Monday, April 30, 2012

Beads of Spirituality; Meet Sajeev and Madhu- Two World Renowned Choreographers

(Vakkom Sajeev and Madhu Gopinath)

Have you ever seen beads breaking off from a string and falling one by one on the ground, galloping happily, going and hiding in the places that you often find difficult to reach? Cinematic imaginations have done this both in speed and slow motions in order to highlight both love and violence. A pair of sensuous parting lips in the medium range shot and slightly out of focus, and in the tight focus a stream of beads falling one after another accompanied by the tickling resonations of sitar strings; that is love or love making. When the same shot set in a different sonic ambience and torrent of beads ends up in a drop of blood, the scene could be an act of violation. Beads are like that.

Cascading beads from an accidently broken string could take you to a different plane of sensation. I would call it a spiritual sensation. That’s what exactly happened when Madhu Gopinath, one of the lead dancers of the Samudra Dance Group from Trivandrum, let his necklace break and the beads spill when he was performing with his identical pair Sajeev Vakkom, an exquisite performer and choreographer at the Tagore Theatre in Chandigarh. I was in the second row from the stage and I could have a better view of the dancers as if I was seeing them caught in a permanent zoom in mode.

The necklace broke and the beads fell one after another, at times tracing out the body contour of Madhu Gopinath and at times like truant school boys running away from their teacher, uproarious in their own mirthfulness. Finally the locket, gold plated and made out of thin metal sheet with embossed symbols fell on the wooden platform of that wonderful proscenium stage. Sajeev was flying like, if I use the expression that Vandana Shukla of Tribune was using sitting just behind me, ‘a flamingo’. I have seen migratory birds flitting across the sky during their roosting time at twilight. They make godly formations of aerodynamics. Sajeev, Madhu and their troupe members were doing the same.

(From their production, Jalam)

They were like flamingos; but flamingos not permanently floating in the air. They came down on the ground, stamping their feet to the rhythm of music and percussion. I saw the beads moving on the stage and the metal locket lying down there. The dancers stamped and jumped, they floated and flowed like thick fluids thrown into a differently lit large container that the stage was. The moved like the spangles of light in a electrically lit lantern. They moved as if they were the embodiment of movement itself.

But I was in throes. I was watching the movement of the beads and the locket. I knew the landing of the dancers’ feet was so subtle and momentary that an accidental stepping on one of them could have thrown them out of balance. While Madhu and Sajeev rolled on the stage like waves of water, making their brown complexion to merge with the lacquer of the oak panels on the floor I thought the beads would hurt their body. I moved and sat at the edge of the seat as if I were witnessing a suspense thriller. I was feeling the pain on my soles and I was feeling the pressure on my shoulder muscles. The pain was akin to the pain that Maria had experienced in ‘Eleven Minutes’ when she walked barefooted on sharp pebbles submerged in ice cold water. And lo.. to my surprise I found the beads moving on their own away from the body of the dancers. They were behaving as if they had their own lives and they wanted to save the dancers from the pain of accidental collisions and collapsing on the stage thanks to them.

“I shiver and goose pimples come all over me,” says Madhu Gopinath, when I meet him on the next day of the performance. I was there at the Nek Chand Rock Garden, feeling myself like a tourist. Madhu, Sajeev and their team were also there seeing the wonders in the sculpture garden. When I narrated my spiritual experience while looking at the beads and their bodies moving over them, Madhu said something that made me happy about my own conclusions: “There have been a lot of breaking of ornaments on stage in our dancing career. But till date they have never hurt us.” Sajeev Vakkom endorses the fact. Madhu says that the necklace was hurting his neck like anything as the locket had a rough edge which he could not polish before he entered the stage. “And I thought it was necessary to get rid of it. So with a covert movement I broke it,” Madhu tells me.

(Madhu Gopinath and Sajeev Vakkom, a few years back)

I hug them. And I take a photograph with them. I had gone to the greenroom on the previous night after their performance. The performance conceptualized and choreographed by Sajeev and Madhu is titled ‘Jalam’ (Water). It shows how water has emotions like human beings. How water gets happy when people live one with nature and how it gets angry when it is exploited and curbed through damming. And the meeting at the greenroom was an overdue meeting. I hugged Sajeev and Madhu and spoke to the rest of the team.

There is reason when I say the meeting was overdue. Ten years back, when Sajeev and Madhu from my village (Vakkom and Chirayinkeezhu respectively) established their dance troupe, ‘Samudra’ in Trivandrum, they had called me for my blessings. I did not know what I could do for them. They told me that they expected an article written by me on them. I had agreed but I could never fulfil their request or lovable demand. So the meeting now was a sort of atonement. However, I have been following their programs through internet and newspaper articles. I was so happy to meet these two young dancers in an unexpected place and fashion.

Sajeev and Madhu have travelled all over the world. Perhaps they are the most famous contemporary dance troupe in India today. Perhaps you would not believe that the opening ceremony of Commonwealth Games and Venice Biennale were choreographed by these two young men from my village. They have also choreographed for a few movies.

(Madhu Gopinath, JohnyML and Sajeev Vakkom at Nek Chand Sculpture Garden in Chandigarh)

The journey for these two village boys was not so easy. During their school days (we studied in the same school) itself they were learning Bharatanatyam. Then they learned Kalarippayattu and many other traditional dance forms. They went ahead to learn contemporary ballet and choreography from several world masters. And you should know all these while they also learned plumbing and fitting as their parents insisted. They did not believe, fifteen years back that these boys could eke out a living by dancing!

They globe trot these days. But when you see them they are not jet lagged. They don’t throw their weight around. I was shocked when Sajeev and Madhu told me the following: “Brother, we need to sit with you and discuss a lot. We don’t know how to go about with offers. We get a lot of offers. You should advice us.” I was humbled. I hugged them again. I am no authority to advise this internationally known choreographers. Still, the love and confident that they showed towards me brought tears into my eyes. “Whatever I could do, I will do for you,” I told them.

 (Madhu, Sajeev and two other members of their team striking a pose for me)

Before I close this short note on my favourite dancers from my village and its neighbourhood, let me tell you one more thing. Sajeev and Madhu look identical twins. But they are not. They are from neighbouring villages and do not have any blood relationship. “Wherever we go people ask us this question whether we were brothers or twins. But god destined it to be like this. We met in one of the dance competitions and ever since we are together,” says Sajeev Vakkom. And both of them are happily married to their wives with kids. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fingering the Clit and Our Brittle Religious Sentiments

(Lady Churning the Milk- wooden sculpture 19th century AD. South India- Currently at Chandigarh State Museum)

Those who get their religious, moral, political sentiments hurt so fast please read this article. We are a country full of people and almost 1.2 billion of us feel threatened by one single idea called religion. We believe in our gods so much that we don’t let our gods to be a bit playful. We have made headmasters out of our playful gods. Anybody who touches upon religion in a critical way is bound to face the ire of a majority that considers religion as a set of ideas beyond any kind of criticism.

Religion thrives in illusion and spirituality thrives in reality. But unfortunately most of us take it other way round. We believe that religion is ‘the’ reality and spirituality is an illusion. Hence, anybody who touches this assumed reality negatively becomes a culprit prone to larger censorship by the religious establishments that often get the sanction of the so called democratic governments. In Greek mythology we see gods and goddesses intervening in the lives of ordinary human beings and making their lives hell and heaven alike. Indian gods and goddesses (read Hindu gods and goddesses) used to do the same. But over a period of time we have worked well to make them headmasters, who sit in their cabins with a cane always ready on their sides to spank our unruly bottoms.

(Raja Ravi Varma)

In fact it did not take lot many years to turn the ‘leela’ of our gods and goddesses into grave political aloofness. Gods and goddess became so estranged from the human lives that they became the victims of the immature thought process of the human beings. That’s why irrespective of religions, people go to drink dirty water and hail it as a spiritual act. Gods never send chemical water for mass decimation of those people who believe in him or her. If someone says that milk drinking Ganeshas or crying Jesus Christs are scientific realities masquerading as religious frenzy, we take him to court. If someone eats beef, we deny them their food by saying that they are eating our mothers’ body.

