Monday, May 22, 2017

The Male Fruit by Sajeesh Pallikkara P A

The Male Fruit by Sajeesh Pallikkara P A

May be only a few people in the North know about a bold act of a girl in Trivandrum, Kerala who bobbitised her tormentor a few days back. The molester is a self-styled god man who surprisingly got her mother's support in the heinous act to which she too has been a willing partner as reports say. The girl after severing the rapist's organ with a kitchen knife went to the police and informed them about the injured god man lying in her place. The girl gained not only public support but also the administrative support as the chief minister himself came forward to support her. The god man has been remanded in hospital itself. Trolls and memes are active in the social media. Above all there is debate going on whether one could take up law in hands or not. The first artistic response has come from Sajeesh PA, this year's national award winning artist. He paints a banana bunch where the fruits turn into male organs. The severed stem drips of blood. This visual critique of the artist is on the collective chauvinism of the highly literate Kerala where women irrespective of age are objectified and vandalised. The apparent obscenity reflects the apparent obscenity of the society. A befitting work of art from Kerala that needs a strong soul search regarding gender sensitivity. The irony is that this is the same society that comes out with innovative protests like 'kiss of love'. The latest news is the the state government has employed fifteen transgenders in the Kochi Metro Rail. Sajeesh' work deserves applause and appreciation.

Philosophy as art @NGMA, New Delhi

Work by Korean artist  Kim Ho-Suk at NGMA Delhi.

The NGMA, New Delhi has something new to offer, a solo exhibition of the South Korean ink artist, Kim Ho-Suk. Titled 'Hiding Inside the Light' this show comes as a part of cultural diplomacy exchange between the two Republics, India and South Korea. Sixty year old Ho-Suk is a contemporary artist who follows a traditional style; ink on Hanji paper. These large scale works, hung without frames could be categorised into three: individuals, lifeand death. Minimally done, the portraits of individuals both known and unknown assume mythical qualities in Ho-Suk's visualising. Life and death are interchangeable in this artist; one starts when the other ends. The cyclical continuity of life and death in Korean philosophical tradition stands close to the Indian philosophical outlook. Considering the Buddhist-Hindu proliferation in the South East Asia in general had originated from India, this artist's works don't look unfamiliar at all. The Oriental depth and silence are palpable. Ho-Suk likes fish, cockroach, bees, ants and many other insignificant beings as his pictorial subjects, underlining his advaita. Many a title strangely resembles Hirst's notorious title 'the impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.' It is heartening to see that South Korea respects artists doing traditional works while creating adequate environments for contemporary art. India can take a few tips on this from South Korea. Show continues for a month. Catch it if you can and more importantly if you want.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Saint of Fertility

Work by artist KT Mathai 

As MathaiMathai Kt has not told me anything about this exquisite painting done as a part of the LKA camp recently held in Derhadun, let me call it 'the Fertility Saint'. Done in acrylic on 4'x5' canvas, this is one of the twin paintings about the other I would write later. Reminding the viewer of the Rajput miniature traditions and also the famous Abhisarika Nayika painting/s, this has two central figures: a Sufi like Saint and a tree with buds about to be burst into blossoms. This Saint figure started appearing in Mathai's works after his Clown series and He is a stand in presence for all saints who are dead, living and yet to be born. The cloud is at once a reality and metaphor; it reflects the tonsured hill, together making an hour glass image to represent our losing time. The artist reminds us of the early atrocities done by us against the earth, which was a predominant theme in his works earlier. But there is hope. Pink of the saintly garb shows the femininity and fertility. Lo! Wherever he has passed is now budding to hues and life. The grey of the future would turn colourful as the Saint walks into it. Mathai resonates kumaranasan: do not be inert in meditation. Come, we need more like your here for this earth.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Amma of Ratheesh

Work by Ratheesh T

Mother's Day is gone. Still we are not alone. How it could be? Sang Michael Jackson. Ratheesh T ArtRatheesh likes MJ and knows how to dance like him. In the Facebook I see this work by Ratheesh. Titled 'Amma' this work is done in 2016 and was exhibited in Mirchandani Gallery. This work is multilayered in meaning and autobiographical. Here is a kitchen with a sophisticated chimney, stove and shelves. Ratheesh cooks and serves his mother. There is fish curry, Avial and brown rice. Look at their feet. They have not worn sandals. They remain rooted despite all facilities. Look at the mother; she is dwarfish and impish. She looks like a raw goddess. Did you say savage deity? Ratheesh's facial hairs are styled showing his modernity. But his bare body shows the non-detached nature in him. Haven't you noticed that they left the crockery safe in the shelf and eat from coarse plates? Is modernity just an external demand and in reality it's just a burden to be happily put away in shelves? Ratheesh paints life in its stark appearances but you see when reality is depicted with passion it appears as a dream; fictional. That's why of late Ratheesh paints dreamscapes too so that they look real for the viewers. Ratheesh has polished his language over a decade. His 'Amma' is a work that would last in history.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Letters to Namdeo Dhasal: Taste of Protest Poetry by Chandramohan S

