Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Public Diary 5: When I shouted ‘Indira Gandhi Zindabad’..

(Indira Gandhi: Source Outlook)

31st October 1984. Twenty nine years have passed. Two deaths in the same month; on 6th October 1984, my father had breathed his last and on 31st October, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s life was cut short by her own bodyguards. Without referring to google I can remember the names of the bodyguards; Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. One good thing about having less mediums of communication is that you would remember things clearly. We had only radio and newspapers to know about the world and we remembered everything that we had heard and I should add, almost believed too. When Amitabh Bacchan was hurt while he was shooting for Manmohan Desai’s ‘Coolie’, we knew everything about him including the name of the one who accidently injured him; Puneet Issar was his name. Bombay hospitals like Jaslok and Breach Candy became familiar names for us even in down south.

Due to my father’s prolonged illness and hospitalization and the eventual death, I had lost one year in the school. I was with him at the hospital. I was supposed to give the school final examinations in March 1984. I would later sit for the same in March 1985. After my father’s death, a few months were left before the exams. So I was sent to Varkala, a nearby town to take classes privately. On 31st October 1984, I was in Varkala, in a tutorial college. Suddenly, the streets were filled with people. Students from the Varkala SN College were coming back to the bus stops. Someone came to our class and announced the death of Indira Gandhi. At the age of 14, I was shocked to hear that news. It was not because I was a strong Congress follower. But I believed that Indira Gandhi would never die. There are some people who you think would never die. But then they die one day as my father did. Then you believe in death. Life overtakes death and at times death overtakes life. It is a curious traffic game.

We were asked to go home silently. Our principal, the venerable Krishnan Sir of Sagar Tutorials, where I had the chance to teach many years later, advised us to be calm and quite. He, in his paternal voice told us that there could be the possibilities of a riot and hartal hence we were supposed to take buses or trains and reach home safely at the earliest. When I came out to the streets with so many students like me, there was tension in the streets. Buses had stopped plying. My sister was in Varkala SN College and I waited for her at the bus stop. She came with her friends at the bus stop. Once again, when you do not have instant communication devices like today, you just need to believe in your intuitions.  I had heeded to it and thought that my sister would come to the bus stop. As the buses have stopped running, we decided to go to the railway station to see whether any trains going further south so that we could get down after two stations and walk back to home. Trains also did not come. Everything had gone standstill. 

(Rahul,, Rajiv, Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi at Indira Gandhi's funeral in Delhi)

Indira Gandhi’s death was in everybody’s lips. College students, generally unruly in behavior, on that afternoon behaved politely. The boys and girls who were from the south villages congregated at the railway station and decided to walk back to homes. Our house was around fifteen kilometers away. We all started walking along the railway line. We reached home safe. Radio was playing sad tunes. Special bulletins were broadcasted. Next day newspapers came with headlines screaming the death of Indira Gandhi. More deaths were about to follow. We did not know much about it on the next day. Within two days we knew the Sikh community was being persecuted in Delhi and its surrounding places. News, views, stories, rumors and whisper campaigns followed. In the next week, the weeklies published in Malayalam were full of Indira Gandhi and her death, her cremation; the history of Indira Gandhi’s family came to us through so many pictures. We saw our next Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi standing silently at the pyre with Sonia Gandhi flanked by young Rahul and Priyanka. I thought Priyanka was beautiful and Rahul must be a chess player.

We all believed Indira Gandhi would rule forever and also live forever. She was charismatic. My first memory of Indira Gandhi is from a school text at the fourth standard. The lesson’s title was ‘Even a Stone has a Story to Recount’. This was an abridged translation of Nehru’s letters to his daughter Indira Priyadarshini, who later on became Indira Gandhi. The lesson was illustrated with a black and white drawing, which years later I found out was from an existing photograph. In the picture a young Indira in her frock was seen sitting at the bedside of Mahatma Gandhi and him holding her hands with his enchanting smile. Indira stared at us from the picture with her wide, dark and enigmatic eyes. Then my father found out a beautiful picture of Indira Gandhi from the cover page of Vanitha (Lady), a special magazine for women published by the Malayala Manorama group.