Blame it on Raja Ravi Varma. He was the one who gave nav vaari sari to Indian gods and goddesses. We never knew that Indian goddesses dressed up like Maharashtrian women. Had Ravi Varma gone to North East and had set up a studio there I am sure our gods and goddess must be wearing wrap arounds today as their dress. Our sartorial imagination vis-a-vis religion would have been completely different from this. Raja Ravi Varma had his reasons to be in Maharashatra. And Maharashtra had its reasons to be in a revivalist Hindu mode. Theatrical and visual imaginations inspired by the occidental imaginary imports were making our nationalists go a bit overboard. Raja Ravi Varma fell a victim of these sentiments of that time. He did not imagine the goddesses as women wearing mundu and neriyathu as the aristocrat women in the royal households in Kerala wore during the time. We would have got a different set of goddesses had he done that. But Ravi Varma was looking for more a pan national representation of gods and goddesses. It is an irony of the history (not only art history but also history in general) that this pan nationalism took clear Maharashtrian feel as Maharashtra was playing the centre of a resurgent Hinduist nationalism after almost nine centuries of submission to other religions and invasions.

(Lakshmi by Raja Ravi Varma)

Our country was full of playful gods and goddesses. We were not primarily Freudians or Lacanians. So for us playing with sexual imagery was very normal. Our artists let their imaginations take wide leaps into the unknown territories of desire. Many depicted incidents and activities of gods and goddesses as if they were just human beings; they were sexual escapades, extra marital affairs, graphic detailing of sexual intercourses and banal activities of frivolous youth. Gods and goddesses did these things. Perhaps the artists who were depicting these images and figures did not alienate the gods and goddesses during all those years. They were equally playful like the gods and goddesses. According to artist and activist Subodh Kerkar, it took just two hundred years to undo our religious and imaginative liberalism of more than five thousand years and push ourselves into the false morality of Victorian sophistication as forced into our thoughts by the colonial and the religious establishments. Hindu activism perhaps imbibed this Victorian morality a bit too faster than the other segments of the society.

(Detail of Lady Churning the Milk)

Look at the image that I have been using to illustrate this article. This is a one foot tall wooden sculpture dated 19th century and is from South India. This piece of art is currently displayed in the Chandigarh Museum. This work titled ‘Lady Churning Milk’ is a very interesting for two reasons; one, it is created in 19th century. Two, it depicts the legendary Krishna-Gopika relationship. What makes this sculpture all the more interesting is the intense erotic suggestion. Here the unknown artist plays on the word ‘churning’ and he uses it as a pun to connote both the act of churning milk to make butter and the sexual act of titillating the clitoris by fingering the vagina. While the former act is done by a Gopika the latter is done by a much young Krishna for her.

Aesthetically speaking, this subversive work (as in today’s perception) must be from that tradition which made fun of gods and their activities from a human level. You could see several Kalighat paintings depicting the lives of gods and goddesses as if they were just ordinary mortals. From a different perspective we could say that the artist must have been doing a very subversive act against the Brahminical hegemony by the depiction of one of the gods doing such very human act! However, the important thing is that such subversions were allowed or were normal even during the 19th century. The society was more tolerant towards such aesthetical celebrations or aberrations, depending on the perspective of the society towards art during those days.


But in no time, by late 19th and early 20th century our idea of morality changed into something absolutely different. The Hindu nationalists imbibed the Victorian moral codes much faster than other religious groups. The historical irony was that in the name of acting against colonialism, it fell for the colonial morality through the exclusion of celebratory aesthetics from the public domain. Here we see a child god enjoying a sexual act with a willing woman. Sociologically speaking such gallivanting must have been quite normal in those days as we know that it is not too unusual even in these days either. What makes the image enthralling is the introduction of a god figure into a very localized situation. Nobody’s sentiments were getting hurt by that.

Art depicts a society’s ways of thinking; it is a like a forensic evidence. However minute it may be in appearance, the traces that it carries contain a larger picture of the society. This act of fingering a woman while she is at churning milk, also connotes a permissible act of finger the vagina of a cow when it refuses to give milk. The vaginal titillation, it is believed, helps the cows to give more milk. It is said that in the rural areas, even today milkmen and women use the same technique to ease their professional activity. The artist brings the same sociological reality into the zone of art and incorporates that act into a different scene of churning linking up social and sexual imaginations within the same body of a work of art. Interestingly, the society was still tolerant and was not a victim of the Victorian Hinduism that we follow today.


Let us undo the Victorian Hinduism and its socio-cultural morale. But it seems to be difficult as the government plans more and more restrictions on freedom of expression. It is when art becomes more subversive than celebratory or a subversive celebration. As of now, artist seems to be less aware of the situation as they go on with their routine based works of art.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Fugitives – Chapter 3

Katrina Kaif gyrates inside the plasma screen. She turns her body towards the viewer and raises her leg in rhythmic intervals. A small bottle that is passed off as a quarter of a local drink dangles from her narrow waist line. She pouts and raises her eye brows alternatively. She is here to titillate and provoke. The boys around her seem to be really provoked. Her movements are quite familiar because these are the same movements choreographed for different item girls in the Bollywood.

“Rakhee Sawant could have done a better job,” says Alok and he turns around to see Ishaan sleeping on the sofa. His head tilts towards the left and it presses against his left hand folded into an unintended triangle. His right hand rests on his chest that moves slowly up and down. He looks absolutely careless about the situation.

“What am I doing here?” Alok asks himself. He just does not understand the pace in which things have been happening in his life. “I should say in our live,” he mutters himself while looking at Ishaan. He wants to go, hug him and sleep by his side. If possible he wants to get an entry into his dreams if at all his is having some right now. In the next moment Alok feels like kicking Ishaan’s butt for bringing him into this situation. He controls his urges to sleep or kick and turns back to the television. Katrina has gone and her place has been taken by another zero size girl who after doing an item number and some cameo appearances in a couple of movies got married to Sunjay Dutt. What is her name?

Alok pulls his hair and curses himself. “I should not forget names. I should not forget events. If I want to become a film writer I should have a information in my finger tips.”

The film is Gangajal. Director is Prakash Jhah. I like Prakash Jha’s movies for the rawness that he brings around in his film. Hero is Ajay Devgun. I love him. His droopy eyes..oh my God. He has several teeth like Shashi Kapoor. Both of them smile well. Shashi Kapoor was very thin when he came to movies. But then he bloated like a drum towards the end of his career. Ajay Devgun has a great body. Unlike many other super stars or what you call the Khans, he does not go gaga over his physical assets. This must be because his father was a fight master. Ajay knows his trade. One day I would like to work with him. Mukesh Tiwari acts as Baccha Yadav. What a fantastic performance. Prakash Jha gives chance to most of the National School of Drama graduated. The song happens when the villain, ‘Raju Bhayya’ rapes a girl who has been abducted from her mother’s place.

And the thin girl who dances is Manyata. Alok claps, gives a thumbs up to himself and feels a lot happier than before. He wants to look at Ishaan again. But he holds himself back for some other reason.

This is a good situation, Alok tells himself. I could write an one liner right now. Any producer would be interested to have such a wonderful story for his film. Why don’t I suggest that the hero should be none other than Ajay Devgun?

Alok smiles vacantly. He looks at the television again. This time he does not see anything special there. Recent hit songs are played out one after another. Commercial break is announced by two animated characters. At times they supply some philosophical doses to the viewers if they wait at the same channels for the commercials to finish and the songs to resume. Perhaps there are many like me, hopelessly waiting for something to happen in one’s own life. People like me could look at any channel for any long hours. The programs do not make much difference in our lives. We need some sights and sounds to fill in our vacant moments. We hate vacant moments.

‘I hate vacant moments like hell’, Alok tells himself. The day he realized that he hated vacant moments he had made a decision to fill them by conjuring up characters and situations. In school friends called him ‘pagal’, a mad boy because Alok’s lips kept moving when he was idle. He could sit still for long hours but his lips moved fast. None could hear anything. But it was through those silent lip movements the world inside Alok’s mind found expression in some way.

The story of the movie that I want to write could be something like this, Alok thinks. A young man from Bhopal wants to become a film story writer. Like many others with dreams to make it big in films, he too goes to Mumbai to try his luck. There he meets a still photographer, Ishaan who interestingly has a degree in engineering but pursues photography as his profession. Ishaan has access to production houses and studios as he has earned a bit of fame as a still photographer and a quick problem solver.