The book, 'Letters to Namdeo Dhasal' by Chandramohan S

Poetry moves and absolute poetry moves absolutely, if we go by Bacon’s style of saying it. What if poetry is created to fuel a movement? That should be a different kind of poetry. Poets separate themselves from the generic fields of poetic utterances in order to write ‘separate/Dalit’ poetry. In such locations poetry is a mutual process; it is created for a niche audience by (a) niche poet. Appreciation of such poetry can happen only in a zone of mutual agreement or mutual critique. Poetry written in this fashion writes off the poetry created elsewhere away from this niche. Can Dalit poetry survive on its own within and without its own genre? While the question remains so, there is an inescapability of ‘Dalitness’ in any poetry created out of a Dalit experience. That’s mostly expressed through the language of utterance. Chandramohan S is a poet who calls himself a ‘Dalit Poet’. His second collection of poems titled ‘Letters to Namdeo Dhasal’ released in Delhi stands proof to his Dalit aesthetics. Why he writes poems? Chandramohan answers: ‘I write poems-People have the right to bear arms’ (Write Poetry). Language and the caste ‘hymens’ are his major concerns as he knows language is hijacked for ideological purposes. ‘The adjectives were abandoned/suffixes and prefixes scrambled/Vowels lynched and hung upside down/epithets beheaded’ (Occupied Language). He proudly says: “This poem is not pimple free/is printed on rough paper.’ (Plus Size Poem). There is an urgency to evoke, there is an anger to protest and there is sarcasm to irritate in his poems. I wonder what makes him a poet, his Dalit experience or his poetic ability? Or are they inseparable? If so can the absence of one cancel out the other? The book is published by Desirepaths, Baroda (Venkataraman Divakar). Price: Rs.150/- A good collection of thought provoking poems.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cats of 99 Lives: Celebrating Cats by Sudhakaran Edakandy

You must be drastically a ‘contemporary’ artist if you have not attempted a ‘cat’ image in your works of art at least once. When artists move from the homo-centric aesthetics to the eco-centric one insignificant beings start appearing in their works. An artist’s greatness and his universal perspective could be measured from the depiction of flora and fauna in his works. Kerala based artist, Sudhakaran Edakandy paints a series devoted to many lives of cats and is currently exhibited at the Lalitha Kala Academy Galleries in Kozhikode. Titled ‘Cats of 99 Lives’ this exhibition features fifty watercolours and three sculptures. Cats are philosophical beings and are great survivors. Their playfulness gives way to some kind of existential seriousness as they grow up. In their detachment they are like ‘Bhishma’ and in their focus they are like ‘Arjuna’. They feature in several comic strips and animation films also. Sudhakaran takes all these aspects into his painterly concerns and has captured the earthly and the other worldly characters of cats. Cats expressing Nava Rasas, a watercolour, is one of the highlights of this exhibition. Sudhakaran’s show is an interesting tribute to our neighbourhood heroes (heroines too) on the roof tops and boundary walls. Also this exhibition indirectly pays rich tribute to the great pictorial traditions like the Kalighat Paintings and the ones created by Ram Kinkar Baij and K.G.Subramanyan. The exhibition continues till 28th May 2017.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Story of Misfortunes: An Effective Installation

Work by Ranjeet Singh
Delivery enabling Oxytocin, a hormonal injection becomes a growth enhancing catalyst in several backward parts of India. To procure girls for sex work, in such places, girls are injected with, mostly with the consent of their parents, this hormone for three to four years. By the time they reach their teens they will have the physical growth of young women in their twenties. Then they are trafficked by the agents to the red streets in urban places. Ranjeet Singh ‘showcases’ this issue in a minimal installation titled ‘A Story of Misfortunes’ by presenting the photographs of some of these girls (with their permission and knowledge) in glass jars along with the vials of Oxytocin and syringes. Ranjeet underlines the pathos by placing one gourd/vegetable which is also injected with the same hormone by profit prone farmers. Born in Jharkhand, Ranjeet obtained MFA from the Banaras Hindu University. He has been painting and documenting the lives of the slum children for five years. Currently Ranjeet has devoted his creative energies to artistically represent the life and times of the coals, coal mine works and the drastic environmental and health issues that the mining has caused in his native state. ‘The Black Earth’ was his recent solo show at the Dhoomimal Gallery in Delhi. A version of the featured installation was also exhibited in the ‘It’s Big’ show by the Po10tial Group curated by me in the CKP Galleries, Bengaluru in 2016. Ranjeet Singh lives and works in Delhi.

NGMA Show - Itihaas

Show Itihaas at NGMA Delhi

National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA New Delhi) celebrates its 63rd foundation day with a sculpture show. The show is already a month old. Twenty two artists are dusted out of the NGMA Collection and are exhibited in a very innovative way. From D.P.Roy Chowdhury to Sankho Chowdhury, from Ram Kinker Baij to Kanai Kunhiraman you have known and less known artists spread out inside and outside of the old building. The exhibition also reiterates that before 'Gupta' period in Indian art there was a mixed period of modernism here.The invisible curatorial intervention is palpable in the display where the packing crates are used both as pedestals and backdrop. This warehouse look of the show makes an oblique connection between the two existences of a work of art; one, before the people, two, far away from their eyes, in the stores. The experimental display, however at times clutters the view. Deliberate dimming of lights also fails at some places. The title of the show 'Itihaas' is apt for the word connotes not only 'history' but also 'the way it happened'. The wall texts tell us that the catalogue writer should not write poem on the show and display there; very naive indeed. NGMA has now a functional cafe. The blasting air-conditioner is a welcoming respite. But the cafe-man tells me that I am the only visitor since morning. Why don't you make the cafe your meeting place, artists? Now the visiting time too has been raised to 7 pm. Itihaas is a must watch exhibition.

