Saturday, December 25, 2010

Having to believe!

We all believe in something. Most of the times our beliefs are reasonable. We believe in things, ideas, objects etc, etc. For instance , you believe that this life is finite because you see people around die. So it is reasonable to believe that life is finite. You believe the trees are immobile because you see them standing in one place all your life. You believe water is fluid and not solid( when not turned in to ice) because you see it flowing . So believes are mostly formed by some experience , generally verified by some proof or other. And most of the times we as humans generate consensuses of these beliefs and we call them truths.

But not all beliefs can be verified or generate consensus. They remain on the liminal spaces of personal experience. And when you cannot reason these experiences you call them 'magical' or 'mythical'. Does that make this experience untrue? Do you discard these beliefs because you cannot explain some one what your experience is real?
I call it "having to believe". Having to believe is a choice you make to believe in something, in spite your reason tells you otherwise. You just 'choose' to believe because you want to it be true.

Let me tell you a story to explain this. A story my mother told me when I was young. I have no idea why she told me this tale. May be this was very important to her and wanted to share it with her daughter. I never forgot it.

"One day me and my friend went to the river side to play.River was located outside the town and girls were generally not allowed to go there. But we were tempted to gather some smooth polished stones that were found in the shallow river bed. So we sneaked out without telling our elders where we were going. We got so carried in gathering stones,that we forgot the time. And it suddenly gotten dark when we realized we were all by ourselves. The river was located outskirts of village and there was no much habitation on the way. As we realized we were marooned in that place, we were very petrified. Even to trace our steps back was impossible because it was not a paved road.

I just dropped all the stones I had collected carefully in my skirt, and stood frozen with fear. Speechless with thoughts crowding my mind that knew spooky tales of ghosts and spirits.By now my friend had begun to cry .

Just then we heard a voice in the pitch darkness... a thick raspy voice."What the hell you two are doing here at this hour" voice asked in angry tone. "We were playing and did not realize the time" - I said in barely audible tone."This is not the place to play games " the voice retorted back in booming voice again.

I tried to orient myself to the direction the voice was coming, but I could see nothing. Nothing at all. I could hear sounds of his sandals, rough leather sandals worn by Shepard in the town. He must have carried a staff because he banged it hard on the ground as he spoke angrily. Staff had some bells that jingled sweetly as he moved the staff.

For a moment we all stood in silence.

Then the voice emerged again."I will drop you home . Just keep following the sound of these bells. And if you want to remain alive, do not turn back and look.I mean what I say.Just walk" the Voice boomed in a ruthless command. We had no choice but to follow his command.

We hugged each other tight and walked. Walked in that pitch darkness. I can't tell you what road that we walked. I Don't know how long we must have walked. We kept walking at the sound of the bells and creaking leather shoes. My friends house came first. So he stopped and asked her to go home. I could see some people moving in far distance . He again warned her not to turn back and look.

As I watched her run in distance towards her home, I was alone besides that man. Fear was paramount, as I walked. All could hear was my heavy breath. I could not see or hear a thing around me. Even the sound of his staff bells had ceased. I kept walking, till I saw my house in distance. I did not wait for the man to tell me to go home and ran towards the lights that were dimly lit. My body refused to turn around. Even when in my mind I wanted to see who he was . I just ran for my life.

"Where had you been?" my mother admonished me as she saw me running in house. I said nothing. In fact I spoke nothing to any one for few days. But I was very curious to solve this mystery. Me and my friend kept this as secret mission and tried to investigate on our own. We knew some man had helped us , and we wanted to know who he was. We checked out among the farmers in the village who lived on the outside the village if they had known anyone who had helped the village girls in the night. But no one knew it.

After some days we just gave up our quest.

After sometime I revealed this story to my grandmother and my mother. When they heard story they brushed it as casual event by saying "oh! you just met the village god. he is know for helping people who loose their way!". I abandoned my quest to find a reasonable answer to this event.

My mother stopped her tale abruptly. She never explained this tale to me.

She just narrated it and left it for me to accept or reject it. To make my own judgments. But I Know that from that day onwards she chose to believe that someone will be always be there for her when she looses your way in her life.

I believe this is her tale of "having to believe".
This is her personal myth she lived by.

Today I just shared it with you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Look out India! Anish Kapoor is here!!!

There is so much of art happening around these days that one hardly responds to the art that you see, hear or read unless you know the artist, or the artist happens be known. Anish Kapoor belongs to the latter category. He is known all over the world as most important and famous living artist of our time . Ironically he is not so known figure in India at least to its masses.

In a recent article dated, 27th nov., Rebecca Tyrrel, wrote an article in The Gardian on Artist Anish Kappoor's first ever exhibition in India, the place of his origin. Article titled "Anish Kapoor: Look out India Here I come ", raises many issues including the one why he wants to show his works in India.

This is my response.

Anish Kapoor is here!

So why did Anish Kapoor come to India? What is the significance of Anish Kapoor to Indian art world and its people on the street?

According to the sponsors and organizer it took 10 years of planning, blood- sweat, pain disappointments and millions of pounds to get Anish Kapoor's works in India. So you can image how important it was for the organizers to showcase Kapoor in India at this point of time . And it is again Kapoor's own personal interest in getting the works to India has finally succeeded in bringing such an exhibition. Kapoor proclaimed, “ I don't think people in India has seen anything like this before”.

For those who do not know, Anish Kapoor , was born in India to a Sikh father and a Jew mother. After spending his early years in Mumbai he left India and the Indian citizenship to identify himself with more sophisticated British people and their art..

What happened after is history . He won the the golden Lion at Venice Biennial. And later the coveted Turner prize( meant for British artist) . Such an achievements made every one sit up and take notice of the artist who had quintessentially an Indian name . Indian media, who is quick to claim ownership on any semblance of Indian-ness of an expat ( irrespective of the person who may or may not intend to associate with India or Indian-ness. For instance Kalpana Chawla, Freddy Mercury or Nobel winner Chandrashekhar.) was eager to claim the artist's success to his Indian origin just to strengthen the brand India on global map. . But ask Kapoor about India and his past, he conveniently brushes the issue aside by saying he does not believe in ” national allegiances” and his art is “beyond boundaries”, only to emphasize that he is a British Artist.

So why is Kapoor so keen on showing his works to the poor man of India who lives on the streets in 'shit homes' and barley makes ends meet ? Or is he keen to show his art to Indian art world which he believes is “not sophisticated” enough by international standards. Or is it the government of India who was keen to bring him here more than Kapoor wanting to come? ( as one of the official bragged that how hard he had been toiling for this show for past ten years) .

Certainly more questions than answers .

Anish Kapoor is a man of few words. He does not believe in “artist as celebrity”. Instead prefers his works to speak for themselves. Again he says “ As an artist I have nothing to say”. He insists on calling his studio as laboratory. And he is always smiling, as Tyrrel observes.

Kapoor might be ignorant of art world in India or the poverty that exists in India. But he is certainly not ignorant of who He is. He is not introvert, and certainly not shy person as you assume to be. He is very aware of his stature and power that he commands on the global art scene. He is aware of the price that his works fetch and he is aware that only the rich and famous can afford his works irrespective of whether they mean anything for them. Above all, he certainly knows how his funds for the next mega project will come from.

He does not shy away from fame, money and glamor. ( why should he?)He certainly does not shy away from the photo ops with netas ( politicians) and natis ( actresses) or turn away from small time a page 3 wannabe celebrity, who wants to capture the moment .( Again why should he?)And he knows one thing, he is here for the people of India to come and see his work and recognize his brilliance.

Look Out India:

Anish Kapoor has arrived. Indeed there has never been a show of this magnitude of a living contemporary artist held in independent India. Split between two 'spaces' and cities Delhi and Mumbai, Kapoor tries to make a statement by spreading his oeuvre to bureaucrats ,politicians, artist, celebrities, industrialists, journalists and the public at large to decide if he is Indian artist or not.

Bureaucrats and politicians are humbled by Kapoor's presence, and the glory he has achieved on international scene. Industrialists are simply humbled by the price he fetches in auctions. Artists are humbled by Kapoor's scale, perfection and precision with which works are executed. Journalists are humbled by Kapoor's inaccessibility maintained by him in spite of limelight. But men who are untouched by Anish Kapoor's fame, glory, success, and presence is people of India.

This is the irony that Kapoor is here to solve. Kapoor's succes as an contemporary artist is not just through his collectible sculpture owned by who is who of rich world. But the public sculptures that have created huge impact on the masses in America and England where some of his major works have been installed.

