Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Painting Rainbow White in Vain

How can you measure a rainbow

Using an inch tape or ruler scale?

How can you weigh the weight of a dream

Using your rusted scales and computers?

You may paint a rainbow white

And call it a cloud suddenly appeared

You may package a dream with a barcode

And read it before its expiry date.

But look, the sea is getting hot

As sun puts an immersion coil of rainbow

In to its salty wishes and emerald depths.

Along the shore dreams are spread

Like shells and shiny sands

Play as much as you can there

But come and take a dip whenever you can.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Curse Not

Curse not

For they will congregate

At the room corners

At the darkened spaces

Of mind, soul and body

And in the corners of dreams

Where light of sleep does not reach

They will grow like shadows

Or termites of ill will

They will weave webs

To trap the flying thoughts.

Curses fly like bats in the day

Hopelessly lost in light and heat

Like a scream let out in a glass cage

By freedom captivated before ages.

Curse not, because they come back

Like a ray of sun reflected by thousand mirrors

Or like love once lost and then patched up

With knots of unhappiness in each caressing.

No holy smoke could exorcise

Curses living in corners

Because we are the ones

Who fold ourselves to form corners

Curse not

Because winds, waters, flowers and fragrance

Do not curse

They just bloom like a day dream

Dreamt for no reason,

But leaves a smile on all lips.

Corners are reversed ends of existence

From where you expect the endless

Stream of life and creativity

Why dry a pool with a spell of curse

When you are the eternal source of joy and bliss?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Waswo X.Waswo May Remove These Images at Will

(From Waswo X.Waswo's latest exhibition in Delhi)

‘It All May Be Removed at Will’, Waswo X.Waswo tells his viewers. The title is a bit misleading as much as it is leading to certain bitter truths about the artist, his thinking process, his photographic works and above all the very meaning of a photographed image. These photographs in the current show with the title mentioned above at the Alliance Francaise, New Delhi is a re-look at Waswo’s major project of 2007, which had resulted into a show as well as a book. The project had brought him laurels and bricks alike. Laurels were placed on his big palms for the kind of involvement he had been having for almost two decades of engagement with India and the bricks were amply thrown at him for being an ‘outsider’ who exotic-ized Indian ‘poverty’ and ‘struggle’ for a larger audience. Hence, the current project, ‘IAMBRAW’ is an analysis, subtle and humorous as it is quite natural to Waswo, of his positioning in the Indian contemporary art scene as an artist, writer besides being an interpreter of those maladies that are called ‘interpretations of a work of art by critics’.

Waswo’s show poses a problem that has deep roots in the Indian psyche as well as in the psyche of those people/artists who belong to the western world. The problem is multipronged because as Indians we look at anybody who comes to live in India and present India for a larger audience through writings or visuals, as an outsider. While we respect the ‘outsider’ for being an ‘outsider’ with a different skin complexion, we hate him for making an opinion about India. He may look at the past and interpret it using his own tools and could get away with it. We would appreciate it: people like Darlymple, Lapier, Tully and so on have got away with it. Perhaps Rushdie and Naipaul did not go unhurt because of their Indian origin despite their western perspective. Waswo partly lives in India (Rajasthan) and claims to be a world citizen with a universal gender identity (which has not been a problem so far when it comes to his art). And he is deeply in love with India. And as a politically and theoretically conscious personality (artist), he does not want any one of his subjects to be unpaid or unacknowledged in his works nor does he wants his collaborators in art production be reduced to an apprentice or unnamed helper. Waswo makes it sure that he is a co-producer (creator) of his works along with many others (including Rajesh Soni and Rakesh Vijay).

(Artist- Waswo X.Waswo)

A politically correct artist like Waswo, should not be criticized for exoticizing India through a western perspective. But it often happens as he portrays people from different walks of life. In India Poems project he was looking at the people in and around the Rajasthan villages (especially near Udaipur) and generally from different states of India and definitely his works mostly printed in sepia tones looked at the people in ‘ordinary’ situations. In a country which is going through the process globalization, the qualification, ‘ordinary’ has a different meaning; it means that those people or things left out of the mainstream discourse of the urbanization process, a possible and probable byword for globalization. In this ordinary-ness you would find people selling dhania (coriander), tea, fruits and so on. You would also see people doing different kinds of manual works. Waswo was looking at the other India, which some of our economists call as ‘bharat’.

