Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Love you like I hate you": Bal Thackeray(1926-2012)

Tiger goes silent, is how TV channels announced the death of Balasaheb Thackeray . Last few days city of Mumbai was anticipating Balasaheb's death. In fact the rumor was Saheb as he was called was dead two days ago i.e. on the last day Diwali ; the day of Bhajubeej an auspicious day for Mahrashrtians. But the city administrators were  afraid to announce it to public as they anticipated violence in the city. Therefore they requested the family to delay the announcement till an appropriate time. Now that Diwali is over and city of Mumbai is going to take a break for weekend holiday administrators decided that the appropriate time has come. So Balasaheb 'died ' for Mumbai on saturday 17th novemebr 2012 at 3.30 pm .

This blog recounts strange love story of our times. Man called Balasaheb Thackeray and city of Mumbai. It is a love' affair' that everyone loves to hate.

As the folk tale goes, Balasaheb applied for a job at Times of India for the post of cartoonist. But unfortunately the job went to a South Indian guy ( now famous cartoonist RK Laxman) . It hurt Thackeray's pride. He went on to form a regional party called Shivsena  in 1966 to  restore the hurt pride of Maharashrian manoos ( marathi  man) who were getting marginalized in their own city. Rest is history!

He decided to reclaim the city. Reclaim its pride. Reclaim its culture. This mission became  an obsessed lover's passion for his lover. To reclaim the city he did every possible act of a mad lover, he violated her by burning, torching,  throttling... and finally rechristened her to 'own' her. ( a custom among the maharashtrians to rename the woman he marries to show ultimate ownership). He bragged that "any one who touched him  then whole of Mumbai will burn". This kind of madness only a possessed lover can display.  He believed  he was the protector of the city guarding her from 'other forces' like  South Indians, Gujratis, Marwadis, Biharis and Muslims. He was her( Mumbai's ) man and she was his bride.
He was a true Hindu /Husband. Hindu hridaya samrata as he called himself.

Balasaheb adored Adolf Hitler and emulated Shivaji a local Maratha King. Secretly he craved for this image of Hilter created through fear and terror. He was a demagogue. This is how he wanted to claim his status of demigod for naive local populace. Balasaheb's politics was formulated through principles of hate and violence. Whether it was late sixties, when Balasaheb first burnt the city in protest of South Indians , then against Gujratis, Upites or Biharis and in 92 against Muslims. He used the weapon of terror to control Bombay. As a result he deeply polarized the citizens of Bombay into those who belonged and those who did not belong to the city. The Shivsena campaign of mee Mumbaikar( I am a Mumbaite) was the result of narrow regionalism that went against the grain of Mumbai's cosmopolitan culture. It was 92 riots Shivsena's hate politics reached the peak when he ruthless burned the city and the Muslims to justify his Hindutva agenda. What he failed to see in his narrow vision of great Maharashtra dream that he had unleashed an unending cycle of violence over the city which went beyond his control. The woman he loved so deeply and tortured for the sake of love was now being raped repeatedly by his own enemies.
Did he ever regret that love stories should not be inked in violence?

Yet, Balasaheb was a man of contradictions. No one could challenge his nationalism and patriotic fervor as a fake political stance. Like Hitler , he mesmerized people through his political speeches. He spoke from heart. He spoke fearlessly. What he spoke is what he meant And what he meant was what he spoke. People loved him for his honesty and he loved to perform before his people. It was a pure theatrics more then politics. And he won every time. This was the charisma of Balasaheb Thackeray. Even when he preached politics of hate among communities; he loved individual persons irrespective of religion , state caste class and community. He stood by them in times of great difficulty and he was a man of integrity which is such a rare quality of a leader in Indian politics. The doc who served him till his death was a Muslim man. And he vouched for Balasaheb's affection. Isn't this ironical?

Balasaheb was first an foremost an artist and a political cartoonist.  This is how he called himself.  "I am not a politician but a political cartoonist". It was so evident from the sharp wit and humor laced in irony that emerged through his speeches and his cartoons. As an artist his personality changed from his politics. He loved all arts and artists from all genres. Singers, musicians writers poets, cricketeers and if you are an achiever in any field, Balasaheb made a point to laud him or her for their achievements. He invited them home and treated like a personal guests. ( remember Michael jackson?). This was his humane side. So contradictory to his ruthless politics.

Balasaheb had cultivated his public image very carefully. In the political propaganda images he was alway portrayed along with growling tiger which was the political symbol of his party Shivsena. His early images show him delivering his political speeches in white clothes (a kurta and chudidar) and his hands extended in a forceful gesture or sometimes even the gesture that seemed a threaten his political opponents. This particular gesture of his hands and his body language and even his white clothing i.e a white kurta and chudidar seemed to be based on the character of Shivaji a regional king and a hero of Maharshtra. Most of Balasaheb's political ideas were derived from Shivaji's politics of resistance towards Muslim rule. As Balasaheb acquired the role of a supremo and an dictator his images changed from a dynamic hero to a Hindu ideologue seated on a huge chair wearing orange robes and rudraksha chains around his neck he appeared like a saint/god . He courted a a long flowing beard and a dark glasses that gave him the anonymity to command dictates of violence .

This is Balasaheb and Mumbai's strange love/hate relationship. On one had he violated the city with no mercy like a mad lover. On other he remained trapped inside Mumbai like her imprisoned lover . ( he never traveled as far as Delhi)

As I write this blog, funeral procession of Balasaheb is on the way. Mumbai has shut down with fear. The city has stopped. There are no taxies or autos plying on the roads, Cablewalas have shut all entertainment channels. There is no milk delivery. No news papers. Shops cinemas, malls are closed. Roads are deserted. Even the stray dogs on the roads have disappeared. It feels quite eerie . For once the city has stopped. More out of fear than respect.
 There is a moment of poignant pause.

The 'Love 'story of Balasaheb and Mumbai ends here. Call it madness. Call it cruelty. Call it dictatorship. Some love stories go horribly wrong. This is one of them. Man and his city
Mumabi is battered in this relationship and  has lost her sheen. But she will move on.
Will she be able to heal her wounds and return to her old glory?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mango People and their Banana Republic

Sometime dolts too utter wise words which become quotable quotes. 'Mango people in Banana republic' one such quote which will remain in public memory for very long time. People might forget the person who said these words but these 'prophetic' words will haunt Indian public for very long time. India is a banana republic. And you don't need a Nobel Prize winner to say it so , even a dolt can see it.