The Art of Baiju Neendoor

Work by Artist Baiju Neendoor
Baiju Neendoor is a Qatar based Indian artist. He took Diploma in Painting from the Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts, Mavelikkara in 1991. In his paintings he portrays the futility of violence using an Expressionistic visual language. This particular untitled painting done in acrylic in a 5’x 6’ canvas is one of the latest works by the artist in which he responds (or I interpret) to the current phenomenon of serial rapes and gang rapes in India in general and Kerala in particular. The famous Ardhanareeswara concept is deconstructed as if the male and female principles were two layers of entities within the same body rather than a fused being that respects both the sides and does not discriminate. This de-layered being is standing right in the middle of a forked path that runs into a city in the background, represented minimally by the artist. The male entity seems to have all the control as he holds the threads but a closer look would reveal that he is now simply reduced into a tragic figure in a very precarious situation as his male organ is being pulled by the female entity by her left hand in the right hand she holds a pair of scissors. 

The tragedy of the man however does not evoke any sympathy in the viewer for s/he understands that he is the maker of his own fate. This act of a possible de-membering reminds one of the infamous case of Bobbitising happened in the US in 1993. Lorena Bobbit had cut off the male organ of her abusive husband using a kitchen knife. Here Baiju Neendur expresses his angst against the ‘rape’ incidents by empowering the rebelling female entity in the traditional half man-half woman concept. He further ridicules the male by making him hold a polythene carry bag in his left hand to ‘preserve’ his maleness if the menacing act of his female self takes place. I found this work immensely interesting.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amana: the Visual History of Injustice by Chitrakaran Murali

Chitrakaran Murali T

Chitrakaran T Murali does not call himself an Ambedkarite. Nor does he claim any role in Dalit activism in Kerala or elsewhere. But there is something in his paintings that makes him a fellow traveller of various movements that attempt the Dalit Deconstruction and reconstruction of (dominant) history. Using his research interest and his artistic skills, Murali creates his paintings that speaks of a past from which the articulations of the downtrodden have been expunged and to certain extent till date remain almost obscure if not invisible altogether. Murali's artistic life has certain interesting aspects. 

Murali T aka Chitrakaran (artist/painter) is an artist who does self curating his works. His life is a living gallery and the book that he has come out with is a moving museum of sorts though humble in stature. The story of the artist goes like this: Three decades back Murali joined Trivandrum Fine Arts College as a painting graduate student. Due to familial reasons he had to take up a job as a graphic artist in one of the leading dailies. After a couple of years he resumed his education in the college while working at the newspaper desk as an artist at night. In 1990 he got an opportunity to participate in a camp with the leading artists like Sudhir Patwardhan, Bhupen Khakar, Manu Parekh and so on. As a very young artist he was so awestruck by those artists yet he did not feel like following anybody's style. The painting he did in the camp had the image of a mirror in it. Murali had thought that art should be something that reflected the viewer, not the artist himself.

Twenty long years from 1993 to 2013, Murali kept himself away from the art scene. Perhaps he had his reasons to do so. In 2006, Murali started a blog and started posting his works and narrating the historical background that inspired the images in his works. Then Facebook happened; with this like many others this artist too got a good number of followers that inspired him further to explore what he liked most; the expunged history of the Dalits, Women and the downtrodden. As Murali has been writing his notes in Malayalam the history behind his works remained limited though his works gave the hint of his frustration with the mainstream history and his perennial need for articulating his own analysis of it via visual and verbal terms. 

'Amana' is Murali's art book that serves not only as a book of documentation of his works and writings which have appeared in his blog and social media posts but also as a moving gallery and library; the gallery exhibits his works in the pages of the book and the verbal narratives attached to them functions as the library. This portable library-gallery amuses me immensely because I recognise it, despite my disagreements in certain aspects of his aesthetics as well as the literal interpretations of history, as one of the parallel and subaltern streams of art making and proliferating which have to be recognised by art historians, curators and critics in order to avoid succumbing to the suction power of the glamorous mainstream social history and the history of visual art. Recognising the works of Murali is a way of resisting the hegemony of the mainstream art and it is also a way of the plurality of cultures within and under the blanket term of 'culture.'

The title 'Amana' comes from the deciphering of a Tamil-Brahmi script inscribed on a clay artefact excavated at the Muziris-Pattanam ancient port site. The meaning of the word is 'Buddhist or Jain Monk'. Either it came from the word 'Shramana' or this word was Sanskritized from the 'Amana' word. Murali titles his book/gallery/library, 'Amana' because he pitches his interpretations of history in the Buddhist-Hindu binary. According to him Kerala was a Buddhist state/land and after Shankaracharya's conquest of India philosophically, the Buddhists were persecuted in Kerala in a big way. Murali traces the etymology of several words related to religious and social rituals back to this conquest that Hinduism had over the Buddhism. 