Kapoor is the only artist people know off after Henry Moore in England. This is what Kapoor loves and wants to live for.He knows his works will live longer than the celebrity fame that he gets in his lifetime. Recognition from the people. That's what he want to achieve by connecting to man on the street who lives on 7 Rupees a week earnings, and builds 'shit homes' in India.

This is not about Indian- ness or British- ness. This is a simple business proposition. Can he get a commission for a mega public sculpture?. He knows that with Indian economy booming, India CAN. All he needs is a simple invitation and a pay cheque. Is anyone listening?

Look out India! Anish Kapoor is here!!

Anish Kapoor says, art has no boundaries.

Indeed art can be without boundaries but there is no art without politics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Living this lie

"I have longed to move away
from the hissing of the spent lie
And the old terror's continual cry.
Growing more terrible as the day
Goes over the hill into the deep sea...
I have longed to move away but am afraid;
Some life, yet unspent, might explode
Out of the old lie burning on the ground,
And, crackling into the air, leave me half blind..."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Incept -ing New York

"This is the bridge. Do you remember this bridge?" Nick was showing me an old bridge in Brooklyn. Nick had come to pick me at the JFK airport along with Baiju, and was pointing to the bridge as our taxi slowly rolled under. I had just disembarked at New York's JFK airport after 18 hours of long flight. I had slept most of the time on flight even skipping the meals served on board. So when I approached the immigration officer who was going through my documents, scanning my finger prints , greeting me in typical American accent "how you doing?' I had sheepish answered "very tired sir."

I always land in New York, experiencing this dream like condition, not knowing if you are still dreaming in flight or you have actually landed in NYC. Only way I can explain this condition is to my jet lagged state of mind and body which is trying to adjust to a new time cycle.

Nick was obviously pointing to the bridge where a dream sequence form the movie Inception was shot. Yes, it is the same bridge where Cobb is explaining Adrian about complexities of dream world. Baiju knew my predicament so he pointed to the huge painting creating the illusion of crumbling buildings; a scene painted from the movie Inception. "That's the hand painted billboard. Isn't it fascinating" He was saying as we slowly navigated through streets of New York. You begin to experience uncanny experiences amidst massive structures looming over you. And you know, city is spinning a dream for you.

It was 10am. Sun was burning hard as Newyorkers were trying to beat the heat with skimpiest shorts and over sized shades. Honestly, I was not in my best state of mind when I arrived to appreciate bright and hot New York. I had been struggling to pep myself up on various fronts before I boarded flight and was not sure what I want to do here. New york grows on you moment you hit the streets, subs and museums, as if waking from a good dream. But I was not sure this time, if New york can spin a good dream for me.

Every city is a dream and every dream makes a city. Like a dream you can live in a city through its complex layers. Every layer will show you how the city exists in deep layers. It is up to you how good a dreamer you are. How deep you can dream. NYC is certainly a dreamer's city. A Dreamer's dream!

Often I have tried to analyze why I love being in NYC? Is it the Union square where we have spent hours watching people pass by or watch them perform some of the strangest acts. Is it museums, or endless galleries at Chelsea( unfortunately this is disappearing rapidly with art market crash) absorbing a visual feast, is it the sound of good jazz music you hear amidst rushing crowds in subways? or is it the quintessential fire alarm vans zooming past the city at any given hour of the day and night. Is it the jazz performance at one of the many clubs that come alive on Friday nights. Is it the many hours you spend in pet shops pampering those strays cats or those book shops that let you read books even if you spend a day siting in a corner. Is it the huge malls, fashion label houses,huge electronic billboards, mega technology shops that never stops flirting with your eyes. It is hard to say which way NYC seduces you.

People trust you .. even if you are a stranger.People make direct eye contact and smile when they make sales and greet with their quintessential Newyorkian "hi...howyoudoing?" When you get on the bus and give a $10 bill for $1 ticket , trust me bus driver won't bark at you to get out of bus. Surprisingly you might get to hear, "Its ok. Pay me next time". Even when she knows you are just visiting the city and never see her again. Compare this to Bombay bus conductor who will make sure you will be embarrassed before hundreds of passengers as if you have been caught red handed. Even the museum staff, who knows you are a visitor in this city will give you that extra minute to linger around an art work even when the closing bell has been announced for closing gallery. No rules are shown to you.( as long as they are not broken) No one doubts you. No one fears you.In short New york does not bite, you Just because you are a stranger.No matter which nation you come from , which religion you belong to, which race you are born in. There seemed to be an acceptance for what you are. City embraces and celebrates diversity. You feel free, for you don't have to answer any questions to any one for who you are.

But New york is not America, as the Newyorkers proudly claim. They believe they are a world in itself. As they say, if you stand by Times square for fifteen minutes you meet the whole world. And how true it is when you enter the subways when you see whole range of racial profiles boarding and exiting a metro train in unison. This sight never stops amusing me. As if next moment they might bust singing " we are the world..."

Yet again New york managed to spin a dream for me. By the time my short visit ended I felt refreshed and energized. Like a good dream. Or is it another clever inception?

Who knows? I am not going to spin any more totems to check if this is real.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


every time I mince this meat
I still believe in love

every time there is a war
I still believe in peace

every time there is hate call
I believe in understanding

every time I die
I believe I will be born

every time...
I believe I understand


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda

This is the title of the book. Book written by Margaret Runyan Castaneda, wife of Carlos Castaneda. Well, Carlos Castaneda requires no introduction and yet many people will hardly know this cult figure, as he belonged to exclusive world of drug culture, modern shamanism and mysticism of late sixties and seventies.

Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda, was born on 25th December, in 1925, in Peru. He wrote 12 books of which first nine books deal exclusively to the learning of sorcery knowledge under Yaqui brujo called Don Juan. What started as a simple anthropological curiosity for Carlos Castaneda (CC)in his early sixties turned out into a life transforming experience where CC was consumed by the knowledge itself; sucking him into a legitimate linkage to the ancient esoteric system of sorcery. What created CC into a cult figure was the controversy that surrounded him and his books; questioning the veracity of his work and knowledge he presented. CC till the end of his life ( supposedly died in April 1998, by liver cancer)remained a very elusive figure hardly revealing anything about his life. His statement "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics, is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones of us all" shows CC was deeply entrenched in Juan's thought of erasing personal history. There are many confusion surrounding his birth certificate, place of his origin (is it Brazil, as he claimed or Peru as certificate suggested)till the year and manner of his death in 1998 remains shrouded in mystery.Are CC's books a work of fiction or genuine work of knowledge that can revolutionize modern man is still being debated.

Under such circumstances, a book written by his wife Margaret comes as little surprise, and if you are a CC fan then you would certianly like to know who was really Carlos Castaneda in his personal life?

Book deals with early years of CC before he met so called Don Juan and sketchily describes his life at UCLA, his penniless existence, his quirky and possessive nature and his meeting with his wife Margaret Runyan, whom he married on impulse in Mexico, in 1960. Published in 2001, Margaret's book is short collection of part memory ,part construction of Carlos Castaneda as she knew and understood him as person, a father, a scholar, an author.

Their marriage hardly lasted for six months, as CC's long absences for the field work annoyed Margaret to no end, thus relation ending in mutual separation. However their actual divorce took place only in 1971 after Carlos had achieved fame and name for his work. Meanwhile during the separation period Margaret bore a son ( from another man) whom Carlos gladly accepted him as his own and gave his name. Book actually throws light on this relationship of CC and his son Carlotn Jeremy Castaneda. CC's endless struggle to be a "father figure" for this child and his struggle to provide for him gives a sense of personal loss and failure that CC lived.

What Margaret Runyan tries to provide through this book is fill in those blanks which world tried to say was fake. Did CC ever meet Don Juan or was he a fictitious person of his imagination? Did CC know much about Yaqui Indian practices? How was CC's work perceived at UCLA? what were the problems CC faced financially as well intellectually during this period? And the fame that followed CC after first two publication of his books.

It is evident that Margaret had very estranged relationship with CC, and hardly knew about CC's life after he became Juan's apprentice. CC's words for Margaret after their divorce sums his frustration and inability to explain his life to her " I have always fought to be your friend. We will do whatever our fate is. We must accept our fate in humbleness. We can't force things and we can't ever do things that are contrary to our own ways of thinking and being".

Written three years after CC death, what does book achieve? Does book throw any light on Carlos Castaneda that you want to understand? or he is still elusive as he always wanted to be.

Let me conclude with Margaret's own words "Carlos left me with the same impression he gives every one else. He is still as mysterious and magical as he's always been".