Let me explain to those who may not know the context behind these words. These 'famous words are uttered by Robert Vadra, the famous son in law of the famous first family of India . The Nehru- Gandhi family who is ruling India by virtue of their name, fame, wealth and bully power. When Mango man ( aam admi = common man = Mr. Kejriwal) alleged that a humble businessman like Mr. Vadra has amassed un-humbling wealth in a short period and through dubious means , Mr. Robert Vadra's repartee came with these famous lines for Mr. Kejriwal; an activist who is trying to dig corruption karmas of the politicians of this nation.

Now forget Vadra. And look at his words. Mango man in banana republic. Mango man is a simple literal translation of hindi word aam admi . Funny. But Banana republic alludes to India. And thats not funny for many patriotic Indians. Wikipedia defines banana republic as “in practice, a banana republic is a country operated for commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility. Such an imbalanced economy reduces the national currency to devalued paper-money, hence, the country is ineligible for international development-credit, and remains limited by the uneven economic development of town and country. Kleptocracy, government by thieves, features influential government employees exploiting their posts for personal gain (embezzlement, fraud, bribery, etc.), with the resultant government budget deficit repaid by the native working people who earn money, rather than make money. Because of foreign (corporate) manipulation, the kleptocratic government is unaccountable to its nation, the country's private sector–public sector corruption operates the banana republic, thus, the national legislature usually are for sale, and function mostly as ceremonial government."

Going by this definition can anyone who lives in India, follows Indian politics and reads/watches Indian news channel will disagree with Vadra that India is not a banana republic?. Scams like 2G, 3G, CWG, Coalgate, Vadragate, Khurshidgate (and god knows how many scams and gates are going to hit the news line if you believe  Kejriwal's word ) is not enough proof that India befits the definition of banana republic? So why are Indians getting so irked about Vadra's words? Man is simply calling spade a spade.

If such an evidence does not convince you then look out the quotes our esteemed leader appeared in media recently.

RS 71L is small change for a minister to loot. ( if it was 71 crore we would have believed the news ) India's steel minister.

Public has short memory. Look how public has forgotten Bofors scam. This scam to will be forgotten : India's Home minister referring to Coalgate

Girls should be married at the age 16 so that gang rapes can be avoided. Haryana minister after reporting 22 rape case in the state in a month.

Most of the rape cases is consensual sex gone wrong. Haryana minister on gang of women in state

Mr. Kejriwal should stop barking everyday. India's steel minister

Earlier if men and women held hands parents would reprimand them. Now everything is done openly. It is like open market with open options. A woman chief minister on rise of rape case in West Bengal.

These are few samples of wisdom of the leaders Indians have chosen to rule, to govern a nation of billions, legislate laws that will protect people and enhance the quality of life in largest democracy of world. What do you expect to get from these people? Banana Republic!

This is a country where public money is looted openly. Corrupt is never punished. ( In sixty four years of independence not a single politician has been convicted for corruption). Law never takes its course. Honest public servants are harassed by constantly transferring them for doing their duty.

Poor are cheated by taxing them highly and rich are dolled with freebees. Justice is delayed and denied for poor and scuttled in case of rich. If a politician is found guilty he is rewarded by more positions. This country takes pride in malnutrition, Lowest birth rate. Poor health care. Poor hygiene. Corruption in every field of life. Crime against women. Name it and India will proudly tell you yes we practice that malpractice.

Mr. Robert Vadra, I applaud your courage for saying it so loudly and clearly, today India has become a Banana Republic and we are the mango people...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gods of the street-2

Mumbai is city of spectacles.
This is one of the spectacle city looks forward to live every year.

Image copyright Baiju Parthan

Friday, September 21, 2012


If you translate the word
Longing for me
I will explain
meaning of war.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Am and the Big Jerry

Disclaimer: This no review of Jerry Pinto's book Em and the Big Hoom.

“Have you ordered something through Flipkat?' my husband asked as he opened the door.
“yes. It is Jerry's book. Take the delivery” I answered from the kitchen
“ You must read it. I mean we must read it . It has been well received.....” I corrected myself as I went on talking in-spite of getting no response from other end.

Out came the book.
Em and the Big Hoom. By Jerry Pinto,
Em? and the Big Hoom?  I turned the book looking for some clues what it means. So Jerryish title. I thought to myself. Never say things which are simple and direct.
Jacket of the book was equally intriguing. Unlike Jerry
Charcoal black with delicately decorated female profile . I ran my hand over it and flipped through the book. It had dark purple edged pages . I liked it.

I don't know where I first met Jerry ? It was early 90s. Was it at poetry circle group? Or was it in Times of India office where Jerry worked as freelance writer and I was a freelance illustrator.?
My perception of Jerry, is a tall lanky guy with light eyes. Perpetually smiling , sometimes you felt he is smiling bit too much for no reason as he talked non stop. Words literally tumbled out his mouth like heap of clothes from teenager's cupboards. He had a peculiar sense of humor that sometimes bordered on darker , deeper and dirtier realms. I carried an impression of him as sweet boy who always laughed and made you laugh. A sunshine boy ; life of a party; a raconteur who entertained non stop. Oh Jerry was such a fun to be around. And yet I felt there is a mystery side which remained inaccessible to me. Jerry spoke in innuendoes. Which made me feel very uncomfortable.

Let me recount an incident from Times of India days. Jerry was working as a freelance writer and I was a freelance illustrator. I had come to office to collect an article from edit desk. I saw  Jerry  typing on his computer at the end of long desk lined with many computers. I plopped myself next to his chair since I had to wait for the print out to get ready. Naive and new to the city environment, I got talking to Jerry and told him I bought something that I don't not know how to use it. I was alluding to the oven we bought other day. Jerry stopped typing,  paused as he turned his grey eyes on me said “ let me guess what it is. You bought a sex toy!” I cannot describe my emotions at this point. Embarrassed ? Shocked? Stunned? Angry? probably cocktails of all these emotions ran through me. Then came a smile with words “ It is a joke sweetheart. I am sure you will eventually learn to use an oven”.

Was Jerry being nasty to me? Or was he going through a bad day?

In another instance, Jerry was visiting us in our home in Nallasopara a deep suburb of Mumbai.
I picked up this opportunity to show some of my art works to Jerry and an art critic friend on that occasion. Jerry picked up an unfinished work  that depicted of trousers hung on a hook and unbuttoned. Jerry looked at the work “ I like that inhibited libidinal fantasy you are trying to portray through this work.” and then he went on giving a long unwinding dialogue explaining sexual connotation of the work as he saw it.  He ended his speech with “ Can I have this work as a gift?” I was too shocked and embarrassed by his direct critique before friends and my husband I could barely divert the conversation by saying “ It is not a finished work”. ( I still owe him this work)

I felt Jerry enjoyed his uncanny ability to embarrass you with a straight face which sometimes had a childish joy of checkmating the opponent. The only way I could resolve Jerry's words would be “Oh I cannot understand Jerry Pinto'.

