Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kill Me too for Eating Beef

(picture of Mohammed Akhlaq who is lynched by a mob in Dadri UP for eating beef)

Gautam Buddh Nagar in UP. People knew it as NOIDA-New Okhla Industrial Area. Someone had told me that the ‘neighbor’s envy, owners pride’ ONIDA Television came from this industrial area. The brand name was created by just bringing that ‘O’ to the front. Was it a lack of imagination? We were not thinking of LG, Samsung or Sony in those days. The names of the television sets sounded exactly like any other products that came out from government offices: Keltron, Uptron, Optonica, Dynora, BPL and so on. Those were pre-globalization days when epics defined Sundays and Shammi Kapoor defied Wednesdays. Tu se accha kaun hai? Who is better than you? Doordarshan was just a teaser for the bigger assaults to come soon. Brands changed, names changed, India politics changed and with that NOIDA also got a prominent name, Gautam Buddh Nagar. In the success of caste politics in the post-Babri and Post-Mandal days in north India, Kanshi Ram-Mayavati duo could change this district into a district of statues including their own. The crime belt of Indian capital, Gautam Buddh Nagar evokes the names of Arushi, the mysteriously dead girl and Kohli, the man eater of Nitari.

In Gautam Buddh Nagar district in a place called Dardi, a fifty year old person, Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched today by an angry mob. His son was also brutally attacked. His daughter was attacked sexually by the mob. The crime that this unsuspecting Muslim family committed was that they ate meat. In fact, reports say, they ate mutton. But somebody had spread the rumor that they were eating beef in their home. Excuse me, if they were eating beef what was the problem? They were living in Uttar Pradesh; not in Rajasthan or Gujarat or Maharashtra or Haryana where beef is officially banned. What a pity. People like us have to write about this ban with that stabbing feeling inside. Who are responsible for this beef ban? The right wing Hindu fundamentalists? Okay, if so then what is Mr.Akhilesh Yadav doing as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. We need to check whether he too has grown a sacred thread out of his skin. When the right wing mobs decimated the villages in Muzzafarpur, this young Yadav was not doing much. He was in a rave party with film stars somewhere near.

 (scenes from the dead man's house)

The daughter of the deceased asks the public if the meat stock they had in their home is tested for beef and if it is turned out to be mutton, could they bring her dead father and rescue her brother and save her from the shame and loss that she has just undergone. Impossible. None can bring these things back to them. The mob has dispersed and has split into hundreds of god fearing individuals who think that the gods do not eat beef nor do they drink. These god-fearing Hindus would go back to their homes for their dal-roti, to their skinny women and starving children. Without a pinch of remorse they will bite into the onion and eat the dry roti, looking at the rickety television sets that show some cheap Bhojpuri movies. That’s the life of a Hindu vegetarian, who kills for Rama and other gods. That is the story of a Hindu believer who kills a Muslim for eating meat inside his home. These skinny, illiterate, ugly sons of devils are misled to the path of Hindutva by the conniving leaders who wine and dine with Muslims and all other religions that eat Beef, Pork, Dogs and anything that moves, for power, money and influence. Kill, kill, die, die you, the mob, comprised of ugly, stinking, illiterate Hindutva cannon fodders. You too will be killed by the same hands that have put weapons into your hands. Wait and see.

Once again I tell the world that I eat beef and I eat beef with a lot of pride. My doctor has advised me not to eat red meat. But I even defy the doctor’s advice to defy this right wing government and this right wing Hindutva mob. I do not give you any value and I will not give you any value however you try to impress the world with your ability to rope in business for India or your interest in technology and your penchant for selfies and good clothes. You are not taking this country to anywhere. Germans do not want to talk about their Fuhrer today. You ask any German; they will avoid the topic. One day, one day in future, the generations that would come to this earth, in this country, would avoid telling your name, while the world will teach its children about you as an example of wrong governance and wrong thinking. They will shame you in text books and your hair style and facial hairs will be lampooned in thousand different ways in the world. Your autobiography will be hawked in the pavements for half the price. That is the fate that is awaiting you. You want to kill us for eating beef? Kill us for breathing and moving and thinking. I am a Hindu and I am a Muslim too. I am a Muslim and I am a Christian too. If I am forced to live in a country that taught me from the very beginning that I should be proud of it, where I am deprived of my basic right to eat what I want, it is better to call myself a refugee in my own country and it is better to migrate to somewhere else and live there as a third class citizen. If you kill a Muslim in the name of anything in this country called India, for each killed Muslim, make sure that one Hindu like me is lost to your Hindu religion. Kill, Kill, Kill.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

India has No Art Stars like Ai Wei Wei or Anish Kapoor

(Ai Wei Wei and Anish Kapoor leading the protest march in London)

On Thursday (17-9-2015), Chinese dissident artist, Ai Wei Wei and British-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor walked the London streets to find a ‘human solution’ to the Refugee issue in the Europe than a ‘political solution’. They threw grey blankets over their shoulders and walked for around eleven kilometers from the Royal Academy, where Wei’s solo exhibition is opening today. I saw the pictures of these two world renowned artists walking blankets on their shoulders. I remembered the scenes from our primitive lives. People who were not even thinking about such a protest march in future moved around with beaten bark and animal hide over their shoulders. Races of human beings moved from one end of the world to the other with them along with their leaders wearing coarse blankets around their shoulders. The symbolism of Wei and Kapoor looked quite powerful. The call for a protest walk went out from these artists and the organizers had asked people to carry a grey blanket over their shoulders and some placards. A great march, a great movement though symbolic, that reminded one of Moses leading his clan to the Promised Land. Grapes of wrath could be sweetened if more and more such symbolic acts happen elsewhere in the world.

India at present does not face a refugee crisis. Even if it faces a crisis, due to the vastness our country and the deeper callousness of our governments such human plights are never taken care of. The Syrian child Aylan Kurdi’s dead body had shaken up the world conscience. In retrospect, I would say, the image demanded a second look. The picture of the black child about to be devoured by a patient vulture does not demand a second look. The revulsion is so strong that it does not eke out piety. It gets one to the washbasin to throw up. Hence, Kurdi’s body  was an aesthetical reminder; it was not bloated or rotten. The child seemed to have carried ashore by angels who had hidden themselves in the waves. They had not even removed his shoes. But after a week or so, another Syrian girl’s dead body was washed ashore. None wanted to see it. It was three days old, bloated and decayed. Pain has its aesthetics; struggle too has it. Death, yes, death even in its violent forms leaves a bit of aesthetics so that people could see it again and again. There is fun in the aesthetical processions as evident in the smiles of Wei and Kapoor. But then we cannot criticize them as they achieve their goal. People have woken up to the cause. So many artists, young and jobless accompanied them though their pictures were not so highlighted as those of Wei and Kapoor. They too wrapped themselves with grey blankets. For the time being people liked the spectacle of the procession with two international stars leading it.

(Police man registering the death of Aylan Kurdi)

Wei and Kapoor are stars. Their shows are blockbusters. Their names eke out curiosity exactly the way the names of Brangelina brigade would raise curiosity. They are stars in the firmament of international art. Had Banksy been not so particular about his anonymity, he also would have walked. Then a Banksy whose face is known is not a Banksy at all. Mr.Damien Hirst was absent. Even if he is a star, he is a native English. He cannot just accept refugees there in his country. He has to go with his country’s politics and decisions. He has too much there at stake. But Kapoor has other places to go. His semi-Jewish origins will save him always. Wei does not belong to Europe and he is a permanent dissident. Hence he can afford to do that. Besides, he is a bigger star than Damien Hirst. It is not about selling. It is more about one’s moral integrity to be a rebel with or without a cause. Hirst has accepted the customs of his country. He has given his rebellion to the market. Wei can still evoke rebellion amongst youngsters. Kapoor is a darling even of the vandalizers of his works. He has decided to continue with the exhibition of his work at Versailles though there have been repeated efforts to deface his sculpture. Kapoor elegantly refused to clean the sculpture up. He decided to let the graffiti be on it by saying that we just cannot wish away what is there.

That’s how star artists maintain their rebellion. I am just forced to think about our own art scene. Our biggest refugee crisis was in 1947 with the partition of India. Then there were crises in 1971 after Bangladesh war and later in 1980s the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The 1947 refugee crisis still remains the mainstream memory. The others got diminished in due course of time. As a country that had aesthetically handled the human crises at various stages, like the Partition narratives, movies etc, the Bengal famine narratives, pictures, art and so on, we should be having some kind of conscience left for the regular human crises in our country. But somehow that is not happening. For example, the European Refugee crisis is not our immediate problem. But that is our world’s problem. What did our artists do towards that? The meat ban is not a large scale crisis of the world. But it is a crisis of our population. What did our artists do? Did it not affect their conscience at all? Now in Mumbai, they say that taxi drivers’ permits will be given only to the Marathi speaking people. What did our artists do for our fellow Biharis and UP-ites who work in Mumbai as drivers and many who reach there to be future drivers, if not film stars?