One day, Ishaan takes this young man from Bhopal to meet a very famous producer, Mr.Taporwala, where they meet another young corporate executive in a dapper suit. He looks several times better than the normal heroes in Bollywood. Mr.Taporwala introduces Ishaan to the corporate executive and in turn Ishaan introduces the young man from Bhopal to the producer and the corporate executive. The young man tells a story to the producer and the producer says that it is interesting but a few more changes have to be done to make it a good film story. The young man agrees to write the story with the changes in place. He takes an appointment to come back and see the producer. The producer is somehow impressed by the young man’s spirit and compassionately tells him to do a good job and if things work out well, the story is going to be a script and then to a movie. The young man from Bhopal is very happy and he wants to tell the producer that the hero of the movie could be Ajay Devgun. But he keeps that suggestion for some other time.

Parallel to this talk between the film producer and the young man from Bhopal, another conversation has been progressing between Ishaan and the corporate executive. The man in his dapper suit tells Ishaan that he wants Ishaan to take some photographs for him. Ishaan tells him that he likes to take the photographs of the celebrities and people with exceptional talents even if they are not celebrities. He tells the corporate executive that he has contributed photo features to some mid day newspapers where he has taken the pictures of those people who live a different kind of life in the city of Mumbai.

Ishaan tells him the story of a woman who had lost her husband at the age of twenty. She was from Bihar and was absolutely illiterate. Her husband worked in a mill at Lower Parel. They were living in Borivili and he commuted everyday in the thickly packed local train. On that fateful day he took a half day leave and came out of the factory. He wanted to give a surprise to his young daughter who was turning eight years on that day. The elder daughter was eleven and was good at studies. The younger one too was showing a lot of promise. The girls had been telling him to take them for the movie titled Chandini. In their school all the girls wore white churidar which had become a fashion statement after the release of that movie. This man wanted to buy two pairs of that white churidar from a Borivili shop. He had already arranged money for it. He wanted to take them to the movie in their new dress.

There was a huge rush even if it was a sultry afternoon in Mumbai. Then the city had not become Mumbai; it was still Bombay. He wanted to get out of the train at the Borivili station. The crowd was not moving. Somehow he pushed his way through the crowd. The train had already started moving. Without thinking twice he jumped out. The fall was fatal. The acceleration was so high by that time he was literally thrown from the train. His head hit at one of the iron pillars in the platform and he collapsed. What reached the home at that evening was his dead body.

My feature was not about that incident, tells Ishaan. Perhaps I was not even born then, he continues. My feature was about the woman who survived that incident. Or should I call it an accident in her life? She did not die. The dead one did not know what he had done to his family through that fatal jump. It was unintentional. His jump was triggered by the love for his daughters. Whom to be blamed in such situations? I don’t know. Anyway, my photo feature was not following that thread. I got this story from someone and I thought I should give it a try and I should follow it up and see where this woman has reached now. I got a thread from a journalist friend. He told me that this woman’s life turned around completely after that incident. She was running an orphanage.

An orphanage? The executive exclaims. Yes, Ishaan tells him. She runs an orphanage and she has already been quite famous in her own way. She her husband died she was absolutely illiterate. After that fateful event, she not only educated her daughters but also she educated herself and passed her school final examinations as a private student. All these while she was working as a ‘bai’, a house maid, who washed, cleaned and cooked for the office going Mumbaikars. The story does not end there. She got a graduation in Hindi and did a diploma in a Social Welfare studies. By that time her daughters had become district collectors after passing the Indian Administrative Service examinations. The this lady started running an orphanage. Quite unbelievable a story, right? I was humbled and enamoured by the story. So I decided to do a photo feature, Ishaan looks quite excited.

You are the right person for me, says the executive. “I have been looking for someone who could do some exceptional pictures of artists and their works. How about that? Would you be interested to do some documentation of art works that I have been collecting?” he asks. Ishaan looks at the young man from Bhopal who wants to go back to the room as early as possible and start writing the story. Though he is impatient, he takes some interest in the conversation between them. “I understand that you are a writer. You too can join Ishaan. Why only movie scripts? Why don’t you write something on art and artists? They too are as exciting as film characters? If I put it in this way, the artists are funnier than the film stars, in their vanity and pompousness. Why don’t you give it a try? Let’s make a team. I started liking you guys,” the executive looks into our eyes.

Ishaan looks at the young man from Bhopal and he returns the glance. Then together they look at the young corporate executive. “Okay, let’s go for it,” Ishaan tells the man. “But you have not yet told us where to do the documentation and what to right,” the young man from Bhopal says. “I will tell you all those details soon. Before that, let’s meet for a drink tonight at the Blue Frog. Is that okay with you guys?” asks the executive. They nod. Mr.Taporwala looks our side from his huge oak desk. He exchanges smile with the executive. The young men agree with the executive for the drink date.

“Shiv, you are now completely into it, man. I never thought you would become too passionate about this collecting business,” Mr.Taporwala takes off his reading glass and tells. Below his eyes they could see two bags like pelicans beak. “ are drinking off late too much,” says Shiv. For that Mr.Taporwala gives a hollow laugh in return and goes back to his work.

“ what are you upto? Some new ideas?” Ishaan asks. Alok jumps up startled. “You frightened the shit out me, man,” he says, launching a mock punch at Ishaan’s stomach.

“Your lips were moving like crazy and I knew something was on in your mind,” Ishaan laughs.

“Yeah man...I was just thinking about the whole situation. It would make a good movie.”

“But still we don’t know what we are upto. We have been with Shiv for almost five months now. Apart from following this writer and doing some photographing of art works, attending more and more boring exhibition openings, what have we done so far? I just don’t understand this man. Something has been wrong all the time. The man we are stalking and photographing does not look that simple as he looks. Didn’t you look at his face when he was cradled inside the bean bag? There is something more to him. Shiv wants to protect him because he knows too much or Shiv wants to keep him as a shield in some deal. What do you think?” Ishaan asks.

Alok is silent. His lips move, slowly and then it catches up a different momentum. “That man looks stupid to me, Ishaan. All these while we have been stalking him. And look at those pictures in your camera. By the way, have you downloaded last week’s pictures into your computer? Please do. Those pictures could give us some clue. I want to see them again. Because I remember seeing that woman who was sleeping with him that day. I had seen her somewhere else,” Alok whispers.

“But do you have any clue about these people whom Shiv mentions as this man’s possible assassins,” Ishaan asks.

“No idea, Ishaan,” Alok looks at Ishaan. His eyes runs through the flowing locks of Ishaan’s hair, long nose, fair complexion, red lips and a longer stubble. “Do you know Ishaan, you look like Jesus Christ,” Alok laughs and Ishaan joins in the mirth.

Then Ishaan’s phone rings. He picks it up.

“What the hell are you guys doing there? Rush to my apartment...NOW.” Shiv screams from the other end.

(To be Continued)

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Transparent Pact- A Performance for Our Future

(Mathai KT performing A Transparent Pact)

In the times of spectacles, during the days when human beings communicate between each other through understanding the symbolic values created out of the relationship between the circulated images, a project like ‘A Transparent Pact’ by a Kochi based artist, Mathai KT becomes all the more important. As the title shows the project is a transparent pact between human beings and nature. Mathai, in his concept note says, ‘Go local to go global. Protect our village, protect our earth. Submit to the earth like a plant does.’

 (Mathai KT receiving plant from an elder)

‘A Transparent Pact’ held on 21st April 2012 at the Arakunnam Village in Kerala was a performance art project initiated by Mathai and done in collaboration with the people of the village. Inspiration for this project comes from one of the Church rituals called, ‘Adima Veykkal’, which literally means ‘to become a slave of God’. Mathai takes a relook at the ritual and he himself transforms into a slave of nature/God by picking up a plant from the premises of the Church and taking it along the village streets and finally planting it in a barren land created by the constant land digging by the building material contractors.

(The Procession starts)

Mathai is not a performance ‘performance’ artist. As a painter he has been creating works that depict the fading glory of his village thanks to the constant exploitation of land, water and other resources by the land and building mafia. There has been a two pronged approach by this mafia. On the one hand they dig out the laterite soil for building purpose by mauling the village with the sleepless earth moving machines called JCBs. They pilfer earth out of the village and later this land is reserved for future urban developments. This is not an isolated phenomenon in Kerala. Houses, churches, temples, agricultural lands and water bodies are now seen precariously perched on land blokes, which are left untouched by the JCB machines.