So when I heard Em and Hoom was semi autobiographical/ semi fictional work I decided to order the book. For me book was an opportunity to take a peek into Jerry Pinto's world. A window to Jerry's quirky attitude. And even try and understand mystery behind his 'sunshine' smile.

So did I find any of the above questions when I read the book?
Do I understand Jerry Pinto any better now?

Em and the big Hoom is a very private diary. A diary which you don't want people to ever read . It is a space where you write to understand the incident in one's life in retrospect and make sense of it. It is private meditation where you ask yourself was I right in behaving this way? Or was I too harsh and nasty to other person? Why am I so angry with people around me? Should I say sorry? Or am I mad too?

Understanding parent/child relationship is daunting task even in normal family conditions. There are some issues that remain unresolved and unexplained however loving and caring the relationship may be. So when one's mother is terminally 'mad' the task to understand the family structure becomes more uphill.

Surprisingly the book is not as dark and gloomy as jacket suggests. It neither informs you about the illness of bipolar disease. Nor it seeks any sympathy for the family who suffers along with the patient.
It is not even attempting to understand 'family' structure. Or apologetic about its sexual dialogues between a mother and son .

Jerry does not write this book for his readers. If you happen to read it 'good for you'.  Book reminds me of my the first English lesson in school. “This is Tim and this is Mini” Thats it.  Take it or leave it.
Jerry tells you story of his life with the straight face “this is my mom Em and this is my father Hoom” Em was mad and Hoom was Hoom. Now that I have told you story you can go home”. and I am Jerry Pinto.

I think i have found answer to my dilemma of how to understand Jerry Pinto.
Jerry is Jerry
take it or leave it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pussy Riot and Art of Political Performance

What is common between performance art and political rally?

Opportunism through media gaze?!!!

Take recent two instances.
Firstly the Russian all women music band called Pussy Riot which was sentenced to jail for two years for performing a protest- art against Russian president Putin. Band argued that they have the right to express their artistic view in a democracy. Rightly so.

Secondly two major political rally performances that staged violence in the city of Mumbai within gap of 10 days ; terrorizing the city for a political motive. Both the organizing parties argued that in a democracy they have right to protest against issues close to their heart. Again Rightly so.

Who is Pussy Riot? An unknown female band came in public limelight for being jailed for two years for singing protest songs against President Putin in a Russian church. This all female member punk rock band established in 2011 conducts political protests in various parts of Russia through their music and staged art performances. Although their music is hardly to reckon with and is often called childish , amateurs and cacophonic . What Pussy riot is famous for is their bizarre ways of protest performed in public spheres. Which includes setting fires to police cars, simulating sexual acts in shopping windows , disrupting public events and finally singing protest songs in church . All their acts are documented and released in public platforms like youtube and other forums by which they generate media attention. As per wikipedia "Pussy Riot’s performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, their performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties."

This is an instance of art 'performed as' politics. or what is called political art. Result today Pussy Riot is recognized world wide. All so called rich and famous are supporting the band members and their art.

Lets look at Mumbai rallies. On 11th August Raza academy called for a protest rally to register their protest against killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. A well scripted event went violent after some incited speeches and the crowd went violent. The crowd who had come prepared with arsenal attacked police, media OB vans and public property. 2 Persons died and many police men got wounded.

This was act no 1.

Why I call it performance?
Here clearly and cleverly 'violence' was performed '. You may take any meaning out of it. Plight or might? whatever. There was no doubt August 11 rally in Mumbai was pure political performance.

Then comes act 2. If August 11 showed people's strength on street at 12000 people. August 21st rally drew crowds estimated to be 50,000 odd people. Organised by Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) headed by Raj Thackeray. Everything of 21st August party was a political theatre at its best. Right from police denying the permission and making it illegal gathering, then granting permission last minute. Thackeray's defiance. His quintessential dramatic speech which lasted for 20 minutes, (but had all the trappings of a bollywood entertainment of 3 hour movie. Paisa vasool) . A policeman offering rose at the end of the speech to Thackeray. Everything was scripted , performed and executed to perfection. People clapped. Skeptics vowed. As columnist Shobha Dey said it was a political master stroke, and with a class entertainment.

This is an instance of politics performed as art or theatre.

Result today MNS and its head Raj Thackeray is a powerful entity in Mumbai. Raj Thackeray has achieved his goal in shunting the top cop out of Mumbai and has sent the message to masses he is the NEW boss.

What seems common in both events is provocation as a strategy. Strategy that seems work perfectly through media. I do not intend to make any judgement by saying whether Pussy Riot deserved to be jailed or MNS chief needs to be applauded or condemned for his provocative stance. What I want to point out is the 'performative' aspect of a political and artistic practice which remain at the level of 'symbolism'. In today's media defined reality, art and politics are two sides of same coin. Both work on one principle.

Pure opportunism
Stage . Perform. Enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mumbai Diary 5: Gods of the Street-1

Image courtesy

There is a scene in the film Slumdog Millionaire. The quiz master asks Jamal the protagonist;  What does Lord Rama carry in his hands? Scene then cuts to  flashback where kids are shown playing in a dirty water tank and a group of women washing clothes nearby. One can see a mob of people approaching the slum.  Jamal's mother realizes the danger and screams at the kids to run for life. Jamal with his brother dash away not before they see their mother being hacked to death by mob off Hindus.
As they run through narrow alleys of slums they meet with a child standing in the corner painted in robin blue, hair tied in a knot raising his hand in protection. Young Jamal and his brother come face to face with lord Rama  as they run away to save their lives. Scene in the movie is very poignant and in few visuals describe the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslim during Babri Masjid riots in 92.

Presence of 'god' in midst of riot scene in a metropolitan city like Mumbai may look surreal and even 'bollywoodish'. But believe me, it is not. If there is one thing that dominates the streets of Mumbai are gods. Gods of all kinds. Gods of all religion, sects and cults. Every day some god, saint or Guru occupies already busy roads of Mumbai to parade his or her power on the streets of Mumbai showcasing the strength and popularity of his or her sect.

Here are some random examples that show some 'small gods' appearing on the streets of Mumbai.

In the midst of business district in Mumbai's fountain area I stumbled upon lord Shiva and Rama standing next to the car and blessing you for few coins. Bahurupiyas  or traditional impersonators  as they are called are part of the village landscapes who often migrate to the cities in search of jobs and living. And impersonating gods is best way they can entertain you to earn money.

But gods just don't turn up in person. They appear in every form. In stone. on sanitary tiles .  wall graffiti's. Stickers. Posters. banners you name it and a god image is omnipresent in Mumbai city like no other city.