(Safdar Hashmi)

Our artists just don’t care. They are often safe players. However, let us think about a different scenario. Let us take a few leading artists in our country and them calling for a large scale procession in Mumbai or Delhi. Will it be possible now, especially during the days of growing right wing fundamentalism? I would cite the example of the context of forming the SAHMAT. Safdar Hashmi was killed at Gaziabad in 1989. It woke the artists and intellectuals up. They formed SAHMAT, against communalism. This organization did a lot of works and mobilized a lot of opinion whenever our country went through a crisis. In 2007, when Chandramohan was attacked by the Hindu fundamentalists in Baroda, our artists went to Baroda, from Mumbai and Delhi and showed solidarity with the protesting students and teachers in the fine arts faculty. But all these things have become the events of past. The rapidly eroding secular thinking of our country is not protected by the artists though since the new millennium we could see a lot of artists and art stars. We have seen the meteoric rise and falls of several art stars. But at least some of them remain. But what they are doing? Don’t they have the capacity to lead a protest march in our country? Why they don’t do it? Are they not real stars?

In fact there are no real art stars in our country. In the recent years we had only one rock star in the art scene; that was M.F.Husain. Since then we do not have art stars. Though Subodh Gupta has achieved some amount of stardom, he does not command the power of Wei or Kapoor because he has not taken any public stance on socio-political or cultural issues. If you ask what is the opinion of Subodh Gupta on the meat crisis, I do not know whether he would give a definitive answer criticizing the right wing governments for such decisions. He has to live in Gurgaon. If someone asks Jitish Kallat about the Marathi-ization of drivers’ permit in Mumbai, I do not think he would make a statement against the Phadnavis government in the state. It is very difficult to become a star and also maintain that stardom. Gone are the days that artists could claim star status only by virtue of their selling capacity in the market. Now they have to take a political stance. But Indian artists fail pathetically in this front. The youngsters are still better. The elders have become too afraid of losing their positions and glamour. Recently I conducted a survey in my village; I asked a few people, showing them the pictures of three important artists in Indian art scene, and of course two of them from Kerala, whether they knew them or not. The answer was negative. None of them knew the faces. You may say, art is an urban activity. But let me tell you, if the rural India does not know you, you are nothing and you will remain nothing forever. Wei is known to the rural China. Kapoor is known to the backyard countries of the world. That makes them star. Indian artists are pieces of coals coated with gold leaf. They shine till criticism scratches them. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Retrogressive Amitabh Bacchan on Sakshi Salve’s Book Release

(Sakshi Salve's Book (the Big Indian Wedding) release function)

When it comes to Indian wedding, one need not necessarily add, it is big. Modern Indian weddings are big, arrogant and show off of one’s (or the families’) political and social influence. These flaunt wealth and make one think of wealth as filth. In Delhi, I have seen bridegrooms landing by helicopters. I have seen the kith and kin of the bride or bridegroom moving around the city with revolvers and guns. Accidents too happen when these guns go off in the drunken stupor of the guests. Even the slightest of provocation could turn the wedding hall into a tavern brawl. There are elegant ones where in the five star facilities guests who are the who is who of the city queue up patiently making polite talk between each other, hand over the gifts to the newly-wed couple, move on to the dinner tables and leave silently amidst guffaws and sinister display of self importance. Being the most important occasion of one’s matured life, none can criticize this heavily. This is a domain of have’s and have nots. Those who have it flaunt it and those who do not have it, beg, borrow, steal and yet flaunt it. That is the problem of our marriage industry. Once it is commercialized, mental corruption has set in. A youngster no longer thinks whether his or her parents could afford such a big fat wedding. Marriages have become crime scenes of greed, avarice and self importance. From the marriage arenas, angels bow out, leaving the angelic bride to fend for herself and Mammon and Moloch take over. It is Paradise Lost.

Yet, books are written on Indian marriages. These books are not fundamentally academic studies (though there are a number of them around) but they are the books that endorse such weddings. The latest one being Sakshi Salve’s ‘The Big Indian Wedding’ released in Mumbai yesterday by none other than the patriarch of Indian movies, Amitabh Bacchan. In most of the movies where Bacchan had played the lead role, one cannot see this doyen of filmdom overtly endorsing wedding scenes. Perhaps one wedding/family story, Bagban is where Bacchan appears as a patriarch. However, our erstwhile angry young man has now turned to be a Manu Vadi, pathetically endorsing the age old Indian mindset that a girl’s job is nothing but getting married once she has accomplished quite a lot or moderately. May be Bacchan is a father who has sired a girl and his paternal instincts work when he sees a young girl unmarried. That’s exactly why he said during the releasing of Sakshi Salve’s book, curiously not about the book itself but about the author herself, the following statement: “A business management background, culinary arts, fashion and now this. I think it is time you got married Sakshi, you have all the requirements.  I wish you the best.” (Quoted from the Hindu Daily dated 18-9-2015)

(Amitabh Bacchan)

I would like to problematise Bacchan’s statement vis-à-vis the author’s subjectivity, her ability and right to choose a life and a partner and also her reasons to be single or be in a stay in relationship. There must be some oohs and aahs going on amongst the readers as they would not like to believe that as the daughter of the famous legal expert, Harish Salve, Sakshi could do nothing but abide by the rules of her great Khandan (illustrious family). Here my views are purely academic and I do not have any personal issues either with Bacchan or with the author, Sakshi. Before I go into the critiquing of Bacchan’s statement and blessing loaded with patriarchal meanings, I would like to see Sakshi as an author in context. Sakshi is raised in Delhi before she moved to London to pursue a course in Business Management. From there she started working with the corporate groups and she knew her calling was elsewhere. She came back to Delhi and being smart, well groomed and erudite, her eloquence earned her a name as a very articulate and pleasant MC (master of ceremonies) in the big fat weddings in Delhi. With the Delhi marriages turning into event managed ‘programs’ where the sahelis of the bride break into a well rehearsed dance to some stereotypical Bollywood number, an MC job also has become very lucrative. As Bacchan thought it right to say, Sakshi had everything when she started off as an MC in Delhi. She had an MBA, work experience with the corporate, family name, affluence and influence, and above all a knack to handle the crowd with wise cracks.

Before we go further, the sociological reasons for turning the marriages into an event managed programs should be seen in context. Bollywood movies have played a great role in homogenizing the marriages as opulent and extravagant events. Most of the film producers being Punjabis, there point of reference is the Rurban Punjabi marriages. These Punjabi marriages also take a lot from the customs of the royal families once ruled the north Indian states in general. Hence, the kind of marriages that we see in the Bollywood movies is a combined version of marriages that have been prevalent in North Indian states in general. A little bit of Rajasthani marriage thrown in there, a little bit of Bengali here, a little bit of Himachal Pradesh marriage there, a little bit of Delhi marriages here (which are the offshoot of the Baazar version in art historical parlance because the marriage customs are developed out of mixing the British customs and Indian ones) the Bollywood marriage became a bench mark for the marriages in general. During the pre-television era, it was restricted to the places where Bollywood movies were accessed and enjoyed by people. But things changed with the arrival satellite television and now by the new technologies.

(Sakshi Salve with her book)

Photographers had been the event makers once upon a time. They were replaced by the videographers. A marriage was confined to the albums moved slowly for occasional reviews when family members go together in their drawing rooms. VHS tapes and VCPs played a big role in taking the marriage event to a different level; a repeatable event. Then came the influence of the Bollywood movies. During our modern times, the benchmark for marriage was primarily set by the movie ‘Hum Aap ke Hai Kaun’(1994). The film that established the careers of Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, came out of the Bajatya stable who gave a lot of importance to the Punjabi customs. The success of the movie, which is a stretched marriage function in a family and the events around it- even HAHK had a model elsewhere in which Balraj Sahni had done the lead role- made people aware of the marriage related customs, both traditional and designed. But the HAHK marriage was an affair between two families. It was yet to become an event. This tradition more or less went on with the Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995).