(Through the village paths)

In one of his paintings, Mathai shows a man carrying a bucket of water with a few water lilies strewn around as a last ditch effort to save a pond from ultimate and untimely decimation. In another work, he shows a suburb creeping into the precincts of a village by slowly building large Bisleri bottle like structures all around. The performance, ‘A Transparent Pact’ is a result of Mathai’s insuperable concern for nature and earth.

(Along the streets)

At ten in the morning on 21st April 2012, Mathai receives a mango plantain from an elder and starts his procession from the St.George Jacobite Church premises. A drummer leads the way. Friends and family members walk with the artist. Mathai wears a robe specially designed for the purpose. The half open cassock has chess board patterns on it, symbolically suggesting the ways how human beings are made pawn by the vested interests who exploit the natural resources. Like a village farmer, Mathai wears a blue dhoti and covers his head with ‘thorthu’, a locally woven light cotton towel generally used in Kerala. He bears the weight on the plant on his right shoulder. People are excited and enthused by this unexpected procession. Some of them follow Mathai.

(Planting on the top of a small hill)

The procession ends on a hill top where Mathai plants the mango plantain. The whole procession reminds Jesus Christ’s painful travel to the Calvary hills where he was supposed to be crucified. In a metaphorical way Mathai tells his viewers that the plant/nature is his cross now, which he would bear happily for the common good. When he walks up to the hill, he symbolically enacts the death in cross; death of a fighter who stood for the social causes. But through the plant, Mathai suggests the possibilities of resurrection. Mathai asserts that if everyone is ready to bear his or her cross to redeem the world/earth, there could be resurrection; resurrection of earth.


After the planting ceremony- in an Elliot-ian sense it is death and birth at once, a few artists who have come down to Arakunnam to show solidarity and support to Mathai’s performance, along with a few village based artists who do not look for fame or fortune elsewhere, travel to a vast earthen wall created by the JCB machines by their constant gnawing. The artists namely Mathai, Devadas, Roy Thampuran, Sivadas, Gopinath, Sasi, Unni, Abhilash Unny, Hochimin PH, Salim AK, Vibin George and so on work at the wall using lime and house painting brushes to produce some vital images of basic human thinking.

 (Hochimin PH working on the wall)

Their effort is not to create stunning frescos on the wounded earth. They want to tell the world that slowly we are turning ourselves into primitive people, though innocent but condemned to draw the pictures of their basic necessities. The paintings created by the artists on this huge wall look like intentional fossils; a sort of reminders of our imminent destruction. They create a tree of life keeping laterite stones on the vast barren land from where the rich earth has been pilfered off.

 (artists at work and the outcome)

‘A Transparent Pact’ is a pact with the earth and nature. Mathai assures, through his humble effort that he is going to be there to voice against the earth mafia. He wants to tell his own people that if they are not cautious they are going to be doomed forever. “We should protect our local cultures, agriculture, economy and ways of living in order to go global. Being global does not mean mindless intake of anything foreign and celebration of the same. Being local is being global. Our future lies in environmental protection,” says Mathai.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Fugitives- Chapter 2

I enjoy Simrin sitting on me like this. From the raised pillows I could see her toned body that glows by the faint light seeping inside the room through the half opened door that leads to her dressing room.

She sits on me like a sculpture by Reddy; wide eyed, long haired, big bosomed and thick lipped. She is still now. Her heavy eyelids droop as if they were not able to stand the weight of the pleasure that we were enjoying that moment of union. Unlike the other Punjabi girls, Simrin is not so fair and tall. She is five feet five inches in tall and interestingly she looks more like a mulatto. I remember asking her one day whether her parents had some racial mix up at some point in their family’s history. Curly hairs, thick lips and not so fair complexion are not quite normal to a typical Punjabi girl from Chandigarh.

“Mixed race? You must be joking,” she had looked at me with an expression of horror and disbelief when I mentioned for the first time almost a year back. We were having our official ‘dates’. This expression, I thought, could only have emoted by girls of Simrin’s age, education and job profile. They could show the expression of horror and disbelief at anything that they understand well but feel the need to show ignorance.

“No, no, my mother comes from the famous Bawa family of Chandigarh and my father is a distant cousin of my mom. So there is no question of racial mix up,” she asserted while licking away the cream moustache on her upper lip with the tip of her tongue and adjusting her large sun glasses over her forehead. The negation was so vehement but I felt that quite appealing and I should say, ‘sexy’.

“Oh..please don’t get worked up on that issue. Perhaps, it was this curly hair, thick lips and not-so-fair complexion got me going,” I said with a fair amount of vagueness in my voice.

“Come on Mr.Shivnandan Dixit,” she laughed and the people around us turned and stared at us. Her laughter was like a torrent of pebbles fallen unexpectedly on the glass houses that the other couples had created around them inside the cool clime of the cafe.

“Call me Shiv,” I told her.

Simrin did not seem to register my suggestion. “Look Shivnandan, don’t be so silly. It is not my first date. I have already met at least five of them who came to me after doing enough facebook research and late night chats. I know they all have noticed my curly hairs and thick lips. But it is you, first time, who made it so obvious. Let me tell you never make me so conscious of it by mentioning it again and again,” Simrin was dead serious when she said this. As she lowered the glass over her eyes I realized that she did not want to confront my gaze.

We met in facebook and that is how people meet these days. I don’t find people falling in love so desperately in real time and space as they do in the virtual space. As I notice even in my office people have flings, short term affairs and sort of childish friendships amongst the opposite sexes, I wonder why they don’t fall in love. They don’t fall in love because these days people like virtual reality more than real reality. There was a time when people craved for real love, proximity with the person you are in love with. There was a time when people wanted to be together always. Today if you see anybody sitting together in parks or restaurants for endless hours, make sure that they are not working in the same place.

Simrin laughs whenever she listens to my observations about people in love especially the people in love in our urban spaces. She asks me whether we too could become one of them, desperate and looking for spaces to be together.

What I liked in Simrin, of course besides her curly hairs, thick lips and not so fair complexion, was her independence. She had finished her MBA from a reputable academy in Mumbai and had moved to Delhi a few years back. I thought it was natural for any Punjabis to move towards Delhi than to any other city in India. Often Chandigarh girls make it big in Delhi irrespective of their chosen professions. Delhi has a special place for Chandigarh girls. She could be a hair stylist or a gallerist. Delhi would definitely help her to flourish.

Simrin worked in Taj as one of the top executives. When I met her she had already bought a decent apartment in Greater Kailash. Like many other girls she did not have any plan to start a family very soon. Nor did I have any inclination to fall in family line. So we were mutually definitely made for the each other couple. Even if I had my well furnished apartment, she never thought of moving in permanently with me.

“This works for me,” Simrin told me once after a fierce round of love making at my place. I was so pleased, relaxed and floating over happy waves of emotions that I told her to move in with me. She refused that flatly. Silently she walked into the washroom. I waited for her to come out. Even I thought while doing the ablutions she would give my suggestion a second thought. I tried not to listen to the sounds coming from the bathroom. However I tried I could not wish them off completely. I could hear the flush flooding our combined secretions through the fathomless pit of the commode. I could hear her washing her face. I could hear the rustling of the towel. After a few moments she came out.

I did not move from the bed. I had left the habit of smoking after pursuing it for almost ten years throughout my education and after recently. There was an unquenchable desire for smoking a cigarette at that moment. I knew that my home was a sanitized space as far as tobacco was concerned. But still I made a mental search in all the possible places where I could have left a packet of cigarettes. I thought of myself as a hero in one of the Hollywood movies that I often watched in my laptop.

Simrin came out of the bathroom like Botticelli’s Venus. Her hair was not flowing the way Venus’ swayed. She stood in front of the tall mirror fitted on to my wardrobe shelf, giving a full view of her nudity. I looked at her as if I were seeing her for the first time. For some strange reason, her full bosom and shaped buttocks reminded me of Picasso’s cubist portraits of his girlfriends. I could see Simrin from all the angles.