(A hug from the Star of Revolution; Indira Gandhi and Fidel Castro)

Somehow my father liked this photograph a lot. So he carefully took it and pasted on a large album that he had recently acquired. The album was quite a big one but was quite desi. It did not have any bells or music coming out of it once opened as in the case of several fluffy albums came from the gulf countries. I was happy with the desi one I had for the simple reason that I could see the photographs that my father had tastefully pasted in it. Every Sunday, I observed this ritual of opening this album only to see Indira Gandhi in the first page and in the next my father’s portrait done by my uncle. My father had taken a great pride in having Indira Gandhi in his personal album. He was a Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader. He could have become a MLA or minister but he was hot blooded and too critical of things then. Once he fell out of with the party, he joined the Indian National Congress. It was Congress (I); the Indira Group. Indira Gandhi had become very strong during the early 1970s.

I clearly remember during 1975, though I was hardly six years old, there used to be a lot of hushed up meetings at home; mostly between my father and his friends. The word, emergency used to come up quite often in their talks. People were afraid of Naxalites and we, children were always warned about the naxalites who could either take us away or harm us in some way. I don’t remember when exactly my father joined the Congress party; however, now I think that he must have joined it just before the declaration of Emergency. He was quite during that time; from the office he came home, changed his clothes and went to a club and played cards. He was not arrested for possessing any incriminating literature or writing any provocative pamphlets. But our home library had the collected works of Marx and Engels, Maxim Gorky, Tolstoy and many other Russian writers. Besides, my father used to subscribe some left wing magazines even after he officially joined the Congress party.

(Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Priyadarshini)

I had shouted ‘Indira Gandhi Zindabad’ when I was in school. As my father was a Congressman, I automatically became a Congress follower. In our times, school parliaments were quite strong and I used to get selected as a Congress MP. And in 1982 or 83 I was the Speaker of the School Parliament. Debates and passing of the bills were regular features though we did not know much about the nuances of it. As most of the male teachers wore Khadi clothes like my father, and as our school library had a lot of Gandhi literature and literature on Indian independence, and our librarian, Balakrishnan Sir was a poet and a Gandhi enthusiast, I also thought Congress had the natural right to rule things. I found the left parties and my friends in the opposition benches anachronism in politics. I was too ignorant to understand the Left wing politics, which later on obviously I caught up with. Whenever I won school election, along with my supporters I shouted, ‘Indira Gandhi Zindabad’. When public elections came, I went around with a mike to campaign for the local MLA. Being a school student was not a problem then.

‘Soviet Republic’ and ‘Soviet Land’ were two publications that used to come to our home by post. In one of them I saw Indira Gandhi standing with the Cuban president, Fidel Castro. They were not standing; the charismatic and handsome Fidel was embracing Indira Gandhi and for the first time I saw Indira Gandhi as a woman, with her cheeks going red. The caption of the picture read: A hug from the star of revolution.’ I saw her photographs with President Brushnev and many others. She too followed the Nehruvian strategy of Non-alignment but leaned towards the then USSR. Indira Gandhi was an event and a presence. She became a fearsome personality when I start reading about Emergency days and the efforts towards Cultural revolution in Kerala. When I studied the history of the Naxal Movement in Kerala, and came to know the stories of Rajan, the engineering student and the ill treatment meted out to Ajitha, the then Naxalite leader, Indira Gandhi fell in grace before my eyes. Reading the biography by Pupul Jayakar or Katherine Frank did not help much. But I liked the young Indira who lived in Santiniketan and formed a Vanara Sena (Army of Monkeys) to support the nationalist cause. 

(Fidel Castro and Indira Gandhi)

I have hundred and one reasons to hate Indira Gandhi as a political leader. But when I think of her, she was someone very unique. I had seen her in person from the shoulder of my father when she came to Attingal, a nearby town from my village; we all had gone to see her. She looked a bit more real that reality itself. She waved to the crowd. The crowd went in raptures. She spoke in English. C.M.Stephen translated it. When he translated more than she said, she admonished him in public. She never allowed people to fall on her feet like Jayalalithaa does today. But she did not tolerate insubordination. She fell for soothsayers. She stopped liking naysayers.