Let me introduce you to Kumar. I met Kumar  right outside Churchgate station. As  a runaway kid, Kumar  loved  Mumbai's freedom but he could not forget his hometown of Madurai. Overtime he visited his hometown he brought a god along with him and stuck to the wall which was also his shop. He lived on the streets and conducted his business as shoeshine boy. What attracted me to his shop is his gods that were neatly perched between  colourful shoe laces.

And then you have those god posters who rub space along with film stars and other popular images.
One comes across many vendors like these who conduct their business in Fort area just around the national gallery of art.

This is Asif. Asif sells god stickers. He is a muslim boy but sells images of Hindu gods. He inherited his business from his father, who died all of sudden and left Asif the eldest of 5 children to bear  the responsibility of looking after the family. His whole business is contained in a small inverted umbrella. When I asked him why an umbrella?, his reply was "municipality staff confiscates wares of the vendor. Moment he comes to know the Municipality staff are coming he can 'shut his shop' quickly. It is simple logistic issue.

Take this migrant worker in UP. who came to city with just clothes on. Set under a tree wondering how to make a living. First thing he did was to set his gods who were just stone. Smooth river stones. Which are worshipped as  shaligramas or lord vishnu in anionic form. He began his business as barber . Today along with his barber shop he sell all paraphernalia of gods.

These are few examples of  'small gods' of 'small people' who live on the streets Mumbai. I call them small gods because the power they wield is minuscule. They are everywhere but not so visible. Like their patrons, they are trying to survive. Like their patrons most of them are migrants.

But streets of Mumbai are taken over by two major gods. Lord Krishna and Lord Ganesha. In my next blog  I would like to discuss the two major festivals Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi that take over the streets of Mumbai

Monday, July 2, 2012

Between a rebel, cigars and art exposition :Cuba Diary-2

Welcome to Cuba”, said the emigration officer finally, as she stamped my passport after taking tad too long to scrutinize my papers. Hungry and dead tired after the 20 hour long haul flight I was beginning to get anxious.

Immigration formalities done, I pushed through the exit door and out of the airport to join my fellow artists. And there we were with a sense of triumph clearly written on our faces as though we had conquered the first stage in a battle to reach that mysterious island nation soaked in the aura of the celebrated rebel Che Guevera, and shunned by the world for its political leanings towards socialist communism. Our group is visiting Cuba to see and experience the 11th Havana Biennial , a biannual exposition of contemporary art from around the globe. Sightseeing in Havana came as an added bonus to this purely cultural field trip.

Tucked between the south east of United States and eastern cost of Mexico, Cuba is a tiny island state in the Caribbean Sea. The history of Cuba is a saga of repression and struggle for independence , under various colonial rulers culminating finally in its liberation through the people's revolution led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevera in 1959.

With its emerald green landmass fringed by the tranquil sea, and its bright sunny air filled with sounds of latin music and cha cha cha, Cuba obviously is an ideal global holiday destination. But Cuba in 2012 lives in dream time, untouched by global economic hustle and bustle, sans neon signs and electronic ringtones . As our coach approached old Havana city ((Habana Vieja) we could feel the clock winding back to the Sixties. Two hundred year old colonial buildings encrusted with the patina of time standing tall and proud welcomed us. Classic American Chevies from the sixties rolling down the main avenue as people stroll leisurely in idyllic plazas on a week days enthralled us. And with folk musicians strumming foot tapping rhythms on the guitar to spanish folk songs gives the feeling that you are on the set of some multimillion dollar Hollywood period flick.

In 1982, UNESCO declared Havana city center as a world heritage site. Marvelous colonial architectural styles ranging from spanish colonial structures to art deco prove the point as we walk through alleys crisscrossing Plaza de Armes, Templete Palace of Generals, Cathedral Square, Plaza Vieja and the famous Hemingway's “Bodeguita”. Our English speaking guide, a chirpy Cuban lady Ms Miledes insisted on taking us to Hotel Ambos Mundos for a refreshing drink of Mojito . “American Nobel Laureate Earnest Hemingway stayed in this hotel overlooking the Malecon bay seeking inspiration for his writings” she filled in the details for our touristy interest. Mojito , is a cocktail made of chilled white Cuban rum with crushed fresh mint leaves and a shot of lime works like magic potion on a sweltering hot day.

Later as we moved through cathedral square, sounds of latin drum beats and dancers accompanied by flower girls and acrobats on stilts greeted us to usher in a carnival mood. “Tourism is very important for us and thats why government promotes cultural entertainment and crafts in these areas ”, Ms. Miledes explained.

Years of international embargo has left its imprint on Cuban economy. And tourism is an important money grosser for the country. Strange as it may sound, Cuba has a dual currency system. A tourist currency called CUC. One CUC is equal to a US dollar and can only be transacted only in Cuba. The local currency called Peso is meant only for the inhabitants of Cuba for local transaction.

As you enter the Vedado region one notices that this is the cultural heart of the city with hotels and contemporary art galleries and museums jostling for space along the cobbled streets.We took a quick look at Museo Capitanes Genrales built in 1791 and considered to be a perfect example of Cuban architecture under Spanish rule. Museo de la Revolucion, Museo Nacinal de Bella Artes, Museo de Artes Decoratives are few among many museums in the city that tell the visitor about the cultural history of Cuba.

Life in Havana is incomplete without art, music , dance and its famous Havana Club rum. Song and dance is so much part of the Cuban DNA that in every nook and corner musicians and dancers will try to entertain you with their bouquet of songs . You intuitively hum to the tune of popular songs following the hypnotic beat.

Ms. Miledes had reserved a table at a 'paladar' which are private restaurants famous for good food and ambience. We have been consuming more or less the standard cuban diet of chicken, rice and potatoes for a while. By now some of us were beginning to yearn for other cuisine and flavours. Cuba is certainly not a place for hardcore foodies. Like everything owned by government so is hotels and restaurants . However paladars are exceptions to this rule and these private restaurants take pride in serving their guests. The guava pudding served with a cheese slice served as dessert made us forget all the gastronomic dissatisfaction we had suffered so far.

Visits to Cigar factory and Rum factory are mandatory to complete the Cuban experience. Here every cigar is carefully hand rolled, quality tested and labeled by workers. A poster of Che with a cigar clenched in his mouth looms over the workers who are busy grading the best tobacco leaves from the stacks piled next to them. Each cigar goes through as much as 15 quality checks before it is sent to the market.