According to Murali Shankaracharya's overpowering of the Buddhist scholars in the royal courts in India was not just intellectual but it had a lot to do with diplomatic coercion, physical abuse and even assassination. In order to finish Buddhism, Murali says, Sankaracharya used distorted logic and he demanded the heads of the defeated Buddhists in return. He says Thalappoli ( the practice of women standing in a row with a plate full of flowers, rice and a full coconut as a part of temple rituals) is in fact the reception of the victorious Hindus with the heads of the assassinated Buddhists. He also asks why the 'Mokaambika Devi' is a mute Devi who in fact is the goddess of learning and education. According to Murali the centre piece of the original idol in the Kolloor temple is that of the severed head of a learned Jain nun. Murali paints his findings in symbolic graphic terms and forwards his verbal narrative as a part of it in the book.

In Amana we see not only the interpretation of socio-religious historical issues but also pure social issues based on caste hierarchy. More than hundred years back in Kerala women were not allowed to wear upper garments. Besides in order to curb the upward growth of the downtrodden the rulers used to impose various kinds of taxes on them. One of the most ridiculous taxes was mulakkaram or breast tax. Depending on the size of the breasts women from the lower castes needed to pay taxes. Nangeli, a woman from the lower caste was the first one to rebel against it. When the court officer came to collect the tax, she asked him to wait, she went to the pond, took a dip and came back only to severe her breasts and place them on a plantain leaf before the officer. She died of excessive blood loss. Her husband jumped into her funeral pyre. This incident had forced the king to repeal the breast tax. This historical incident however finds only a minimal mention in the mainstream history. Murali paints three works based on this in three different times.

Similar was the case of Kuriyedathu Thathri. Brahmin women were supposed to marry very old men and were soon widowed. After that their lives were tortious while the menfolk made temporary alliances with Nair women. Thathri was a Brahmin woman. She was accused of illicit relationship and was excommunicated. Before that there was a long trial and to the shock of everyone, Thathri revealed how she had been abused by many men since childhood. She took out the names of 64 men! Murali paints Thathri as a bold woman. Like this the artist interprets each historical anecdote with critical acumen. No surprise that Murali is never celebrated by the media or by the art festivals that take a lot of pride in being 'political'.

Personally speaking, I have certain differences with the ways in which Murali has critiqued certain myths. I have found over reading for ideological purpose in the myths of Parasurama, Shiva and so on. What I stand for is the reconciliation with the past and resting it for eco-humanistic and cosmo-humanistic purposes. History should be interpreted for not repeating the same folly. Therefore I find the interpretations of Murali quite convincing, gripping and at times quite moving. The paintings have a sense of illustration and graphic art. This may be because of the artist's long professional work as an illustrator and graphic artist. This book, Amana should be seen by all, read by all and above all bought by all for this is an alternative voice in art; whether you agree with it or not, you cannot just ignore it and silence it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reclaiming Durbar Hall for Kerala Artists from Biennale

Durbar Hall Ernakulam
 Durbar Hall, Kochi has assumed a festival mood as it stands clad in decorative flags and specially created festival hangings. Art is a religion with many gods that tolerate each other therefore, the Shiva temple next to the famous hall in a way adds to the devotional sentiments of the surroundings. Two artists namely, Manoj Brahmamangalam and Pramod are at work in creating a decorative installation at the entrance of the hall. The Durbar Hall is getting ready for an exhibition of late KG Subramanyan's works from the collection of Seagull Foundation on Kolkata, jointly presented by the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi.

Aksharananda with Manoj Brahmamangalam and Pramod

People going to the temple and making the Durbar Hall ground a thorough fare to elsewhere look at the installation arch being created by the artists. They itch to photograph it. People want art and they could relate to the art that they understand. Even if the visitors of Biennale say that Kerala is yet to prepare itself aesthetically to understand international art, people in Kerala know their art. Manoj and Pramod say that even during the Biennale month they had created impressive installations and people had commented (including the foreign tourists) that their installation was better than what they saw at the biennale.

Durbar Hall Ernakulam

However Biennale authorities blinded by the imperialistic ideologies are not ready to entertain or promote Kerala artists. The artists in the biennale trust themselves say that the Kerala artists are yet to use modern technology to use spectacular art. Being the agents of imperialism and capitalism, the anti-nationalist aesthetics of biennale and the promotion of it have been choking the creative streams for the last seven years. It is high time that we all seek a method to put an end to it.

Aksharananda with Manoj Brahmamangalam and Pramod

The first way is to reclaim Durbar hall from the hands of the Biennale Trust. It has created an MOU with the Government of Kerala that during the Biennale year for four months, the Durbar Hall would be given for the use of the Biennale. The best part of the year is thus taken away from the Kerala artists who are denied opportunities to exhibit there in those months. Biennale being monopolistic in all the possible ways, has taken over all the venues in Kochi- Ernakulam by incorporating them as collaterals. So many itinerant gallery spaces have sprung up in the area to present the Biennale supporters' works as collaterals. Ideologically, dumb and foolishly opportunistic, these galleries function as Biennale's 'benamis' during the biennale months.

Durbar Hall Ernakulam

From my extensive interactions with Kerala artists, I have come to feel thus that a majority of the artists do not want to support biennale because if its undemocratic and monopolistic attitudes. As the government is supporting biennale for purely touristic reasons, the artists are hand tied. Artists being a professional group with no organisation to back them up are left literally helpless in Kerala. They are now being bulldozed by the fascist moves of the biennale. Even the Lalitha Kala Akademi is now feeling its hands tied as the best months of the year are given to Biennale. Both the Lalitha Kala Akademi and the artists in Kerala want to reclaim the Durbar Hall back for the use of the artists.