Marriage industry was slowly growing with the opening of the Indian economy. Mira Nayar was the first one to catch it in its own context and in her ‘Monsoon Wedding’ (2001), Nayar actually portrayed a wedding, which was more less event managed. But the existential issues related to a marriage still hung around and the character done by Vijay Raz who ate the marigold flower became the first emblem of the crude event management arrival in Indian films. In 2009, marriage became a proper story to be pursued in Tanu Weds Manu and in Dev D, the event became an occasion for the hero to play out his frustration. Indian mainstream movies became a bit more realistic by creating a counter narrative to the DDLJ. It is not necessary the bride is always carried off by her former lover. With Band Baaja Baarat (2010), it became quite evident that the event management in a marriage function could also become an event in itself and the real marriage could be a reason for two youngsters to hook up each other in life. In this movie, the event managers who are behind the show of opulence in an Indian fat wedding, push the real people behind and take over the narrative.

 ( a scene from Hum Aap ke Hai Kaun)

So here is the moral of the story; event management in a marriage has come of age in India. It is an industry in itself. Right from the make up to the venue, from the order of invitation to the numbers to be played during the marriage, the menu to design of the stage everything is today decided by the event managers. They get a hefty pay packet and they are stars of their own industry. A successful industry collapses its own boundaries and holds hands with the other industries. Hence, Sakshi, an author and event manager herself could share stage with Amitabh Bacchan and other luminaries from the film industry. But unfortunately, the event manager and author who is egalitarian in approach to the whole thing is not spared from the traditional mindset of the chief guest of the evening.

Amitabh Bacchan’s comment on Sakshi, saying that it was the right time for getting married, as mentioned must be coming from an avuncular stance or from a parental concern. The feeling behind his statement is not critiqued here. However, the essence of the speech, as quoted in the Hindu newspaper becomes a bit debatable because Bacchan takes away the agency from the author’s hand by stating that she should get married. She should get married because she has ‘it all’. What does she have? She has a good education, she is beautiful , she is an event manager, an MC and now an author. Now replace these qualifications with, good and moderate education, beautiful, culinary skills, management abilities and the ability to be Lakshmi at home. Doesn’t Mr.Bacchan repeating the same traditional lines that say that a marriage worthy girl should have education, culinary skills, management abilities (to look after home and her man) and beauty (to entertain him sexually at bed and please his guests by presence).

(still from Band Baaja Baarat)

By taking away the agency to decide her life, Baachan pulls the whole progressive façade several centuries behind. He almost repeats the Victorian chastity concept. A girl who has achieved the basic skills of reading, writing (when her husband is away she should write pining letters to him), knitting, crafts making (child care and beautification of home) and management skills (that includes money management), besides having the ability in fine arts. Sakshi Salve, in Bacchan’s eyes, has ‘all of it’. Hence she should get married as early as possible. Doesn’t it sound a bit retrogressive? Why should her marriage be a pivotal issue for Mr.Bacchan on the day of her book release? Why should her book be secondary to her single status? May be Sakshi Salve is okay with that blessing. She might have laughed it off. It might have actually brought goose pimples to the parents of Sakshi as the god of Bollywood plays a parental role on the auspicious day. But Mr.Bacchan’s statement takes us several centuries behind. It makes parents once again think that they need to educate their daughters only to marry off, obviously in big fat Indian weddings, event managed well. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wrong Doers of the Creative World: M.F.Husain and A.R.Rahman


Google doodle reminds us of the landmarks in art history. Today, Google tells us, is M.F.Husain’s 100th birthday. Does it matter anymore to us? He was a Qatari citizen towards the end of his life and was in no mood of returning to India, where he happened to spent the major part of his lifetime. A real international citizen, Husain lived his life the way he wanted. He died in London. Had he been living, he would have been a hundred year old legend. If his memory was intact today he would have woven the history of Indian art in a magical realist fashion. He had his falls and risings. The major fall was his adulation for Indira Gandhi during the Emergency days. Then it was not just Husain. Khushwant Singh too had praised it and he too was not the only one. Husain could redeem himself by shifting his focus from Indira Gandhi to Madhuri Dixit and then to Vidya Balan. Before he could eye other dames in the Indian silver screen, the Hindu fundamentalists had done the job. Husain was on the run since then. Don’t mistake Husain’s or Rushdie’s or Taslima’s running from fatwas and their sudden found identity as asylum seekers with that of the millions of refugees running away from war torn Syria and other East African countries to the western world. There is also qualitative difference in asylum seeking. Your dead bodies will not be washed ashore if you are already a celebrity. You get body guards, palaces and Ferraris.

I am not planning to go delve much on Husain. On the contrary, I want to connect the Husain case with the recent Fatwa issued against the legendary music composer, A.R.Rahman and the Iranian film director Majid Majidi by a Mumbai based Sunni organization called Raza Academy (not to be confused with our own Raza of the art scene). The ‘crime’ that these two creative geniuses have done is this: Majid Majid directed one of the most ambitious films on Prophet Mohammed. Named ‘Mohammed: Messenger of God’ this film has our own A.R.Rahman as the music composer. Senitments Hurtitis suddenly come to play. Prophet Mohammed denied worshipping idols. And he asked his followers not to capture the image of god in any physical medium. God is an abstract concept. What a beautiful idea it was. God, the most abstract idea in the world and one could seek God in anything. Hinduism tries it in a bit more concrete way. It says, god resides in everything; in stones, thorns and even in rust. If you break it Lord Narsimha will come out. The power of atoms; once split they can destroy the world and at the same time save it. Two different religions see gods in two different ways. But there is something called human curiosity. When people are curious, they would ask, why so many gods (33 crore in total). Why can’t we have something in one and the same, in an abstract form? So there is another school of thinking which even sees God as one and the same with the human beings and another school that denies the very existence of god. Both go hand in hand. The same curiosity could be applicable in the case of Prophet Mohammed. If Mohammed was a living being, why can’t he have a physical form? Why can’t a creative magnet imagine the life and times of Prophet Mohammed? Why shouldn’t there be some music around His life? But sentiments hurt, especially when it is religious.

(Google Doodle for Husain's 100th Birthday today)

Sentiments hurt and religious sentiments hurt absolutely. Suddenly, A.R.Rahman became a Muslim. Is he a Muslim? According to Rahman, he is a Sufi. Sufis are not Muslims per se. Even if Sufis could be considered an offshoot of Islamic thinking, why can’t Rahman give music to a movie that deals with the life and times of Prophet Mohammed? Why should there be a Fatwa at all? But religious fundamentals do not need a strong reason to issue a Fatwa. The same thing also happened when the most garish movie ever made in the Indian film history, Messenger of God- MSG by the Dera Saccha Sauda leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim. This break away Sikh group speaks of Sikhism in a different parlance. The mainstreamers do not like it. They fought wars on the ground and later they fought it in theatres. Gurmeet Ram Rahim deserves no Fatwa, he just needs a very caring advice from some brilliant film makers. He needs help. He could be happy for his movie only because it would be archived as an example how not to make movies. But Majid Majidi’s movie on Prophet Mohammed is a costume drama or a Bollywood flick, where Mohammed rights a wrong world with his horses and swords. But the Fatwa came at its heels, far from Iran, from here, from our own Mumbai where once the people from Iran came fleeing and settled like sugar in milk. Who cares about histories?

What interests me, perhaps is not Fatwa. But the immediate response of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that looks after the worldly activities of human soul when it gets entangled in other religious faiths. Their job is to bring the hapless souls that have strayed to other religions back to the Hindu fold. It is called Ghar Vapsi. Rahman is one such strayed soul. He is first a converted Hindu, then a world renowned musician, that’s the way the VHP thinks about him. The moment the Raza Academy issued a Fatwa against Rahman, the VHP came out in the open saying that Rahman should come back to Hinduism (not really but to Hindutva). Once he is back to Hinduism, then no Islamic forces could touch him. Rest assured as the rest will be handled by the VHP goons. For the beginners, I should just say a few lines about Rahman’s religious background. He was born to Hindu parents. His father, R.K.Shekhar was one of the best Music Arrangers in the south Indian film industry and also had composed independent music for a few films. Shekhar lived films and neglected the family to certain extent. A gifted keyboard player and a child prodigy, Dilip Kumar (A.R.Rahman later) grew up in the complete absence of his father. When he was ten years old his father passed away. The family had no income and Dilip Kumar had to pitch as the bread winner for the family. He stopped his schooling and took up the job of a keyboardist with the music troupe of Ilayaraja, another legendary composer.