Indira Gandhi, perhaps is a phenomenon for me. I am not a political pundit to judge her or a historian to evaluate her political contribution. But when I see her picture in today’s newspapers, I feel a sense of missing someone; it could be my father or she herself.  May be those 1970s and 1980s, a time that has shaped me into this person who is writing.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Public Diary 4: There is the Place in the Sun- Story of an Exhibition

(from left to right- K.S.Radhakrishnan, Mr.Chandan, Ms.Krishna Chandan, Mrinal Kulkarni, Binoy Verghese, Sunanda Khajuria, T.K.Hareendran, Shijo Jacob, Sajeev Visweswaran, Ritu Kapoor, JohnyML)

Once again my termites inspired memories. An album tumbles down into my hands, safe from the attack of termites. I open the leaves one by one. Year 2004. If I were a film director, I would have montage-d the present with the past. I look at this image, taken sometime in March/April 2004. Mrinal and myself had jointly curated a show at the Krishna Gallery, then located at Defence Colony. The title of the show was ‘There is a Place in the Sun’. I had taken this title from a Steve Wonder song, ‘There is a place in the sun and there is hope for everyone.’ In fact the song was introduced to me by Shibu Natesan and he was planning to do a painting with the same title. When he heard that I was doing a show with a title like that he felt hurt. He expressed it to me by a mail. I think he had a very brittle ego then which he soon transcended. Today he could speak of Each one Teach one.

 (L to R Sunanda Khajuria, Dhyaneshwar Shah and Natasha Preenja now Princess Pea)

I want to write about this show or rather remember about this show for a particular reason. Before that let me introduce the people who are in the picture. From the left you see K.S.Radhakrishnan, Mr.Chandan, Krishna Chandan, Mrinal Kulkarni, (behind her) Binoy Verghese, Sunanda Khajuria, T.K.Hareendran, Shijo Jacob, Sajeev Visweswaran, Ritu Kapoor (now Kamath) and myself. One person missing here is Natasha Preenja who most of the people now know as Princess Pea. When I look at this picture I feel that Radhakrishnan should have been standing right in the middle of the picture. But he always likes to play down his presence especially when it is the show of youngsters. The good thing is that he goes to the shows of the young people, see the works and if the artists really want to discuss their art with him, he spends time with them. As the show was curated by us, Radhakrishnan came quite early and spent the whole evening with us. I look at his dress curiously today. Black is colour for the openings. Black is his hair and beard. Black is the bag that he carries. Today, instead of this kind of bag, he carries a camera bag with him. He likes to take pictures. He had learnt the technique of photography from veterans like Jyotish Chakravorty of the Image in Calcutta’s 1970s. Then ace photographers, Late Prabuddha Dasgupta and Pradeep Dasgupta became his close friends. Today from Vicky Roy to Anurag Sharma to Abul Kalam Azad to Gireesh GV, he finds his camera affiliations.

(L to R Jagannath Panda, Shijo Jacob and Kanchan Chander)

Let me come back to the occasion of the picture. I have two reasons to talk about this picture. First of all it was one of the worst times in my life. I had come back from London after spurning certain job offers extended by some galleries, in 2003 September. I thought the London and Goldsmiths tag would help me to establish my career as a curator. Nothing had happened then. The art scene was cold to me as ever. Jobless and hopeless, I was trying to find a foothold in the scene but in vain. Friends from the pre-London days remained friends even in the post-London days. Cutting edge and alternative practices were the catchy things that I was interested in then (exactly the same way today’s youngsters do). Collaborating with Mrinal I did a show called ‘Dreams: The Projects Unrealized’ in November 2003 at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature (Arpana Caur’s gallery). The idea was to showcase the dreams of the artists in file folders and boxes. Nothing was on the walls or floor. Right in the middle of the gallery we placed a long table and twenty two file boxes. In each box there was a dream unrealized by an artist due to materialistic reasons. The viewers/audience were supposed to take out the content from the boxes as if they were searching for some vital information from an archive. The show was a hit, of course intellectually. As we were not expecting anything commercially, it was hit on that front too. One has to remember that many curators who vows by the name of cutting edge art and conceptual art, were doing ‘modern masters’ show then.

(Binoy Verghese and Mrinal Kulkarni at the opening)

The second point is about Ms.Krishna Chandan. She used to run her Krishna Gallery from Defence Colony. Now her gallery is in Lado Sarai. Then too she had a reputation as a commercial gallery. I was thinking that equipped with a post graduate degree in creative curating from Goldsmiths college, London that had produced artists like Damien Hirst, I had all the rights to be a part of the mainstream art scene in Delhi. I got the rude shock when most of the galleries did not even want to look at the artists whom I considered important then. While searching for opportunities, I met Krishna Chandan. She asked whether I could do a show for her. She told me that she was not a gallerist who could sell conceptual works. But she wanted to give me an opportunity. That was how the idea of curating ‘A Place in the Sun’ came by. Some friends who came to know about the show declared, Johny has gone commercial. In fact, I was ready to go commercial for the sake of my career and that of my friends.