Obviously Waswo was not planning to make a comparison between the two Indias as there were so many photography artists making photographs on the urban India. There were also artists from all over India making the photographs on rural India too, in a way to self-exoticize their own country. But Waswo’s intention was different. He wanted to narrate a different story/poem on/of India, where people looked poor but felt rich. Or they looked impoverished for the cursory viewer but led a rich life both in materialistic and spiritual terms. However, Waswo was criticized by the Indian critics for making India a land of poor people, a nation of strugglers and they used the Edward Said’s thoughts on Orientalism as a weapon to attack him. Nobody heeded his alternative suggestions and stories. They looked at the sepia toned pictures of poor people and thought that Waswo was making an exotic series.

(an image from the exhibition)

So this present project is a confession, a challenge, an explanation, posing of a problem through the very same images of the India Poems. The same photographs from the India poem series are brought in this exhibition too but with their glass frames interpolated with generic words that would qualify the work or status of the people portrayed here. These glass frames function as a grid between the image and the viewer and the interpolated words would give a new direction to interpret these works. With the phrase, it all may be removed at will, looming large over the heads and consciousness of the viewers, they would tend to read them as transient images that demand a different interpretation so that a new existence could be established for themselves. For Waswo it is a sort of self-immolation act, an extreme act to prove his position (perhaps innocence and sincerity of thought), if there are people left around to care for his act.

This exhibition does not have a catalogue. But it does have a small booklet written by Waswo in a story form with the same title. Here Waswo qualifies himself as Photo-Wallah and moves around with a friendly rickshaw puller. He recounts the stories of those people who had been photographed not only by himself but also by innumerable tourists who ‘really’ look for some exotic images about India, especially about Rajasthan. An old woman tea vendor used to sit at the steps of a haveli. She chose that particular place because it gave her the ‘right’ presence with the right chiaroscuro. Many photographed her and she took fifty rupees for ‘modeling’. Waswo was friendly with her. He also took her photograph though she refused to take a payment from him. She died one day. Then Waswo came to know her story. Her sons were planning to sell the haveli owned by her. She was holding the fort by sitting at the steps and selling tea making sure that in her life time the haveli would not be sold. She was rich but led a monk like life. The dhania seller too had huge lands and a rich house. But he kept selling dhania because that was what he knew all his life. People respected him for what he did. People who looked poor had a rich life back home.  And Waswo narrates their story in this book.

 (From the show)

In the meanwhile Waswo has an encounter with a ‘nationalist’ anaemic academic lady who scolded him for making exotic pictures. She pledges her words on Edward Said. But she is not ready to listen to the other and others’ stories. One day Waswo meets a Sadhu who was a geology professor and now lives by the river Ganges but speaks little. He does not have any faith but he looks for the meaning of faith by being silent. Finally he realizes that ‘sensing’ the things beyond our reason, is the right kind of faith. One does not need words to do that. The Sadhu is aware of the fact that even his picture could be misinterpreted as a ganja smoking generic sadhu who lives by the river. But he is not worried. Finally Waswo develops the picture of the dead tea vendor. He does not understand her as the woman who used to live at the steps of her haveli. Now he looks at the invitation card. He walks to the river and throw the shredded image and the invitation.

The problem of this problematizing show is that once a work of art goes with or without accompanying words, it assumes the nature of an independent text and the textual readings could deflect the authorial intentions. Here the authorial intention is supported by another array of words in the form of a short story written by the artist himself and the interpolations on the glass frame. In this sense, this show establishes itself on a previous misinterpretation of the same images shown in a different context. Still one may wonder whether, despite these interpolations and textual support, these images would ever purge themselves of the accusations of exoticization by the artist. I fear that the textuality of the images with or without the accompanying ‘text’ would always lead the viewer to look at them as independent images culled from ‘ordinary’ Indian life. The alternative possibilities of the images have to be re-iterated at every stage in order to say that these are non-exotic images.  In the case of other images created by Waswo in other projects, his positioning become politically evident because there he establishes  his gender and social identity through various narratives. In this sense, even if we remove the previous mis-reading at will, there are all the possibilities of them to be mis-read once again. But then we can always say that that is the fate of an image that projects itself into the orbit of art and abandons the fuel power of the authorial intentions.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unclaimed Memories

What should be the right kind of expression when you speak about death and unclaimed dead bodies? Looking at the artist and the researcher who were making a joint presentation on unclaimed dead bodies against the backdrop of a huge building that had a specially created facade with rusted iron sheets, in an evening that was hot enough to feel suffocated, I was thinking about the facial expressions of the people who generally talked about death. The expressions of those presenters looked more pleasant than the subject demanded though their voices imparted the required gravity and depth of the subject.