I will still recommend the book for all those ardent fans of CC , who wants to know anything and everything that mystery called Carlos Castaneda.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is for Naseer

Naseer! Is this his name? I am not sure. Oh Boy!! How could I have forgotten his name. But I have!I am not sure if his name is Naseer. But that's what comes to my mind when I think of him.

We met in late 90s, while working on our thesis. We shared the same research room of the University of Bombay .Many Research scholars used the reading room of the university library specially dedicated for the doctoral research students. One hardly interacted with each other as every one walked in and out at their own convenient time, and when they came they mostly buried themselves in books. In fact Naseer and I hardly knew each others existence. Till One day librarian came to my table and said," Can you help that boy?" She pointed out to Naseer who was sitting just opposite my table. "He is very shy.And is looking for some help. Please see if you can help him out with his problems."

I looked at his direction and saw this boy in his 30s lean ,neatly dressed in white stripped shirt and casual jeans bent over his books . Shy like a woman he did not even look up once. I assured my librarian that I will see what I can do; not knowing what help he was seeking. I forgot about him for next couple of months.

As the time passed, I felt guilty for not even bothering to ask him what kind of help he needed . One day, I just approached him and introduced myself "Hi I am *****, I guess you are looking for some help.If there is anything I can do I will certianly try and help you out" I said in a straight forward business tone.

Naseer did not look up. He just smiled shyly and said something in inaudible tone. I pulled the chair next to him and sat down to listen to his problem.

Naseer was from Iran and had registered himself under the faculty of English literature for past 8 years. He was researching on Iranian and Indian philosophical reflections in English literature. Or something like that. His problem was, he and his mentor had hardly discussed his work ever since he had began writing his chapters. That made him very insecure and worried as he did not know, if his work was progressing in right direction.Feeling of loss was neatly imprinted in his eyes. He needed some one to read his drafts and give him the feed back on his work and suggest new direction if one could. I was aghast by his request. There was nothing I could do for him to solve his problem. I had no clue on his subject. Yet I had no heart to tell him I cannot do anything for him. Somewhere I felt as if I was his last hope to speak of his problems. I knew Naseer's problems extended far beyond academic world.

"Ok " I said as I got off the chair, "Give me one chapter to read. I will try and go through it and see what I can understand. But let me warn you, I have no much understanding of your subject. So my feedback would be very casual and not an academic one."
"No Problem No problem. I understand. " he said with much glee. I collected few ruled full scape papers of handwritten manuscripts he gave me,put on a fake smile and said "Give me few days". "Sure take your time" Naseer retorted back.

As I turned my back to him,I cursed myself. Why do I always put me in a situation that I can not handle? What is the need to be good Samaritan? whats wrong with me?Why can't I say sorry this is not my area of expertise and finish the issue? But that's me! Always get in to a situation that I never want to be in first place.

Few days later I did get back to Naseer and told him honestly whatever little I comprehended about his work. He heard me patiently, my comments were of no much use to him. But he seemed relieved.

Often we would get talking, on various subjects other than our topic of research.I still cannot forget the surprise in Naseer's eyes when I first asked him out for cup of tea.Bored of reading for hours on the same subject, I once said "Naseer would you like to have chai with me?" His eyes popped" but aren't you married" he asked instead of replying my question" yes I am! But what that has to do with chai?" what a stupid question my tone relayed my emotions. Naseer knew what I felt and replied " Back in Iran a married woman will not dare to go out in restaurant with another man" he said in a sheepish tone. "C'mmon Naseer this is India.I am just asking you to join me for roadside chai, and I don't need my husband's permission for that. By the way, are you married Naseer?" I had never asked Naseer about his personal life till then.

"No" he said and looked down on the ground. I was aware that whenever Naseer spoke to me he felt shy and apologetic, as if speaking with women was kind of crime he was committing. Having lived in India for nearly a decade, he was quiet accustomed to Indian culture and general etiquette towards women. Yet he never looked straight into their eyes or approached them for help. I found his behavior quiet amusing and at times I would purposely behave more aggressively just to tease him off his shyness.
He knew my habit of cutting stupid jokes and would laugh at it.

Me and my librarian friend would often joke him about coming to Iran. "Naseer we would like to come to Iran . Can you help us getting visa etc.? Naseer would often say an emphatic no to our request."It is very difficult for single woman to come to Iran." He would reply very seriously "Iranians are not so kind towards women. There are many restrictions on women. First of all you have to cover your hair. then there are many dos and don'ts I cannot tell you all this. But Indian women like you will find it very hard to follow those rules. Why do you want to come to Iran ? It is not that safe for women" He would say out rightly rejecting our plea. " C'mmon Naseer if you want I can wear a chador for you. But I am coming to Iran" I would say teasing him. Naseer would turn his head and smile.

Naseer was 40 years old. He looked much younger than his age. He belonged to tribal areas of Iran and his parents were very old. He felt terribly guilty for not being able to support his parents and in fact they had to support him to continue his studies in India. That literally ate him. "I am 40 years man *****; when will i finish my studies, get a job , get married and look after my after my parents" That was his actual worry more than his research work. Having lived in India he was also aware of the restrictive atmosphere back in his country. We can not speak openly our view in public forget about woman's freedom etc. You guys are very lucky in India he once told me. Naseer never spoke much. I knew he would have loved to settle in India if not for his old parents.

Mean while I had finished my defense and acquired my doctoral degree. Things had progressed well for him too. His adviser had approved of his work and he was winding up his last part of his writing. I arranged him a typist who could help him with his thesis and advised him on last bit of submission process.

I had stopped coming to the research room and there by lost my contact with Naseer. Once when I had dropped in the Library to meet my friend I bumped into Naseer. He was beaming with a smile. At once I knew the reason and congratulated him for completing his defense successfully. For the first time he asked me out to a restaurant" I will buy you chai to celebrate my success" he said. we went to the near by snack bar. There he ordered Idli-wada for both of us and filter coffees. I smiled looking at the food, and asked "Naseer now you are going back to Iran won't you miss this Idli-wada?"

He smiled back looking at me. He pulled out the thick copy of his dissertation. Opened the acknowledgment page. showed me the line where he had thanked me. First time I could not look into his eyes. So I looked down and said, " Thank You. But I really didn't do anything for you"

"To answer you question , he was still looking straight at me" I am going to miss India not just Idli-wada"

That was the last time I met Naseer. I wish he has managed to do all the things, he wanted to do. I have forgotten his name and think his name is Naseer.Probably he has forgotten my name too.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women, Neta and Rajneeti

Let me begin by citing a quote by a chief minster of a state. Digamber Kamat, the CM of Goa, suggested that women from his state should not bother to enter politics, because they have much larger responsibility at their hands of bringing up younger generation of the state. So they should not worry about 33% woman's quota and dream of getting into politics. Well, Mr. Kamat does not make any dent on the national politics but unfortunately he happens to be the chief minister of the state I belong to. And therefore his quote matters to me.

How and why a CM of a state like Goa known for his pristine beaches, high GDP, best health care and 100% literacy should discourage women entering politics? Why women participating in politics in India is seen as threat by the current breed of politician?

Looking back in time in 1930-40s large number of Indian women from every social strata participated in social reforms and political struggle of India. From grass root social worker to party president to military out fit women participated on their own merit and with their free will. This was possible only because the leaders of that time, like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and others who encouraged women to participate in the political struggle had recognized the power of woman in politics. Probably most of these leaders who were educated abroad had realized that for a democratic process to flourish and strengthen, educating women and participating them in the political process is the only way ahead.

However this vision went missing in free and independent India. Women in general disappeared from the positions of power and eventually from the political scenarios soon after local governance began to rule. Only few women who had powerful dynastic connection could come to power and were accepted as leaders by male politicians. Ironically, although these few women who occupied the most powerful positions in Indian politics did not try to influence masses to encourage woman's participation in politics.

On the one hand, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of women in parliament (9.1%). Even the UAE, with 22.5%, has more women representatives, according to the UN's 2008 survey of women in politics. However the situation is changing gradually, as we see many woman chief ministers ruling the Indian states today. It would be wrong to suggest that all the woman politicians have come to power through dynastic linkages, but one cannot deny that political mentor ship has certianly played a big role in some of these woman's career.

The question is has these women politicians made any significant difference in the quality of governance?

According to the study, the rise of Indian women as panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. Malnourished, suppressed, uneducated, violated and discriminated against, Indian women have the odds stacked against them. Even birth is a hurdle, thanks to widespread female infanticide in rural areas. In short at the grass root level women leaders have made significant difference to the society by changing the quality of life of the family and community at large. Although same cannot be said with woman who are at the helm of power, but there are examples like the chief minister of Delhi, who I beleive has been voted to power for three consecutive tenures because of her quality of governance and the changes she brought in the state.

