Monday, January 23, 2012


She has not left me alone till now

After hours of nagging, biting and caressing

She clings on me like a dead dream;

Long fingers hide the world from me

While her chin presses on my head

Soft breasts pump against my back

Pincer-like claws crush my nipples

Till I moan, thrash and struggle.

Love bites burn my stomach and neck

Absurd words belch out.

Don’t worry, she has promised to go away

Once I sleep with her without resistance.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

To Speak or Not to Speak: Is Vocalizing Necessary to be Successful in Art?

“Dear Sir, I do not speak well, nor do I write well. Would this be a hindrance in achieving success in the art scene?” Almost a month back a young woman artist wrote to me. “Recently I was talking to a few friends who are not good with words exactly like me and they too said that they were anxious about this ‘muteness’. We were discussing the success of some of our friends who are very good in expressing themselves as well as explaining their works both in public and private spaces. They have a way with words that ensures their success. I am depressed to the point of losing all my confidence. Advice me, sir, would I ever make it in the scene?” She concluded her mail.

I did not reply to her plea for two reasons; one, I was busy. Two, I thought she should find a way out on her own. Two days back she sent the same mail again, asking me to help. It was then I thought it was not her problem alone. This linguistic inability of an artist is considered to be a major stumbling block en route the social and economic success of a young artist. Today, those who dress up well, package their personalities in a spectacular fashion, speak well in social situations and vocalize the qualities and concerns of their works in an elaborate manner find easy access to the platforms that would help them to become socially and financially successful. This is the tendency of the changed and changing times. Also it reflects the changes that have been taking place in the very ‘language’ of art itself. Art turning more and more conceptual, more and more experimental and above all, more and more (new) media based, it becomes quite pertinent for the artist to become vocal not only as an artist but also as a presentable and intelligent individual in the society.

Having said that I do not intend to disown and overlook the concerns of my young friend who sent that mail to me. On the contrary, I would like to flag out the issues that have made the ‘vocalizing’ the artistic and individualistic concerns quite pivotal and central in our art scene. Also I would like to look into the kind of hypocrisy and snobbery that rules our art scene. During 1990s when Post-modernist theories and practices made their presence in the art scene, subaltern expressions that defied the notions of the ‘acceptable art’ in the gallery-museum circuits, needed to make self explanatory comments in order to justify their ‘alternative-ness’. Post-modernism allowed the space for poly-vocalism in art; in a way paintings could move out of stretchers and the sculptors could jump down from the pedestals. Art made out impermanent materials and art that came out of off the centre ideologies and ideals claimed their rightful space often through supplementary words. That’s why artists like Vivan Sundaram, in 1990s told the then art students to ‘speak up’.

(Talk- Still from a video by Manjunath Kamath)

That was a great move because artists thought it was a great idea to talk. Speaking about art and being vocal about one’s own concerns about art and aesthetics in the public domain fundamentally differed from the adda cultures in which artists and critics ‘debated’ art and culture in the lines of formalism and certain abstract idealism. Good, bad, ugly, right, wrong, acceptable, objectionable, original expression, copying and so on were the defining points in the adda debates. Such debates often positioned for and against the idea of ‘progressivism’ in art and society. However, with the advent of post-modern debates in the 1990s, speaking on and about art became more political and personal. These debates could interface the personal and the political in the multifarious vocalizing of concerns of the individual artists while justifying the ideology, material and form of their concerned works of art.

Today, ‘being vocal’ about one’s own art has moved away both from the adda debates and the ideological debates of post-modernism. With the conceptual art movement jumping over the gap of three decades from the west to our country, and with the works of art and artists tend to become exclusively specialized, being vocal has gained a different meaning. Artists who work in/with new media and certain exclusive issues are expected to gather ‘communication skills’ to explain their art not only to the gallerists but also to the critics and viewers. In that sense, most of the conceptual artists become specialists of their own art in their own special ways, almost debarring multiple entries into their works of art. Their words become the ‘sole clue’ and their words carry them ‘ahead’ in name, fame and fortune. Slowly these communication skills instead of being the explicatory modes became desirable ‘social skills’. The result of this transformation today is such that just by acquiring these ‘social skills’ of communication, one could become a ‘good’ artists.

This change over becomes detrimental for many because we don’t have a ‘uniformly’ ironed out art scene. Artists coming from various states with different linguistic orientations, classes and modes of expressions are not a lot that works always conceptually. Some are ‘purely’ painters, some are sculptors, some are landscape artists, some takes pleasure in painting objects and images from photographs. Internally all of them know what they are doing and why they are doing. But in the given ‘acceptable and necessary’ context of vocalizing, they find it difficult to speak in volumes about their art, interestingly or impressively. Perhaps, without jargons or ‘concepts’ they could tell you why they do their works. Even many of them work with new mediums such as video, digital imaging, clay-mation, animation, sounds and so on. And from inside they know why and how they do it. But the social skills to communicate become a hindrance and the inherent muteness or the incapability to vocalize gnaws their confidence from inside only to push them to the sidelines of the great spectacle called contemporary art.

(The Thinker by Rodin)

I would say the inability to talk or the lack of social communication skills comes from a fear infused in many of the artists by different social systems. There are certain definitive socio-cultural and economic contexts that determine the linguistic skills of the people. First of all our education system of art as well as the systems in which the art operates predetermine that English is the only language in which artistic ideas could be effectively communicated. While many artists are able to express themselves and their concepts well in their mother tongues, in a different context where they feel that ‘only’ English would do the magic, they force themselves to take the backseat. They imagine that their inability to speak in English naturally makes them ‘lesser’ artists compared to those who could express well in English even if their works do not carry what they proclaim in/through English. The supremacy of English and the complex that this language imposes on the artists are so heavy that only when the artists become light with ‘spirit’ they open up. You may notice how some artists once they are ‘high’ on alcohol suddenly become very vocal in English. That means, the fear of English is so ingrained by the system that they need to shed all the inhibitions through the consumption of liquor in order to open up and talk in ‘English’.

In the class and caste ridden society of India, class predominantly determines the ‘confidence’ to speak in whichever language including English. An artist who is quite aware of his/her class naturally takes a social position through the exercise or non-exercise of his/her linguistic skills. Some artists coming from the upper class, even if their works are not ‘up to the mark’, make it a point to speak about them vehemently, imposingly and convincingly so that none could miss their works. In the case of an artist coming from regional zones, class awareness intricately mixes up with the fear of/for a particular language rendering him/her totally mute. This mainly happens because of the predetermined and politically-socially-culturally imposed idea that English is the language of the ruling class therefore it is the language of the upper class and the successful. I would say the artists who assume muteness in the urban public domain prefer to do so because they believe that even if it would not bring any success to them at least it would save them from socially embarrassing situations.