My gaze was not affecting her at all. She looked around for a moment and picked up her clothes that were strewn all over. With practiced moves she wore her panty. The she pushed her legs through a pair of jeans. She picked up her bra and meticulously pushed her breasts inside its cups and with a feminine ease she hooked them by stretching and folding her hands behind her back. In a flash, she put the top over her head and now she was a fully clad woman.

Her face was grave and did not betray any dialogue that had been going on between her heart and mind. She opened her vanity bag, picked up a few things and did some make up work on her face. While doing it she had completely forgotten my presence in the room. Perhaps, wherever it be, when women do their make-up they feel at home. Finally Simrin got up and turned towards me.

There was a smile on her lips. I felt positive. I thought I was going to get an affirmative answer. I thought she was going to move in. Slowly she walked towards me and from her movement I could make out that she was going to play some pranks with me. I sat there without batting my eyelids even for the fraction of a second.

“No dear,” she whispered into my ear. “It would affect both of us. See, you have a dream to follow and I have mine. It is not that we would never stay together. May be at some point, when both of us feel that we had enough of our dream chasing, we could come under one roof. And I am sure, it would be really fantastic,” Simrin smiled at me.

Suddenly I felt Simrin was quite like my mother; calm and composed. Above all she sounded very caring. She talked to me as if she was negotiating with a very rich guest who suddenly turned dissatisfied with the luxuries of her hotel. She was patient, cheerful and stern to the right measure.

“Okay, if you believe that one day we would live together here, then I am okay with that,” finally I said. It was a sort of surrendering. I felt I was school boy whose demand for something expensive was politely turned down by a very caring mother.

“Who are after your friend’s life?” Simrin asks me while she moves rhythmically. I wish she does not talk. All the more I wish she does not even mention what has been going on for quite some time in my life. I don’t want to listen anything from her in these moments our blissful union. Yes, I know I am going to be here for a week. She also feels good about it. After one year, though she has not made up her mind of move in with me permanently, occasional spells of being together for a week   are quite welcome now.

I push my hands forward to grab by her back. It feels so good. I run my fingers through her spine and try to get up. She giggles and forces me down. “No, let me do it completely,” she heaves. She throws her head back and increases her movement. I think these are the best moments in my life. I am going to prolong it for a week while my friend rots there back at my pad alone.

The sudden remembrance of the image of my friend captured like a mouse in a trap works against that moment and Simrin knows it immediately. Without showing irritation she removes herself from me and lies down next to me. “I know you are worried about him. I should not have jumped all over you the moment you came in. I should have controlled myself,” says Simrin. I kiss her to silence and I feel a lot of love for her at this moment. I feel some kind of fear gripping me from all sides. I don’t want to think a lot about it but like an itch in the back of the brain, the image of my friend sitting like a frightened mouse inside my pad comes back to me consistently.

“What has he done for this?” Simrin asks. She has now measured the gravity of the situation from my tensed muscles and disturbing silence.

“They are after his life,” I feel so pathetic that I am not able to reveal who they are even to my Simrin. I look at a series of water colours by Shibu Natesan on the wall. She bought it from a collector when he wanted to offload these watercolours to purchase a large oil on canvas by the same artist. This was Simrin’s first art purchase. I persuaded to collect the series as it came up for sales in the secondary market. I had exhausted my budget as I burnt my pocket last March when I bought a large Sudhir Patwardhan from a Mumbai gallery.

“Why should I buy art at all?” Simrin had laughed as if she went mad at my suggestion. I told her that it was not only a good series of water colours but also it was a good investment. Shibu Natesan was going great in market and his price was appreciating at every passing season. It took almost a week to convince Simrin to put in the money.

“You know Shiv, I love these works now. Every night and every morning I look at them. Those missing kids seem to speak to me a lot of things. I don’t know I would ever buy a work of art in my life. But I am not going to leave them whatever may happen to Shibu Natesan or his market value,” Simrin says.

I try to smile. I am not able to focus on what Simrin says. I think of those people who met me a last month in Mumbai when I was there for a business meeting.

Simrin’s mobile rings. She picks it up from the side table and jumps up with a shriek.

I grab the mobile from her and see the number flashing in the screen. It is not a number, a name: Shiv Home.

Who is that calling in Simrin’s mobile from my home? If at all it is he, how come he knows Simrin’s number? And why should he call Simrin at all when he knows my number?

A shiver passes through my spine and I scramble out of the bed. I don’t know how the moments passed after that.

I honk the horn, against my ethical behaviour on road, furiously. I mutter bad words at those drivers who don’t speed up to clear the road for me. All the while I ask myself a question.

Who entered my home? What happened to him?

(Will be continued....)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Fugitives- Chapter 1

One week, that was what they told me when they brought me here.

“Just wait for one week. Things will simmer down. Then you can go back,” I could still feel the grain of Shiv’s voice. He looked troubled. He did not want to let me know that he was troubled. But as I was more anxious than him I could read out what had been going on in his mind.

I knew the gravity of the situation. I knew what I had done. But I never thought things would come to this passé.

Ishaan and Alok were standing near the windows. Perhaps they were remembering some scenes from a detective thriller movie. Their bodies were tensed. Though we were just four people in the room and all of us knew each other well, Ishaan and Alok exchanged glances loaded with doubt and fear.

I found the whole situation quite funny despite the fact that my life was in danger. Looking at Ishaan and Alok, I felt now they would draw pistols from their imaginary holsters and would smash open the door before overpowering the invisible attackers waiting to pounce on me out there.

“I don’t think someone would find this place,” Ishaan whispered. Shiv nodded his head in affirmation.

I looked at Shiv. He looked absolutely different from Ishaan and Alok. They could easily pass for college drop outs or the kind of cool guys who hang out at music stores and coffee shops. Their stubbles were a few days old and both of them wore low waist jeans and check-shirts.

Shiv was different; different in every sense. Like any other software engineer in the city, Shiv also wore a blue shirt and a pair of black trousers. The IT guys generally wore highly polished pointed shoes and Shiv was not different. Only thing that made Shiv different from the stock of software engineers was his moustache, a handle bar one, which he sported as if he were revolting in his own fashion against the norms and customs of the industry he was enrolled in.

“Hey, look at that,” Alok called Ishaan over to the windows. Both of them leaned over the sill and looked down for quite some time. I too wanted to go and see what they were looking at. But then I thought it was not good to give more tensions to those young men who wanted to protect my life at any cost. I smiled at them. I could see their thighs tightening and biceps bulging.

I sat comfortably in the bean bag and looked around. I should be happy for the arrangement that Shiv had already made for me. He had done everything so meticulously. A lap top with an Aircel modem was already on. There were a lot of books in the shelves that ran along the walls. There were hardly any books that betrayed Shiv’s profession as a software engineer. Most of them were literary works of high merit and biographies. I could see a Picasso etching, a Campbell Soup print by Andy Warhol and a small Ravinder Reddy head in that spacious drawing room. The music collection was quite impressive.

“Your taste is excellent,” I told Shiv. Startled Ishaan and Alok turned their attention from park below and stared at me. I smiled at them. They went back to their vigilance. They were playing out their roles very well, I told myself. I really wished they had a pair of pistols with them and some background scores for effect, they would have then and there got my stalkers.

From the bean bag, I looked at Shiv who was standing a few paces away from me near the counter of the kitchen attached to the huge drawing room where I was sitting. I could see Shiv towering over me from that angle.

“This is a great pad man. I think, those guys have given me a much needed vacation,” I tried to joke with him.

Shiv returned a pale smile. Had Ishaan and Alok been detectives on duty, Shiv was their commander. Things looked absolutely cinematic.

“Look man, the fridge is full. Even if you splurge, the stuff will last for a week,” Shiv opened the double door-ed fridge and told me as if he were a sales executive in a super store. “Here, two crates of beer and over there you have the bar at your disposal. Feel at home. I will stay with Simrin for a week and anything you need just give me a buzz,” Shiv told me things as if I was his junior executive in the company.

“Sounds good, but I don’t know why I should from them. What are they going to do with me? Are they going to knock me off?” I asked Shiv. I wanted to control the growing frustration in me. My voice, though controlled was now tinged with irritation. “Okay Shiv, I understand it is dangerous out there. They are after my life. But how long? Are things going to cool down after week?”

Ishaan and Alok now looked more at ease with their assumed duty. They started chatting with each other, which showed that their tension was over.