Let me come to my third point of the subject which is the portrayal of women politicians in movie Rajneeti directed by Praksh Jha . Considering that Indian viewers do not patronize political thrillers nor do the political parties take kindly to realistic portrayal of Indian politics, a genre of political thriller is almost missing in Bollywood film making. To avoid the controversy as well the harassment of censorship from the political power, Jha thus shields himself behind the story Mahabharata to make a covert comment on the current political scenario.

The whole movie revolves around the male characters who are the main controllers of political power. However, there are three female characters in the movie who are directly/indirectly connected with politics either because they are part of the family that is ruling the state or by her own ambition to be part of the political process.

Firstly, character of Bharati ( based on Kunti) is a daughter of a politician but ideologically inclined to politics of left . Bharati's political ambitions get cut short when she gets accidentally pregnant. Her rebellion is thus subverted to submission when she is married into a powerful political family and turning her into a helpless matriarch watching her family members disintegrate before her eyes.

Second female character appears in the movie is of a ambitious grass root level woman worker, who wants to climb ranks of political power, played by Shruti Sheth. This woman who has neither any political mentor, nor dynastic heritage to support her ambition has to subjugate herself to all sort of abuse which includes sexual favours in order to achieve her goals.

The third character is of Indu , played by Katrina Kaif, is a vivacious daughter of a industrialist who lands in the corridors of power not by her own choice but by fate and dynastic heritage as her husband gets killed in the political vendetta.

Jha's portrayal of all the three women /politicians mentioned above, comes across as weak, and helpless women who succumb easily to male coercion and are mere puppets in the hands of men who are deciding their fate in politics. Although Jha explains the woman's characterization in the movie as fictional and based on the Mahahbharat( i.e. kunti ( Bharati)and Draupadi( Indu) one cannot escape similarity of Indu's mannerisms with that of current Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Also the character of Shruti Seth seem to have no resemblance in the original epic.

To conclude, in Rajneeti, Jha carves a stereotypical characterization of women in politics. Which only strengths the perception that politics is a male bastion ,steeped in violence, revenge, treachery, corruption etc. Is Jha like Mr. Kamat trying to tell us look, if you get into politics this is what your life is going to be . Used and abused by male politicians who are very powerful, conniving, violent and full of deceit and deception. Is Jha trying to tell us politics is not the space for woman?

My point is if we want to change this perception( Politics = Violence and corruption) than we need more women to enter the politics and make the difference, by changing the face of politics from violence to development and progress.

Question is are we ready to make that change?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mumbai Diary -2

He first came to my home along with his brother to collect 'bhangar'.That was eight years back.

Bhangar is a typical Mumbai word( probably a hindi word) , which means recyclable garbage, such as old news papers, bottles, plastic bags, old clothes , vessels practically anything that can be recycled into something.
In fact there is huge industry of bhangar in Dharavi(biggest slum of Asia) and I am told this is one of the most profitable industries of Mumbai city, as the profit margins can be as high as 100%. In every nook and corner of Mumbai, one finds these shops who will come home collect your bhangar and pay you some money in return. You feel happy that you have earned some money on something you would have discarded free of charge.So it is kind of win-win situation for both the parties.

A shy, tiny, boy of 10/12 years with fair complexion, hair neatly oiled and eyes caste down to ground like a girl, he would obey whatever his brother would tell him do. His elder brother would teach him how to tie the bundles of old news papers in a neat stack and then weigh it on the weighing machine which had a dubious reputation of cheating customers.

His tiny frame could hardly hold the weight of 6/7 kg of paper but he would try and lift it with great pride and say "Madamji dekho"...I was quite amused by his dedication to his work. "Thik hai! Aap bole jo" I assured him that I trusted him. For the first time he looked up straight into my eyes with surprise and asked "Don't want want to confirm if my weight is right?"

Probably he expected me to haggle over the weight as everyone did. "No" I said emphatically with a smile knowing fully the boy was not that innocent as he looked. He was apprentice and learning the tricks of the trade rapidly from his bro. But I wanted to trust him. I wanted to understand him. Boy smiled back for the first time. So every month he would come to my house to collect the bhangar and that's how we started building our rapport.

For the time he would spend in wrapping, tying the news papers, and other stuff we would get chatting. It began with my question "Are you going to school?"to "what you want to do in your life?' " do you beleive in god? This monthly ritual of informal discussion was quite interesting and I am sure he used to look forward to it as much I did. He was amused with my life as an artist and when I told him I had 'chosen' not to bear children when he asked me where are my kids as he saw none around the house. I cannot forget the shock in his eyes. He was learning and understanding that life is not the same for everyone. At least that's what I wanted to impress upon his young mind that he has a choice!

He was a natural quick learner and his curiosity to know much beyond his life and society was fascinating. I knew he was growing up rapidly much faster for his age as he was learning lessons of business as well as life . And I hoped that my interaction with him might give him the choice to choose the life on his terms. I hoped that he would break out the bondage of tradition and think independently as a person living in the free society.

The other day when he came to pick up bhangar he informed me that he had flunked in his 12th grade exam. I was disappointed though not disheartened because I knew he had not prepared enough for his exams. So when I asked him, aren't you going to re appear for exams? He smiled. He seemed to be happy about something. As if failing in exam never bothered him anymore. And that bugged me . "what is so happy about failing in exams" I asked in sarcastic tone .

He was still smiling almost blushing, " Madamji I never told you this all these years. I am a married man. I mean, I was married at the age of 12" ( the time I met him first). He tried to explain me the system of child marriage in his community. "Tomorrow I am going to my village to bring my wife in my home. I am now a man. Good enough to look after a woman and raise my children" As he spoke I could see the excitement in his voice. He was lost in his dream world. Suddenly I realized the 12 year old boy I had met 8 years back had turned in to a mature man. Ready to shoulder the responsibilities of life all at the age of 20.

I really did not know how to react to his news. I wanted to share his happiness but I was equally sad as I realized that 8 years of our interaction had not meant much to him. All talks on freedom of life, doing things differently had just got swept away under a single word of 'Riwaz' ( tradition) He was going to live his life what probably his grand father, father, and his brother had lived. "But Madamji , I will educate my children . Make them graduate. I promise" he said to me with twinkle in his eyes. I smiled back at him. Knowing he had grown big enough to make a choice. A choice of life based on traditional lifestyle. Probably a best choice for him. I felt little defeated but I respected his decision.

I congratulated him and gave him some money as my wedding present. " Thank you madame". He said as he walked out of the house. Somewhere I knew next time he would turn up to collect Bhangar it would be just business visit. No more chats on life and its problems. He was just any other bhangarwala. with no name.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Factory v/s lab

In a recent interview on CNN channel,Anish Kapoor, one of the top living British artist insistently argued that he does not like his studio to be called as factory. He in fact called it as his Lab and went on to explains why he feels so. Another artist who has used a similar term for his studio is Olafur Eliasson, a Danish Icelandic artist who has his studio in Berlin and calls it as laboratory.
So why artists feel the need to define their studio practice in terms of a lab or factory?

Traditionally an artist's work-place has been known as studio and whatever he/she did within that space was considered it as his studio practice. With coming of Andy Warhol this definitions changed. Warhol who was was a product of Industrial design named his studio as 'factory'. By doing so Warhol wanted to challenge the notion of artistic production and bring it within the bounds of industrial product. Warhol's strategies definitely paved way for many later date artists and the concept of factory- made became an accepted norm of artistic production ;in the sense artist need no longer be accountable for the 'uniqueness' of their art work.

As far as work of art is concerned ,it hardly matters, whether it is made in factory or a lab or a studio. Because the merit of the work cannot be judged through the production process. And yet there seemed to be some resistance among some artist like Kapoor and Eliasson who prefer to call their artistic process as a lab work than a factory made product

Factory and Lab are two definitive 'collective' processes of creating ideas, and objects. when an artist chooses to use the specific term it implies certain hidden values within these processes.

The term factory made implies a systematic generation of a product for the specific target of 'consumers'. Once the product goes through a processes of R&D to arrive at a formula than it can be replicated in mass production. Aim of a factory is to generates a generic mass product thus cutting the cost of production and enhancing the profitability of such a venture. The aim of the factory is to build a popular 'brand' which can marketed masses to generate maximum profit. In a factory product human intervention is minimum so that 'standard' quality can be monitored and maintained. Finally to make the factory made product accessible to masses marketing and sales are an essential aspect of its production strategy. Advertising and publicity of the product is part and parcel of the process without which a product cannot be sustained in the market.