I had undertaken a research trip along the central India region in 2009 with an idea to visit the regional art colleges in order to know how they are taught art and art history. I visited around eighteen regional fine arts colleges spread across the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra. Everywhere I found interesting students with interesting ideas but shy in coming forward only because they thought they would not be able to communicate with me in English. After much prodding, they opened up in Hindi and to my horror I found out that most of them even did not want to become ‘full time’ artists after their graduation. They either wanted to get into the local industries as designers or craftsmen. The girls told me that they would continue painting till they get married. At the BA Mehta College in Amalsad, Gujarat, I got introduced to a young man who ran an omelette shop just outside the college. He was a BFA in painting from the BA Mehta College and had an MFA in applied arts from the MSU Baroda. I asked him why he left his ‘profession’. His answer shocked me. After his MFA, he was working with an advertising firm in Baroda and was drawing a good salary. After working for six months, he realized that he was a misfit in the organization because he was not able to speak in English. He told me that even in the fine arts faculty in Baroda, he was mute throughout and his only companion was a Manipuri boy who also suffered from the lack of ‘English’.

If at all I would advice my young friend who wrote to me the mail, I would insist that one should be vocal and vocal enough to express the concepts and ideas before a larger audience and in specific contexts irrespective of the language abilities. It is not necessary to speak in English. Develop skills in one’s own mother tongue and prepare that language to be capable enough to express your complicated concepts and ideas. And make the listener to follow you as you show pride in your own language. Off late there have been concerted efforts from certain galleries, artists and intellectuals that one day the world art will be dominated by text/word based art and vocalizing will be the prime vehicle of communication. One should not get depressed by such hollow declarations. Perhaps the dominant and hegemonic forces might support the text/word based art. But it would be foolish to think that a country like ours will be filled with artists who would only work with text/word. Take pride in what you are and in your language. Look straight into the eyes of hypocrisy and smile.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flaneurs in the Networking Streets

This has been going on for quite some time; different days, different people, different moods. They send me mails, ask for opinion, express their private fears, declare their love and reveal their private fantasies besides asking for suggestions and directions about their creative works. Often I diligently reply to their queries without getting into their personal zone, either fanning up their passions or drenching down their excitement. Some are quite persistent and as a human being I too am vulnerable to such insistence. Some stalk me and in turn I stalk some. We fall into mutual bondage. We become peeping Toms in each others’ lives.

Some sort of anxiety grips you when you know that you are virtually stalked. Some sort of energy flows through your veins when you realize that you are following someone like a shadow, virtually scrutinize their activities, public behaviour and their shameless flaunting of passions. You feel depressed for you think that the person you are hooked up with is not there just for you; he or she is for others too. You try to discourage yourself. But each time you sit before your computer, you tend to walk into those alleys where he or she is expected to frequent. You stand under your own profile picture, partly hidden by its shades and wait like a lonely and lost lover. You see him or her walking down, with a green light in hand and gloriously ignoring you. You fall down in the dumps. Let me tell you, these social networking sites are the cumulative fields of private anxieties and fears.

There are days together when you feel that you would take revenge on those people who have put you into throes and you go away and hide elsewhere. You tell the world that I am going away. You even remove your profile picture. You put a flower there, thinking that your imaginary rivals in the private battle of emotions would get seriously hurt by feeling your absence. You think that they would pine for your presence again; they would come and hang out in those back alleys where you often stand under your own profile picture partly clouded by the shadows of your own fear. But you know nothing happens and that puts you in pain more. Sitting far away and so close to your computer, without logging in on to the social networking sites, you try to do something else, read or write or get into tiring fantasies. And you imagine that you have put them in shame and angst. And look, what are you paying for that; your own happiness.

And you have ways to sneak into the back alleys only to check whether they are still around and feeling excited as usual. You choose your hide button and hide behind that. And of course you see them their having fun with their friends and acquaintances. They seem to have completely forgotten you. Then you play some music on the youtube. Something hits you and you feel a momentary happiness. Yes, you have found out a way to tell them that you are around but you just don’t care, and above all you are happy. So you post a youtube link of the same song that you are listening. You imagine that when they listen to it, if at all they care to do so, they would read the subtext and crave for your returning. And you wait and wait, just to see whether someone has liked it and showed the thumbs up. You go and check your message box to see whether someone has sent you a private message. When you find nothing, you log off.

Surprise!! You tell the world by logging on and putting up a status like ‘I am back’. Somebody, who has been equally trying the same one someone else would suddenly feel a compatriot in you and would jump up to say, ‘I like it’. But that is not what you expect from those people whom you have been stalking all these while. The game goes on and then suddenly people start poking you and you wonder what exactly is going on when they poke you. You counter poke them and that too goes on for a while only to lose steam after few days.

Networking sites are the streets for the contemporary flaneurs. But that needs a bit of explanation; flaneurs are those street walkers who do not want something from the streets. They do not particularly invite anybody’s attention nor do they want to attend somebody in particular. The whole idea of moving around the city streets is all about celebrating one’s own freedom. One need not be particularly controlled by one’s social status, gender or age. Here in the streets he/she is an incognito, someone who is having all the rights to be there. In fact streets belong to the people. The first streets came up when people walked and cleared the thickets, the vehicles followed. Today, the streets are invaded by the vehicles. So the people are pushed to the pavements that too are cramped by the peddlers and idlers. Hence, the social networking sites are the new streets where people just walk and show their freedom. However, unlike the flaneurs, they expect a bit of attention from one and all in walking in the same street.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Fault Lines in Geeta Kapur’s Support for the Biennale: An Open Article Addressing Geeta Kapur

(Geeta Kapur)

This note addressing mainly a statement made by the noted art critic, historian and theoretician, Geeta Kapur in the latest India Today (Malayalam) Weekly, is meant for clearing certain confusions that linger around in our scene of art criticism and history and the possibilities of their intensification thanks to the statements like this one made by Geeta Kapur. In her Indian Today article Geeta Kapur welcomes the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and she is full of praise for the two artists who have initiated it with the support of the ‘progressive’ LDF Government in Kerala.