 (Iranian film maker Majid Majidi)

In 1987, the family of Dilip Kumar converted to Sufism. A Hindu astrologer gave him the name ‘Alla Rakha Rahman’. In an interview with Nasrin Munni Kabir, Rahman said that he never liked his name Dilip Kumar. He wanted to change it. The change in religion itself was a reason to have a new name and he settled for A.R.Rahman. Now, it is well known that Rahman takes up regular visits to the Ajmeer Dargah in Uttar Pradesh, which considered to be a famous Sufi Shrine along with Nizamuddin aulia’s dargah. The name Rahman and his music were never a problem for the music lovers in India or elsewhere. In this context we should remember the Shehnai Mastero, Ustad Bismillah Khan, who lived and played Benaras the seat of Hinduism and played in the temple festivals without any religious conflict. Rahman was not a problem for the Hindu fundamentalists in India. It is so funny how Rahman’s music became a problem for the Sunni believers. Rahman responded to his Fatwa in a very serious way. He said that he was given the gift of music by the Allah himself. Once he is dead and there at the Allah’s presence, what he would answer if He asks why he did not make use of his talent for a film about the Prophet. Rahman was responding to the Fatwa which read that he would be answerable before God once he is dead and taken before Him.

Rahman stands at a curious threshold of Indian film music not only because of his captivating music but because of his enigmatic persona which is as curious as his Sufi belief. He never embraced Islam or Sufism for marrying again. He is well settled with his wife, kids and mother. In India, people convert to Islam only to marry twice or thrice as it is allowed in Islam. Dharmendra converted to Islam technically to get married to Hemamalini while keeping his first marriage going. Rahman was a different case. He came to the national attention along with the whole crew of the film, Roja in mid 1990s. Though the Kamal Hasan starrer Nayakan had brought Mani Ratnam’s name to the Bollywood and to the north India in general, it was Roja that consolidated his name. Along with Mani Ratnam, the careers of Arvind Swami, Madhu (heroine) and the music director, A.R.Rahman were also established. While Arvind Swamy, the hero of the movie remained largely a south Indian actor, Mani preferred to do movies first in Tamil and later in Hindi, Madhu could bag some roles in Hindi films, it was Rahman who became the biggest achiever in the film with his ravishing music.

 (Roja poster)

Roja’s music done by Rahman was not just captivating for the melody of it. It had a lot to do with the mainstream nationalism that was the debating theme of the movie. Set in Kashmir, this film speaks of a hero who would die for his country rather than yielding to the pressures of the dissenters and terrorists. Rahman’s music was the perfect blend that brought the ethos of nationalism with love, scenic beauty with sacrifice. The large ensemble of violins exploding to the peak when Swamy falls on a burning Indian flag literally placed Rahman as the musician of the nation, irrespective of his religion. Closely followed was an assignment to redo a version of Vande Mataram, the militant national anthem, which spuriously vies with the much more accommodative Jan Gana Mana for attention and acclamation. Considering the origins of the songs from Bengal, with two different mindsets to nationalism, one could see how Vande Mataram became very palatable to the taste buds of the right wing fundamentalists. Rahman became quickly accepted to the larger Hindu fold. His Sufism was taken as a mid-way. In Jodha Akbar, a Hritik Roshan-Aishwaray Rai starrer movie that brought the idea of religious integration through the marriage of a Rajput woman and the Mughal Monarch, Akbar, Rahman composed the songs and even sang one of the best kawalis every produced in Indian music industry with the lyrics going Kwaja mere Khwaja. Rahman was an integrating figure.

Now Rahman is suddenly pushed to the Muslim identity. If he is a Muslim, then only he could be afraid of the fatwa. As he is given a Fatwa by an Islamic group, he should be a Muslim. There goes our common place logic. So there is no other way for him to remain as a Muslim or Sufi. If he remains there he would attacked. To escape the attack he should come back to the same Hindu fold from which he had walked off out of ‘ignorance’ at some point of time. It was a mistake as far as the VHP is concerned and they are ready to forgive Rahman. It sounds exactly like a film plot much consumed in India. A hero is weak till he realizes his origins. That is always Brahminical Hindu origins. The moment he comes to know about it by a crisis or by the intervention of a God (if you need religious approval) or by the revelation of a scientist or a social worker or a historian (that gives a larger and logical appeal to the public), he becomes strong and invincible. Nobody could match up to him then. Rahman is exhorted to realize and recognize his origins as a Hindu. They are calling him back to the fold so that his soul and body could be saved?

(Rajni Kant)

The question is, doesn’t it show the other side of the same terrorism that the Sunni Academy wants to perpetuate by issuing a Fatwa. It almost sounds like that if Rahman remains what he is today, the Sunnis will torture him and as he is a Muslim and refuses to come back to the original fold, then the VHP also would torture him on that very refusal. Then their sentiments get hurt and the displaced target would be A.R.Rahman himself. If the VHP activists are really real and they are nationalistic as they claim to be, don’t you think that it is their responsibility to act against the Fatwa itself than targeting the victim on the same basis of religion? It is here I think of M.F.Husain. If Husain had taken up his boyhood days of growing up in Pandarpur in Maharashtra and involving in all the religious festivals and the number of time he has painted Ganesh for the consideration of the right wing fundamentalists and had expressed his willingness to convert to Hinduism, wouldn’t he have been saved from the disgrace of becoming a refugee by the fag end of his life? Why the VHP did not suggest this to him? Why they were witch hunting him?

We are living in a very difficult time. Yesterday I came to know about the VHP asking the superstar Rajni Kant to avoid doing a biopic on Tipu Sultan. Rajni Kant has not replied for or against the request. But I am sure that Rajni cannot offend the Hindu outfits in the country. He has stopped atrocities in screen and to certain extent he had withstood the political pressures within Tamil Nadu. But for the first time he is facing a very ugly issue; a request to reconsider a role, not from his fans but from a religious group. The other day, we came to know that the central government has withdrawn the postal stamps depicting the portraits of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Dhabolkars, Pansares and Kalburgis are getting killed every day for speaking up. Where are we coming from, where are we going and what are we?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Do We Need Vaginal Art in India?

(Carolee Schneemann- Interior Scroll -1975)

India remains still conservative in the case of performance art. In 1975 Carolee Schneemann did her ‘Interior Scroll’ performance, which shook up the world for it was for the first time in the history of feminist performance that some artist involved her vagina directly in making art. For Marina Abromovic, female body was a question in general in most of her performances she focused on the body as a site of contestations of/for various socio-economic forces. Schneemann changed the equation by bringing vagina directly into focus. This performance gave courage to many artists including Judy Chicago to come up with her ‘Dinner Party’ in 1979, which became a feast of vulvas and changed the general perception of the world on this. Gustav Courbet in his ‘Origin of the World’ (1866) had enthralled world by bringing a Vagina right in the focus. Then it took almost hundred and ten years for a female artist to negotiate the same from a different ideological and practical perspective. Shneemann’s was not a painting; it was a performance involving her own body, which she continued in many of her other performances including the Meat Love.

 (Dinner Party -detail- Judy Chicago 1979)

Recently, people remembered Schneemann’s ‘Interior Scroll’ because someone found out that it completed forty years. Generally speaking forty years is not a landmark for celebration. Except in the case of human beings and their dates of birth, forty does not make an important number in other cases. People say forty is the time when men and women waver from their right tracks either by settling down or by going astray. Settling down is a sort of confirming with the society and straying away is a sort of rebellion or foolishness depending on which side of the spectrum you are standing. Some say forty is the beginning of mid life crisis and yet another group says that sixty is the new forty so the crisis should start at the age of forty. Whatever be the case, a work of art generally is not remembered for completing forty years. But Schneemann’s pioneering work is remembered for good. I say it for good because exactly in that year, when Schneemann was pulling out a piece of philosophical writing on vulva from her vagina, here in India a woman was clamping down on free thinking. Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in 1975.

 (Origin of the world by Gustav Courbet 1866)

We cannot compare ourselves with the West, especially when we are talking about something that happened in 1975 that looks so remote now. What I could say that the western artists were so forced to do such a performance that we could now realize how severe their society was on women. It was the time, people as a part of their general rebellion and uprising, when women too were speaking for their freedom in the ways that were heard of till date. In India, with the limited and protected economy, women were not really thinking about exposing their own midriff, let alone their vulvas. Forty years down the line the western societies that had given birth to works like ‘Interior Scroll’ have achieved a considerable amount of freedom for the females and India is where the west was standing forty years back. Hence, it is natural for us to think that our women artist (performance artists) should think something similar to this in order to address the dwindling freedom for women in our society. Moral policing has become rampant and women are forced to go behind curtains. What we see today in the streets and in the movies are not really the symptoms of freedom but the sheer exercising of male ideology.

(Bird by Sonia Khurana)

If that is the case why our female performance artists are not coming up with something bold, is the question. Some purists may say that it is not necessary for Indian women artists to emulate the western artists. If rest of the things could be emulated, why can’t there be imitating of the western performance practices. Today we are at par with the western countries considering the proliferation of male performance artists, block buster shows, transnational cultural exchanges, public art, government sponsored graffiti art and so on. If so why can’t our feminist performance artists or female performance artists limiting themselves to their controlled acts of performance. I do not want to over look the performances like ‘Bird’ by Sonia Khurana in late 1990s. But that was one of its kind and many did not follow the suit. There were some doubts about exposing one’s body in public or in private and controlled performance spaces.