The term Lab implies experimentation of ideas to arrive at a creative idea. Many of the experiments can not be successfully implemented into a creative products. Thus a lab is more of an 'intellectual' proposition rather than 'product' oriented processes. A lab does not intent to replicate ideas in a mass product although it is the successful R&D in a lab that leads to formulaic factory product. In way a lab is a process that precedes a factory production. Lab is the site of innovation and experimentation that can pave ways to future ideas.

Whether to call one's studio practice as lab or factory is entirely an artist's prerogative. What defines such terms is the space within which artists operate. For instance both Kapoor and Eliasson are mostly engaged in public art projects that gives them the space to innovate a product that is not bound by commercial concern. Whereas Warhol and others were solely rooted in the commercial aspect of the art production. Factory, lab or studio it finally boils down to each artist's personality to define his/ her own studio practice.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crossing the boundaries of Affection

There are times you never know when memory, imagination and dream colludes.

This is one of the examples where I can't decipher if this is real event that happened in my life or just 'myth' that i would like to beleive as real.Or just a dream that I dreamed three days in row..

As I stare at the logs in the water memories of my life as a 3/4 year child came back from nowhere......

When my mom sent me away to my grandpas home...I had a young girl as my nanny.... every evening she used to carry me to a railway bridge which was little outside the town.....where she used to meet her 'brother' i think/know he must be her lover....

It was a strange lonely place and quite eerie too. Somehow I used to get shit scared of this place.. ...wind used to blow very hard wheezing in your ears. and as the train used to whistle past the bridge its shrill sounds used leave a strange taste in my mouth...every time a train crossed the bridge, it used to shake so violently that i used to feel my heart beating faster and my mouth going dry. I Hated that place and yet my nanny would bring me very often to this place against all my wishes... we used to sit on the cement bench at the end of the bridge, and my little mind would hope... no train should pass that day as long as we would spend our time there. one could see the river waters flowing calmly underneath.... . down below there used be logs floating in the river waters.. probably railway sleepers which were dumped in the waters...I used to see these logs coming together ..and then breaking away... as they came closer they would stack up in close huddle splashing water on each other...bumping into each other... giggling.. may be singing...they were just happy meeting each other,, enjoying each others company

little by little, I began to build my imaginary stories around the logs... there was a mama log( a big log) which was tied to rope and baby logs ( smaller logs) which were free floating
as i used see them coming together I would imagine them hugging each other... then they used to go to school as they moved apart..when again when they used to come together they would come home for lunch... they used go to play as they moved further away.. so on and so forth..Every day I used to make a new story... that was the only solace I could feel in place... otherwise I used to hate to come there...
And one day.....

mama log disappeared.....but few baby logs were still hanging around .. floating aimlessly in the waters bobbing up and down .... but now they had begun to drift away... aimlessly... and were being dragged away by the river currents towards horizon.. there was no destination..only a child I knew drifting apart was their destiny..and it was inevitable... as they moved towards horizon i just waved them goodbye and they said goodbye to me.......It was the saddest moment of my life..probably moment of silent truth that taught me something about life....

I just couldn't contain my sadness in my heart so I cried and I cried for 6 to 7 hours non-stop..... my nanny never understood what was wrong with me and got scarred and rushed me home to my granny. When my granny got to know that she had been taking me this desolate place she was furious... and sacked her from the job.....

My granny believed that I must have seen some 'spirits' (there was a belief among the villagers that water spirits live around the river specially near railway bridge as many people used to commit suicide) and got scarred...fact was I was not crying because i saw any spirit or mama log had gone missing but what I realized that day was drifting away of the baby logs was their inevitable destiny... the only way they could continue their life after mama log was gone was to move on... they had a very happy time together but as things changed... they went their ways.... as if they were telling me something....teaching me not to cling they drifted silently in the horizon.....I understood perfectly what they said as we said goodbye ...BUT I never wanted to learn this truth and just wanted to cling on.. and keep going back to shore to mama log... even when she was long gone...trying to live in delusions.. trying to cling on to good times....

All I know that I crossed the boundaries of my affection..

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Body in Pain

As I lie in pain, recuperating from leg surgery, I am watching new channels breaking tragic story of plane crash in Manglore. 160 feared dead ,8 survivors. Channels are busy gathering bits and pieces of the tragedy that is the latest news story on air.

Tragedies strike on every day basis. Whether it is cyclone Laila killing people, Maoist massacring security personnel or bus falling in the gorge in Kashmir killing civilians who had survived the bullets of militants and army machine guns. There seem to be simply no dearth for tragedies. People are dying everyday in horrific ways.

Tragedies are stories of pain and suffering. Greek civilization accorded highest form of entertainment to the tragic tales. Greeks were to first acknowledge that tragedy is a form of pleasure when enacted before public in an aesthetic way. Today media plays the role of enacting those tragedies for public.

By repeatedly telling and showing you the tragic sites and sounds of pain, media tries to keep you informed and entertained at the same time. You go numb in pain as you watch mangled, charred, mutilated human remains. Pain is enhanced further as each dead person tells you a story. Some one had just called his loved one as he/she was about to dismount the plane. Some body was meeting his loved one after many years. They were all trying to reach a destination and they did reach their destinations... unfortunately some could not disembark.

Your mind goes in loop as you try to understand pain.

Human civilization has been trying to decode pain in many ways. Through literature, religion, visual arts, medicine, war, you name it and you realize most of the artistic endeavors revolve around pain. We like to feel pain. Pain makes us feel real.

Last year when I was grounded to my bed ( again in pain) with a leg fracture I read some excepts of the book called, Body in Pain by Ellain Scarry. She analyzes pain into two part 'unmaking' and 'making' (of pain).In the chapter, unmaking Scarry tries to elaborate on structure of Torture and structure of war and its relation to human body . In the section under 'making' she explains Pain and imagining, and Interior structure of the artifact. I tried hunting for this book in libraries in Mumbai but it was not available and the publishers Oxford University press were equally helpless in acquiring a copy for me as it was out of print. I am still looking out for this book as I beleive the book has lot to enlighten me about the pain.

Right now, I really don't know what is hurting me more. Piercing pain in my left foot or the tragic story of plane crash.

Either ways body is in Pain.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Honour killing and other stories

Killing/humiliating a woman is easy in India.
Call it female infanticide, bride burning , sati, or honour killings you can kill a woman under different names, at different stages of her life. If she does not suite your family profile, of caste, religion and gotra just kill her. It is easiest crime that has been sanctified by tradition.

Subjugation of women in society is not just restricted to Indian society.However, in spite of modernization /urbanization of the Indian society, very little has changed for the women in India. I do not want to generalize this by saying all women in India are subjugated and suffer the same plight. But many of the women still do. And that includes even the urban/educated women. Take the recent case of Nirupama Pathak , a 23 year old journalist who was( allegedly) killed by her own mother, all because she was in love with a boy that belonged to different caste. Hailing from an 'upper caste' educated family of two brothers and parents who were holding a respectable jobs in governments institutes, Nirupama was a bright girl trying to live her life by making independent decisions. Falling in love with a man of her choice was one such decision. But that cost her life. Message is very clear, don't take your own decisions you will have to pay a price.

I have watched such patriarchal attitudes right from my childhood. And right in my home, where women were educated but were not empowered to exercise their decision. My blood still boils when I recollect how my mother who lost her husband at very young age, was systematically subjugated by the system making her helplessly dependent on her male relatives, in spite of holding a masters degree in Home science in SNDT university. It still pains me when I recall her struggle to be independent person capable of fending for her family but was not allowed by her own family members only to guard the false prestige of her family. So they killed her slowly little by little. For me this too entails to honour killing. There are millions of women out there who are killed in this manner, humiliated, rendered powerless by not giving them the space to exercise the power of decision making. The resistance to pass the woman's bill in the parliament is only reflective of such a mind set.