(JohnyML and Banoj Mohanty)

We wanted to work with the youngest and unacknowledged of the lot. Hence we lined up these artists: Natasha Preenja, Sunanda Khajuria, Sajeev Visweswaran, Binoy Verghese, Shijo Jacob, Ritu Kapoor and T.K.Hareendran. The exhibition showcased the small scale works of these artists. I don’t remember Krishna making any sales out of this show. But the show was well attended. Alice Cicolini, the cultural attaché of the British Council came along with her then deputy Chandrika Grover, who currently heads the Swiss Art Council in India. They came because I was a recent scholar of the Charles Wallace India Trust scholarship facilitated by the British Council. They must have come out of curiosity. Nothing happened in that direction though the London returned scholars and artists were several times invited to the British Council to do shows or give talks. I have no complaints. On the contrary I am thankful to them. Had they invited me to do things with them, I would have been one among the many. Today I stand on my own and I am quite happy about it. Mr.Kiderlen from German Embassy came because he was very close to T.K.Hareendran. It resulted into a great friendship with this German gentleman. He visited out Faridabad house where there was no furniture then. He sat on the floor, ate food with his fingers and left. Later he invited us to do a show at his Santiniketan residence in Delhi. We did a show called ‘The Twilight Zone of Great Indian Digital Divide’ in which along with T.K.Hareendran, artists like Jagannath Panda, Vibha Galhotra, Vinayak Bhattacharya and so on participated. The show was to highlight the digital divide of Indian artists; artists who were adept in doing technological art and those who wanted but for various reasons could not do it. Jagannath Panda’s first video installation was done for this show and Vibha Galhotra’s first interior installation.

(Jenson Anto and Atul Bhalla at the opening)

But when you check the bio-data of most of these artists you don’t find these shows mentioned. They are afraid of acknowledging these shows done by us because this would show that once they were under privileged and were against the dominant system. Today they want to show themselves as coming from privileged backgrounds. They want to be conformists of the first class. When Princess Pea tells me about her new works I feel that Natasha Preenja was more real than the adopted identity of Princess Pea. Jagannath Panda was more sincere about his experimentations. But I am happy that all of them made their marks in the Indian art scene though they do not want to mention that their first show was with Mrinal and me. I wish them all good. But in this humdrum, we forget certain artists like T.K.Hareendran. May be I have enough materials to write about him for I had taken extensive interviews with him. I will write about him some other time. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Public Diary 3: Building Brick by Brick

( When Shibu Natesan visited Musui Foundation Archives in March 2013)

Friends come to meet me; generally I meet them after four in the evening. First half of the day is spent in translation, writing and answering emails. I believe in building anything brick by brick. There was a time when I thought of doing everything in one go. Age has taught me how to do things slowly but intensely. Now, when I see the growing archives at Musui Art Foundation at Chattarpur where I spend my mornings I feel happy. When KSR invited me to activate the first floor of his wonderful studio by doing whatever I wanted, in 2011, I was really happy. I had just started a public debate with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, taking the side of the people who opposed its style of functioning. I was fast losing friends and supporters. The loyal ones remained loyal but the number of enemies was steadily increasing. It was November and the winter was severe. After posting comments in the facebook, sitting in a corner of the studio all alone, I used to shiver; not for fear of some impending danger but for the immensity of responsibility that the debate has brought on to my shoulders. I had received friends here and foes were always hovering around with their invisible presence.

When KSR invited me to the space, he had also made a series of shelves all along the walls. The first thing I wanted to do was to create an archives; an archives which could be used by many like me who in their formative years had no support system in terms of a reference library. But the question before me was, how to create an archives? KSR had already placed a few books he had collected over a period of time in the studio. It was then I decided to part with my collection of books for creating the Musui Archives. Musui, as you know, is the sculptural protagonist of KSR. I started taking books in twos and threes. Even today I continue doing it. The archive looks very impressive now. When I started bringing books, the short cut between Qutub Metro station and Chattarpur Pahari where Musui Foundation is located was a narrow strip. Today cars ply there. I have seen the change and I still walk the same route every morning, obviously with a few books in my bag to add to the growing archives. I believe in building anything brick by brick.