Durbar Hall Ernakulam

Biennale does not show any sense of responsibility towards the Kerala society as it is purely a tourist oriented business venture. Except for the four months once in two years, the biennale authorities are least bothered about the life of the artists and their art of Kerala. These imperialist agents who promote anti- nationalistic art speak a lot about political art but has kept studied silence in all the socio-political issues that have been taking place in the state since 2012. This studied silence is there to placate the religious and caste based politics in Kerala so that the biennale could make hay while the sun shines. Some of the artists who do not want to be identified informed me that they works for money for biennale because all the avenues in culture today work in tandem with biennale authorities and muscle them down to do menial works. Many work for it only because they do not have any source of income.

Durbar Hall Ernakulam

Artists in Kerala are very disturbed about the way Biennale is monopolising cultural spaces and aesthetics. They also feel that the government should realise the folly in supporting the biennale. "Biennale is cultural fascism" says an artist. "But we cannot say /biennale should not take place because the artists are involved there too. We need healthy art environment facilitated by the government so that we could make artistic statements via our works that would be a counter visual narrative against the biennale culture," requesting anonymity he says. Today artists in Kerala are in a mood to reclaim Durbar Hall for themselves.  " The government has given them a lot of money. It has offered them permanent venue also. Now government should give Durbar Hall to artists, and pump in money in all the regional and District art centres so that Kerala's tourism will develop in a  decentralised fashion. We cannot tolerate Biennale's monopoly" says another artist. 

Durbar Hall Ernakulam

The Government should gauge the mood of Kerala's art scene. More than 80% of the artists are not interested in biennale. Even the tourists say that they would like to see Kerala art and culture not he installations that they have seen in their countries. The government should stop funding the Biennale and let it take place as a private initiative. And it should be given only logistic support during the biennale months. The rest of the money should be channelised via Lalitha Kala Akademi and District Tourism Promotion Council and create healthy environment for Kerala artists to flourish. Kerala government  should not support any thing that kills the pride of the state and the national feeling in the name of internationalism. Let the call for reclaiming Durbar Hall for Kerala artists be the first step towards that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reclaiming Sree Narayana Guru from Guru Bhakts