Last year, when I was invited for a women's show by a woman/curator I decided to pose this question to people/viewers to see their reaction. Why do we humiliate our women in public/personal spaces. The work was based on the famous event from Mahabharata when Draupadi, the wife of five Pandavas was lost in the game of dice. Kauravas who had 'won' Draupadi dragged into the court and humiliated by trying to undress her in view of full court. Furious and seething in rage Darupadi asked her husbands who had given them the right to put her on stake? because they never owned her in first place.In protest she than opened her hair as sign of a her widowhood. And challenged her husbands to wash her hair in blood of enemy. Rest of the tale is history

Point is, is Draupadi's story a kind of honour killing? well she may not have been 'killed' physically but she definitely died emotionally when she realized she was 'sold' by her husbands. Culturally when we preserve such a tale it becomes a sanction to commit such crimes socially. We can count plenty of incidences even in Modern India where women are paraded naked for the crimes committed by their husband or children. Unfortunately our epics endorse and glorify the stories of women that have been victimized by social injustice. Committing crime against women has thus been culturally/socially sanctified. We carry these tales unconsciously for centuries only to re iterate these tales in case of Nirupama or Babli

We will not be able to stop killing women in India by changing the laws, we need to change attitudes towards women. And that's a huge challenge! But not an impossible one!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kasab, that I don't know

Who is Ajamal Kasab?
Let me introduce you Kasab, the man I don't know. Ajamal Kasab, is a 22 year, supposedly Pakistani national.Kasab along with other nine Pakistani nationals, entered Mumbai on 26/11/2009 and killed 166 people of Indian and foreign orgin. He was the lone surviving terrorists that was captured by Indian forces. Today after 13 long months( and surprising by a speedy court trial) the lower courts in India declared him guilty on 66 various counts. in couple of days times sentence for his crime will be declared which is either life term in jail or death sentence.

What every Indian and probably every Mumbaiker will never forget about Kasab, was the day when the news paper flashed the photo of this young man in Ak 47, dressed in smart casuals, with carry backpack of a college kid hung on his shoulder, had killed 56 innocent people at CST railway station. What was shocking for millions of people like me was for the first time, they were actually watching the face of the terrorist who had ruthlessly killed people and brought the whole nations in the grips of fear. And that face did not match our idea of a terrorist.

My own understanding of this boy/terrorists is through very few images (4/5 pictures) that are released through the print /electronic media. And few news reports filed about him through the course of trial. yet every time I saw his image I have always wondered who is real Kasab? what is his mind like?

I have gone through various emotions after seeing his images over a period of time, from sheer terror,fear, anger ,rage, helplessness, to apathy and kindness. At 22, Kasab has experienced life which few human beings can imagine. He is now knocking on the door of death to complete the final experience his life. The wait which will kill him more than the death itself.

Today, as the news broke of the verdict, a TV News desk reporter asked his correspondent how was Kasab reacting to this verdict, this is how he etched the picture of Kasab. "I have been watching Kasab in the court for more than year. Kasab when first brought to court, after his capture was young defiant smart, confident, young man. He would look at the judge, or the reporters straight into their eyes, sometimes would smile, talk to his lawyers and sit upright in his white pajamas. He even followed the court hearings. In the early days he would even wish the judge with a Good morning.. and when judge asked him how did he learn this he would try and talk to judge how he is learning Hindi and Marathi words from the prison guards who were overseeing him. But as the proceeding began to drag he began to lose patience, and even confessed of his crime and begged for death sentence, thinking the trial would wind soon. And that did not happen he began to loose hope, his body began to collapse( he had developed medial conditions) which was very evident from his body language. He would no longer look at the reporters, or the judge or even converse to his own lawyer. he would slouch on the chair, and stare at the ground with no emotions. Even today kasab who was unshaven and in white pajamas, did not react to the verdict given by the court."

There are lot of stories floating in media, about Kasab's background in Pakistan . One never knows what is the truth. What I gather from the reports is he was the youngest member of the 10 men squad that attacked Mumbai on 26/11, and one of the best shooters in squad which made him qualify for this mission at such an young age. Kasab may not have been as innocent as he looked, but one thing about kasab is he was certainly not a dumb foot soldier. He is an intelligent man , who just did not get opportunities to channelize his intelligence( learning Marathi or english words shows he was a quick learner). He was looking for avenues that would allow him to express his intelligence and the only opportunities which came his way were not utilized for his best interest. He could have be an excellent Olympic grade sports person,or a language translator if he had talent to learn languages from many other options he could have had. But he became a terrorist. Simply because those opportunities did not come his way.

I don't sympathies with Kasab for the crimes that he committed cannot be condoned. But every time I see his image in the press, will make me wonder will I ever know real Kasab? or will he remain another Unabomber.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Fall

Finally I watched the movie The Fall...

Last year when I had a fall and fractured my leg, a friend suggested me to watch this movie. when I asked what is it about all he said "It is an experience not a film. you must watch it" So I desperately started hunting for the dvd. It took me more than a year to find the dvd of the movie The Fall(2006) by Tarsem (Singh)

So how you understand the word fall. You fall down and break a leg? you fall in love or you fall out of good will of others? or as market fall(s) water falls a fruit fall or simply a free fall. Word fall has lot of metaphoric connotations suggesting primarily 'gravitational activity' and can be interpreted in multiple ways. Director Tarsem uses this word metaphorically leaving viewer for a free interpretation the experience of the movie.

Set in early 1920's in a film studio set of Los Angeles, the story of the Fall shifts back and forth from hospital bed to exotic locations of East Asia. Little five year old Alexandria(Catinca Untaru)is recuperating in a missionary hospital for a broken arm, meets a fellow patient, stunt man Roy walker( Lee Pace) who has broken his leg in a stunt action. Roy is broken either ways as his girlfriend has 'fallen out of love' with him. He is been contemplating suicide when he meets lively Alexandria.

Roy befriends Alexandira, and entices her with stories, provided she steals morphine tablets from the hospital dispensary. Fromm then on, story unfold in a spectacular visual dramas (like Arabian nights) in exotic locations creating a tension between real and mythical or illusionary world of Alexandria. Relationship between little Alexandria and Roy/Bandit too grows in an intense emotional web. I must give full credit to the director for handling the child actor Catinca so well and getting best of her acting ability. However film does not end in any climax but just fades in mundane end which is anticlimax of the whole movie experience. And that could be the script writers "fall'.

Director Tarsem singh, weaves world geographies seamlessly; to recreate archaic and mythic images in a modern context. Over all film is a visual pleasure where each frame is meticulously crafted for a visual experience. The movie will definitely go on to become a cult classic.

The Fall is the second film of director Tarsem singh. (The first being The cell that featured Jennifer Lopez.) His music video for the band REM( losing my religion ) won him many awards including MTV award. In short Tarsem singh gives a fresh outlook to the world of international cinema making it a truly a global language. So if you are tired of watching Hollywood style film making with sex violence and revenge kinda movies and longing to see truly poetic, mystical and romantic view of the humanity than he is the director to watch for. I am eagerly waiting for his upcoming flick Immortals(slated for release in 2011) based on the Greek hero myth of Theseus and Phaedra.

The reason I write about this movie, because such movies hardly get released in theaters or talked or written about. They remain hidden and undiscovered. Unless someone tell you one day to go and see it.As I beleive real "good art" is never found in fairs , biennials or gallery walls but discovered in unexpected venues and spaces. So is good cinema.

All I want to say is Thank you my friend "it was an experience."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

7 days in the Art World

World is a funny word! It means many things to many people and yet it is the same world. I and you live in the one world and yet may mean nothing to each other. Therefore 'one world' and "world apart" makes perfect sense.

So what does 7 days in the art world mean? Talking about the book by Sarah Thornton who attempts to 'explain/experience' the art world in seven chapters. Written in simple lucid English( surprisingly there are no jargon) this 280+ pages book you can read on the move, and in one go. The seven chapters- The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio and The Biennale tries to give you the insider's view of the art world centered primarily around New york and London in case you don't know .

More or less as an artist one does know some of the components this world and yet some of the chapters really open up new vistas to the existing realm. For instance importance of The crit- or collective critique as part of the art education is seriously missing in 'our' part of the art world. Such a student - artist - academician interaction is not only needed but is vital to any aspect of pedagogy. Something you lament for not experiencing it while you were student.

The studio was particularly engaging specially when you know that you may never get to see Takashi Murakami's studio. So when you read that he functions more in boardroom environment than a studio that hardly surprises you. But his bedroom does. Studio visit is an important ritual of the art world that helps promote artist's mind more than his work.Therefore when Murakami with his company Kaikai Kiki functions like an corporate house design company , it only strengthens my argument in my earlier blog.

Author, an art history graduate and doctorate in sociology approaches the art world more like an anthropologist, and writes the account from the 'participant observer's view'. She tries to investigate questions like What is an artist? what is a collectors? what is an auction ? or what does a magazine mean to art world?etc etc. In the bargain she collects some 'smart quotes' from the people who control this world. For instance she observes some collectors having a "plastic approach" to their collection - a sense which relates to the pursuit of youth and to be determined attempt to rejuvenate oneself through ongoing novelties". Or John Baldessari's quip, " you have to make new works to sell the old ones".

Book tries to entertain you and at the same time gives you a peep hole view of the current art world. As you complete reading it you know that the world out there has changed. So is the art world!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mr. Hirst, are you reading my blog?