I am so happy that Geeta Kapur supports such a wonderful initiative like Kochi-Muziris Biennale because we all are waiting for it to happen, of course not in the way that Geeta Kapur sees it but in a way that the politically and culturally conscious people from Kerala think/want it to be.

First of all Geeta Kapur, one of the rare personalities whom I revere in the Indian art scene, writes this piece not because she is so much impressed by the works (read organizational activities) of these two artists who have ‘initiated then educated themselves’ (about) this project, but because the project has gone into some troubles that include public fund abuse and non-transparency and she is ‘invited’ to speak on behalf of it so that the sagging image of the proposed Biennale could be revived and re-energized. Hence, Geeta Kapur’s statement has a very pertinent and contextual relevance. She does not volunteer to write it but she is ‘requested’ to write it. The tone of the statement is self-evident. (I reproduce her statement as an appendix in this blog)

Geeta Kapur has always had a very strong relationship with the Kerala artists. It became a bit more focused and patronizing when in the mid 1980s, a group of artists came around in Baroda and formed the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors’ Association. The camp in Kassauli under the leadership of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram earlier and the association with Vivan Sundaram when he curated ‘The Seven Young Sculptors’ in 1985 and so on had strengthened her relationship with the Malayali artists. It continued in 1990s only to end abruptly with the advent of market boom in the new millennium. Though, it is not relevant to this context, I found it quite surprising that Geeta Kapur kept quite when a group of critics and artists organized a seminar in JNU on the ‘Radical Group’ and made a concerted effort to make it a ‘Kerala Radicals’ group. Geeta Kapur by not responding to this effort was in fact supporting the move it to make the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, conceived as a national movement against the retrogressive art practices then prevalent in India, a very localized movement. By calling it ‘Kerala’ specific, these critics and artists were denying its due place in the contemporary art history in India.

(Geeta Kapur in India Today Malayalam)

This is one of the reasons why I was surprised when I saw Geeta Kapur’s statement in India Today. She calls Kochi-Muziris Biennale a ‘miracle’. She says that both these artists ‘set time apart’ to travel the world to make it a reality. Also she says in a way of lamentation that most of us have failed to fulfil such a dream. And Geeta Kapur observes, “by linking the biennial event to the real/mythical site of Muziris, a flourishing port-city that ‘disappeared’ in the 14th century, this Biennale claims a cosmopolitanism of past and present civilizations and thereby gives avant-garde art a historical scope.”

One can discern how Geeta Kapur has carefully chosen words so that she would not challenge the historians’ position on Muziris (as it is still a controversial topic amongst archaeologists and historians) whether it was a real or a conveniently generated city of the 14th century, and put those who ‘requested’ her to write this statement into trouble. Also Geeta Kapur thinks that she has failed, along with Vivan Sundaram in realizing the Delhi Biennale dreams. She cites government apathy as the major reason and the lack of support from the government agencies. It is against this context of an assumed failure that she says the Kochi Biennale is a wonderful opportunity.

Now, what Geeta Kapur does not address or does not want to address is very much evident in her own statement. She says she was a part of the initiative to set up Delhi Biennale with Vivan Sundaram and ‘with the support of an exceptional set of artists and art historians’. This is exactly what the people who oppose the Kochi Biennale demand by calling it ‘transparency’. Geeta Kapur conveniently forgets that the major movement in Kerala going on today against the Kochi Biennale demands only two things, ‘transparency’ through the involvement of an ‘exceptional set of artists and art historians’, and if there is fund abuse, a legal probe into that. None demands the complete stoppage of the Kochi Biennale.

In this context, I would say, Geeta Kapur is either kept in dark regarding facts and the oppositional move or has been given a totally lopsided picture, which is convincing for the veteran historian. Now coming to Geeta Kapur’s stance on Delhi Biennale; after a series of seminars and debates in Delhi early last decade, on the last day of the seminar, Geeta Kapur declared that Delhi Biennale would remain not as an exhibition platform, but as a ‘platform to debate and theorise the future biennales’. She had not specified that she was speaking this out of frustration. We, then young people in the crowd, thought that she was theorising the positioning of Delhi Biennale and we would like to believe it in that way.

(IAF 2011, Delhi)

Why? Because, if we look at the bio-data of Geeta Kapur, we will come across that a majority of the projects that she has done so far are done in collaboration with the state and central governments, some of them with international collaborations through various Indian ministries. If so, it is quite unclear why Geeta Kapur and the powerful voices like her did not demand changes in the bureaucratic apathy? She cites that the Triennale went into trouble thanks to red tape-ism. But my question is why everyone took a desktop academic position throughout in their lives and never came out to fight it along with the thousands of artists who really want/ed positive changes in the bureaucracy? They are powerless people, whereas people like Geeta Kapur could speak on behalf of them. But they have never.

Yes, Geeta Kapur has protested when M.F.Husain was ostracised and Surendran Nair’s work was attacked in the National Gallery of Modern Art. But, she still holds a Padma Award. She could have returned the Padma Award to negotiate with the government of India to bring Husain back to his own country. I always wonder why.

Geeta Kapur in her statement forgets one basic factor: the preparedness of a land/country/region for receiving a grand project like biennale. I would like to cite the success of the India Art Summit (Now India Art Fair) in Delhi. Had it been in any other place, it would have been a huge failure? Why, because Delhi, after several international expos, exhibitions, triennales, film festivals and so on, was prepared to accept an art fair like this. It had/has the infrastructure. Last year IAF was the classic case for India when people got down from the metro at the Pragati Maidan metro station, walked down to the Pragati Maidan, queued up for hours to get entry ONLY TO SEE ART!!!


Did Geeta Kapur, a person who has been vocal about the subaltern issues and fringe problems and also very vocal about impermanent art, every think of Kochi’s preparedness? When the market was brutally invading the art scene, Vivan Sundaram stopped painting and turned to impermanent art and installations (which were then ignored and hated by the galleries) and Geeta Kapur was the one who theorised such activities. Now she fails to understand how the onslaught of the gloomy European and American art would affect the local artists and their thinking. Do we need to create more Krishnakumars? Then welcome to Kochi which still needs a lot of preparation and ground work for receiving and hosting the proposed Biennale.