Che Guerra , one of the principal architects of free Cuba, better known as 'Che ' is synonymous with Cuba. whose iconic likeness is popular among the youth in every part of the world through posters and tshirts , has his final resting place in Santa Clara, a central province of Cuba. Santa Clara is a three hour drive from Havana . The Che memorial has a massive statue of Che holding a gun leading the way and is an inspirational figure to every Cuban child. Che actually means "special friend“ explained Miledes while recollecting how every Cuban school going child vows to be like Che. A small museum dedicated in memory of Che and the fellow soldiers who fell along with him fighting war in Bolivia lies beneath the memorial.

By now we were familiar with areas like Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Plaza de Revolcion where most of the biennial art exhibits are installed. Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wilfredo Lam is the center which conducts this event biannually with a mission to integrate the ancient cultural heritage of Cuba with its contemporary art practice. Art from the biennial was displayed in public spaces like Gran Teatro la Habana which is the most celebrated opera house in the city and open spaces like the promenade of Malecon and Miramar beaches . Facades of buildings and Museums are roped in to display art that raises questions about contemporary life and culture.

If you need a break from the fast track of modern urban life, then Cuba is a perfect destination to head for. You can once again experience that era when there was no information overload, no conspicuous consumption, no junk food, and no technology tangles to stress you out . People are genuinely warm and friendly and live contented lives with basic amenities. But one wonders how long this 'innocence ' and the old world charm of Cuba will remain and live on ? Things are changing slowly but surely. “Progress ' and 'development' is knocking on Cuban shores.

This travelogue of mine was published in Crest, Mumbai edition of Times of India dated 30/06/2012 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reviewing Shame

According to Adam and Eve myth, shame  and guilt were 'born' after they had sex with each other. Thus with the invention of sex, human kind lost their innocence and were banished from Garden of Eden (guess this place is somewhere in heavens where gods live )  and perennially got doomed on earth as sinners.  This is what Genesis told its believers. Sex is sin. Sex is shame.

Since then human mind has tried to understand and define role of sex in human life. Many ancient myths have tried to grapple with the question of human sexuality. Is sex for procreation or pleasure? The fact remains, even after so many years of civilization and progress, human curiosity about sex has not diminished nor seem to have fully understood the complex nature of  human sexuality.

Movie Shame (2011) directed by Steve McQueen ( not to be mistaken for the famous Hollywood actor. ) attempts to comprehend  complex relationship between human psychology and sexual behavior. This tightly edited drama takes a peek into life of a successful financier Brandon ( Michael Fassbender) living in city of New York. Successful, ruthless and driven by ambition Brandon around 30, bachelor , lives life in fast lane, where there is very little time to form  real human bonds and relationship. In between his business meetings and  high night life, Brandon fills the gaps in his life through unending sexual acts that drowses his craving for sexual addiction. Be it a casual flirting in the train, masturbating in office restrooms to release the tension between stressful business meetings, one night stands or paid sex, Brandon indulges in every form of sexual gratification, living life of a bachelor who is on a prowl for sex in the city. His 'normal life' goes horribly wrong when his sister Sissy( Carry Mulligan) lands up in his bachelor's pad imposing on his freedom and privacy by intruding in his most intimate moments. Director McQeen through few deft scene etches out a tense and estranged relationship between a brother and a sister and how their proximity with each other rekindles trauma of their past life, reflected clearly through their sexual behavior.

When Sissy tells Brandon “We are not bad people. We just come from bad place” seems to be the crux of the movie, where director tries to show the complexity of human mind and its relation with sexuality. McQueen remains an onlooker to a situation, who happens to map the human mind through intimate and dark secrets of human life in contemporary society. The movie ends without any definite closure and questions remain unanswered.

Movie Shame is highly acclaimed on most of the international film festival circuits and has received  rave reviews. Its unusual story narration revealing a dark side of human psychology , great acting, and deft direction,  makes it stand apart.  Shame belongs to actor Michael Fassbender. His brilliant portrayal of Brandon, gives a convincing view of mind of sexual addict through his stoic behavior towards his partners. His self hatred is palpable when he shouts in helpless anger at Sissy who snuggles in his bed for intimacy. But as Sissy attempts suicide, Brandon brakes down exposing his emotional vulnerability. Fassbender brings Brandon to life.

Dan Bullock of Hollywood news sums the shame as “ is captivating and immensely that explores the depth of addiction and consequential destruction and demise of mind and although it is sometimes difficult to watch, you won't be able to keep your eyes off” .
Indeed so stark is the nudity in the film that it can be mistaken for porn flick.  But such a visceral visuals  can be expected from a fine artist. Steve McQeen the director of the Shame is not a regular film maker. ( his first film Hunger is also highly acclaimed) He is an acclaimed visual artist, winner of Turner prize and has represented British art in prestigious Venice Biennial in 2009 . He was an official war artist of Iraq. ( For me)This makes a lot of difference as director/artist shows a view of dark human nature without tipping it to disgust,  despair and titillation. There is beauty hidden even in stark moments.

Finally Shame is not about sex. Shame is not about sexual addiction either. Movie Shame for me is about reflection of human condition in contemporary urban society. Dark, violent, rootless and mind that is fast loosing it moorings.
Watch it if you can.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cuba Diaries-1 (Images)

The famous Cuban taxis. These classic cars are on the verge of disappearing as new cars can be seen on Cuban roads.
The main square of old Havana or Habana Vieja

One of the four squares of Havana city where you can see old building structures and chapels.

One of the narrow street view of Havana. Life happens here.

The flower woman. These women are ubiquitous in tourist areas and happily pose for you only to charge you 1CUC= 1US$

Quaint looking Havana Rickshaw. Wonder how ergonomic they are.

Modern Mariachis. They sing and dance for you when you are eating/drinking and even walking. You have to tip them but you don't mind.
Music and dance are life line of Cubans. The keep themselves happy.

Bull Dog? May be Cuban variety.

A classic street view on a hot afternoon.

Craft market.

Art Studio at ISA

One of the sculptures at COLON cemetery. Levitating Christ.

Che memorial at Santa Clara.

Fading old world of a classic Western movie? This is downtown Havana

Image Copyright Vidya Kamat
Nikon D90
Nikon DX VR 18-200 mm

Monday, May 7, 2012

Munch THIS scream!!