Every era of art brings artist in its own avatar.

For instance during renaissance, artist was seen as genius, during Impressionism, artist was an inventor, Cubist were quasi scientists, Dada-s were rebels, Surrealists were Mavericks,Abstractions-its were philosophers and Pop artists were celebrities. So on and so forth...

what are the post war artists of today?
The current breed of artist represent the corporate CEO's.
(Well you don't need to be a rocket scientists to say this.)

So what does this signify for tomorrow's artist?
It only says art and artist today is part of an INDUSTRY and not an individual genius who is creating out of his own creative instincts. he is no longer a maverick but calculative, business savvy individual. It is her/his marketing skills will precede over his creative and intellectual abilities.

Roots of corporatization of art can be traced back in 60s in America, specially to Andy Warhol as he openly called his studio" Factory", suggesting that every work of art that emerges from his studio is as 'product' of a factory . Apparently, Warhol a commercial artist, wanted to bring the concept and discipline of commerce in his artistic production. What makes Warhol a "Warhol" today is his ability to prove his point that an art object is as consumable a product like any other products in the market. He successfully ripped the tags of "sacred" "divine" creation associated with artistic mind. However, the concept of corporatization of art is consolidated only by later artists like Hirst, Koons, Murakami, etc. What these artist did(which Warhol set in motion) was to streamline the process of art into a "production unit" setting the foundation for an art industry... They function more as CEO-s- policy makers who decide the strategies of marketing, sales, production, distribution and publicity of their artistic 'brand'.

So here is the dawn of ART Industry And as an industry it follows( or will follow) the fashion industry in its model.

Labels is the next step. Every successful artist will have his or her own Brand( Which is already in place for some) or label as they call in fashion industry. Which will function as a production house. Once a brand is established, younger talented artist will be recruited to work under the brand.( which is already happening) Every year, like fashion seasons' every brand gets to show their new creation to keep themselves in the market ( fairs are the runways for today's artist).

so if everything is already functioning like an industry what more is needed.

There is one component of the industry is missing in the art industry to qualify fully as an industry as of now. Industry is always larger than than an individual
So even if the CEO dies/resigns industry lives on. Artist may die but label/brand will live on.

By that logic,even if Warhol died in 1987, his Factory can still continue his art under his brand. One of the greatest USP of the artist market was when artist died, his art became more precious as the 'supply ' has 'stopped'. Does these issues bother the artists' reputation or even his valuation in the art market...

I don't think so.
If fashion industry has resolved the issue of creative licensing successfully than why should it bother art industry ?
so my dear artist friends are you ready to brace the next challenge?

we can start worrying more about the labor problems, union strikes, supply of commodities... rather than creative blocks, lack of inspiration and new ideas, etc...
An heir of a brand artist can continue the business even if s/he is not an artist
and work for the brand "image"...

Believe me you,
This a win-win situation for all.
Mr. Hirst , are you reading my blog?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ways of telling a story

Kathryn Biglow won the best director's award at BAFTA. She was the first woman director to win the best director's award in the history of film and television award in Britain and there is a high probability of her winning an Oscar award coming in few weeks time.

So what is the big deal?

A. She is a woman director
B. She was narrating a story based on war
C. She won against her ex- husband James Cameroon, who has already been acclaimed for his contribution in Hollywood

I have not watched The Hurt Locker but I have watched Avatar.
I really did not find Avatar anything to speak about, except for its special effects.
But so did I think about Slum Dog Millionaire, which swept most of the awards in all academies. I really cannot say what is the criteria of winning an award?

What was the reason why Biglow won this award?
Is it because her telling had a 'feminine' emotional chord?
Would a male director would have told the same story differently?
or was it for the first time in history an ex- husband and wife were fighting for an award? A strange battle between man's creativity v/s woman's.

As I said I have not seen Biglow's creation and I would like to believe that her work is as good as any cinema that has been created by great director's in past.
And yet when a woman wins an acknowledgment for her work all these questions pop up. Why can we not take creation of work of any art for its face value? How does it matter who has told us the story?

I feel very confused when a woman's creation has been treated under separate categories. And yet I do not oppose the validity of such movements. I know the full intellectual need for such movements. I also know how history ignores those stories that interest woman's lives. I acknowledge if not for such categories many stories of the subaltern subjects would have never been known. And yet I feel hard pressed to justify my creative impulse as women centric.

I am in dilemma because very soon I will be seating among the scholars who will be presenting their views/papers on the gender related aesthetics. I am wondering how am I to justify my art practice... as a woman or as person who lived those moments in my life. I know nobody is interested in my life but they would certainly be interested in seeing 'woman' in me.

There are ways of telling the same story. Which one did Biglow choose?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mumbai diary-1

Mumbai diary are stories of understanding the city through its people.
For me a city is not just its architecture, history or industry it carries. It is primarily its people, who remain invisible in the pages of history. This is an attempt to know these faceless people whom you encounter and make the city for you. This includes you and me.

Here is the first story

It was late afternoon and weather was getting hot and humid post holi.
I was sweating profusely,and decided to catch a cool cab instead of taking train to Chembur. Road travel would mean I would take extra 45 mts of travel but a cool cab would have made the journey more comfortable.I thought. Unfortunately there were none in sight. After waiting for half an hour I gave up on cool cab and decided to hop into a regular yellow cab. I got into first cab that was standing in a neat Que and asked the driver "Chembur chalenge?" Man in his mid forties was in the driver's seat, reading a news paper ,waiting to pick up his first( I came to know later that I was the first customer of the day) passenger. He looked at me for a moment and got up and turned his meter box. I was so tired standing in the sun, that I just hoped into the back seat. Shade is a great pleasure.

As the cab chugged along the road, it began to creak... louder and louder as we covered few kilometer; I began to notice the interiors...It was probably a 1985-86 model of Fiat. Back seat was covered with large floral velvet print upholstery which was worn out and needed refurbishing. Passenger seat too had collapsed on one side as springs of the seat had given way with the burden of passengers weight. I looked at the steering wheel and the speed o meter was dead years back. Metal body of the car had rusted and even the door handles and knobs were missing. If I had leaned on the car door and I would have flung out on the road very next moment. I shrunk myself to contain on the seat occupying as little space as possible . Car was way beyond its age of working condition and it was quite apparent from its protest.

As the creaking got louder and louder, I began to fret that the cab might stall just half way and I might get stranded in the middle of the highway. There was no way of hopping out of the cab, as we had touched high way, and traffic was zooming past at 80-100 kms. Now the anxiety and heat both started to get on to me I began to panic. I knew I was in hopeless situation. Just to distract myself from the noise and heat, I thought of striking a conversation with the driver. "How old is the car brother?' I was sure the driver was from UP and that would be the best way to get talking . There was a pin drop silence. I thought he did not hear me so I repeated the question again.

This time he replied "25years" and again a long pause. In a very apologetic tone he told me the cab had been de-commissioned he spoke haltingly." If we get caught on the road by traffic police , than taxi will get confiscated" "what?" my eyes nearly popped out, I certianly wanted to hop out of the cab at that very moment.... all the emotions welled in mind, anger, frustration, helpless and sheer self pity ruled my heart mind and body at the moment.I just cursed my luck.

Resigning to my fate, I decided to carry on the conversation. I had 1 and half hours drive left. So I asked... usual questions..Where does he stay? How many children does he have? can you make the ends meet with cab income , I just kept asking questions , I was not even interested in knowing the answers.I wanted to kill time.

The driver began to tell his story. Man from UP had come to Mumbai in 1992 in the middle of Mumbai riots. Bought a second hand car and was plying it on the roads for last 25 years. Father of four children , had manged to buy a small slum dwelling with this cab. He had managed to educate his eldest daughter and marry her off. His second son was doing medicine and younger two kids were still in school. But he had regrets. His sons were unable to help him in earning extra income and his married daughter who earned well was not able help him pool though his hardships as her salary was given to her in laws. The burden of making ends meet was weighing down on him heavily.

In that hour and half drive , driver wanted to tell me his frustrations , happiness, his dreams, and disappointments to a stranger whom he had never met, and probably whom he would never meet again. I just felt his frustrations of living in a city. I myself have lived many of those moments he was narrating. Finally he concluded his story by saying "I want to buy a new cab- a cool cab , but I am just helpless. Every day I take my cab out thinking this is it. Today my cab will be confiscated and I worry every moment what next?"