Recently I had a very interesting experience. A young man whom I know not that closely updated his facebook status something like this: I have 3000 books and magazines. I want to part with it. If someone interested please contact.’ I sent him a private message saying that I was interested. I am not a kabadi walah. I do not want to collect anything that people discard even if those are books. I want to collect books that would enrich the Musui Foundation Archives. Hence, my private message told him that I was interested but before I collected anything from him I wanted to have a look at his collection. On a Sunday morning I called him, took an appointment for the same afternoon, and drove all the way to the locality where he lived. I could not locate the house. I kept calling him over phone and I found it switched off. I used all the possible ways to reach out to him, even contacting his former classmates, but in vain. I was furious. I let him know about my ire through his friends. He never contacted me again. I think he was having a hallucination about his book ‘collection.’

When people offer me books, I check whether they do it as a part of their spring cleaning or they are genuinely interested to part with their collection. If they want to make space for themselves by doing away with their ‘useless’ books I politely decline their offer. A Mumbai gallerist offered me some books of which I selected one or two because I found the rest of it constituted the books that she did not want. But I have friends who genuinely give me books. During the boom years, people like Geetika Goel, who is currently an independent art dealer, used to procure books and gift me whenever I made a request. So is Anubhav Nath, Director of Ojas Art Gallery, New Delhi. If I ask for books he brings it from wherever he is. I don’t know whether I could mention the name of a person or not. She belongs to one of the biggest galleries in Delhi. I have never talked to her in person. I communicate with her over emails. But if I ask her for a book, even if it is very costly, she sends it to me. I thank her with all my heart. I am sure one day, with her permission I would be able to reveal her identity.

I am sure if your intention is genuine, as KSR puts it, if ‘intention and image’ gel, then things will work out. I am sure, one day Musui Foundation Archives will be one of the best archives in this country. But I am also sure that it does not happen overnight. I believe in doing things brick by brick. Clear vision and right action is what all you want. I learnt this lesson from KSR. He does everything clearly and meticulously. The biggest lesson in my life was given to me by KSR; when I was down in the dumps and was about to leave the field of art criticism almost twelve years before, he told me one simple thing: If you dig too many wells in the same place you may not find water. Keep digging till you find water. Even if you do not find water, by the end of it, you would be enjoying the whole process of digging in the same place. The second lesson is a bit financial. Whenever I had gone through financial troubles, he told me, ‘look, I can give you any amount of money that you ask. But finding that money with your own effort is what would eventually give you dignity and freedom. Remember, I am there, but pretend that I am not there.’ I was young and I took his words into my heart. I do not owe a single paise to anyone. I had not, I did not, I do not and I will not because I belong to the KSR  School of thinking. Shakespeare and Sanskrit had taught me the same lesson way back in college. But those were not as effective as the KSR Speak.

May be my idea of building anything brick by brick also comes from him. I am happy about it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Public Diary 2: The Termite Story

(My son Maitreya and myself in 2005)

One cannot write a diary every day. The picture that you see here does not have anything to do with what I am going to write today. The photograph was an accidental finding; rather a timely saving from a host of termites that has been working diligently on the wooden furniture at home for the last ten years. Termites attack each and every home in this part of the world irrespective of the economic status of the house owner. A year back, the large wooden shelves at my home came under the attack of termites despite the caution, which is known as pest control, was taken well in advance. The hollows left by the removal of these shelves were later on filled in by steel shelves, which generally give the middle class an added sense of security. I too was experiencing the same sense of protection as I had been brought up in a particular faith called ‘Godrej Steel Shelf’. Thieves struck on 27th January 2013 evening and took away the valuables from these very same steel shelves, leaving me a new convert into the faith called ‘fu** it’.

Yesterday, my son wanted to take out something from one of the narrow wooden cupboards left untouched till date by the termites. Optimism is the curse of the middle class. That’s why middle class people do not want to throw out anything on the first instance. They think that one day it will be of some use. So you keep accumulating things and these accumulated things are housed in various shelves. I am a chronic book collector and most of my books are kept inside steel book shelves. They spill over to other spaces available vying for space with other items like old shoe boxes, compact discs, plastic toys, old sweaters, plastic envelops, old notebooks and what not. From the lone wooden cupboard what my son wanted was a compact disc as he wanted to do something with that for a class craft work. Last night I tried to open it and found the door tightly closed. As you know, in the middle class households, especially the ones with kids, most of the shelves, cupboards, table drawers etc are often found without their knobs and handles. My house is no exception though I technically, theoretically and philosophically do not subscribe to middle class status. I belong to a sublime class though the economic status brings me under the bracket of the middle class.