 (performance by Neha Choksy)

In 2005, Shantanu-Manmeet duo had done a performance, ‘Hamam mein hum sab nange hai par hamam hai kahan?’ at the Khoj International studio in Khirkee in Delhi. As I have mentioned elsewhere, today even the documentation of that performance is out of circulation fearing some kind of moral policing. In that performance, Shantanu and Manmeet had stripped themselves naked and let their bodies be interpolated by scriptures by the (drunken) onlookers. Shantanu had done another path breaking performance with his father, in which he had stripped himself naked and served tea to his ageing father. Though Inder Salim Tikku’s narcissistic performances do not match up to the intensity of these performances, he too had done his bit by chopping off his finger tip, as a protest against the growing unrest in Kashmir. Sushil Kumar, before anybody did a naked performance had walked in nude holding a Buddha head copy along the Delhi streets in mid 1990s. But none of them were females.

(Birth by Ana Alvarez Errecalde)

Neha Chosky, when did her naked performance in Sarai Delhi, a few years back, the pictures were spread around through mobile phone cameras (I do not remember there was this application called whatsapp then) no debate was furthered or made the stills available for a public discourse. I do not know whether the artist herself regret her act or she would come up with a statement about the work in near future or not. Shweta Bhattad was another bold one to go around masquerading as a female warrior complete with a chastity belt. She presented herself in public and private spaces so that people could wonder at the meaning of her body specifically protected with some appendages. In a show curated by me after the Nirbhaya issue in Delhi there were some bold expressions by a few women artists who could openly speak about female body without any reservation. Titled, ‘Rare Acts of Political Engagement – R.A.P.E), this show had the performative works of poet Meena Kandasamy, Kanika Sharma, Maya Pillai, Megha Joshi and so on. Though they were not performing within the gallery, so to speak, their acts were performative in nature.

 (Vaginal Knitting by Clasey Jenkins)

Somehow, our senior and younger artists are not coming forward to articulate the body politics of the female bodies in India. They are painting well, they are doing videos well, they are attending workshops (they look so serious to be taken seriously in those workshops) and doing a lot of things. But they are not coming up with bold works that would articulate the concerns of the female body. Or have they done enough? Is it because of the Indian ethos today where everything has to be subtle when it comes to the issues of the female body? Is there a self-censorship already in place due to the right wing fundamentalism? Women artists in India should answer these questions. I understand that it is not imperative that a female performance artist to expose her vulva or body to make sense. She could do a lot of other things to drive a point in. But still why they are not doing it? Menstrual blood has appeared in too many works done by Indian women artists. But nobody has done a work like the Brazilian artist namely Ana Alvarez Errecalde, who openly gave birth to a child and took photographs with and without umbilical cord connected to her body and the blood and all. Or is it too bold to be accommodated in our gallery circuit where foolishness is the hallmark of the policy of most of the galleries?

 (Performance by Shweta Bhattad)

We do not even have a work like Casey Jenkins who calls herself a ‘craftivist’ and uses her own vagina as a holder for wool balls so that she could sit in a gallery and knit woolen clothes taking the wool out of her vagina. A take off from Scheemann’s ‘Interior Scroll’, the work titled Vaginal Knitting by Jenkins is a daring statement of/on femininity that faces both ‘discomfort and pleasure’ with vaginas. I do not know still whether the demand for body art is legitimized at all here in India. If ethos and milieu of globalization do not stop artists from imitating ideas of international artists why not then the nude performances that involve vagina of the Indian women artists? We have enough of Penis exhibitions in public performances like Kumbh Mela though it is in a religious context. Do we need to have feminist performances in India involving vulvas or we just do not want it at all? Let the women artists speak.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Other Side of the Munnar Revolution

(Munnar, a view)

Munnar in Kerala brings to my mind not the recent success of the women led tea plantation laborers’ strike but its twin word ‘Thekkadi’. It is the fixation of a mind that has been attuned to the slogans of tourism advertisements. You cannot say Ooty in isolation; you have to complete it with the word, Kodaikkanal. You cannot say inquilab in isolation, you have to say, Zindabad. That’s the way we are. Munnar stands with Thekkadi however they are apart from each other geographically. Those who travel to Kerala from other parts of India, often tell others how interesting it is to be there at Munnar and Thekkadi. Kochi has taken over by its organized sense of tourism. In the run, Munnar has fallen behind but not its tourist industry. Munnar caught the imagination of the people in the last decade for the aggressive stance taken by the then Chief Minister of Kerala, V.S.Achuthanandan in demolishing the unlawful structures that have come up by the activities of the land grabbing mafia that included potential political leaders. V.S, as he is fondly called by his friends and enemies as well, had received a lot of flak and appreciation for his demolition man act.

Today Munnar once again is in focus. Women workers, who have their origins in Tamil Nadu but now are natural citizens of Kerala, went on strike against the subhuman conditions in the tea plantations, asking for bonus and hike in salary, and in general all kinds of exploitation. Interestingly, this strike was led by the women laborers themselves. They did not allow anybody to take the credit of this uprising. They chased the MLAs of both the ruling and the opposition parties. They said they would accept only V.S as their leader though the strike was not initiated by the CPM to which Achuthanandan is a die hard member and nonchalant critic. This strike which has been called off within ten days of its commencement thanks to the government’s decision to agree with most of the demands of the plantation workers, is one of the success stories of people’s uprising against the oppressive governments in the recent history of India. It is also a unique for its staunch refusal to come under any party or flag. Those who went to declare their solidarity with the strike went on their own and earned enough of contempt or partial attention.

 (Women plantation workers on strike at Munnar)

The myth is already on; this is a women’s led protest which has found success in ten days. When people wake up and take up arms even if it is the arms of non-violent satyagraha, the mightiest of the governments would relent. Is it so easy? Then why, Narmada people did not get their due? Why the Adivasis in Wyanad get their demands fulfilled? Why the people in Orissa and Chattisgarh did not get their due even if they are up in arms of various kinds for more than two decades? Why this Jasmine Revolution in Munnar found a quick success? Was the moral force so powerful that even the mountains had to move? Why was it become so pertinent for one and all to accept that the women’s strike in Munnar was so important? Why did the Chief Minister of Kerala, Mr.Oommen Chandy, ironically say that the demands of the striking laborers are justified and the government stands morally responsible to solve it? Why all the opposition leaders had to rush to the spot and say that they too were with the strikers, and pathetically spurned and ridiculed by the laborers? Why Aam Aadmi Party had to rush there and say that the women were Aam Aadmis or Aurats?

The plot thickens. Yes, the strike is historical and the demands are justifiable. Women in Munnar showed a way. But it is fallacious to think that there was no leadership. Any strike of such massive scale needs some kind of an ideological orientation amongst the strikers. Though there are leaders who have come up from amongst the women who were striking, we should say that they became leaders by default. It is not an effort to discount the abilities of women to lead a strike into success nor do I want to suggest that there were some invisible men who were back seat driving the protest far away from the media glare. The case is different; though the forces behind this strike need not necessarily be male by category, one should understand that there is an ideological orientation behind this strike. Somebody had prepared these women to rise up in confrontation with the management and the government. In a male chauvinist society, women cannot have such an independent voice as we have seen in Munnar. The men folk of these striking women were conspicuously absent from the scene of strike. Where they have gone? Who have prepared them to keep off and be patient with the strike of their women? Who did take up the home front responsibilities when the women were striking? If it was so, it should be their men? If the men had done that, who had prepared them to do so? It is not that easy to prepare men who are prone to liquor abuse and are subservient to the company’s persuasive tactics.

 (Rajendran MLA, spurned and ridiculed by the women strikers)

This time men had stood by their women. It is a great ideological feat as far as the Kerala society is concerned. Men accepting their women to take the lead of a public protest are something new in Kerala society. One may cite the examples of the two women led strikes in a couple of textile outlets majors. There too we had seen women striking. But those strikes did not go up in a big way though we could say that these strikes have inspired the Munnar women. Chengara Resistance also had seen women coming to the forefront but men were always there as fellow fighters. Munnar is different. There is a large scale ideological preparation behind it and whatever be that it should be lauded. There is something absolutely silent here. The extreme leftist activists or the people who have been supporting morally and culturally such moves remain silent on this. They do appreciate the women there in Munnar who have led a historical protest but their restraint of voice seems to be a bit deceptive. Mine would sound like a childish conspiracy theory saying that there should be Maoists behind this.