“Hey, Shiv, buddy, this fourth floor pad is fabulous man. Look over there you have a swimming pool. Nice views when babes are in, right?” Alok slurped and Ishaan high fived with him.

Shiv went up to them and handed over two cans of Tiger beer to them. Ishaan looked at his can that came straight from the freezer. Alok had already opened his can.

“ brings me the memories of Bangkok...bang bang cock...” Ishaan laughed and kissed the beer can.

I did not like drinking from cans as the young guys did. Shiv knew this. He had already poured the beer in long glass and handed over to me. I smelled it and sipped once.

This is one liquid that tastes absolute bland when drank in room temperature. From a freezer it tastes heaven. It reminds you of tropical forests, beaches, sun shine, music, wild parties, dreadlocks, candle lit rooms, fluffy duvets and the soft fingers moving along your legs.

The door bell rang. I jumped up and hurriedly went to the main door. “May I come in,” a young girl with Mongolian features stood there at the door. I looked at her intently. She laughed and again said, “Sir, may I come inside?” I realized that she had a nasal intonation while she spoke.

“Yes, yes...” I said.

“But you are blocking my way,” she laughed again. It was then I saw myself standing at the threshold of the room, my mouth partly open as if I had seen an apparition. She pushed me aside and walked inside.

“Remove your shorts and T-shirts,” while lighting some incense and a little candle in a glass bowl she told me. It was a sort of order that any man would like to hear and appreciate from anybody other than one’s own wife or girl friend for quite some time. She order me to my primitive self.

“Hey hey...hold on...not here in front of me. Go in there and wrap it around your waist,” she threw a fluffy white towel at me and showed me the door of the bathroom. When I changed and came back she had already prepared the room. She dimmed the light, lowered the temperature of the air conditioner from 25 to 18 degree Celsius. The room now filled in with some kind of fragrance that you thought only existed in your memories.

I sat down on my bed. Then she bent down to wash my feet with a hot wet towel. Once she finished cleaning my feel, she looked up to my face and folded her arms in reverence. “Namaste,” she said in a nasal tone.

I did not know what to say. I had forgotten my place of origin, my state of being and my whereabouts now. I was just there with a girl who spoke to me through nose and showed me all the symptoms of submission. “Lie down on your back,” She ordered again. I loved the way she ordered me around.

Nimble fingers touched my weathered toes. A shiver passed through my body. Each pore of my body opened to a new wind and fragrance. She opened a small kit that she had brought with her and took out two small plastic bottles. Once contained a cream and the other contained some oil. She poured the cream into her left palm. I saw the cream helplessly oozing down in slow motion. She massaged my tired feet, then the shins and the knees. I closed my eyes and transported myself into a land of imaginations.

Oil followed the round of cream. It was heaven. I feel into a deep slumber.

“Hey are sleeping,” the nasal voice woke me up. She was sitting on my knees and smiling at me; a manicured smile. To my shame suddenly I realized that my little man was standing erect. Her image over my knees was symmetrically divided into two by my erect manliness. I felt ashamed of myself.

“Look, he is asking for something,” she leaned over me and touched my nose. Then she touched her own nose. She repeated the act two three times more. Some kind of code, I thought myself. I knew that now she was asking whether I was ready to pay for a massage with a happy ending.

“Come on man, you have not even finished half a Tiger. Have you passed out by then?” Shiv was standing over me and shaking me up.

I jumped up and sat erect in my bean bag. Beads sweat appeared on my temples. I looked at Shiva, then Ishaan and Alok vaguely. They looked distant and disoriented.

“Don’t worry man....You look a bit tired. Brace up ....None is going to touch you. I have my plans,” Shiva touched my shoulders. For a moment I felt a sort of irritation because I never liked somebody treating me like a child.

I smiled at him feebly.

“Okay, now we are going to leave you alone. Relax. Ishaan and Alok are going to be around downstairs. I have arranged their stay. Anytime you can call me. But you please do not venture out. Anything you need, you just give me a buzz. Don’t open the door for anybody other than Ishaan and Alok,” Shiv took his bag, the usual leather lap  top case, threw his blazers over his shoulders and walked out.

Ishaan and Alok followed him, exactly the way the deputies followed their commander.

I was left alone now. I knew that the girl would not come back again. It was a short lived visit in my memory. Still I hoped against hope. I thought someone would ring the door bell.

And it did ring.

(Will Continue)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Don’t Have Any Regrets- To My Children Series 30

(with my daughter Kartyayani MJ. Pic by Mrinal Kulkarni)

There were several moments of frustration in my life. When I was not able to tolerate the pain of those moments, I thought of quitting the profession that I had chosen; profession of an art critic. Actually, when some public debate happens people accuse me of being a ‘self styled’ art critic. In fact, if you are not an ‘official’ critic for any newspaper or magazine or journal or television channel, then even if you are a qualified critic (means someone with a post graduation in art history and criticism) and a practicing one too, you are a ‘self styled’ art critic. So there is a grain of truth in that accusation. When you practice art criticism independently, you are a self styled art critic. No university can make you an art critic. You need to practice, diligently, patiently and you should be ready to make enemies. If you want to be in everyone’s good book, then criticism cannot be your chosen profession. There is a wide chasm between soothsaying and art criticism.

I have never been in anybody’s good book. But whoever comes close to me goes back with some fond memories about my work. It is not a self attestation of my own conduct and demeanour. One of my friends who is a gallerist in Delhi, always tells me that after working with me in a couple of project, he finds it difficult to work with anybody else. I consider it as great compliment. When I was curating a show for one of the main galleries in Mumbai, the owner of the gallery walked up to me and said, “Now I understand all what I had heard about you were just unfounded allegations. It is a pleasure working with you.” I smiled at him. This is the fate of an art critic who does not mince his words. If you want to make an enemy out of your close friend, just be frank and tell that his or her work sucks. I had faced it several times. Once I wrote in Indian Express that some artist’s installations were like cats. Those who could not afford to have a tiger could keep a cat as a pet. The artist was infuriated. She told someone that she would see me out of Delhi. But I have been here now for almost two decades. Whenever some people threaten me with dire consequences (often it is like, we will see how you will curate shows) I just laugh at them because they have not given me any chair to sit. How could they take away a position that has not been given to me by them?

This attitude does not mean that I am always like a superman or super fighter devoid of human emotions. I remember this funny incident: I used to work out in gym quite regularly and was keeping a good physique during the boom years. Though boom years did not last more than four years, most of the people used to think that market boom was going to be there eternally. To live in such eternal heaven, most of them thought that they needed good physique. To build a good physique out of the erstwhile starving bodies was a difficult job. And most of them were in their late thirties or early forties thanks to the late arrival of the market boom. So it was almost like restructuring and old building for contemporary needs. As a part of it and also after becoming too much health conscious, many used to go to the high end hospitals to have a complete body check up (actually many of them needed complete mental check up but these hospitals were not offering such facilities). Once they went through several tests they realized that their bodies were a living museum of exotic diseases that haunted the rich people. They were not unhappy because they knew that everything came with a price tag. As a result of this most of them had hit gyms during those years.

(Malayalam star Late Jayan)

My exercise regime however did not have much to do with market boom. I was into regular gymming ever since I realized that body was a medium not only to live my soul out but also to do many other things. Like many other boys growing up in eighties, I too worshipped well bodied actors like Jayan and Kamal Haasan. Even after settling in Delhi I have been doing regular physical exercises. But I should accept that I too had faced a sort of peer pressure during the boom years. When I knew many of my friends drove a few kilometres to go to the best gyms in the city or even drove to high end gardens to do jogging or morning walk, I too got carried away. Though I did not drive to gyms or public parks, I put an extra oomph to my gym routine and worked out well for a toned body. Now the difference was that thanks to some of my friends who thought I had a terrible dressing sense gifted me with tight fitting designer shirts. Chintan Upadhyaya, Somu Desai and Murali Cheeroth quite regularly presented me with shirts.