Procurement of the compact disc from the cupboard was postponed to the next morning as I found a thin brown line of mud and dust along the hinges of its door. I knew this cupboard too was gone. The postponement of opening it was again a short term relief from the horrific scene that would definitely be revealed by the termites; I felt the feeling akin to the postponement of looking straight into the wound by the wounded involved in an accident. Adrenalin level would be so high at that time that one gets all courage to postpone the inevitable. My adrenalin level was normal but really wanted to have a good sleep devoid of the dreams of termites marching into my sleep. But how long one could shun such an eventuality? Morning found myself standing in front of that narrow cupboard, my better half (for the time being as mood swings could also swing this qualifier) in the supporting cast armed with broom and dust pan. The termites had done their best (in our perspective, worst). They had done a neat job of keeping the outer layers of everything intact and the innards amply shredded into dust. Who said polythene covers are anti-environmental substances? Had it not been a red polythene cover all the visual documents of my past few years in London and Delhi would have been permanently lost. I retrieved these photographs, hopelessly falling into a nostalgic feeling.

The photograph that you see here is taken in 2005. My son, Maitreya MJ was born in that year. I was working in Malayala Manorama Newspaper as a journalist. My income was not good enough to support a family with a newborn. But when I look at this picture, I find myself healthy, happy and devoid of much tension. Perhaps the touch of my son’s tender body had transcended all those worries loomed large over my head in those days. Maitreya was born in Bhopal, in a private clinic with a very affectionate doctor couple in charge. People have the tendency to romanticise anything related to conception, delivery, childbirth and child rearing. Young parents try to live according to guide books; they seek consultancy in nappy changing to breast feeding to everything. Most of the young parents recount the stories of how the newborns keep them awake whole night. Some people write blogs about their experiences, some people make home videos, some people constantly take photographs and some people even launch websites. May be they are all young parents. When Maitreya was born we were not so young. At the age thirty six I could not have claimed the status of a young parent. May be because we were not young parents, growing up with Maitreya was almost event free.

Termites had failed to reach the photographs. So I have this photograph today. But I termites have taken something very important away from my life. I have a good collection of letters written to me by my friends of which I consider two set of letters very important; the first set is written by my cousin and the noted artist, Shibu Natesan. The second one is by my then girlfriend, Kalpana. They could run into volumes and they are still kept safely in Kerala. For some reason, I had brought a few letters written by Shibu to Delhi. I had kept them safely till date. To my shock today I found them eaten away by the termites. I do not know how to describe my sadness. Those letters were not written in ink; they were written in blood, tears, desires and dreams. Those letters had come from Baroda, Delhi and Amsterdam with a lot of stories and a lot of drawings. They are lost forever. But those words still remain in me, though vaguely. If I really try I could see them before my eyes. I should make a promise to myself that one day I recount all those letters from memory.

In fact, if you remember, I was not planning to write about this photograph. I even said that this picture does not have anything to do with what I am going to write. I wanted to write about the notion of ‘happiness’. Now I think I should postpone it for another day. One solace is that my mind is not kept in a wooden shelf which is prone to termites’ attack. I can write about happiness later on. But with a little bit of shame I have to accept that what I showed here is not the sign of a good writer. I started from somewhere and ended up somewhere else. May be writers do it whenever they write things; despite their blueprints they tend to digress. Digression is the spice of writing. Still I can save my skin by removing the first line of this diary entry. But I do not intend to do so. If I am not truthful here, where else I could be? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Public Diary 1- Why I write a Public Diary?

(A Drawing by Franz Kafka)

I wonder whether these days, people write diary entries. With so many channels to communicate with others, diary writing must have gone to those who are compulsively and chronically lonely. Diary writing was a practice for many, both public and private personalities, who wanted to register their deeds, dreams and desires for themselves as well as for the posterity. It was a sort of confession, a daring baring of mind and that must be the reason why many asked their diaries to be destroyed by the most faithful ones after their deaths. Dairies make some famous posthumously as in the case of Anne Franck. In the case of Franz Kafka, he had asked his trusted friend and confidante, Max Broad to destroy all his manuscripts after his death. In this one matter, Broad went against his friend and Kafka’s major works were published posthumously. May be Kafka knew well that asking a friend to destroy his manuscripts was a good reason to rouse enough curiosity that ensured publication and proliferation.