My argument is not childish for the following reasons. First of all, as I said before, a massive protest like this cannot go without a theoretical adhesive. Pragmatic struggles needs concrete planning and well founded theory that goes beyond mere demands for salary hike and bonus. Secondly, the strike is not allowed to be taken over by any political parties. The vehemence with which the leaders amongst these women protested against the political parties shows that they are aware of the vileness of the politicians. They did not align with any of the intellectuals or feminists in this case. (the only one report that shows the trouble of these women laborers during their periods is filed by a male reporter). Even if Sarah Joseph, the state convener of the Aam Aadmi Party went to declare solidarity with the workers, her presence seemed to have created no impact despite the media attention that teacher had received for her presence. If the strikers have disparaged political parties then there is no point in believing that the women in Munnar were too fond of the AAP. The ruling party and opposition party went into action quickly not because they have grown angelic overnight but because both the parties are about to face two elections; local body elections and the impending assembly election. Both the fronts, UDF and LDF need the support and goodwill of the people in general and Munnar strike is one way to deliver it in neat packets. Neither the claim of the Chief Minister nor that of the opposition leader seems to be sincere and committed. Forget the other parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party, to which I am a member.

(Opposition leader V.S.Achutanandan among the women strikers in Munnar)

Then what was that adhesive that kept these women together? Was it the universal womanhood? Was it the subhuman condition of their lives? Was it something beyond all these? I would say, they are primarily led by the difficulties of their lives. But beyond that there is something more. They are prepared and have been prepared very well by some groups that just do not want to claim the credit of this uprising. Even they do not want to take political or electoral advantage of it. This campaigning is not done by any NGO nor is it done by any underground parties. Feminists in Kerala seem to have played no role in it. Yet, the women in Munnar woke up to fight against their oppressors. This is the silent revolution taking place all over the country. When time and surroundings permit, those who make people dream a better life would sound very convincing. They need not necessarily be coming from political outfits. Even if they are coming from political outfits they may not be wanting to convert their influence into electoral advantage. They may not want to take up arms and fight against the mighty weapons of the state. They may not want their names to be published. They can make use of the energy of the people for a better future. Who are they? In my view, those people will never come out because they are very much there amongst us, helping such ideas to percolate through hundred and one different modes. They will never be identified. They are like the hero in Wednseday, the movie of a common man’s revenge.

I dare not say the name of that outfit has something to do with the Maoists. Even if they do, they do not make it a political statement. May be you and I are there, yet not there. In our shame, we may be living the legacy of this struggle only to forget the lessons of it along the way as the middle class comforts are more soothing than the plights of a struggle that demands various kinds of sacrifice. The women in Munnar were naïve enough to praise the political leaders. They were happy that they could get their demands met though still some are pending. But there is something that is still not bent in the crowd. There are women who have assumed the role of leadership in this struggle. They will be bargained to become leaders. They will be Selinas and Janus. Will they relegate their roles as political leaders and become renegades in their own class? Will the invisible one’s in the crowd help them to remain innocent for long; innocent till they are provoked. Anyway, the political discourse in Kerala has considerably changed with this Munnar strike. Political parties including the AAP are rendered useless. But my doubt still remains, who could be behind it? And shouldn’t I be with them? And shouldn’t the AAP with them? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

This City is not Yet a City

You are my Shesh Nag (the great serpent that had given umbrella to the infant Krishna). In the heat of this city of political intrigues you hold an umbrella above my head as I wade through the turbulence of strikes on my either side. People like waves move and give me way and you with your thousand hoods tower over me. Policemen women, with their bangled hands gesticulate and share gossips. I wonder whether they could hold a weapon in those tender hands. They just look like helpless women in uniform. Another set of women clad in white overcoats demand equal rights and justice. They are nurses working in the government hospitals. There are tribals and Adivasis waiting eternally for the justice to come from the huge building behind them. They see the wrought iron fences turning green and flowering. They also see those fruit laden branches bending towards them. I can see hope in their faces. They are still searching for their god. Nobody sees the one who is walking under the shadow of his beloved. He is divine; but none notices.

This city is small and beautiful. Still it does not have the qualities of a big city. In a big city, whichever it is, I look for bookstalls. Cities should have bookstalls and newsstands. I do find them anywhere I go. One day I stood below the balcony of my beloved. She could not come down. I kept staring at her. She unlocked her hair and let it flow down. It was long still it was not long enough to reach the ground. If it was I would have climbed on it and reached. Like two souls on the either side of a river of embers we stood there for a long time. Finally I walked back. I went to a book stall. There were three or four of them in the same row. I browsed through them and found out a book of cartoons that reflected the poverty stricken people of our country. In another bookstall I spoke to a small girl at the counter. I was looking for my kind of books and all what I found there was children’s literature. Soon I realized that it was a children’s bookstall. You never know, there is always something in those books which you had not learnt when you were in school.

In this city I walk into a newly opened and refurbished bookstall; it is a combined effort of two huge book store chains in our country. Uniformed boys stand in attention though they itch to speak into their mobile phones. They know me by now. It is my third visit after its inauguration a couple of weeks back. I ask for Salman Rushdie’s latest novel. The uniformed boy who looks like having heard of all the authors in the world approaches me, gives me a smile and asks what I want. I tell him what I have been looking for. He utters the word ‘Rushdie’ three times as if he has just heard a word newly invented into the medium called language. As I stand near the Malayalam book section, he goes and searches for Rushdie in the Malayalam books section. I politely tell him to look for it in the English section. I open my phone and show him the title. Then he comes up with another book by Rushdie. By this time another boy too has joined him in the frantic search for Rushdie. Exasperated finally they say, ‘sir, it has not come.’ This is city is not yet a city. In Delhi, I could have browsed my favorite bookstalls from home.

I like shopping for books. Even if there are online portals that ferry used and fresh copies of books to your doorsteps, I like going to the real book stalls and looking for my choicest books. It is a wonderful ritual, not just browsing and buying but the whole aspect of going there. You get into a metro, get down and walk all the way to the stall. You sweat but the moment you are inside the bookstall you are all cool. Your body heat evaporates in the cool presence of those books. Interestingly, you walk all the way for a particular book and the moment you get the real copy in your hands, you open it, flip through a few pages and disappointed you keep it back on the rack. It is not your kind of book. The review has totally fooled you. Here too I walk all the way to a bookstall where I had ordered for a few books. The manager looks at his subordinate and she looks at her subordinate. And then they together tell me that the books have not come. This is the fifteenth day of my booking. This city is not yet a city.

I walk further to meet an intellectual friend. He tells me that he is in a bookstall a kilometer away. I walk and finally when I reach there, the girl at the shop tells me that he has gone for his lunch. I stand there at the footpath and start reading a book. People pass by me. I do not give any damn to them and they do not give any damn to me either. People reading on the pavement are no longer a new thing to people here. Thank God, this city is tolerant, at least. Then my friend comes and we go around and look for a small tea shop where we could sit and discuss things. He takes me to nearby supermarket. People mill around. They go in and go out of the huge building like bees do in their comb. It is decorated in a kitschy way and a lot of people click their selfies before the garish sculptures of mythological characters with horrendous enamel paint on them. We walk into the air conditioned atrium and find two chairs so that we could talk in a cool climate. We discuss Carl Marx and religious fundamentalism, and an impending people’s revolution. Out there sun blazes in all its power and beauty. In here we cool ourselves off under the blow of cold air from air condition ducts. Then we part ways. Revolution should start from cool climes, I suddenly feel.