In the dimly lit courtyard the adaptation of the Brancussi head by the artist looked ominous. The lower light casted long shadows of the speakers on the brick wall behind them, reminding the audience of all spirits that still hovered around as they invoked issue of the unclaimed dead bodies. The artist, a good orator himself, talked about death the way he talked about life. The beautiful researcher with her shiny fair skin looked a small piece of paper in which she had written small little cues that helped her to articulate her thoughts.

Each sentence was punctuated by a silence but I thought that the silence was lightened by a lingering smile on the lips of the presenters. I must have been imagining that smile there because the gravity of death was so strong that I needed something to lighten up my already troubled mind. Don’t misunderstand me. I was not troubled by any memories of unclaimed bodies. In fact I was troubled by unclaimed memories. Memories are such flecks of past events that shower on us like snow filings and cover our being with a thin layer of melancholy. Even happy memories have a melancholic side to it as we try to re-live them in our imagination and become aware of the fact that such moments cannot be re-lived with the same intensity any more. Melancholy does not need a reason to manifest. If you are human being, there are always more than enough reasons to be melancholic. Memories just trigger it.

Both of them wore black clothes; the artist in a pair of black jeans and a full sleeved black shirt, and the researcher, a black executive pants, black T-shirt and a black pull over. I listened to them intensely and each word sunk into my being like unclaimed words. A minimal audience sat enthralled by the information and data about unclaimed dead bodies and I was sure that each person in the audience was thinking about himself or herself as a dead body which they sincerely wanted to be claimed by someone. It is a huge weight on anybody who chances upon thinking about death and imagines the possibility of being unclaimed by somebody.

After the presentation most of us gathered there did not want to talk much. We came out of the courtyard, stood at the steps, smoked and those who wanted to talk at all, talked in hushed tones as if there were a few unclaimed dead bodies were lying there in our midst. A friend had organized a post-presentation party at her home. A flamboyant and outspoken lady, an artist herself and an art collector in her own right had invited me also to her home. At her home she stood in front of each painting that she had collected over a period of time and explained the reasons for her to collect each of those works. Her reasons were convincing enough like an array of liquor bottles with recognizable and covetable brands arranged at the desk of her private bar. I thought the people turned up for the party, including the artist and the researcher had forgotten the topic that they had been talking and discussing a couple of hours before.

I am not a sociable person. I do not do smooth talking. I prefer silence to eloquence. Perhaps, that is one reason why I spend a lot of time at my desk and write all those unsaid words piled up in my mind. I try to avoid parties and if at all I attend some unavoidable gatherings I choose to be a good listener, which often puts me into trouble. People who do not find anyone to talk to, find me for sure and come up with some issues which I do not want to listen or have any interest. Party talkers can talk on any issues authentically and in most of their talks they are the heroes and in the incidents that they narrate they are always the winners. Often self-centric talks slip over to gossips which would definitely tarnish the identity and personality of some people who are absent there and sitting elsewhere absolutely unaware of the dung that is being hurled at them from some corner of the world.

Luckily the post-presentation party was less crowded and I counted the number of people, both males and females and was satisfied by the more or less parity proportion between them. I was sure that each male would find a female for alcohol induced conversation. And there are some conversationalists always in such parties who generally hold the attention of the majority thereby saving uninteresting people like me from losing grace. You just need to be an absent minded listener around such people and nod your head in regular intervals. Your eyes would glitter in such a way that a seasoned observer of people like me could say for sure that the glitter in your eyes is just a curtain behind which you hide an immense land of imagination and self absorption.

The researcher, a beautiful lady from the US walked up to me after sometime. She might have noticed my reticence and aloofness or she might have been tired of the gravity of the topic she had been researching for a number of years. Imagine someone coming from a far away country, doing research on the unclaimed bodies in a different country, spending endless hours in morgues, government offices and eating with sanitized hands that still carry the smell of unclaimed death. It is horrible. I looked at her face from a corner as she was coming to me with the same smile that I had seen when she was presenting at the courtyard.

She asked me what I was drinking. I looked at my glass and then at her glass. She was holding some white wine in a very sleek crystal glass. For the first time I noticed that she was wearing a bangle studded with white sparkling stones. I could not make out whether it was diamonds or some other precious stones. Her facial skin was smooth but her fingers showed some signs of tiredness as if they were threatening her with some impending wrinkling. I told her that I was drinking some Black Label whiskey. She said she enjoyed drinking whiskey but as she was flying back to the US by early morning she preferred to drink only wine. I smiled at her. I thought she would wake up with a heavy head and some hangover and her flight would be horrible. She read my thoughts and told me that she was a frequent flyer. And we smiled into the space which was there in the form of a rectangle half filled with light and half with darkness.