To prevent the death and decimation of an existing culture and art practice, we need to prepare the artists living locally and working humbly from these places. A biennale would function as Hurricane Katrina otherwise; it might help the place to clear out and evacuate the squatters and bring realtors in place but it would be one of the greatest politico-cultural crimes. Abhilash Pillai, theatre activist and Professor in the National School of Drama says that the Bharat Natya Munch Mahotsav took more than a decade to consolidate its position as a world event. It grew slowly but in the process a tragedy occurred. The group theatres and their activities in Delhi slowly died out. Now even the group theatres work only for showcasing their dramas in the Bharat Natya Manch Mahotsav. Has Geeta Kapur perceived such an eventuality while writing the India Today statement? The eventual decimation of a local culture.

Geeta Kapur fails to understand one crucial thing in her statement. This proposed Biennale is hailed to have been marked as one of the major tourist destinations of 2012 by the New York Times. Also Hilife says that this is one of the five best biennales. Now, as a cultural critic, I expect Geeta Kapur a bit more perceptive about these things. She overlooked such promotional activities and its politico-cultural and economic implications. First of all, New York Times does not say that it is one of the best Art destinations. Instead, its Travel and Tourism section says that it is a tourist destination because a biennale is going to happen. The other promo is that the Kochi Biennale is one of the best five biennales. How can one biennale be (or in that case anything) adjudged as the ‘best’ when it has not even taken place or shaped up? This is sheer advertising strategy. Michelangelo Bendandi, who is the communication head of the proposed Biennale is a well known Public Relations Manager for the world corporate houses. If he wants, even the newspapers will declare that the Kochi Biennale ‘was’ a great success, many months before its actual commencement. Geeta Kapur fails to see finer details like this and the ‘pressure’ she has (which is quite clear when she says the progressiveness of the LDF Government) is so high that she cannot write otherwise. She does not even ask a logical question, why the previous LDF Governments could not allot so much of funding to the LKA and other academies so that at least the local artist would have been benefitted. Even when a progressive secretary and staunch Marxian thinker like Ajaykumar was the secretary of the Lalit Kala Akadey of Kerala, he could not do much thanks to the fund crunch. Where was the progressive thinking then? Why was this urgency to allot funds to a private agency which when the funds were allotted did not have ‘exceptional support of artists and historians’? Why Geeta Kapur did not raise such questions? We do not expect such flattering statements from the former editor of Art and Ideas and the former contributing editor of Third Text.


Towards the end of the statement Geeta Kapur speaks of the opposition that the biennale facing today in a facile way. She says that the opposition wants things to be mediocre (via LKA). And the suggestion is that those who lead struggle in Kerala are mediocre. Now, N.N.Rimzon is one of the leaders of this anti-biennale movement. Geeta Kapur has always been a promoter of N.N.Rimzon. Her book, When Was Modernism, ends up with the elaborations of Rimzon’s works. And beyond that Geeta Kapur does not speak anything of contemporary artists from Kerala. How can Rimzon be mediocre when she herself in her book says that he is the best? And interestingly, Geeta Kapur does not speak anything about any Malayali artists in her works after When Was Modernism book.

Also I would like to ask Geeta Kapur, as she is looking eagerly forward to the biennale, how many of artists from Kerala have found place in her shows after 2000 AD? How many artists from Kerala have found mention in her articles? Forget all, please show us a few lines that Geeta Kapur has written on the works of Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu.Why suddenly Geeta Kapur feels so much for the Kerala art scene?

I need not remind Geeta Kapur of the famous Marxian statement: “History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce.” It is ironically interesting and interestingly ironic that Bose Krishnamachari launched himself as a curator with ‘De-curating’ in 2003. The theoretical pitching of the show was against the then prevalent curatorial practice in India led by Geeta Kapur. Bose’s immediate provocation was his exclusion from the ‘Century Cities’ (2001) at Tate Modern jointly curated by Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajadhyksha. Bose’s resentment against Geeta Kapur made him a curator. Today, in a way, he needs Geeta Kapur’s endorsement to keep his claims right in place and high.


A Note on the upcoming Kochi Muziris Biennale 2012:

- Geeta Kapur, Art Critic/Art Historian, Delhi

In conceptualizing and advancing the 2012 Kochi Muziris Biennale with the progressive political support from State of Kerala, the two artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu have achieved something of a miracle. Two very busy, very successful, very important artists from the state who live in Mumbai and are widely traveled have set apart the time to fulfill a dream many of us have nurtured, tested—and failed to realize. That is, to host an international exhibition that reflects the contemporary strength of the Indian art scene and, on that basis, dialogues with international artists on home ground. The Kochi Muziris Biennale purports to this and adds yet another dimension by a sheer act of brilliance: by linking the biennial event to the real/mythical site of Muziris, a flourishing port-city that ‘disappeared’ in the 14th century, this Biennale claims a cosmopolitanism of past and present civilizations and thereby gives avant-garde art a historical scope.
I personally speak in such admiration for this project on several counts. One, because for decades many of us belonging to what is now the older generation tried to rejuvenate Triennale India begun in 1968 with such a keen vision by Mulk Raj Anand under the aegis of the Lalit Kala—trying to save it from bureaucratic decline that began in the 1980s. The Triennale, which takes place right under the nose of the central government has never revived—and is known only for its state of permanent delay if not also permanent decay. On a second count I speak with special admiration for the Kochi Biennale because I was very recently part of an initiative to launch a Delhi Biennale initiated by Vivan Sundaram (and he has long experience at collective/organizational activities over the decades) with the support of an exceptional set of artists and art historians. The Delhi Biennale project failed, among other things because of a lack of support from the city or state governments and their related agencies. For it is fact that however much one may elicit private finance, such projects every where in the world flourish only when state agencies support them.
When we heard that the Kochi Muziris Biennale was now launched and become a reality on a scale and style we could not have imagined even in Delhi, it was as if many decades of lethargy had been challenged and a creative vision redeemed by, and on behalf of, the Indian artist community. And it is no surprising that Kerala should have been the place to realize this. The LDF government saw its progressive and visionary possibility and most fortunately the succeeding government has seen this clearly as well. After all Kerala hosts the best conceived and organized international film festival and it now hosts a major international theatre festival; it is a hub of creative and intellectual enquiry-- and thus now the visual arts Biennale.
There are always detractors to be found in every such project and these include not only narrow-minded bureaucrats, but sulking artists who would much rather see an initiative turn mediocre (in the hands, say, of the Lalit Kala Akademi) and even die than bring credit to some other more energetic art practitioners among their midst. Everywhere in India we await with the greatest eagerness the realization of the Kochi Muziris Biennale as conceived by its two exceptional artist initiators who have intuited and then educated themselves into this project by evaluating what happens in the rest of the world and especially as it happens with such vigour now in Asia.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Dhanush Feel of Events: Reading Kolaveri Di in the Cultural Context of India


While walking down one of the metro junctions in Delhi, I saw a neon-lit billboard of some mega star night slated to be aired by one of the major television channel. What I noticed was the presence of a young man who apparently does not have any features that would catch the eyes of the people had he not been featured in that advertisement piece. But today none could have missed him even if he comes out of a metro train along with the thousands of frozen Delhi-ites who hustle and jostle for foot space both inside and outside the metro coaches. His name is Dhanush, yes the Kolaveri boy/man.