This city is not yet a city for the roads are still potholed and the traffic is in disarray. I suddenly feel alienated. I walk further to the bus stand. People stand and watch how workers stand in neck deep dirt and clear the main drainage of the city. Just on its bank a tea and snack business thrive. Just a few paces away people stand almost in the middle of the road so that the buses would stop for them. Auto rickshaw drivers look for their next prey to burn holes in their pockets. Idle people walk by and fortune tellers sleep off. Lottery ticket sellers display their poverty in order to get clients for their luck business. I walk past them all. My lady Shesha finds it difficult to run behind me. She keeps her hood spread so that I will not be burnt by the wrath of the sun. Now I am in a bus and she disappears into the air. Then she comes back into my phone as a blue dot. She smiles and tells me, your city is not yet a city. Come back. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

To Aylan: Another Son

My son also used to lie down like this
In his little red T-shirt and blue shorts
With those little shoes growing wings
Not there on a sea shore so violent
But on the shore of my love-cool and wet
Like ants on an iron fruit they clutch
On each other; the last effort to freedom
My son also used to lie down like this
On his stomach, in his little shoes and shirt
I used to stand like a soldier noting down
His dreams and smiles, then I carry him
On my arms, gently to the bathroom
Where he would wake with a scream
And give me a teary smile, my son
Refugees we are, having rotten passports
With faces that are despicable unto them
The consul cannot bang his fist on the table
My son, for the time has changed by you
Like my friend’s photographed doll
And like the sand filled shirts on a distant shore
In a mock act of serial suicides and holocaust
You alone fill the shore, like Gulliver in sleep
So ashamed of the world of moral dwarfs
Yes, my son too used to sleep like you
Let him assure peace to the world like Buddha
If not in the way that you have done by your death

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When a Muslim Interprets Ramayana: End of India Soon


J.Devika must be in a shock now. It was in the last month she finally wrote a letter to the editor of the Mathrubhoomi News paper that she had decided to stop the subscription of the newspaper because the paper had been giving exaggerated news on Hindutva and imbalanced views on Dalit and minority issues. Her letter had gone viral in the social media and many people including this writer had welcomed her move. But now it has become all our duty to save Mathrubhoomi from the hooligans from yet another Hindutva outfit namely ‘Hanuman Sena’. Dr.M.M.Basheer, a renowned scholar of Malayalam and Sanskrit literature was threatened by this outfit and he was forced to withdraw his column on Ramayana halfway in the Mathrubhoomi Newspaper. Once he started his six parts series in the said newspaper, Dr.Basheer started getting threat calls asking him to back off from finishing it. Finally, by the fifth column Dr.Basheer decided to call the series off, publicly expressing his disgust by saying that at the age of 75 he had been reduced into just a Muslim.

What offended the Hanuman Sena is Dr.Basheer’s take on Lord Ram. According to the scholar he was appreciating the sage poet Valmiki’s ability to delve deeper into the human psyche which could unearth the human side of Lord Ram, who was primarily a king and a husband later. Hanuman Sena was not that large hearted enough to take the arguments of Dr.Basheer. They threatened him and also threatened the editor of the newspaper. I do not know what exactly is the stance of Mathrubhoomi on this issue, however it is said that the counter arguments of the editor also did not hold much water for the hooligans from this Hindutva outfit. I could see a special report on this filed by an online news portal, ‘the news minute’ and also could see some pictures of the members of this outfit.

 (Hanuman Sena in Kerala)

The names of these members are very interesting, Tulsidas, Bhaktavalsalan etc. Tulsidas, by the way is the name of the composer of Ramayana during the Bhakti movement during the fifteenth century. Bhaktavalsalan is a generic Hindu name with an over doze of Hindutva meanings. I doubt whether these names have led them to this outfit or it is just a coincidence that they have this name since birth. But I have strong doubts that these names are adapted to cover up their normal names as Suresh or Subhash. What surprised me is the presence of two women wearing saffron sarees in the protest march held by this outfit to the newspaper office.  Do these women know that Hanuman is a nitya brahmachari (permanently celibate) and the iconography does not entertain any woman other than Sita. The banner that these people carry says that it is a national organization though the reports say that it has only fifty odd members and it is hardly three years old. Also the banner has a subtitle before the original title that reads like this: Sacrifice, Service, Goodness, Security, Adventure and Culture. As a person who knows Indian mythology I should have any doubts on these qualities of Hanuman as a demi-god. He is the embodiment of all these.

At the risk of inviting some Hindutva ire, I would like to say that Hanuman is a character who is blinded by faith. Even the sincerest of the servants would question their masters when they are about to commit some blunder in their lives. Hanuman, being a monkey gentleman and also he is adopted from the sub-human regime of the south Indians, he is often shown as a person who does not discern when it comes to action. He acts on duty and he has unquestioning trust and complete faith in what his master says. His lack of discerning is with him right from the beginning. He flies to the morning sun thinking that it is a fruit. He is crushed down by Lord Indra, causing damage to the baby Hanuman’s jaw bone. Later, during the Lanka War, to revive the fainted duo Ram and Lakshman, Hanuman is sent to the Maruthvamala (Maruthva Hills) in order to fetch Mrutha Sanjeevani (an elixir that would revive the fainted and dead). As he could not find the medicine, he brings the whole hill on his shoulders. We have so many instances to doubt his discerning capacity. In Lanka when he goes to give Ram’s message to Sita, once captured he burns his own tail to gut the city of Lanka. Later he brings the happy family back on his shoulders. And when asked to show his devotion to the divine family, he tears opens his chest and shows the picture of Ram and Sita. Where else you would find this blameless servant. But Hanuman is relegated to the backdrop when Sita is about to be casted away to the forest. He does not have a voice nor does he question his master. Hanuman is a master of servility and at the same time he is so fond of adventures.

(protest march by Hanuman Sena in Kerala)

Lack of discernment and enthusiasm for adventure are what make Hanuman Sena distinct from other cultural organizations. There are many Senas like that. We have not yet forgotten the bad deeds of Ram Sena in Bangalore. The members of this outfit dragged boys and girls out of beer pubs and performed their moral policing the worst way possible. But the extremists were publicly shamed by the Pink Chaddi movement initiated by a bold woman journalist. Now Muthalik, the leader of the outfit is barred from entering places like Goa. Though the court order that debars Muthalik from entering Goa gives some hope to people like us, our headache is made severe by the sudden appearance of Senas like this. Hanuman Sena is on an adventure trail. It just wants to cause nuisance in our society. They know for sure that whether they are approved by the RSS or BJP headquarters or not, eventually when it is bracketed as a Hindutva organization, they cannot be treated as pariahs by the mainstream organizations. Hence, their vandalism will create hue and cry and they slowly start getting public attention. Once they are in the public eye, their power and money would draw the fringe youth to it. Slowly the non-existent outfit will grow into a muscled and moneyed mainstream organization.

What should be done is one question that comes to my mind. If our political parties have any will to govern left in their minds, they should immediately arrest these people. Hinduism is not a religion that will be disturbed or destroyed if an Muslim scholar writes about Ramayana appreciatively or critically. Hinduism cannot be a brittle religion that needs hooligans like Hanuman Sena to protect its followers or their ethical beliefs. The government should come forward to ban the organization and also put everyone involved in this organization into jail. Here we have a state that is hell bent on hunting down Maoists and other human rights organizations who stand for the dispossessed people. When they are put into jails, the fringe hooligans are let free so that they could stop scholars. The government should learn from the latest political and religious developments in our country. It was just a week before Dr.M.M.Kalburgi was shot dead in Bangalore in broad day light by the Hindutva hooligans. His crime that invited death penalty by goons from the religious outfit was his staunch stance against religion on behalf of logic and scientism.

(Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going? Painting by Paul Gaugin)

Goa based artist and social activist Dr.Subodh Kerkar had once articulated the mindset of people whose religious sentiments are hurt even at the drop of a hat. Dr.Kerkar calls it ‘Sentiments Hurtitis’. This neologism lampoons the easily hurting sentiments of the people. They are the people who cause a lot of social unrest. Sentiments Hurtitis has become a social religion now. When the poet and scholar A.K.Ramanujan’s ‘Many Ramayanas’ was introduced for graduate studies in Delhi University, it was banned after protests from the Hindutva outfits. When Perumal Murugan wrote about a religious custom in one of the obscure villages in Tamil Nadu in his novel ‘Mathorupagan’ (Ardhanaareeswaran) , he was forced to commit a symbolic suicide by the Hindutva activists. Perumal Murugan declared that he would never write a word as literature and he has killed the author in him. Wendy Doringer’s book on Hinduism had been withdrawn from the shelves and the publishing giant, Penguin was coerced to pulp the remaining copies of the book. There are a lot many other writers who have been persecuted in India for having a different opinion.