One day when I was in an exhibition opening in Mumbai, now with a tight shirt unable to hold my pumped up biceps, a large glass of beer in hand and flowing curly locks, the gallerist who had invited me to attend the do could not resist herself. She walked up to me and asked whether I did regular gymming. When I confirmed that she asked me a question that had shocked and amused me at the same time. She asked whether I ever read any books. I did not know what to say. I knew that she came to a conclusion that I spent most of my time in gym, pumping iron very hard. That was quite a shocker for me and I realized that it is obviously permissible for an artist to have a good physique but not a critic. A critic should be wearing bad clothes, he should hang a cloth or jute bag across his shoulders, should have emaciated looks complete with an unkempt beard. That’s why Manjunath Kamath, an artist friend of mine once famously said, “Art critics are like local priests (pundits). Even if he has a BMW, he would be appreciated only if he comes by a cycle.”

What I want to say is this much: however cool you pretend you are, however you project yourself as a fighter, there are some weak moments. Or should I call these moments, the true moments, when you really feel what you are and what you should be. I used to feel these ‘true moments’ once in a while. Often it happened during March and April. Though I had left Kerala two decades back, my body clock still responds to the seasonal changes back home. In Kerala, March is the month of examinations. Also it heralds the beginning of summer, whereas in Delhi March is the end of winter often heralded by the celebration of Holi. Back home, as a young boy I disliked the month of March because of examinations and also hated it because it filled in you a sense of vacuum. After the examinations, the long summer vacation came. Though I knew that I could spend endless hours playing with mates or with the visiting cousins, there was always a zone of loneliness and void where I used to push myself into. As I grew up, some vague feelings started coming to fill up that void. I did not know how to explain those feelings. Nor did I know how to tackle them. I wanted to run away from that feeling. This feeling of nowhere persisted for a few weeks and faded away. And in Delhi I knew it was coming back to me.

(Kamal Haasan)

During the months of March and April, I often did my soul searching activities. Where I used to feel the void once now started filling up with negative thoughts. I remembered all those people who had done injustice to me. All those occasions when I was rendered useless or I felt humiliated rushed back to me during those months. I used to fall in severe depression and many times I thought of quitting it and going elsewhere to seek a different life. However, there have always been some people who appear in my life during those moments of frustration. Like the messengers of God, they come in your life without burdening you with the feeling that they are there to save you. They just remain there with you like the friends often do. In this chapter I would like to talk about those people who came to save me from untimely peril and depression. Some of them were artists and some were not. When I faltered they extended their hands, I held those hands and walked further. Some of them said good bye at some point and some of them remained with me throughout. I am sure I would be walking with many in the coming days too.

“Keep digging at the same place till you find water. A well cannot be made out of small pits dug here and there. You need to dig consistently and persistently at the same place for long,” K.S.Radhakrishnan smiled at me through his long beard. When he smiles, behind the specs one could see the sides of eyes crinkling, imparting some sort of impishness to his smile. Radhakrishnan likes imps. He has made his protagonist Musui to enact several impish acts. Growing up in Kuzhimattam, a village near Kottayam, Radhakrishnan had acquired several stories of imps and the spirits that moved huge trees and stones over night. Each village person contained an imp in him. They manifested when they were expected to. Their lives and their stories had enriched the childhood of Radhakrishnan. He knew that when nothing happens, something or somebody will come to you from nowhere. “So, keep digging till you find water.” He told me this when I was telling him that I wanted to quit sometime in 2005.


Radhakrishnan’s words were like a spell that could bind me to the ground, where I had been digging randomly. I thought it was a great piece of advice. He was there always to guide me whenever he and myself thought I was going wrong. But he never advised me or anyone in the conventional sense; like giving a prolonged lecture or something. He just brought certain situations and probed whether I could do something towards it. When I tried to find a solution to that situation, slowly I realized that I too was in the same situation and it was time for me to find a way out of it. In 2005, I was frustrated like hell and I wanted to become a full time journalist, saying good bye to art criticism forever. It was then Radhakrishnan told me about how one dug a well. The story clicked and once again I plunged myself into the unchartered land of self styled art criticism.

In front of the huge studio in Chattarpur, which Radhakrishnan built in 1992, there used to be a white Ambassador car. I used to be a regular visitor in the studio (from where I work these days) and there was a gap of a year or so once I came back from London. Even after I resumed my regular visits to the studio, I never felt the absence of that white Ambassador there. But one day something happened and like a lightning the absence of it struck me. I immediately walked into the studio and asked where the car had gone. Radhakrishnan smiled at me and said, “It is still there.” “It is not seen there? Did you sell it?” I asked him with some sense of urgency. I knew that he had not been using that car for quite some time. He did not want to sell it because it was his ‘first’ car in Delhi. But Radhakrishnan insisted that it was there. Then he got up from his chair and walked out with me. He stood where the Ambassador car was parked once. He looked into my eyes and said, “I just buried him here.” I went closer to Radhakrishnan. Now both of us were standing over the grave of his Ambassador car. “I did not want him rust and decay in front of my eyes. So I gave him a decent burial.” I could understand what Radhakrishnan was telling. I could feel the soul of that car hovering around us. A white winged Ambassador car.

It was in this Ambassador that Radhakrishnan had come to meet us first. He came to pick Mrinal and me up from the Lalit Kala Akademy. He took us to a restaurant somewhere in Chanakyapuri and brought us a good lunch. Then he drove us to the Kirkee Village where he had his first studio. That time Radhakrishnan had just finished his huge sculpture for client. It was called ‘Song of the Road’ (Pather Panchali). The sculpture was installed on the top of a building in Sheik Sarai. It showed Musui pulling a rickshaw at which a crow was seen perched. A forwarding running Musui showed the future progress, the milieu that was refusing to change was represented by the rickshaw and the crow perched on it suggested time and death. That was the first time I saw a sculpture by Radhakrishnan. That was the first encounter with him. Even today that relationship continues stronger than ever. Radhakrishan does everything with a sense of flourish. And like a magician he conjures up things in front of you, which in fact he has been painstakingly planning and executing for days and months. Each time I sit with him, I learn something new in life. And one of the greatest lessons that I learned from him is this: never borrow money from a friend. He told me this not because that I should not ask when I needed but because the warning would make me work for situation that would never make me ask for money from anybody. I keep that word till now.

As we were a regular fix in Rabindra Bhavan buildings we never used to miss any happenings in and around it. We watched most of the theatre activities at the National School of Drama, music and dance festivals conducted by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the literary seminar conducted by the Sahitya Akademi. One day, while I was hanging out with a group of friends in the first floor lobby of Rabindra Bhavan, after attending some lectures in a Literature seminar, I met one person who just came forward to shake hands with me. His name was Vijayalal. He knew me as a writer in the Malayalam Weekly. He was very happy to meet me and I too was happy to meet one of my readers. As our conversation progressed, I came to know that Vijayalal worked at the Kerala House as an official and he had shift duties. Whenever he had night shifts, he spent his day time in the Sahitya Akademi library. He lived with his wife in the Kapurthala Plot, a few meters away from Rabindra Bhavan.

(With French cultural attache Theirrie)

That was the beginning of a friendship. Initially I thought Vijayalal was many years younger to me as he looked quite young. But soon I realized that he was a few years senior to me. Once we became friends it was difficult for us not to meet even for a day. We met quite regularly and one day he told me that he was working on a book. This news was quite a revelation because I never thought that Vijayalal wanted to be a writer. He was a good reader. But he explained the situation to me. A few years before he met me, he had had a vision. He saw something he had never seen. It was absolutely abstract but he felt a need to express what he had seen and felt. Since then he had been trying to put that vision into words. One day Vijayalal invited me to his home. His wife Neena, a wonderful person, cooked a wonderful meal for us. She also was my reader and as the daughter of a writer father (Kalavangodam Balakrishnan) she was very happy to have me as her close friend.

Vijayalal read out the lines that he had been writing. It sounded like the verses from Gitanjali but it was different. It was intimately personal and very intense. Language was failing here and there and he was facing difficulty in finding the right words. While reading Vijayalal was going through the same experience and whenever he failed to express it through the words he writhed in pain. Neena and I listened to his recitation silently. Finally, I asked him whether I could help him in editing it and rewriting a bit. Soon it became a regular practice for us to read, re-read and recite the manuscript. It went on for months. As time passed Mrinal and Neena became good friends. We spent a lot of time together with Vijayalal and family. Whenever I reached Kerala House, where he worked, he always bought lunch for me from the canteen there. In Delhi, Vijayalal’s house became our second home. Finally, the book ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (Let Truth Win) got published by the famous DC Books in Kerala. We were really happy. Vijayalal and Neena were two people in Delhi who helped me to come out of my depressions several times.