There was strange silence. As if we knew exactly what the other person felt for each other.We just shared with each other our pains of living in the city. By now I had forgotten car noises or even the searing heat. We had reached the destination.As I got off the car and paid his bill, I told him, never give up on life. It has its strange ways . He nodded and smiled for the first time. "Would you like to take a ride back home? He am willing to wait and won't charge you the waiting charges." he said. " No , go ahead if you get a passenger" I declined politely.

As I walked to my uncle's home, I though only in a city like Mumbai,you can connect with a perfect stranger and trust him/her with your life story and than disappear in the maze again. we had not even exchanged our names. Rather it was not necessary. He just wanted somebody to know that he exists. I acknowledge.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Myth of Adam

This part of the creation of myth is never written or told.

Once upon a time God was alone in this universe and he thought why not create a world. So he made this beautiful earth and populated with many animate and inanimate objects. But he was still missing something and then he thought I will create a perfect being. Who will keep me busy and amused. So he created a woman and called her Eve. Eve truly kept God amused with her curiosities and questions and her playful pranks.

She lived alone in the garden of Eden, and passed her days. As she grew she felt she needs a companion besides animals who were her friends. She needed a mate who could think and talk like her. So she went to God and said, "God you made me to amuse yourself. but I am bored and lonely on this beautiful planet . So why don't you make a companion for me"

God thought for a while and said, "Sure, I am the God of the universe and I have ultimate three qualities. I create. I preserve. I destroy. I will make a male companion for you. And since he will be my replica he too can have only three qualities, as you like. " So God made a man and called him Adam.

Eve was very happy. She took him to Eden . Now she could talk to him play with him and even argue with him. But soon she returned to God and said " God you made Adam, tall, handsome and beautiful but he is dumb! So I don't mind if he is not so tall, but make him intelligent " Pleaded Eve. God agreed and made Adam short but intelligent. Thinking now Eve would be happy. But Eve soon returned to God and asked to change beauty with braveness. God did as she asked. But Eve came again and changed Adam's handsome-ness to loving nature. And she kept coming again and again asking God to change some qualities in Adam.

Finally, one day Eve stopped coming to God. So God became curious and asked her " Eve, are you happy with the Adam now? And what do you think are those three qualities of a your perfect mate?" Eve looked at the God and said" God, I am happy with Adam, because I chose him to be kind, creative and wise being. And to answer your second question ,whether I have a perfect mate? No. I don't have a perfect mate because I realized since you made man in your own image he can not be perfect. So I live with Adam what I think is best for me"

Rest of the story is history.....

Moral of the story: GOD DOES NOT MAKE A PERFECT MAN!

Disclaimer: The story is just a "myth" and does not intend to hurt any body through gender bias

Thursday, February 4, 2010

why we suck up to west?

One of my good friend gently reminded me that way to my career's success is through 'west'. Start showing your work in western galleries museums, and if a western curator touches you , vola you will be instantly famous back in India. Well, she is certainly aware of the new success mantra of Indian art but I beg to differ. I believe that way to success to any form of art is through its people. And visual art cannot be different from other forms.

Let me narrate three different scenarios.

Scene I
Many years ago , I was helping a young gallerist and curator to manage her gallery. As she used to promote young artists, I happened to invite the then upcoming struggling artist/woman if she would like to show her works with this gallery. Considering the time when artist had to wait for years for their first solo , I thought such an invitation would make the young artist ecstatic with joy. But I was wrong . She in a matter of fact tone said" Don't take it personally sweetheart, but I am not interested in showing with any other gallery except xxx gallery in the town. Right now they are not interested in my work but I keep showing them my new works and will wait patiently, till they approve it one day". Her reply stunned me, so I asked her " May I know at least why only that gallery?" and she replied, "Honestly, I am not interested in Indian gallery or art scene. I am aiming at international exposure, and right now all the international curators , collectors are visiting xxx gallery. So I am sucking up to them" she said with a triumphant smile on her who had clearly checkmated her opponent in front.

Scene II
In one of the high flying opening galas of the famous artist I bumped into a flamboyant gallerist who was out to prove that he means business. He narrated this following incident. When he approached a young artist to enlist her on his gallery muster , she told him straight on his face that she was not interested in Indian galleries. When he asked what was her reason she said " I am going to show only in the the international scene. I know if I show with A list galleries in west all the Indian galleries will come running after me. This way I can circumvent years of my struggle to get recognized by the art scene in India. It is simple logic. Mr.X, I suck west ,you suck me."

Scene III
A non art trained , artist's collective based in India showcases their works more in international forums than in India. Rarely known in India, but widely discussed, written and talked about in the western art forums and curators are considered as the only relevant art production from India worth looking at or studying their work. However the Initiative's claim their art as people oriented/ interactive projects. One of the curators once told me when he approached the group he was told that they would work with him only if he is curating an international show.

Just to wrap this case study, in all three above cases, artists are considered today(so called) successful artist/s because they applied the mantra of 'west first' for instant recognition. More and more younger artist are following their footsteps.

It shows some grave faults within the art world that could be the reason for such a trend. I have no problem for getting recognition in west, but I object the trend to ignore and distrust the cultural intelligence of the people that you choose to represent. So why we suck up to western art world to understand our own cultural matrix and decide what is good for us? There could be many reasons for this. For e.g.

1.Artists have no faith in Indian public, that they can understand and critically appreciate their work

2. There is dearth of Indian curators and historians who can contextualize their works and their art practice for its people.

3.There is lack of Museums and state support that can bring the public and artists to establish an sustainable relation between the two

4. Finally and not the last, we Indians still believe that western masters know our culture best and are the best barometers to decide what is best for us.

Whatever may be the reason , I feel these are some serious issues that is plaguing the Indian art scene today. Faster we address them better we will communicate with our own people. Culturally we will have more vibrant and diverse visual art practice.
Because what will matter when Indian art history will be written, not how many shows you had in western art museums, but what kind of changes you brought within the art practices in India. That is where the contribution of KG Subramaniaum, Gulam Muhamad Sheik , Bhupem Kakkar and others matter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nation of Idiots

Recent bollywood flick 3 idiots, was a mega hit because it had a message. Message that whole nation loved it. Nation laughed, cried, wowed that at last the movie had finally convinced them of a message that we as nation are the idiots. Idiots because all our achievements, success, happiness is measured in terms of numbers.

But I am not sure if this euphoria of the message had any impact on our minds. I believe that we as nation are obsessed with number. And so deep is our obsession that we may not even realize its cultural, social or psychological implication.

Our TV channels gives us a list of top 10 of everything. From top 10 stocks to top 10 brands to top 10cricketers, and top 10 stars. You give them a category and they will number it for you. Everything is numbered. Graded and evaluated with a verdict. And don't we love the stories of happy verdict?

Take the case of cricket which is like a religion in India. How many times we have heard that Tendular's is number one cricket player in the world. No one doubts or disputes that. But to make you beleive that he is the number one cricketer, an endless statistical data is given to prove his position. Does this mean that if Tendulkar had scored less centuries he would have been lesser significant player? Or those other players who have not scored as much as Tendulkar are of no significance. And what if tomorrow any other cricketer scores more centuries than Tendulkar? Does he becomes less successful or even his achievement get stunted by some one else's success? Why our ideas of greatness or success are linked with numbers ?

I think this whole number game is not only ridiculous but dangerous for the society. And what frightens me is, as I see, that no other nation indulges in such games as much as we Indians do.

Height of this ridiculous game was the recent grading of the contemporary artists of India in the leading national daily. 25 artists were named to be the 'top' artists of India. Newspaper took the' informed' views of the so called panelists such as collectors, art enthusiast, critics, and those who had contributed articles for the issue and created top 25 names, which was topped by M.F. Hussain. Of course news paper did not give what was the criteria, methodology used in compiling the list . Obviously it was just opinionated list of the few people . What came a s a surprise was how can we judge Ravi Varma's contribution as against Souza's ? How can we measure Abanindranath Tagore with Nalini Malini by the same yard stick? and how can we say Subodh Gupta is more significant than Nandal Bose or Somnath Hore?

I have no intention to take away the success of any of the artist mentioned in the list. But what I am objecting is the way they have been listed and graded as number 1,2,3.... To number the artists in such manner is not only creating another faulty system( Already the Indian art world is debating the phenomena of price=value and its impact on the artistic merit) but to undermine the whole intellectual and creative process of art making that each artist has contributed to the Indian art . It is again a trap to limit the whole debate of art process to few individuals and issues. Such trends can only contract the canvas of possibilities of ingenious artistic processes, in terms of success and failures. And this is frightening.

Finally what do we achieve by creating such a number game?
Or does this only prove that we as nation are the idiots... Let Amir have his last laugh!