Sree Narayana Guru
At Aluva Adwaita Ashram, I stand disappointed. I have been wishing to come here for a long time. In fact for the last few months I have been trailing the footsteps of Guru, visiting places wherever he had gone. Hardly I got the vibe of the spiritual magnanimity in those places that Guru once had held closer to his own spirit, but now fallen into the hands of those people who are hell bent on making Guru a God. They have almost forgotten the distinction between the notions of Guru and God. To certain extent these notions are interchangeable. However, the moment one it replaced by the other, things could go astray. That seems to be exactly the case with Sree Narayana Guru today.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Aluva Adwaita Ashram was established by Guru in 1913 -14 with a clear intention to impart Sanskrit knowledge to the children who came from poor conditions. Guru chose the teaching of Adwaita via the language of Sanskrit for two clear reasons, that anybody from his time could easily understand. First of all, the wisdom of Adwaita was restricted by the Brahmin class in order to protect the 'so called ' purity of it. Guru saw the irony of it. If a philosophy that proclaimed 'Abheda' (no difference) between beings and God, and one another, how could it be denied to a set of people in the name of caste hierarchy. Guru himself was initiated to Sanskrit education in childhood by his father and later by a Sanskrit scholar. Secondly, Guru wanted to challenge the caste hierarchy of his time ( late 19th and early 20th century) by setting up Sanskrit education centres, only to remind the society that it had once poured molten lead into the ears of those lower caste people who even happened to listen to Sanskrit verses being recited. Guru lived in such a caste ridden society and despite having achieved the status of a Jeevan Muktha, the one who had gained deliverance even while living not really in Samadhi, the final state, Guru wanted to 'act' upon the existing social hierarchies. Sanskrit was a great and symbolic linguistic tool for him. Today when we see a Prime Minister hailing from a lower caste propagating Sanskrit and yoga, two integral parts of Adwaita philosophy, we could say that what Guru had started a century back as a social revolution has now been institutionalised with state patronage and the Prime Minister of the country leading the propagation of it from the forefront. Whatever accusations that one could make against this, it would be a great failure from their side if they do not recognise the fact that even the caste based political parties had not taken this exclusive and forbidden tool of language of power and authority with the vehemence that the present regime has taken. Had Sanskrit been a language that perpetuated hierarchies, in a lopsided way, Guru wouldn't have chosen this language as a tool of power for the downtrodden classes.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
In Sivagiri, Varkala, Sanskrit is practiced and in Aluva, I do not find any trace of Sanskrit being taught. Right behind the Adwaita Ashram premises, the Aluva river/ Periyar flows calmly. At a distance one could see a ghat where during the auspicious days, people come out to make offerings to the souls of their departed dears. The Shivaratri festivals here are very famous. Down the river, the village Kaladi, the place of Adi Shankaracharya is located. Also one could reach the Kaladi Sanskrit University, which carries Adi Shankaracharya's name in it. Guru's choice of the place was not only pragmatic but symbolic as well. He literally bought the place (while the other locations where Guru treaded and stayed were often donated by village lords who either became his disciples or were impressed by his spiritual as well as social aura) and made an invisible bridge to the life of Shankara, who even had desired the dominance of Vedic ritualism towards the end of his life. Shankara also accepted finally that knowledge and wisdom are not limited by the gross body marked by caste or class. Guru created an invisible bridge to this Shankara by the language of Sanskrit.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Unfortunately, the people in Kerala seem to have transported Guru into another godhead and have heaped ritualistic sheens over him, almost wiping out his philosophical as well as sociological teachings. Like in any of the place of Guru, in Aluva too, one could see these teaching and maxims fro Guru's literary oeuvre pasted on placards, hanging from the trees. People seem to be least interested. They are more keen toward, the free food served at the dining hall. May people think that eating from such places would bring them godly blessings. In my opinion, those people could afford to buy their own for from restaurants should desist eating from community kitchens and let the poor and destitute eat from there. I am told that the main building, which is renovated and built in a fashion that remotely resembles Sivagiri but without its grace, is a temple where Guru is worshipped. The temple closes at 12 noon and reopens only at 5 in the evening. I go near the closed glass door and see the statue of Guru at the far end in a hall and a hall meant for silent meditation. But I believe silent meditation is the last thing here because there is a list of rituals and pujas on the board which people could pay for. One young man with too many sandal paste marks on his body sits inside the counter reminding me of all what Guru had stood against.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
I had seen this in Sivagiri too. Every place with Guru's touch has been changed into a place worship. Guru himself is worshipped in these places. The irony that Guru played out in his life as a spiritual as well as a social leader is hardly understood by people today. Guru established  temples in order to challenge the Brahminical hegemony in consecrating idols and setting up temples. Guru had clearly articulated the rationale behind his temple establishments. He said that temples would lead to cleanliness and education. It would elevate people to social and customary sophistication. Critics say that Guru freefully destroyed native thickets (Kaavu) where primitive pagan gods were worshipped by people of his caste and lower than that, thereby paving the way for Brahminical ritualism and its ideological proliferation.  But Guru had an absolutely different view on these issues. He considered such worshipping of the pagan gds would keep them in the permanent darkness of ignorance, and superstition. He wanted this situation to be changed and wanted people move towards the light of education via the imitable model of Sanskrit education or education in general. It was something akin to the attitude of the Indian nationalists who went ahead to gain english education in order to counter the socio-political, economical and cultural domination of the British in their own language.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Guru had declared his universal existence as a spiritual being. But he never said he was a god to be worshipped. He never insisted that people should follow Sanskrit ritualism in their god worship. Guru with his deep understanding of Malayalam and Tamil wrote prayers, moral poetry and poetry that exalted gods in local language in order to be used in the daily worship in households. This was exactly what his contemporary Ramana Maharishi had done in Thiruvannamalai. But today in the places of both these Gurus we could see Sanskrit / Vedic ritualism taken predominance. Ironically in the case of Sree Narayana Guru, people have now resorted to such pagan practices of making offerings to Guru and seeking blessings for marriage, job, social success, economic crises and so on. Guru was never a miracle worker. What one sees today in the worship of Guru is the action replay of what he had destroyed once the native thickets via breaking the pagan idols.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
In Bhakti Guru could be God and God in turn could be Guru. Nobody could stop people from such ways of worshipping. But that would never help Guru's spiritual teachings for social as well as spiritual refinement and sublimation of the human beings in general. With various interests including political and social sanctions, acting upon the idea of Sree Narayana Guru it has become all the more difficult to extract the pristine philosophical and spiritual Guru from the ritualistic din. But that has to be done.
Sree Narayana Guru
Extracting Guru from the ritualistic cacophony and taking him to a field of silent contemplation is all the more necessary today because Guru's philosophy transcends times and is relevant today unprecedentedly. In a world that is seriously going through individual isolationism through technology and many people falling into the pits of depression due to lack of real anchor, Guru's philosophy stands as a refuge and solace as well. He had said the world is one despite the different religions. Man has only one religion that's humanity, he said. He also said that whatever one does for one's own satisfaction should be equally soothing for others. Guru is a leader who walked from inside to outside which many of his contemporaries did in reverse process. Guru practiced Gita in its purest spirit. He developed detachment from the results of his actions. He was a Karmayogi with Bhakti and Gyana as support. He remained in Ananda because he was unaffected by the organisational misdeeds that happened in his name. Perhaps, today to such vehement vandalism is done one guru by Guru's worshippers themselves. But it should be the mission of those people who see Guru as a spiritual guide and philosopher who did choose a karmic and gyaan path to lead humanity from its condemned fate of self-delusion to a bright world of justice, equanimity, peace and joy. It is time to retrieve that Guru. And the bargain should be quite enriching.

(Images courtesy Aksharananda and Internet)

Monday, April 17, 2017

How I begged in a Metro station

That was a weekend. I do not remember exactly which day it was. Metro was not crowded. I was to meet someone at a restaurant in Delhi. I generally walk from the metro station to my destination. That day I was in a hurry for the other party was already at the place of our meeting. I do not prefer auto rickshaws. If possible I take a bus. Suddenly I remembered I did not have any change monet in my purse. I did not have smaller denominations of currency either. I had a few hundred rupee notes, a five hundred and a debit card. But I knew none of it would come to use at that given time for what I wanted as five rupees. That was the ticket charge in the bus.