The song that has taken India by force initially and later the world by making the international professionals and amateurs to mimic, recreate and re-jive it also has made the man who sung it a world star. When the ‘Kolaveri Di’ song hit youtube and viewed by millions of people in a few days’ time, people where wondering from where this lean, thin and smiling fellow dropped into the field of pop music. By word of mouth, by excitedly written journalistic pieces, by magazine articles, by innumerable blogs that analyzed the song, by sharing of the enthusiastic fans and those got hooked by the song irrespective of their linguistic affinities in the networking sites and above all by several skilled and naive imitations of the songs from various countries circulated through the youtube, this song became the song of the New Year, perhaps Kolaveri Di was ‘the’ song of 2011 which could hold push it magic into the new year.

Considering the phenomenal success of this song and the ‘national’ star status and appeal that Dhanush gained after the release of the song as the taking of points in this blog I attempt to analyse the socio-cultural and politico-economic and linguistic factors that made this song an overnight hit and the singer and the producers, national stars. Most of the film albums get a formal launch in our heavily ogled at film industry; television study experts like Nalin Mehta say that despite the 24 hours of news and political debates, the TRPs are maintained at a higher level through the programming of filmy (read Bollywood) news and programs. Often the music launches are held in five star hotels with the star cast of the movie very much present and smiling at the flashing cameras. There are pre-launch and post-launch promotional activities through FM Channels and television channels. To put in nut shell, we could say that the Bollywood songs often fill up our sonic scapes not only through the playing and replaying of it but also through strategic promotional literature, glamorous star presence and interviews. Filmy music, whether one wants it or not enters into our mindscapes initially in trickles and then like the proverbial camels occupy our minds.

Such promotions are done without any ambiguity. For example when Akon came to sing ‘Chamak Challo’ number for Shah Rukh Khan in Ra-One, his arrival, his rehearsals with Vishal-Shekhar and then the actual mixing of the songs in bits and pieces were promoted through well edited videos in the internet space via youtube. This causes a fair amount of disambiguation as in the last scenes of a Jackie Chan movie where along with the credits rolling, Chan shows how the actual stunts are done and the highlighting of the follies make the viewers laugh and what this kind of revealing does exactly is not the enhancement of rational disengaging with the film that they have just seen but the accentuation of the temporary suspension of disbelief. This disambiguation in fact helps the fight scenes of Chan register further deeply in the memories of the viewers. The follies facilitate the viewer to ‘love’ the ‘falter’ more than hating him. That’s why when we listen to Akon singing ‘mera picture ka tu hero’ (you are the hero of my picture) and see him faltering several times and see the loving exhortations of Vishal-Shekhar, we love not only Akon and his silky voice but also Shah Rukh Khan who lip synch the lines in the film or even we combine the images of both Akon and Shah Rukh Khan when we listen to the song from an FM Channel.

(Akon with Shah Rukh Khan)

This disambiguation happens in thoroughly in Kolaveri Di. But I would like to argue that this disambiguation comes from several ambiguities already set in place through this song, its quick interpretations in the press, its quick acceptance across the nation and it’s various emulations. The success of Kolaveri Di, unlike the other film music was in a reverse order; as suggested earlier, film music is generally promoted as carefully devised promotional activities where as in the case of Kolaveri Di promotion comes after its ‘official’ release in the youtube itself. If we analyse the quick success of the ‘cultural activities’ in and through youtube, we have some precedence; from my experiential zone let me cite a few examples, knowing that as readers you too will have many other examples to discuss and debate. In the first half of 2011, a Punjabi girl in one of the backstreets of London playing drums along with a western pop became quite popular in youtube. With all ease and happiness she plays the ‘dol’ of Punjab and interestingly this post in youtube has received quite a lot of racially abusive comments. The girl became famous after this video. ‘Akkarakazhchakal’ (Sights of the other Shore) was another television serial that became a hit in television first, a super hit in youtube and a mega hit when it made into a film. This television serial in Malayalam takes place in the USA. It captures the lives of the diaspora Malayali and their efforts to survive in an extremely different culture. Produced in a shoe string budget this serial became a gross earner when it was youtub-ised and later made into a film. The success of this youtub-isation of programs repeated in the case of Harishankar, a painter who one day decided to sing some absurd songs (sil sila eh sil sila) and Santhosh Pandit, a young amateur film maker who claims to handle eighteen departments of a movie production including direction and lead acting. Like it or not youtub-isation of the non-sense songs of Santhosh Pandit brought him stardom.

Like these examples, Kolaveri Di also happened in the youtube first. When the hit crossed a million or so in a day’s time, major newspapers in this country decided to write about it. This helped it to become a mega hit. Interviews with the artists, musicians, singer and so on happened in the public spaces. All of a sudden Dhanush became a national star. It is exactly in this process I would like to flag out how acts of disambiguation become in fact and ambiguity in itself and vice versa. Primarily, let’s say that Kolaveri Di was seen, listened and enjoyed by the Tamil youngsters. The initial success of the song therefore is a linguistically localized success within the virtual zone of aesthetic production. On the second day, the national English dailies take up the story of this ‘localized’ success and transcend its boundaries. Soon in the networking sites too the sharing becomes cross border and cross-cultural and cross-linguistics. One cannot expect the Tamil boys only have Tamil friends in their facebook or other networking sites. However, I would argue that the newspaper reports and the television reports that ensued helped the song to overcome its own localization and to become a national and later an international hit through the virtual sharing.

True, that these newspaper reports and television reports helped the song to become a hit. But there is something more to it; they helped the ambiguity of the song to grow further by carefully suppressing or avoiding the exact meaning of the lyrics. Instead, they overplayed what the song writer and singer, Dhanush had to say about it. Dhanush said that the music came first (as the young musician from Rajnikant’s family did the music) and he and his team comprising of the young musician, Aishwarya Dhanush, the singer/actor’s wife and producer/director of the movie ‘Moonru’ (Three) for which this is said to have been produced, and Shruti Haasan, the heroine of the movie, just came around, jived, jammed and worked over twenty minutes and finally the song was done. It sounds quite easy, especially when we consider the super success of the song. Invariably, Dhanush’s explanation on the production part of the song tells the world that ‘yo boys, you can do it.’ This is simple. Just do it. Yes, you can do it. Do it yourself. Sounds like corporate themes, right?

