of life. It is part of informal learning, gathered over a period of time of his or her life and meanings are generated through the visual symbols and motifs that are part of his or her cultural contexts. Most of the cultural practices that precede text are aimed on educating masses through visual imageries there by developing a visual grammar specific to its cultural landscape. This is the basis of visual literacy. Thus you may be illiterate but (every sighted being) cannot be visually illiterate in a given cultural contexts.

I would like to go back to bollywood roots to see how Bollywood used the visual literacy in developing the market.
Raja Harishchandra the first Bollywood film made by Dadasaheb Phalke was an adaptation of popular theater genre, of the time . Mythological themes were most popular subjects for entertainment and were accessible to all literate and illiterate people of India. Thus Dadasaheb preferred to tell stories what people knew , could identify and relate to. He introduced masses to a new media without intimidation of its new technology by giving the comfort of familiar. And yet new technology of film did enhance the experience of entrainment enlarging visual vocabulary of the audience. Once the audience confidence was gained and a loyal patronage was established, bollywood could develop a various film genres over a period. My point is , Dadasaheb capitalized on the visual literacy of the masses to entice audience for film media and eventually a dialogue was forged between the audience and film makers. Had he adopted Hollywood style cinematic narrative, would he have got the same response as he did with Raja Harishchandra? I doubt

Various genres such as social cinema of Raj Kapoor, patriotic films of Manoj Kumar to mythologicals of Ramanand Sagar, noir films of Guru Dutt, romantic flicks Of Yash Raj films to bollywood style wild western of Ramesh Sippy and others to suspense and gangster dramas of Ram Gopal Verma so on and so forth each director added a new genre of bollywood movies gradually educating masses for a varied aesthetic taste.. Bollywood film was thus a partnership between its audience and film makers developing an unique aesthetic language what is known today as 'Bollywood style' or 'masala films'. Besides these there was alway space for niche fim makers like Satyajit Ray and others who practiced art film making. Every one has its own space and their audience. When it comes to film making India is a well developed market.
The dharma of masala film has alway been Box office or people. Amir Khan one of the most successful and powerful Khans of the current bollywood stars in his interview at Oscar nomination of his film Lagaan said “ I will never make a film aiming to win an Oscar. My first and foremost priority is my audience in India whom I make films . My stories are specifically made for my audience Yes, i would be happy if I win an Oscar . But that would be just incidental not my primary aim.”

It is true that till today no bollywood flick has won an Oscar award. It is alway accused for highly stylized and formulaic structure totally aimed at pure entertainment value, thus compromising on the standards of quality cinema. Similar allegations are also leveled against the contemporary Indian art, as western art critics think it is formulaic in nature and highly indebted to western art history hence lack the original thought and characteristic.

At this point one may argue how is bollywood success story be comparable to visual art history in India. There are far too many differences between two practices. While masses are the direct consumers of films , art is a niche market. It is more expensive commodity and can be bought by only rich patrons.

True. Contemporary art needs a very different infrastructure. Its process are different. Its production are different. And so is its practices. and its reach. All over the world art market is far smaller market to film market. However, my question is about developing audience for its product. Audience is the first step to developing market. If there is no customer there is no market.

As said, lack of governmental support and not many museums dedicated to contemporary arts, reaching out/educating masses to contemporary art practices is totally absent . This is one of the biggest structural draw back of Indian art world. The onus of supporting the contemporary art market lay on the shoulders of private galleries run by individual entrepreneurs. Private galleries are not meant to perform a role of a museums. They neither have the logistics nor the funds to envision a program that can integrate mass education. Galleries have specific agenda dictated by profit margins. It is no surprise that art sold through galleries is catered for a specific elite class and their taste. Thus these sanitized white cubes generate tastes that suits a section of aspirational class that is aiming at a particular lifestyle. Aesthetics that evolve in such spaces is highly skimmed through theoretical discourse . Masses can not identify with such aesthetics nor they are interested in it. Thereby remain alienated from contemporary art practices. The contemporary indian art market in current condition remains a limited scope of expression catering to small segment of people. In its current format its scope of expansion will remains marginal unless some corrective measure evolve that will integrate the confidence of masses to come and see art, discuss. debate. argue. and feel part of it. Or else this is going to a long winter.
In short if you want to grow a tree plant its seed in the earth.

That brings me to my original question....

had art world in India chosen a model like bollywood that catered to aesthetics of the masses eventually developing its own style, grammar and a language would it have a different story to tell? And thus a more vibrant art market to experiment with?

But then this is just a hypothetical question.... a question that has no answer.