I was still inside the metro station. I stood there thinking. I was in my saffron outfit but worn above a pair of jeans. I checked every nook and cranny of my purse. Lucky I was that I could gather three coins and together they made four rupees, still one rupee short for my bus ticket. I thought of dealing with the bus conductor. But I knew that they 'forget' to give the passengers their balance but never forfeited even one rupee if the passenger was lacking on. What to do? Ask someone. Thats what we generally do when we are in a place. Oh yes, when you are looking for a place, direction, address, person or anything like that it is very easy to ask anybody. But just think of asking some money from strangers. It is not that easy.

Ego and the idea of self worth, which are all false notions, are what stop us from asking some monetary help from strangers. We take loans from the familiar people, for it is a transaction based on trust and familiarity. It has various concerns including emotions to support it. but asking money from strangers that too in a station is very difficult because of our ego. I decide to ask from someone.  No one was around there. I stayed there for a few minutes thinking and by that time the station had emptied out.

Suddenly I saw a girl approaching. I thought of asking her. However, I did not do so, because, the 'whole incident' maybe misinterpreted by the girl for I do not fit the bill of a beggar and my approach could be mistaken. Besides, she is completely engrossed in her mobile phone, may not even have registered what I had asked for.  To avoid a scene I just wait for her to pass. Then I saw a young policeman washing his face at a tap near the corridor. I approached him and asked for a rupee. He looked at me. He did not understand what I asked. Showing the rest of the coins in my palm I asked for one rupee again. I could see disbelief in his face. He asked me to follow him. He took me to a security guard's room where I saw another young constable. The one who I had approached searched his bag and brought out a ten rupee note and gave it to me. I said that I need only one rupee. He insisted that I should take ten rupees from him. By the time the other young man had found an one rupee coin in his wallet. He gave that to me. I took it thanking him profusely.

The other boy was still insisting. He said " Baba, take this" I smiled at him and thanked him for his generous heart. And then I began to explain my side of the story. I wanted only one rupee for the bus. He was not ready to believe it.  "Baba, aap lo, karma aye" ( It will come of use). Please take it". I thanked him again. I was talking to him in hindi and I had to switch to English ( the language of the affluent!) to convince him. He was not ready to let me go without that money. I had to take out my purse and show hi that I had money but what I needed was five rupees for the bus.

Walking to the bus stop I thought of the generosity of the young man. And also I realised hoe difficult it was to ask and how much more difficult to refuse what was being given. I was overwhelmed by those young mens' gesture of help. Now you must be thinking why I spoke in English and showed my purse to him? Was it not my ego? WhyWhy shouldn't I have taken the ten rupees and gone? I had also thought about it. But I have only one answer to it. I should beg only for what I need. I should not beg for accumulating or for satisfying my desires.

If I am hungry, I could ask for food but I should not ask for a packet of food for the dinner also. The ten rupee note the boy was giving me was not meant for me. What I needed was one rupee, nothing more nothing less. Asking for what you need is the real begging. Begging cannot be a profession.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Treading softly at Khasakk : Translating Khasakk into Visual Art - IV

OV Vijayan
The day I read 'Khasakkinthe Ithihaasam' (The Legend of Khasakk), years back when I was a student in high school, I reserved a permanent place for OV Vijayan in my mind. What impressed me was not the author's autobiographical presence or the philosophical skepticism that he had displayed throughout in the novel. Perhaps I was not mature enough to know those nuance at that point of time. But I was impressed by the expanses of landscapes of Palakkad that Vijayan had painted through his crystal clear words that refracted romanticism and sexual desire alike. Vijayan's literary genius worked like an alchemical process in the reader's through the summer soaked land into a golden oasis of dreams, souls and a variety of human dramas.

Book Cover - Khasakkinthe Itihaasam
I never had any interest in travelling when I was in school. I even detested the idea of going from one place to another without being accompanied by friends or family members. I was a happy person of one place, even a limited space. A small room, a table lamp and a diary - these were enough for me to create a world of my own. Besides as a good reader of literature, I could navigate the world from that small room I had for myself in my father's house. The window that opened to the eastern side of the land brought in pleasant visuals, smells, sounds and light. It was not necessary to venture out to learn anything. Everything was there just outside the window. For the first time in my life I felt getting out of that room and going to that place called Khasakk which led inconspicuously at the valley of Chetali Mala (Chetali hills),

Noted literary critic of our times, late Prof. M Krishnan Nair once said that the readers should never meet their beloved writers. He said that because he knew that most of the literary geniuses had the feet of clay and meeting them in contexts where they lamented on the mundanity of daily lives would have put any ardent admirer into utter despair and depression. Whenever I thought of visiting Khasakk and its archetype Thassarack,  in Palakkad,  I remembered Krishnan Nair's words. I was afraid of going there for the simple and plain fear that I would be disappointed to see the actual place which had transformed into a mythical place through alchemy of the writer. Whenever I passed by Palakkad, by train my heart skipped a beat. Whenever I saw the rows of palm trees standing as silhouetted cutouts against expanses of a thin bluish sky, where a full moon shone enticingly, almost giving me visions of the flying ogresses, I thought of Khasakk and the magician who had created it. During my return journey when train touched the station, Kanchikod the first station in north of Palakkad,  (which always happened around seven o'clock in the morning), I thought only of Vijayan and Khasakk. But I never dared to go there, even if I had been to Palakkad after that on couple of occasions. Finally it happened when the Lalitha Kala Akademi invited me for a series of programs in Palakkad and elsewhere. When the artists, the OV Vijayan Memorial and the LKA together announced the dedication of these worlds to the village and Kerala in general, on 30th March, I had missed it. I never knew the occasion to visit the place and the works would come too soon to believe.