Coming back to our core theme of the lyrics and its meaning, the opening expression, ‘Kolaveri Di’ was not interpreted by the journalists nor, as I said in the previous paragraph, was it elucidated by Dhanush or his team. Hence, Kolaveri Di was taken for a phrase, that’s quite catchy, alien and above all something that would help the listener to feel attached and detached to the rhythm of the song at the same time. Some people thought, as I talked to many about this song, that it was something like a ‘Cola Very’, something thought it was Spanish and many thought it was just a sound that would sound catchy when repeated rhythmically. ‘Cola Very’ was an easy, logical and feasible interpretation mainly because in our corporate saturated world, Cola is one drink that the young boys and girls prefer to drink. Hence, Cola Very, especially when sung by a young-looking guy, should have something to do with the corporate culture. As the video has lyrics as sub-title throughout, one cannot easily come to a conclusion that this is a loser boy singing a song for his winner girl; in contemporary times losers are often seen in malls and boulevards sipping Cola if not sucking thumbs. Those who thought that it was Spanish must have seen it in the context of Zindagi Na Mile Dobarah, a multi-starrer movie which has a Spanish song that became a huge hit in India. Those who thought that the phrase was just a sound obviously have the songs like ‘Dhinka Chakka’ from the Salman Khan starrer, ‘Ready’.

(Dhanush with wife Aishwarya Rajnikant)

The ambiguity thus set by the non-interpretation of the starting phrase of the song became a vehicle of communication for the rest of the song. When the initial phrase is not interpreted, therefore an ambiguous zone is created as an a priori of understanding the rest of the comprehensive act could take place without much political or cultural emphasis. The meaning of ‘Kolaveri Di’, murderous rage, came much later as people started wondering what exactly this young man was singing about. Only after a few weeks of its becoming a huge hit, Kolaveri Di was given its actual meaning in the public space. Though there were attempts by blog writers, facebookizens and so on to tell the world that ‘Kolaveri’ meant murderous rage, those were not heeded as the video itself was not hinting anything at murder or rage.

Riding on a happy note and the success that it assured Kolaveri Di spurred up a series of imitations and mimicry in the virtual world. First came a ‘girl’ version, then came many protest versions, then lately even one could see a ‘feminist’ version besides having a host of Mexican, Brazilian, Japanese and other linguistic versions. What we see in the process of this mimicry is the globalization of the local. As I argued earlier, the localized success of Kolaveri Di transcends and becomes a global success mainly because its self-disambiguation process through the video in itself produces a sort of ambiguity that draws the viewer irrespective of the linguistic or national barriers towards the team and the singer who have done this song as in the case of the stunt scenes of Jackie Chan.

Now, let’s us analyse how this video works in zone of cultural production as quite confirming therefore inherently possesses the qualities to become popular amongst the public crossing all the language, age and gender boundaries and limitations. Generally, popularity, despite the notion includes the majority of people liking or disliking something, cannot be measured using the common standards of acceptance. Popularity and success could be quite ambivalent in the scale of proportion and defy the common rules of success charts. What I mean to say is that popularity cannot always be equally distributed amongst the receivers. For example heavy metal rock music may be popular and successful but most of the people do not like their children to blast them off in their homes. Munni Badnaami may be successful and popular but might not be catering to the elite sections of the society. The vulgarity of a scene could only become appealing when the actor or actress represents a different set of values in person life; for example Katrina Kaif’s item number in Agneepath or Bipasha Basu’s item numbers become appealing unlike the ones done by Rakhi Sawant as these actresses in their real life represent (or apparently we believe so) a set of values fundamentally different from the values of the ‘item girls’ that they temporarily represent in the film.

(Katrina Kaif in Agneepath item song)

Kolaveri Di’s success is equi-distributed and it is liked by most of the people. During my travels in different parts of India after the success of Kolaveri Di, I witnessed young children singing Kolaveri Di, old women bursting into a very lovable smile when they listen to this song, men shaking their bodies when they listen to it, or even very hip boys from the upper crusts of the society within the metro coaches proudly singing the lines without any mistake either to please themselves or to please those young beautiful girls seen self admiring at the window panes darkened by the tunnels. This equally distributed success of this song originates from the very visuals of the video and the people who ‘behave’ in it. For the time being let us call them the ‘actors’ in this video.

In 2011, Dhanush completed ten years in the Tamil film industry. He is a contemporary of several other young actors who came from the film families and from outside. Dhanush came without much baggage; of family as well as looks. He belongs to a generation post-Rajni-Kamal, Post-Arjun-Ajit-Vijay. Dhanush with his very ordinary looks (may be in the same lines of Chilambarasan, Vijay and many other actors) drew the front benchers to his persona. He came as an angry young boy, a destitute and a social outsider. He faintly resembled the legendary Bruce Lee in his looks. And in his eyes the same fire raged. Most of the youngsters in Tamil Nadu (and interestingly in Kerala too) could immediately identify with Dhanush because he just looked like them. He was not one of those make believe ‘next door boy’ types. He was not a chocolate hero either. He flipped his dhoti up, showing his lean and toned thighs as well as the striped under wear. He courted girls as a loser and cried whenever he felt hurt. This wrote his success down in the minds of the young people.

In India, within the dominant culture of patriarchy, marriage is the most scared institution and it is said that it is not the boy and girl who get married but two families, their legacies, reputation and wealth. Dhanush raised his status from being a darling of the front benchers to the status of a heir apparent to the supreme super star Rajnikant by marrying his daughter Aishwarya, who is a producer-director of ‘Moonru’. In our country, a son is supposed to be the carrier of father’s legacy and this thinking is heavily dominant in our society that most of the social ills like female foeticide, infanticide and ostracising of women who do not beget sons or their lower status within the family and amongst daughters-in-law come as result of this. Rajnikant, whose family life is held as a very sacred one (unlike Amitabh Bacchan’s, Rajnikant’s life is not still not openly criticized for any reason. Criticism were rampant when the Karnataka-Tamil demographic issues came up in the political scene of Tamil Nadu almost a decade back and also when there were rumours of him entering into active politics) and it is not publicly scrutinized by the media. On the contrary, Rajnikant is viewed by his fans as an incarnation of a philosopher saint, Raghavendra as once he had acted in the bio-pic of Raghavendra and also made his spiritual intentions clear by acting in a flopped film called, Baba.