(Devanand Nair)

Devanand came to my life from a totally different scene; television and films. He was living in Mayur Vihar Phase III with his wife and two sons. We too were in Mayur Vihar Phase III. We met each other through a common friend and something clicked between us. Devanand is a very soft spoken with tremendous business acumen. When we met, he was the head of Laxmi Studios in NOIDA. One day he took me to his studio, showed the shootings in progress and asked me whether we could do some programs together for the Malayalam channels. Those days there were only two Malayalam Channels; Asianet and Soorya. They were not commissioning too many programs from outside. However, Devanand felt that we should try and create some interesting programs for television. We worked for endless hours devising scripts for family oriented games and entertainment programs. It was Devanand who introduced me to several family games, an interface of entertainment and commodity marketing. I did a lot of scripts for Devanand but nothing was made into a program. Then Devanand’s attention went to making films as he started working as an executive producer. I did a few scripts for him. And Anand Kumar of Delhi Heights and Zila Gaziabad fame was our friend and we had several script discussions at that time as Anand Kumar was trying desperately to become a director, which he finally became. It was through Devanand I met Sarath, the director and I did the script of ‘Desire’ for him. I wrote the script based on Protima Bedi’s life and finally Shilpa Shetty acted the lead role.

When I talk about my film scripts, I should add that I do not have any formal training in writing scripts. However, whenever Devanand told me that I could write one, I felt that I could do that. After meeting Sarath, as per his request I wrote two scripts for him. One was submitted for a competition conducted by the Swedish Film Akademy in 2008 and it was selected as one of the ten good scripts from all over the world. But it could not gain funding though it had a translational theme running between India and Japan. The second script was about the Sri Lankan Tamils living in a place called Punaloor in Kerala. During the Indo-Sri Lankan peace negotiations, a lot of Sri Lankan Tamilians were given shelter in Kerala and since then they have been leading a pathetic and obscure life near some forest land. Sarath got interested in their lives and he asked me to do a script for a movie. I did some basic script work and as the subject demanded a lot of research and as Sarath could not find a sponsor to send me to Sri Lanka for further research, the project was shelved. I started doing the script for the movie ‘Desire’ almost at the same time and successfully finished it within the stipulated time. However, thanks to the Bollywood politics, my name in the movie is credited as story writer. The credit of script writing goes to someone who has translated it from English to Hindi, and also is a member of a registered script writers’ association. Whenever I felt down in the dumps Devanand came up with some crazy ideas so that I could get involved in writing it down in the form of a script. It was my association with him gave me enough confidence to do three documentaries on artists namely Jeram Patel, N.N.Rimzon and Sanjeev Sinha.

(Sarath, film director)

The years 2004-05 were important in many ways. In these two years I made several decisions; first of all to leave art scene and secondly to become a full time journalist though my mind was not there. I did not choose to become a teacher. I wonder why I did not think in those lines. Perhaps I had too much of teaching experience since my boyhood days. Joining Malayala Manoram was the important event happened during this time. The salary was not enough to meet the expenses. And the job was not satisfying at all. My days spent in covering local Malayali communities, celebrities from these areas, local Malayali politics and culture. I still maintain my opinion that many of those people whom I had covered or had been asked to cover by the editor, would have never become a leader or a cultural activist had they been in Kerala. The less talented or half talented always got a chance to prove themselves when they were leading a migrants’ life. It is amongst the migrant communities that you see a special desire for sharing or acquiring a chunk of the culture that they had left behind in their home lands.

(George Joseph)

It was then I met George. I call him Kappa George. Kappa in Malayalam means Tapioca, a favourite tuber food of Malayalis. George runs a car workshop in NOIDA. He earned quite a lot of money by doing this work. Once he got his foothold in the North India, he started taking agricultural land on lease somewhere near NOIDA and started cultivating many things. Rice and Tapioca was the main crops other than the seasonal vegetables. I first met George when I went to cover his achievement as a Tapioca producer. In our first meeting itself I realized that George was a very simple man with a love of concern for the migrant people. He was a member of an organization called ‘Human Rights Society’. This organization worked for helping people to get pension and so on. He made me also a member of the society. George liked drinking and he invited me to the clubs he visited. I don’t know whether he was a great influence in my life or not. But I could say that he was a solace whenever wanted to vent my suppressed emotions. He was a patient listener and a good narrator of events. We synched well for almost two years. But once I left Manorama the chances or our meeting became less. However, we exchange pleasantries once in a while over phone calls.


Another important person was Swami Samvidanand. Like in many people’s life, Samvidanand just happened in my life. He was a very lean thin young boy whose early life history was totally unknown to anyone. He had taken sanyaas from some Ashram in Haridwar and was associated with one of the ashrams as a priest. One day he decided to come to Delhi. He was an avdhoota with an interest in literature. We met or he happened in my life in one of the literary meetings at the Kerala Club in Connaught Place. When I left Kerala Club, he came with me to the Manorama office at the INS Building. Then it became a routine. He came in the evening. We walked along the streets discussing literature. He recited his poems for me. I called him Swami. Everyone called him Swamy. He was a very special swamy that he could gel with anybody, irrespective of gender, caste, religion or food habits. Even if you were eating beef, he could sit there without batting an eyelid or showing displeasure. In fact swamy could even come with me to buy beef from the beef stalls near NOIDA. Also he could engage with the drunken people in an evening party without touching a drop of liquor. He had several qualities as a human being.

Swamy was very close to me and in turn he became close to everyone I was close to. At some point he even stayed with us for almost a month. He was soft spoken and had an interest in anything and everything. He wrote poems and even wrote reports for magazines. In the meanwhile even got a CD of his poems cut in one of the recording studios in Kochi. He was a darling of everyone in Delhi. He could walk into anybody’s house and demand food and shelter. With him I too had gone to many houses and became an acquaintance of people whom otherwise I would have never met or talked in my life. Then finally one day Swamy disappeared. People said this and that. People came to me asking for him. I did not have any clue. Whatever I heard of him was not good and I was very sad. Finally I heard that he was in Mumbai and even heard that he was visiting the artists in their studios located in Borivili. I have only fond memories about Swamy. I wish him all the best wherever he is now.

(Smitha Verma)

Before I conclude I need to talk about one more person who made my life worth living at a point when I was thinking totally negative about myself. This had something to do with my gender as a male. I was thirty three when I went to London for my studies. As I mentioned in one of the previous chapters, most of the fellow students were girls. I was married and was senior to most of them by several years. I never could show any kind of romantic affection to any of them. When I came back to Delhi, I did not find anyone welcoming me other than Mrinal. It had hurt my male ego. The thought that I was no longer desirable for any other woman made me think totally negative about my personality and life. I pushed myself into a sort o cocoon of self denial. Then suddenly Smitha Vijay happened in my life.

I met her at a restaurant in Park Hotel, New Delhi. I was there to report an audio launch event by a then emerging singer named K.K. A young girl was there at the bar waiting for the singer to emerge from somewhere. Most of the reporters were from television channels and were glamorous by their profession and personality. I was hiding myself within me perhaps and was standing like a shadow near the bar. This girl looked at me and smiled. I gave her a feeble smile and we got into some kind of chatting. She told me that she was a Delhi born and brought up Malayali. Also she mentioned that her marriage had been fixed to a Punjabi boy. Then she laughed. And soon we became very close friends. She was working with the Hindustan Times and once in a while I went to meet her. Whenever she came down from her office to meet me, she took me to a nearby cafe and treated me with coffee and bites. Always she paid. I never had enough money to pay. But she never made me feel so. I liked her very much because she treated me like a human being. I still like her a lot and she too likes me a lot.

This chapter would bring an end to these narratives. When I started this series almost a year back, I did not have any clue that it would run to thirty chapters. In fact I did not have any plan about writing this series. Writing led me all along. The logic of narration evolved instantly. I just needed to type the first line, the rest happened. I never paused for ideas or the style of narrative. It was always there in me. Now, if at all I write a second part to it, it would be different in complexion because I no longer want to address my kids. They will be growing up seeing me living my life the way I want. Whatever I narrated so far has been the story of my life that I had led in ways that mostly differed from my innate desire to have it differently. I was the victim of my own thinking and a time that made me think so. But I don’t have any regrets.