Scream by
Edvard Munch


“I rarely visit galleries these days” said a friend and an art enthusiast whom I bumped into a prestigious art gallery checking out a recent show on fashion. “I just get bored seeing art. There is no magic in today's art” she tried justifying herself in an apologetic tone. Sarcastic smile propped on my lips. Honestly I was equally numb by the visual input I had taken in. We walked out of the gallery without exchanging much words . “Hope to catch you soon” I said out of sheer courtesy as we walked in different directions. This time a bitter smile responded from other end.
“So I am not alone to feel this way” I thought to myself. Why this kinda art is making me feel numb that I have no volition to even scream, cry, laugh, get angry, say something nasty or even come out the hall to realize something and then go back to the gallery to confirm what I saw has changed my world albeit for few moments. I am just numb with the visuals that come in guise of art before me.  What is more frightening is as i step out of the gallery all what I have seen  seem to vanish without trace. Is there something wrong with me? Or is today's art is all about disconnect?
Voices of discontent are emerging out slowly. First it was Saatchi who wrote in Guardian who called today's art as 'Vulgar, Eurotrashy, masturbatory'

Then there was Jerry Saltz of New York Times art critic, who wrote about today's art “ Like oil wells, once these operations are turned on they have to keep pumping product. Lots of it. Most of it crude. For ten years, large, shiny, highly produced, entertaining, ever-more-expensive objects were produced by the system, then snapped up by speculator collectors who rushed in where the rest of us feared to tread. It doesn’t matter that most of them don’t know what art really is and have never gleaned its hallucinatory powers. A lot of people struck it rich and laughed all the way to the bank.”

and recently a viral which is doing rounds on social networks a blog by Glen Coco

All of them seemed to be screaming. “THERE IS NO ART ON THE WALLS”

Is this a sign?


This is the name of the iconic painting by Edvard Munch, a 19th century Norwegian artist. The painting was recently in news for fetching a record price in an auction. 

The work which stands for the anxiety of the 'modern man's life' sums up an aspect of Munch's own life as he wrote about this work "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black . My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature." He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, "for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, 'The Scream?' I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.

There is no need to read or write about this work. Everyone who stands before this image knows what exactly Munch is saying/feeling/ living. You participate in the scream silently to acknowledge the pain.

Munch was one of painters whom I was admired in my early years of art school. I was lucky to see the retrospective of Munch at New York MoMA few years back. Munch was not a great draftsman, and many of his work show his vulnerability of his skill. But that's what I admired most. Vulnerability. His works left a strange longing and sadness in your heart.

There are various versions of this scream. Compositionally all works similar. Why did he paint the this theme so often? Or is  it that this painting became so popular that in order to fulfill the demand he repeated it over and over again?Or was he just trying to capture the exact moment of scream that he felt on the bridge?

Whatever may be the reason the fact remains this work touched the hearts of the people and it still does. But what intrigues me is the strange timing that this work came in auction?  Lets not talk about the price. Because it is no secret how auction prices are  rigged. Critics /writes/ bloggers are screaming again . A price like this can only demean the work which is priceless.  Is that so? Does this really stop you loving Munch's Scream ? His life and art?

For me the significance is not how obscene the price paid for this work? For me the significance of this work is at a time when the contemporary art is erasing  all the metaphysical quality of art, Scream  comes as a reminder that  metaphysical quality of art is beyond time, memory and money.

I ask again is this a sign?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mumbai diary 4 :Survivor's guide to Mumbai local

This blog is for all those brave souls who want to travel Mumbai local for the first time. Without  the experience of Mumbai local train you will never experience Mumbai in its true sense.

There are three main local train routes, namely Western, Central and Harbour. Having decided to take a ride on any of the lines. Here is step by step survivor's guide to take a trip on Mumbai locals.

Firstly, make sure in which compartment and which class ( there is first and second class for every local train)you want to travel. There are many categories of compartments on local trains. For e.g. ladies compartment ( no men are allowed to travel in these)or luggage compartment or compartment reserved for handicapped and senior citizens and lastly general compartment. You will understand this only after few days of regular travel. If you are confused , then simply ask the hawker or newspaper vendor on the platform and he will point out the coach which you want to get in.

Next, orient yourself towards the compartment to get in just 30 seconds. Do not stand still or you may get pushed down by the crowd trying to come towards you. Move along with the crowd. Here comes the art part. Remember the birds who fly in flocks? They fly in perfect harmony and unison like one entity. Now suspend all your logic dissolve all your ego and BE THE CROWD, just like birds in flock. Time will STOP for you. You will never know how you entered the compartment. But you will.

 Allow yourself to be pushed and pulled, while maintaining your balance. As the train starts moving you might be still somewhere 'inside out'. But be assured some one inside will be pulling you in and some one outside will be pushing you in. In few moments you will regain your Ego and you will realize you are finding hard to breath. As you gasp for fresh air you scream out loud, "move in"
( andar chalo). Don't feel ashamed for shouting in crass way. You are just voicing all the passengers mind. Slowly mass of passengers starts shifting slowly like a tectonic plates beneath the earth ; adjustisting  making space and slowly moving forward and backwards. Now You have to make a split second decision weather you want to alight next stop or get in side compartment for the last destination. Here is a warning . You have to be really quick. Or you may get abused both physically and verbally. Take it a with a smile. This way you can practice  dharma of non violence.

Once you  decide to move in the inner enclave of the bogey you will notice there are seats on which some commuters are seating.  You have no chance of getting a seat as the women who are occupying them have reserved them from the starting destination and they will probably occupying it till the last destination. But don't loose heart. You look around and scan the the people then take a guess and see anyone looks kind enough to share her seat for a while and start moving towards her.  If you are lucky you may even get a seat for 15 minutes of the next one hour journey.

By now, you can barely stand  straight as  weight of other women is crushing your back. But hold on.  You will very soon forget how miserable your condition is. There is lot of entertainment even in that crushed situation. Very soon a vendor will appear making way with  bunch of accessories. Earrings, bracelets, hair clips, bindis bangles you name it  and she has the latest fashion accessory in her cardboard box. Some seated passengers will  take the box and will rummage though her goods . You watch her go though the process of selecting , bargaining and buying a small hair clip worth 5 rupee for next half an hour. You are so engrossed in observing the  drama that you forget that you are standing in most painful position. By now half of your journey is over.  Crowd has reduced by now as some of the passengers have disembarked in between stations. You are little comfortable as you can stand straight.  You look around taking a deep breath for the first time. A woman who is seating in the corner is calling you. Yes she is stranger to you and yet she is smiling at you and making a gesture to come near her.

You make a decision and  push towards her seat. She gets up and says" Take a seat. You have been standing for a while". You are bit confused but the friendly smile tells you that you are lucky today. You some how push on that small space and as your legs gives in you  land with a thud . women seating next you gives you a dirty look yelling “You are seating on my chunni . " Oops! Sorry, I am very sorry" that's all you need to say.

As you settle in the seat the woman who offered you the seat thrusts her hand bag in your lap. You are supposed to carry her load for her kindness and remember you can occupy the seat strictly for 15 minutes. This is only a courtesy seat that needs to be returned to its owner with gratitude before the final destination. Train meantime will be somewhere near to its destination. Start preparing for disembarkation.