Thassarack is in Kinasseri Panchayat. I travel by the LKA Secretary's car. Mani, a young man who knows each and every artist in Kerala and their style of working is the driver. Upon seeing the state's registration plate on the car people look into it curiously only to see me sitting there. Anybody who travels by a state car achieves importance and loses it the moment one gets out of it. It is all about the state, its power and the reverence that the people have for it.

Compound wall of the property
There is the arch gate right in front of me. It was on this gate that Mohan Kumar IAS wanted the artists to make granite reliefs. Now the surface of it is covered by an ugly flex with certain illustrations on it. Definitely this is not what one expects from the gate of Thassarack. Mani, the LKA driver, who has become a friend by now tells me that it was a quick fix arrangement mad for 30th March. We cross the ugly gate and travel by a canal and we take a left. The famous Palakkadan wind comes into the car and with it the spirits of Vijayan's world. I anticipate the village with an anxious heart.
With OV Vijayan at Njattupura

At the entrance of the compound where the Njattupura and the memorial building stand, there is an arch with the relief sculptures of palm trees with snakes, flanking the iron gate that opens towards the inside. Seeing a white ambassador car the neighbours come out. An elderly man ambles in to the compound and opening the door of the memorial hall. My attention primarily falls on the Njattupura. It is here once Vijayan lived and conceived the novel that lived Malayalam literature before-After Khasakk. but I postpone stepping inside for the fear of losing the romance of it.  So I decide to see the sculptures first. The landscape is carefully done with pruned lawns, granite pavements and granite pillars serving the purpose of a running fence. At the front side, along the fence certain agricultural implements are displayed in order to underline the Njattupura relevance in the agricultural economy of the yesteryears. The sculptures are in relief forms. The artists have chosen the imageries from the  novel that had struck them directly. With or without the title a person comes from the Malayali cultural ethos would understand the condensed narratives in the sculptures. The spatial design is done considering the limited space available, yet the feel is of a huge sculpture garden. One gets the feeling that more and more people are going to visit this place now not only because of Khasakk, but also because of the sculpture; together they have created a new magic in the village.

Inside Njattupura with OV Vijayan
The Vijayan Memorial Hall is hastily done it seems. Though there is an auditorium space inside with huge windows on the three  walls, like any other government architecture much of futuristic thinking has not gone into the making of it. Fourteen paintings created by contemporary artists in Kerala are displayed there. Though the LKA has initiated the camp, the works are going to be the property of the Memorial and are to be permanently displayed there. Njattupura has been beckoning me all this while. Finally I walk into that. I remove my footwear at the step and get into the narrow verandah. On the either end of it there are Vijayan's huge portraits clicked by KR Vinayan. The small centre hall of the Njattupura is now converted into an audio visual room with a ten seat capacity and air conditioning. Vijayan related visual materials are to be shown here. On the left side of the hut there is an L-shaped narrow room where many portraits of Vijayan by the same photographer are displayed.  I think the name of the photographer etched on each photograph is unnecessary if not obscene. On the right side in a similar L-shaped narrow room, a few digital prints of Vijayan's cartoons are displayed. The hastiness of arranging all these is palpable. I go and sit down on the floor at the feet of OV Vijayan. Majeed Bhai who acts as a local guide tells me that it was exactly the way Vijayan used to sit there. Even if if is Majeed bhai's imagination speaking, I find it a blessing via him. I am very satisfied.
Thassarack and OV Vijayan Memorial need a bit more attention and a full scale state patronage. Kerala state shell bent on promoting Tourism in state. The state has invested a fortune in the private initiative, Kochi Muziris Biennale only because it brings tourism revenue to the state. But it is high time to rethink the strategy. While Kerala has a potential to attract tourists to any part of it, thanks to its scenic as well as cultural beauty, why the focal point should be only Fort Kochi, where the KMB has set up its show? If the government wants to decentralise its economy, then why should it focus only on Fort Kochi? My suggestion here is this that the government of Kerala should invest its money, energy and vision in Kerala, a culture rich state by decentralising the art activities in each district. This happens not just by making District Tourism Promotion Councils or Galleries in each district. This would be possible only when the state takes its attention off of the art spectacle like biennale that side steps Kerala artists and invests its energies in creating a wonderful environment in which artists would flourish in each district and in turn attract tourists who genuinely want to see something like Kerala art. Tourists do not travel to eat pizzas and McDonalds or KFC in Kerala as they are available in their countries too. Real tourists travel to experience what is exotic to them. Seriously speaking the foreign tourists do not come to see Biennale art as they see similar things in their own country. They should be travelling all over Kerala to experience the rich visual culture of the state. Whats going on today in the name of Biennale is fooling the locals as well as the tourists. For sustainable tourism development government of Kerala should think about decentralising its patronage for art and Thassarack is a good beginning. Let Biennale happen with its own funding and  let Kerala art flourish with the state funding without aesthetical or moral interventions.

(Images courtesy : Internet and Johnyml /Aksharananda)