(Rajnikant in his 100th film Shri Raghavendra)

The public life of Rajnikant is so open as he appears without make up in public functions and speaks to his audience in a language that is so rooted and tinged with philosophical maxims. To add to his philosophical aura, people post photographs of his very ordinary self in social networking sites, especially when he makes annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrines. This ‘local and ordinary’ image of Rajnikant has helped him to consolidate his position in the Tamil filmdom considerably. But to carry forward this legacy, he does not have a son. Though the two daughters he has are interested and are active in the film world, the lack of son is always felt. Now, with Dhanush marrying Aishwarya Rajnikant a few years back has been perceived as an adoption of a son who is almost equal in qualities of Rajnikant. Dhanush is lean, thin and unconventional just like Rajnikant was when he entered the Tamil film scene decades ago. He has mannerisms that verges on to villainy but has all the capacities to redeem himself from disgrace by doing good for the sake of a larger population. And above all, Dhanush proves himself to be a singer, a quality which Rajnikant does not have unlike his rival in reputation, Kamal Haasan, who leaves no chance in his movies to sing a song for himself.

In this sense, in the public imagination, Dhanush is the ‘accepted and acceptable’ son of Rajnikant, perhaps a surrogate son who could cover up the lacks that his father has. So when Dhanush appears in the video, happily singing, we tend to see Rajnikant singing through his son (-in-law).Besides, the story of success of this song become all the more authenticated when Rajnikant himself tells the press that he was not so sure of the ‘future’ of this song when he heard it first. This scepticism is originated from the fear of his own lack and the anxiety whether his son (-in-law) could do justice while doing something that he himself has been incapable of doing throughout his cinematic career (there was one instance of Rajnikant himself singing in a drunken mood inside a bedroom which was received with so much of happy hooting even by his own staunch followers and fans). Dhanush, himself says in one of television interviews that he was very happy that it was on that day the recording of this song took place when his child took the first steps. So, as a sub-text the credibility and talent of the family chain/line is endorsed and reinforced within the video.

The conformity of the Indian family, which is devoid of any conflicts is what, as I argue, makes the Kolaveri Di album popular amongst the people irrespective of their age, locality and gender. In the album, we see four active people; Dhanush himself, the music director Anirudh Ravichander, Aishwarya Rajnikant Dhanush and Shruti Haasan. Anirudh is one the recording panel and a key board. Aishwaray, quite business like is seen at the side of her cousin, Anirudh and the film’s heroine, Shruti Haasan is seated quite professionally inside the studio. Even a cursory analysis would reveal that there is a reaffirmation of family values within this unit of people. First of all they are from the reputed film families carrying forward a pool of talented genes towards the future. And theoretically, the couples are divided as Anirudh-Shruti and Dhanush-Aishwarya. Though Shruti is unmarried and does not have anything to do with Anirudh, here we see a surrogate pair happy between themselves, though we do not see them communicating much except when Shruti stands in front of the mike jiving and gives a thumbs up to the three people at the recording panel.

Aishwarya’s body language in the video reiterates that she is in control of things, including the possible emotional engagement between her husband Dhanush and the screen pair Shruti. At the same time, Shruti equally shows self-restraint by smiling and nodding in approval without showing any emotional bonding with Dhanush when he approaches her for a suggestion or comment. In the studio, she takes a passive role, seated slightly away from both Anirudh and Aishwarya, asserting her own zone of individuality, family distinction and right to be there. Here, a keen observer could see the sacred family life of Rajnikant and his progenies coming in direct conflict with the troubled family life of Kamal Haasan but safely saved by the aloofness of Shruti in the setting. And with the conflicts resolved by self positioning of the actors, this video shows a confirmed family set up that could carry forward the family legacies to the future as the future belongs and is assured to them.

While we read the success of this song/video within the traditional family context, we should not forget that this is a carefully constructed/produced and articulated video. Those who are familiar with the song recording sessions could easily make out that this video that is hailed as done in twenty minutes is a staged spectacle. What we see here are the compositely edited visuals from a recording session and a post recording session acted out for the camera. We also see Dhanush lip synching in places and also straining himself to match up with the rhythm that he hears in his head phone. As we know that the picture of Dhanush wearing a heading phone and standing before a recording mike has become so popular that even spurred up so many other video makers to emulate (including the clones of Kolaveri Di) this particular posture and light scheme of the Kolaveri Di video. So what we have is a carefully crafted music video which could be included in the genre of the Indi-pop music.

(Anirudh and Aishwarya)

To go further with the argument of this song being Indi-pop, we should see how this genre of Indi-pop is constructed. Peter Kvetko in his article ‘Private Music’ says that while the Bollywood music depends heavily on Ragas and aalps, the Indi-pop finds its energy in western beats generated through drums, strutting of guitar strings and bass. Here in Kolaveri Di song the rhythm that we listen to is not exactly western one. It is folk-ish to the core and is familiar to the South Indian audience whereas the other instruments used are rhythm pad, saxophone/clarinet and key board. The electronic blending of the three with the Indian rhythm gives the song a special sonic quality which is closer to the western pop while retaining its rooted sonic qualities through the percussion rhythm. And most of the western music is meant for private consumption (especially the pop, hip-hop and heavy metal and so on) using high quality sound systems including car-stereos. In the meanwhile, Bollywood music is created for public consumption including its playing up in public places without heeding much to the quality of the sound systems.

In this sense, Kolaveri Di falls into the ears of the listeners as a ‘very private music’ and it evokes individualistic sensibilities. Peter Kvetko makes this observation while explaining the distinction between the Bollywood music and the Indi-pop music. “..the differences in the sonic texture and iconography between Indi-pop and film songs often correspond to (these) two lived environments, that while filmi music and imagery evokes collective experiences and sensibilities, Indipop articulates an individualistic sensibility more in line with the era of neo-liberalism and global capitalism.” (Peter Kvetko- Private Music – Popular Culture in a Globalized India- ed.K.Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake- Routledge-2009. Indian reprint 2011). Seen in this perspective Kolaveri Di substantiates position within the Indi-pop genre and assuming the position of a very private music. It also articulates the individualistic sensibility (four people in a room with distinct identities) in an era of neo-liberalism and global capitalism.