The art of disembarking is as delicate as art of alighting Mumbai locals.
NEVER, and I say never  stand next to the door or you will get 'washed' away like the force of tsunami of oncoming passengers.  In Mumbai local the rule is you allow the passenger to get in first and only then you get out. Although  railway announcement might be informing you other way. Remember  the rule how one had dissolved the ego and entered the the compartment? Allow the the 'ego less crowd to scramble in the compartment. You mean time hang on tight to the bar next to you. Within few minutes every one who has to enter in has grabbed a seat for themselves, you prepare to get out of the coach . You have just  30 sec to disembark. Hurry! run towards the door and jump on the platform before the train starts moving again. Thank god for landing you safe on your two feet.  Once on the platform merge with the moving crowd.

Congratulations!! you have successfully completed your first journey on Mumbai local.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Two very short stories



They sat in the coffee shop.
And ordered two cutting chai.
Waiter served it with complimentary cookies.
He offered one to her.
She took it with a smile.
Looked around the crowd in the shop.
Young couple were lost in each other.
She quickly dunked her cookie in the chai.
It vanished in hot brown liquid.



She laid on her back.
starring at the clear sky
dispersed slowly into air
breath filled in the chest like a birthday balloon.
and brought memories with a gust of garbage van.
Then came a fly.
That completes one cycle of conscious breath.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Anatomy of Woman-2

I have a problem when people post some gory images on my wall. Often they justify it by saying please circulate these images for social awareness. May be I am wrong but I don't like to circulate pain and suffering to others specially when they are not solicited.
Look at above images. These images too came to me unsolicited and out of habit I ignored them first. But some how these images remained in my head. So I went back to my facebook wall and scrounged older posts. There was a a strange story here.

The story of two women. But one body. Body starved, scarred, emaciated beyond recognition. A Body that was only a skeleton. A body that was used and abused in name of beauty.

How did these two women turned into skeletons? How a society can allow such inhuman way of existence. Well this is not the first time I was seeing a emaciated body. Images from Africa, and Asia( read India) of starving and hungry children are replete in international media. So what is big deal?

Look at the image again. She is not an Asian or African or hungry for food.
Isabella Caro was a French Model. Yes you read it right! She was a high fashion model posing nude on the billboard. When this image was taken Isabella was in her last stages of her life dying of condition called anorexia caused by bulimia. Bulimia is a eating disorder, when a person who eats food stars purging it out with the fear of gaining weight. This disorder became quiet popular among high fashion models and celebrities in 90s after the fashion industry started fancying female body as a skeleton thin figurines. Very soon ramp models started flaunting their emaciated bodies on high fashion making every woman rethink of their anatomy? Some designer in the fashion world had a fancy of stick figures and his/her notion of 'beauty' was experimented on live guinea pigs called ramp models.( I would like to know if there is any record in fashion history which mentions name of designer that started such a trend)

Having realized that she has been exploited in the name of beauty, Isabella started a campaign to create awareness of bulimia by showing her skeletal body on billboard and other media. She died in 2010 at the age of 28. Demands of fashion world made Isabella paid a heavy price with her life. I was trying to live that myth of beauty told tome by designers, photographers and industry she told the interviewer. she recollected how she was often told to "knock off the weight, but never to gain any". When Isabella died her family kept her death in secret as they felt shamed and sorry for her plight. No one was punished for Isabelle's condition or her death.

Look at the second image. I cannot verify this story as it never appeared in any news papers. From the image I deduce it appeared on a local television channel. According the story that accompanied the image.
The girl in the image was Asma and she was 14, when abducted from Malvani, Malad Mumbai. As a pretty girl ( photo inset shows her as young beautiful girl) she was envied by girls and teased by boys. When she went missing police refused to file a missing persons case accusing the poor parents for selling a pretty girl for prostitution. One fine day she was found in a garden in skeletal shape. She was barely alive . According to her testimony, she was raped consistently by five men for a year. Never given proper food. She began to eat paper and soil and stones. When she became 'unusable' men dumped her in a garden and disappeared. She died in 2011. No one was punished.
Asma was just an ordinary girl. She was no celebrity so even her death did not make any news in significant press. Her only crime was she was considered 'beautiful' by people.

Both woman were victim of beauty myth. So they suffered a horrific deaths. I am still wondering who defined this notion of 'beauty'? and what is so desirable of skeletal body of woman ?

It s high time women decide what is really beautiful of their own bodies than some stupid designers experimenting with women's anatomy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Anatomy of Woman -1

"I needed medical help desperately. As one of my lover had badly hurt me. I was bleeding profusely from my private parts. But no doc was willing to see me."
"I begged. I cried. I even offered them double the money they would take for consultation. But they would look at me and turn there face. I am just as human as you are. So why such discrimination?" The speaker spoke with urgency and pain in his voice.

There was pin drop silence in a small crowd of 30/35 people who were specially invited by my artist friend. I could not take eyes of the speaker as he narrated the woes of a woman in sex trade. Dressed in a richly brocade sari, with jewelry suitable for a bridal decor, Pandurang the speaker looked no less than a bride. A very dark tone of his skin complimented the glitter of the brocade. His raspy tone was the only give away of his gender.
Pandurang means Krishna , the dark god. Pandurang is a cross dresser male sex worker. Born to a sex worker mother, Pandurang grew up in the ghettos of red light area in Sangli village. “ My mother never wanted me to be a sex worker. But I chose to be one” He admitted to the crowd with a emphatic smile. At a very young age he experienced the discrimination of a woman and a sex worker's world. His mother toiled day in a day out to keep him in the school. But tired of discrimination,prejudice and humiliation being named as sex worker's child, Pandurang turned to the only world od sex trade to seek solace and comfort. But why he chose to be a woman and a sex worker? Asked a guest in the audience. “ I am a woman” pat came the answer.

An awkward silence spread in the audience . Every one seated had only one question in their mind. Is he or she? It was very evident he did not liked to be addressed as male. Pandurang was his birth name but operated by a female name( I have forgotten his female name).

A friend besides me just leaned on me and whispered “Isn't he more woman than us?” “Indeed” I retorted. I was still gawking at him to measure his feminine candor. Was he just pretending to act female like an actor? What makes him a woman?

I again scanned Pandurang from head to toe. His appearance was of an impeccably dressed Indian woman. A highly decorated bindi on the forehead matched the brocade of his sari. His nails were painted in bright red nail paint and so was his toes. He was tall at 5'8” inches and wore an inch high heeled sandals. “ I can walk with grace with heeled sandals” he had explained with a smile. He was fully aware that every gesture is being scrutinized judged and questioned. He did not feel offended by such questions as if he came fully prepared for such scrutiny. And he answered all the questions with all honesty.