Famous 19th century artist Paul Gaugin in 1897 painted a large mural scale work and titled ‘Where do we come from, what are we and where are we going?’Gaugin painted this work when he had just shifted to Tahiti islands from Paris. His retreat and the decision to take a retreat had caused a lot of existential crisis in him. He wanted to question the basic idea of being a human. It is high time that we too ask the same question. Where do we come from, what are we and where are we going? If we have a clear answer to this question as a whole, I think we have some hope for redemption. Otherwise we are going to be reduced into blood and filth before we could understand what has befallen on us. People are out there to take away our lives if we are ready to speak up. If we do not speak up, we would be partners in crime. Illustrious poet, Dante had said in his poem, Inferno that during the time of crisis the crime is to take no part. It is high time that we all stand up, speak up and also act for our rights. When a small outfit of hardly fifty people could stop a writer, tomorrow a larger crowd could silence the mass of writers and artists. It has happened in the world. And the world has paid for such atrocities with the Second World War. Is India going to be the cradle and reason for the Third World War? Considering the world crisis, we may sigh in relief because there are more crisis ridden regions in the world. But ours is a rampant spread of religious and intellectual intolerance. To kill a civilization bombs and weapons of mass destruction are not needed. Just the silence of thoughts and censorship on free speech will do. And we have enough of it.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Making Gods out of Children is a Crime

I may sound out of place when I say this: using children for religious processions is bad, especially in a socio-political climate where each religious symbolism carries a potential political message that could be interpreted and misinterpreted for dividing society along religious lines. Before going at length on this subject, let me express my reason for objecting this practice. My objection has something to do with social and ethical practices, which are related to the fundamental rights of the human beings to choose. As a child, a boy or girl does not have the ‘power’ to choose his politics or religion. What s/he chooses is the food/fashion/religion/custom/caste shown and practised by his parents. Often in our society women, children, diseased people and old people are treated as sub-humans than full humans. They are supposed to follow what the society/family/male tells them. Even if he/she has a different opinion about the things that are given to them, due to their powerlessness, they are forced to perform/follow against his or her wishes. My objection regarding people using children for religious and political purposes stems from the fact that they are deprived of their right to choose.

We are the slaves of customs. If I am born to a particular religion or caste, I am supposed to carry it till the end of my life. Generally it happens through very calculated ideological conditioning or indoctrination of the same through various ways of domestic and public practices. Within the social as well as familial hierarchies, children are the weakest links and they are the softest of targets that could be moulded and folded as per the wishes of the family and the society. The argument goes like this: children cannot choose for themselves because they are not earning for themselves. It goes more or less in the same fashion in the case of women, weak people and old people. Even if these categories, except children (growing up within protected conditions), are capable of producing money by selling their labour in various ways, if there is an able bodied male in their midst, their freedom to make choices is considerably curtailed. Children may cry, throw tantrums or even run away from the locations where they are to perform certain roles which they genuinely dislike. But they are forcefully brought there and are made to perform. This is some sort of cruelty.

There could be counter arguments. They could tell me to shut and also they could shout at me saying that parents are the particular custodians of the children while the society at large plays the role of a general custodian. Custodians are sort of owners and they use whatever comes under them as properties. They would further tell me that if children are to be kept away from the religious things why we should isolate religion alone. Why shouldn’t we bring food, language, habits, manners, fashion everything under the purview of this choice theory? They may ask. That would be asking for the impossible why because we can change all of them in due course of time but religious beliefs are things that have such strong ideological bearing on the tender minds as mostly they are taught using the good/bad, white/black, pious/sin, god/demon, us/other binaries it becomes almost impossible for them to transgress to other religions at a later stage in life, though there are so many people choose to convert to other religions or no religion or anti-religion. One may change the food habits while living abroad, one may change language and accent in a new condition, one may change dress codes, one may completely do away with customs and manners. But religion, that is something difficult to change.

In that scenario, children become most vulnerable in ideological indoctrination. In India, where ‘Hindu and the other’ binary has been so rampant these days, we see examples of religious tolerance even by showing how children could be convertible entities in religious symbolism. Therefore a Muslim child wearing the costume of child Krishna and carried on hips by a burqa clad mother becomes a symbol of religious tolerance. The sight of three children wearing different costumes signifying three different religions ferried to school by a Sikh driver becomes all the more attractive because such facile symbolism satisfies most of us. The social media space has been invaded by such religious symbolism which in fact is counter-productive as the very symbolic premise is about underlining the otherness of the other (religion). A child who is brought up in such symbolisms carries it forward and the indoctrination becomes so strong an influence in the child psyche that he cannot do away with it till the end of his life.

There is an argument that kids are dressed up as religious characters for the sheer fun of it. Some people at attach a lot of traditional values to it. They say it is a part of our traditional festivities and nobody used to think about this counter-productive symbolism. True, there was a time when people used to involve in religious festivals and related symbolic activities irrespective of religious colours. Those were the times of the nation’s re-imagining during the post independence time. The partition had already made the schism in the minds of the people. But there was a need to be together to take the nation a few miles forwarded. The political leadership was actively promoting and integrated culture through various religious and cultural symbolisms. Slowly, things started changing. The religious divide became quite rampant and since 1992 (Babri Masjid) the religious division became precisely and incisively pronounced reality. Things have never got better. To add fuel to the fire 9/11 happened in the US. Islamic militancy all over the world has given a new fear to our country’s general imagination about future. Politics has changed its complexion in India. Our country is no longer the same.

In that context, making children don the clothes of religious characters during religious festivals would be akin to nurturing a false pride about their own religions. They may enjoy it for the time being because they get new clothes and they enjoy the ambience with colours, light, song and dance. But it is deeply immersed in the religious context. The aggressive forms of games and sports which are redesigned and reintroduced in the semi-urban spaces by selectively picking up from their original rural contexts, such festivals that feature these sports and games become the avenues of physical aggression. It would obviously pass go into the heads of the children who are just present there. One could see the tug of war becoming a symbolic game, uriyadi (breaking a sweet pot), climbing a slippery pole and so on becoming a heady concoction of physical aggression combined with ambient music and dance. Children who are made up into Baby Krishnas and Rams and Hanumans suddenly get this aggression into their genes. There is no choice for them as their minds are so impressionable that they will not look for another choice even if there are many available to them by that time.

You may ask me should we object this when kids are asked to wear the clothes or dress up as religious characters in a non-religious context as in school festivals and so on. I do not object such conditions in which the children are asked to perform because the context is completely different and most of the time children have to be encouraged to play various roles according to their talents and performing abilities. However, I have seen the degeneration of such secular contexts too. With the arrival of strong Hindutva in our country, our schools also have subconsciously started choosing Hindu and Hindu nationalistic scenarios for school performances. Especially in northern part of India one cannot see schools asking children to act out a scene from the Badar war or a scene from the Arabian nights. Children are hardly asked to stage a crucifixion scene for their fancy dress competition (once upon a time in our school we, Hindu children fought each other to stage crucifixion scenes). But you will see teachers sending notes to the parents asking them to deck up their children as characters from Hindu mythology.

In such scenarios, one could say undoubtedly that there take place a lot of discriminations in the racial lines. I have seen horrendous examples of fair girls becoming fairies and goddesses and front line dancers while dark complexioned girls are pushed to side roles in the back row. The same thing happens with boys too. Fair boys are always asked to become Ram or Krishna (whereas both of them were dark skinned), or Netaji or Nehru. Dark boys are asked to become demons or bears. Such a humiliation for the unsuspecting children. But the parents might have faced once in their lives as parents that their dark skinned children asking why they were not given the plum roles. Now take the photographs or videos taken during such programs. Dark skinned children will be always out of focus because the camera person’s attention will be more on the central god or goddess figure and obviously all of them are supposedly photogenic and fair. This subtext of enacting religious themes in the schools scars children for their lives. Hence, all the children in our country should be given fair chance to become central characters several times in their school days. At the same time, children should not be used in public places as religious characters as it is not their choice to become such and such characters. In my childhood, when the secular fabric of our country was not tattered in this way, we never thought of having religious themes for school plays. Even our fancy dress competitions were all about sculptures, sculptors, drunken men, fisher women and so on. Nobody thought of bringing Ram and Krishna to the stage. And let me tell you, even if many of you object, I believe completely that kids masquerading as baby gods do not make a good sight; it may be nectar for their parents but for others it will be just curiosity and fun.

I am not just against children being used as propos in the religious scenarios. I am equally critical of the political scenario where children are rampantly used as props. In a recently concluded People’s Resistance organized by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), there hundred and one scenes from the protests where children are seen shouting slogans wearing red caps and waving red flags. The irony is the grown up people do not know the fundamentals of Marxism. What do the kids know? Will they become Marxists, communists, socialists? What are they going to do with this costume drama? They say catch them young. If you catch them young, you can make cannon fodders out of them. You can never make creative individuals. For example, in China and the countries where there is a particular attitude prevalent for Olympic medals, children are picked up from homes at a very early age like three or four years and train them for a particular sports item for ten to twelve years. They come, perform, take gold medals and go home. None comes to know about them afterwards. How many of us remember the Olympics gold, silver and bronze medallists in gymnastics, cycling, skating and so on? I am very critical of the political parties using children as props. Recently I saw a picture of a small child wearing an Aam Admi Party cap, in the facebook. I said it was obscene and a crime against the child. I do not know what they made out of my comment. But this is a country where free speech is shot down. I do not mind to be shot at for speaking my mind.

(pictures from google and facebook. representational purpose only)