I used to be a diarist when I was a fifteen year old boy. I had gone through a year-long initiation into early manhood between 1983-1984. My father was bedridden for a year with a severe illness and I spent time in a hospital with him for almost a year, leaving my studies. I met people from different walks of life, saw many deaths and spent many a nights in streets outside the hospital. On 6th October 1984, my father died in the hospital. When relatives left after a few days of mourning I felt the days and nights empty. One night I took out a notebook and wrote a few lines addressing my dead father. For almost a year I recorded small little things happening to me as well as to others in the diary. I was speaking to my father. But then you cannot speak to your father forever, dead or alive. I gave the school final exams as a privately registered student and passed with good marks. College days brought new friends and new passions. Even if father was dead and gone, there were things that I was not ready to tell him. So I stopped addressing him in the diary entries. Instead, I started addressing those girls who I thought were in love with me. In fact I was imagining things. I was in love with them and they were only kind to me.

Conventional diary writing, as if you were addressing someone invisible or speaking to the diary itself, gave way to impersonalized registration of observations. Sometimes I felt like starting a novel. So instead of writing diary entries I wrote chapters. Sometimes, stories, poems and at other times, when literary ambitions were at its peak even attempted writing plays. I had heard that to become a good poet you should write plays too. To underline that argument there were the cases of Shakespeare and Kalidasa, both were playwrights and unparalleled poets. I had written some plays for the school theatre. But today when I think of it, even my dark cheeks go red out of shame. My friends and myself enacted those scripts in school festivals. Those plays were with a social message; in one of them I was an old man who refused quit smoking. All the tragic characters had tuberculosis and invariably they died on stage vomiting blood. Another theatrical device for effect was getting shot on stage. Spilling blood and death evoked a sense of tragedy and more than that stage craft. You placed inside your shirt an eggshell filled with red ink, carefully sealed with polythene and wax till you got shot by the police on stage (they were sharp shooters and always got you right in the chest). Once you receive the bullet on your chest (your backstage supporters are ready with a cracker detonated right on time; but often went off a few seconds before or after the inspector pulled the trigger), you crushed the eggshell and ‘blood’ gushed out of your wound. Tuberculosis was an easy way out; you could hide the blood surrogate somewhere in the stage and before your death you could grab it and while coughing you could fill your mouth with it and then cough it out. Once I died coughing blood but I was supposed to be lying dead on a cot, which was a wooden school bench with a weak leg. As I fell dead, my somewhat heavy body came with full force on it and the bench collapsed. Along with the bench the dead me fell on the floor; for a second I thought of lying there still. But the next moment saw myself getting up from death, straightening the bench and once again falling dead to the mirth of the audience. To cut a long story short, I could say that in that competition, the best actor award went to the one who died out of a bullet wound.

I don’t know when I stopped writing diaries altogether. It must be when I went to Baroda in 1992. I started writing letters to my mother from there and the nights were occupied with friends. I thought I had communicated enough through those weekly letters and the endless chats with friends. There was no need to write a diary. In Delhi, in 1995, I took it up again, but it had lost its momentum. I was writing continuously but they were not in the form of diary entries. After a long time, in June 2013, I once again took up writing diary, this time strictly in Malayalam. I thought I have something to tell myself which I don’t want someone who is immediately around me need to understand. But soon I realized that I didn’t have anything to keep or say in private, or if at all I had, they mostly were involved public in it as most of my works were connected to artists and the art scene. My private thoughts take the form of a public utterance and they appear in magazines, weeklies, journals, facebook status updates and all. Does anything left after that worthy enough to be registered? Even if I find something, can I keep them as private as possible? How much privacy I can have in my profession? Even if I can have physical loneliness can I be privy to enjoy solitude which is absolutely private? If I have solitude, should it be absolutely mine? Do I need to talk about those feelings that I have during the moments of solitude? Do I need to talk about the people whom I meet every day? Do their interactions with me need to be filtered to the public for wider contemplation? Are these meetings and events exceptional at all or are they mundane?