“Well this is choice I have made. Because this is what I love to be. A woman and a sex worker. Government did try to change our ways and even gifted us with cows so can we can earn a living. But I don't want to be a farmer . I love all the pleasure of my trade. And I am proud of it. I don't want any sympathy from anyone. I am fighting for my right. I am protesting against the social stigma and discrimination that we face. Every section of the society tries to exploit us and that is what we are objecting. That is what we want you to make aware of her troubles. Not your pity or sympathy. I work for a living like all of you. So why does society treat us like dirt.” His voice did not have any air of apology, for being and doing what he did.
In fact he was proud to be in woman's skin . Happy to be in woman's skin. Suffering the pain in woman's skin.

Every story he told before audience, spoke of of pain and suffering he felt as a woman. There was no doubt in my mind at the end of the meeting SHE is a WOMAN; celebrating a woman's life not just by cross dressing but celebrating its joy and pains. Pandurang had summed the debate for the audience" You cannot learn be a woman because you Know it inside you if you are one or not. '.

well, well!
Simone de Beauvoir seems to be wrong when she said 'One is not born as a woman but made in one'

As I walked out of the building, I thought to myself do I know the anatomy of a woman?

Image courtesy

(Images are only for a representational value and does not depict the character described in this blog)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Don't remember when I breathed last
between memories and forgetfulness
lies a life.

a world
that was given to me.
that was never mine
repeated over and over
in space and time
that belonged to you

one by one
erasing every
bit by bit
inch by inch
left to right
right to left.

Now exhale
till the last breath escapes lungs
you were not there

Monday, February 20, 2012

Forbidden world

There are some worlds you should not tread
There are some words you should not utter
There are some sounds you should not hear
There are some sights you should not see
There are some waters you should not drink
There are some foods you should not taste
There are some smells you should not inhale

But if you turn around for some reason
you will find me.
In the world,
forbidden by people.
feared, abused and forsaken
Trying hard to forget.
seeking oblivion of known
Pandora! Pandora!! they scream

Trust me I am as magical as you are
I am as humane as you are
and I am as knowledgeable you are.
still you fear me
fears you created and believed.
The longing never ceased
Magic , mystery for the Unknown
world I inhibit.

But if you turn around and see
you will see me once again
There is no Evil as they tell you
There are no Gods to believe in
there is no saviors out to suffer thy sins
there are no woman out to seduce
Diseases, hells, demons
as they write , paint and sing
And if you believed it all
You lived a lie

I am just a mirror you refuse to see
I am neither your ally nor a foe
And if you still think I am your nemesis
why not turn around and see

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In defence of Dirty women!

"So tell me what kinda women I am" I asked my friend who boasted to have 'known' women on his back of his hands. "The kind of woman I would like to fall in love" came the answer from other end. OH God! I should have known what to expect before asking such stupid question in first place. "oh really! " I could utter only these words with a tinge of sarcasm in my tone. What I wanted to say" Man you know how to use these pick up line on women , but I ain't buying this".

But why am I asking this question in first place? Do I fear being called a 'dirty woman"(read slut or whore). I personally believe while society allows men to live in varied shades, women are stereotyped in black and white 'good woman ' or dirty woman- anything in between is frowned and unaccepted. Specially in India where tradition comes as noose around women's neck. The movie The Dirty Picture is one such movie that tries to break that mould and show a woman who tried to live her life outside the box.

Although the movie TDP claims that the main character in the movie called Reshma alias Silk is fictional character and has no resemblance any person in reality, fact is otherwise. It is fictional biopic of Silk Smitha. Silk Smitha born as Vijayalakshmi, in Andhra Pradesh, a controversial and sensational actress of 80s known as ' sex siren' said to have introduced a brand of erotic female sensuality on the screen ( read soft porn). Men loved her . Women hated her. But none could ignore her.

Movie, The Dirty Picture, traces the story of young ambitious girl from a poor family in village in south India has big dream of acting in movies. When she realizes her mother will not support her in achieving her dream she runs away from her home to come to big town to enter the film world. Plane looking but highly ambitious girl realizes she would not get an entry into film world unless she uses her buxom body. Realizing her acting talent cannot take her far, Reshma bears her body gyrating vigorously luring the male gaze and thus carving herself a space in the movie industry as the 'dirty woman'. Unabashed and unapologetic of her sexuality Reshma defines a new shade of feminine on silver screen to achieve fame, name and glory she always dreamt off. Fighting her way up single highhandedly to reach the top in a male dominated world she has to struggle with deceit, alcohol addition loneliness along with financial losses.

There nothing fictitious in story line as it echoes life of Silk Smitha in reality. Actor Vidya Balan has done a fabulous job in etching the character of Silk, and her personality lending all dignity to Smitha's character, making her more humane in spite of notoriety attached to her name. Script and the dialogues are crisp and tight which aids the pace of the film. For the first time the Dirty woman does not look that 'dirty' as it tries to show the shades woman,her vulnerability, her courage her weaknesses, her strength but above her ability to break rule by defining all norms of good woman.

Silk Smitha never got the due respect as an actress or a a woman of substance in her life time. She committed suicide at the age of 35 in 1996. Somewhere life reflects the life of Merylin Monroe. Although Silk was neither pretty or had sexy body like Merylin. Silk's sexuality was raw and rustic as compared to Merylin's sophistication and finesse. But both woman were fearlessly independent in man's world. They were proud to be woman and never feared to flaunt their sexuality. Character of Nayla, the editor of the film magazine, in the film somewhere represents every female in the audience . She hates Silk, but secretly admires her courage and independence.

Today most of the so called respectable female actors in Hindi cinema gyrate and seduce men with lewd gestures which is Smitha legacy. But no one is raising a finger at them as Dirty woman. Should we say the times are changing? The idea of women in India as 'Sati Savitri' or devotional woman is changing and so is the idea of dirty woman. If so then it is most welcome change.

Dirty Picture is a huge success at the box office in India. Every one is talking about Silk Smitha today. May be all those who grew up with idea of Smitha as a 'dirty woman' are re evaluating the idea of dirty today. The very acceptance of Smitha after 15 years of death suggests her life was not wasted after all.

For me Smitha represents archetypal character of Medusa, who was fiercely independent
unabashed of her ambition, sexuality and even revengeful when wronged. Unfortunately such women were feared and condemned by patriarchal systems as Dirty women.

But today, the Picture is no longer dirty Thanks to women like Smitha!

Silk Smitha on the left and Vidya Balan in the movie The Dirty Picture on right

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