Dhanush is now a hot property in the star nights. The way the Kolaveri Di song transcended its language barriers through assuming the status of a private music, Dhanush also has achieved a different status in the popular culture in India. It is ironically interesting and interestingly ironic that through faulty English and its failed articulation he could cut across the boundaries. In his public appearances after the success of Kolaveri Di, Dhanush carefully plays up the family values (being simple in dressing) and playing it up to the galleries like a ‘tapori’ as and when he is expected to do so. When he stands along with glamorously dressed Abhishek Bacchan, he is noticed for his simplicity, the way Rajnikant is noticed for his appearances without make up in public functions along with a heavily dyed up Kamal Haasan. Dhanush also understands the aesthetic scenario of the Tamil film industry after the huge success of films like Subramanyapuram, Nadodikal and Naan Kadvul by young film makers who revisit the murderous rage of the Tamil ethos throughout its history. The Kolaveri Di songs and its lyrics come from this cultural ethos which Dhanush has internalized not only as an actor but as a producer of culture.

As an end note, I would like to add that most of the writings and reports came about this song and its success have accidently or carefully avoided an invisible presence; the presence of the camera (man/woman). The gaze of the camera in this video is omnipotent because by shifting its location of gaze almost in 360 degrees capturing each and every action of the actors, it remains there as a watchdog; t he guardian of these four young people. When the line ‘kaila glass-u’ is sung, the camera ( I would say, the paternal gaze) immediately cuts to Dhanush who is now reclining in the corner of the recording lounge of the studio. From that reclining position, almost obscured by the lack of light, Dhanush says, ‘only English –a’. We find here a linguistic slip; a fault line suddenly appearing between the song’s assumed global position and its very rootedness. However, the conflict is smoothened out immediately by the intervention of the camera/gaze that almost obscures the image of a faltering Dhanush to a corner. Now with the conflicts ironed out, family values confirmed, happiness celebrated, Kolaveri Di reigns the public imagination.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Free Man

First few pages of ‘A Free Man’ made me think that this writer was stepping into the shoes of Sudhir Venkatesh who had brought sociological research into a gripping thriller experience by publishing a detailed account of his research on the urban drug peddling poor in the underbelly of the United States, under the title, ‘Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets’. Soon I realized that this young writer, Aman Sethi, who obviously has been influenced by the style of Sudhir Venkatesh research and its outcome, however has found out his own way to write his research trips and life in the backstreets of Old Delhi where innumerable migrants from the poverty stricken villages in the North India hoard to eke out a living.

‘A Free Man’ centres around the life of Mohammed Ashraf, a mazdoor who likes to live a free life. He has hopes and dreams to make it big in life. But his personal philosophy pertaining to life in general and freedom in particular does not help him much in turning his dreams into a reality. Hence, he remains a painter mazdoor in the Bara Tooti Chowk near Sadar Bazar in Old Delhi. One interesting thing about him is that he so free that he could jump into any train that he sees first and go to a place where the locomotive takes him and live there for years without missing his life in Delhi even for a moment.

(Aman Sethi)

Aman Sethi, the writer of this book, young, vibrant and equipped with a research fellowship reaches Old Delhi to study about the lives of the migrant labourers who live in pavements and streets daring the extreme climate, unhygienic conditions, effects of liquor and other intoxicants and the frequent attack of the police. Aman does not feature the life of Ashraf, Lalloo, Rehaan, Kalyaani, Satish and so on as the supreme examples of the mazdoor life in Old Delhi. Instead, he approaches them as case studies, and just like Sudhir Venkatesh got interested in the drug running life of the gangster, J.T, Aman too gets interested in the life of Ashraf and he uses it as a fulcrum to revolve the weights of the other lives.

Ashraf is a free man and he is worldly wise. His philosophy is impressive and his world view is refreshing. All these come from his education, exodus and experiences in life. He is a much travelled man. The exodus starts when he accidently challenges a land grabber. Then he moves to different cities including Calcutta, Mumbai and places in Punjab before he settles down in Delhi. Still he believes that he could hop into the first train and leave the place. But Old Delhi like a hook that pierces into the gunny bags full of rice, does not leave him alone.

Aman befriends Ashraf, whose age is not mentioned anywhere though the reader could assume that he must be somewhere around fifty, and through Ashraf life he understand the lives of others including the enterprising Kalyani who starts off her career as a gleaner of spilled away grains and later becomes one of the notorious vendors of the local liquor. Aman weaves his narrative through the lives of Rehaan who believes in the ability of his own body to do any difficult task and Satish who succumbs to the vice grip of tuberculosis.

‘A Free Man’ could be read as a fiction and once we read it as a fiction we come to know that real life is more fictional than fictions. When we read it as a real life of a few people we come to know that we live in a city about which we know very little. Night has a different complexion in any city and it has a different meaning to different people. The state reacts to those who live in streets differently and the pavement dwellers also react to the state differently. While the middleclass shrinks away from the presence of the state in the form of Police, only two sections of the people stand up to it; the affluent and the deprived. Both have their own reasons to challenge the law. A Free Man tells us how the deprived and the destitute challenge the state.

Aman’s narrative is quite gripping and the glimpses of a scenario writing is seen quite often. But this book might not make a movie that could move the box office records because the hero in this book does not win over anything or anyone. Though he does not do so, we could never see Ashraf as a loser. When he is neither a loser nor a winner, he loses his chance to be a filmic hero in the typical Indian sense. He is a loner, perhaps he is a person who has achieved the Indian wisdom, a sufi vision, as nothing stands.

The young author has a knack to touch the auditory and olfactory faculties of the reader. He narrates the sounds of night as well as the taste of the food, liquor and weed. And when you read Aman describing himself first drinking desi daru (local liquor) you feel the burning liquid sizzling your tongue then moving down through your guts like a molten iron.

(Sudhir Venkatesh)

This book becomes a part of the Delhi narratives with a sense of ease because it is unpretentious on the one hand and has a lot of information about the lives of the migrant mazdoors. Also it graphically narrates the kinds of labour available and the kinds of jobs done in and around Old Delhi. It peeps into the upper and under dealings of the state. Above all it deals with the dreams of people who leave their familiar zones behind and tread onto the unchartered futures, and find themselves in the pavements of big cities.

I would recommend the young readers to read this because it is written by a young author who has a lot of hopes and dreams that run parallel to the dreams and desires of Ashraf, the protagonist of the book.