I think of writing a public diary. This is a preamble to it. I asked the abovementioned questions to myself several times. I got an answer to the last question which was quite convincing. People meet people every day. People talk to people, people share so many things with people. They communicate so vigorously through the modern communication systems. They are constantly in touch with people. But the more you make it so regular and explicit they may look very mundane. Over communication is something that drains meaning out of communications. Then it becomes an end in itself. I deem my communications with people are not mundane. No communication is made for the sake of communication. Over a period of time, I have cut down my phone calls to people, mandatory emailing, casual greetings, idle chats and friendly meetings. Today, I communicate only when it is needed and I should say, I communicate with people a lot that too even after considerably cutting down my time on that. I consider myself a public person with a private life and mind. And it is my responsibility to communicate with people. And I have got the responsibility to make every communication meaningful. A meaningful communication occurs when its subtexts are understood in the right sense. I believe that however private I want to be the subtexts that I derive from my daily communications with people should be registered for larger consumption and benefit.

Once, when I was actively blogging, a close friend of mine asked me whether it was necessary to say it all. I told him that even if I was giving an impression of saying it all a major portion of what I wanted to say still remained unsaid. An open diary could be a trap; it could show the depth as well as shallowness of the personality of the diarist. It could also make a person less mysterious. One could feel, ‘oh, he is only this much.’ But actively contemplating on this point for a long time I have come to a conclusion that the more you make yourself revealed to the public the more you become mysterious. I have been following the lives of famous personalities and celebrities. Even after reading their biographies and the daily trivia of their lives related colourfully by journalists, I get this feeling that they all remain more mysterious than ever. The trivia and serious data that I consume on a daily basis turn slowly into a layer mystery that adds to the charm of the personalities that I follow. Mahatma Gandhi is one example that fascinates me in this case. Hundreds of volumes have been written about him and same amount of volumes had been written by himself. I have made some efforts to read those and the more I read the more mysterious he become. I feel that I have seen only the tip of an iceberg.

Here, in this series, I am going to write an open diary, registering my daily views, opinion, observation and so on. I promise that I make all possible efforts to hide the identity of the people who come under discussion here when I think that revealing of their identities might damage their reputation or even if it does not, they willingly have not given me consent to be revealed. So, what you will read in the coming days, could possibly have the subtexts of communications with real people than the actual ones. I strongly believe that my views would help a lot of people in thrashing out problems that they face in their daily lives and careers. But I do not intend this series to be a self-help guide or a counsellor’s unsolicited advices. These diary entries are going to be strictly my own efforts to understand my life and career, and its relevance and irrelevance in today’s world. I am not a celebrity or very ‘successful’ professional as a writer, critic or a curator. Even these days I think of leaving my curatorial career behind and focus completely on writing. But that is a different thing to be deliberated at this moment. I welcome all of you (if you have read me till here) to my private world, which refuses to be public but coax it to be one. But I am privileged to know and understand that the more I reveal my private thoughts to you the more my solitude will be intensified.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Things that Make Me Smile

1.       The urge to look at any glass surface to see one’s own reflection. Most of the people who do window shopping in fact see their own reflection than seeing the wares on display.
2.       People getting out of their cars with so much of self importance.
3.       General behaviour of people in airports.
4.       Men and women wearing ill-fitting clothes for the sake of being trendy.
5.       Women struggling with their stilettos and high heels.
6.       People discussing things animatedly in cafes and parties.
7.       Lovers fighting.
8.       Young married woman holding her husband’s hand to cross the road. I wonder how she used to cross the road till yesterday.
9.       Girls trying to impress boys with their cool talks.
10.   Boys trying to impress girls with their macho acts.
11.   People eating and talking about the taste of what they eat.
12.   Artists pretending that they are unaware of what is happening around them, especially in the market.
13.   Artists saying that they have not seen their pictures that have appeared on that day’s page 3.
14.   Artists saying that they are yet to read the article in which they are mentioned.
15.   Some gallerists pretending to be intellectuals.
16.   Some artists doing obscure works.
17.   Logic of performance art in India.
18.   Reading jargon infested catalogue essays or essays.
19.   Seminars.
20.   Indian sounding names exclusively selected for residency programs, workshops and alternative practices. Rest of the proceedings will be done in English except the name.
21.   Front row people amongst the audience in seminars laughing and nodding their heads to impress the speaker.
22.   Disappearing of art history graduates from the art scene. Where do they go?
23.   Artists claiming that they represent India in foreign workshop or seminar.
24.   The last line of young artists’ bio-data, ‘works are in national and international collections’.

25.   The superstition that JNU Arts and Aesthetics Department students and teachers are better than the students and teachers in other colleges and universities.