Soon a few more people came around us and the corner was not enough to accommodate too many people so we moved to the dining table. There were eight chairs and we all sat and I realized that apart from the seven people who were sitting and were having a serious conversation about some serious matter out there at the garden, there were eight more people in the party. The hostess hovered over us asking what we wanted and prodding us to taste some exotic culinary experiments that she had recently learned while travelling in Europe. And old man servant quietly came in regular intervals and filled in the bowls and platters with several forms of fish, chicken, cashew nuts, pea nuts, fried peas, sushis and innumerable varieties of other munchies that I found like a strange people in a strange street who had made a strong impression on me even if I had seen them in a fleeting glance. I could have remembered their faces in any other land at any other time but I did not remember their names or identities.

You should tell us a story, the researcher told me. I was taken aback initially and I mumbled at her why she wanted a story from me. I tried to joke saying that I was a person with no interesting stories. But parties are such events that where even if someone asks you to stand upside down for the heck of it there would be at least five people to join that chorus of demand. So now all of them were asking me to tell a story. I thought that this American lady did not know me or she knew me as a friend of her friend or she might have read some stuff that I had written somewhere. But the rest of the seven people knew me well. They knew me as one of the uninteresting persons in the crowd. But now they were also demanding a story to be told by me.

Story telling is always a cathartic experience. The moment you embark on telling a story, the you realize that you are not only narrating the core incident that holds the story as a story but you keep inventing incidents that would substantiate the core of it. Events and people come into it as you go on telling a story and they independently take positions within the narration and at times take the whole course of recounting into some other direction. It is very difficult to snatch these characters back to the thread of telling. A good story teller is one who let the characters move on their own but knows when they should be pulled back so that digressions and straying would not mar the gripping quality of the story being told. While telling a story you purge yourself of those untold words, you whet your silence and you become eloquent in a strange fashion. A story teller is like a very coy bride who shows her sexual prowess in bed putting the bridegroom into a delirium of happiness and desire, and goes back to her coyness and shyness once the act is performed.

In fact I did not have a story to tell at that time. First of all I was not a story teller. As a journalist who had been writing about culture I had started having an aversion to anything that came with culture, including the people. But sometimes it is like that you get into a karmic relationship with what you do. You become very impulsive and however you try you go around and report on cultural developments. I keep an objective distance with the subject that I treat in my reports, articles and essays but at times it becomes very difficult to treat a subject like an object. You tend to probe a little more and get into the skin of the subject that you write about. May be that is one reason like people still call me for events and parties. They must be feeling that here is a person who could make a report out of nothing and write about people who are not particularly anything or anybody. In fact, when I look back, I too feel that I always liked people who are just nobodys. I always think that those people who are not anybodys or we think that are just plain and ordinary have more depth in them. They are like loose sand. If you just step on them, they might suck you in.

Please tell, she insisted. I did not know why she wanted to hear a story from me at all. Then I thought she was playing a practical joke on me. After that I imagined her asking the same thing to uninteresting people like me in whichever parties she attended as a way to add data to her research. Or was a party thing that generally these people played, making someone to tell a story? I thought it was a bit weird. But then there are people who tell stories and listen to others’ stories in order to purge themselves and the listeners of their sins. Story telling is a confession, may be; a confession of those hidden secrets that never get an audience and die with the person who hold those secrets. Isn’t it quite sad that people come to this earth, live a life of consequence or no-consequence, gather a lot of experience, commit the acts of piety and sin alike, keep so many unsaid words and secrets in their minds and then exist without leaving any trace?

I felt something similar between the unclaimed bodies and the untold stories. She was persuading with that same smile and same enthusiasm. The chorus was cheering her up and coaxing me because they did not have anything else to do than what they were doing. So I decided to tell a story that I had heard from someone whom I happened to meet in a train journey.

I was reading a book of tarot cards, which I had picked up from the railway station. I could have chosen any other book but I thought that I could check out tarot cards for two reasons; one, the journey was short enough to read a full length novel and long enough to read magazines that carried nonsense under various titles and various names. I knew the trade very well so I preferred not to pick up any magazines or weeklies. Two, I had never read a tarot card book before. I thought of knowing my past, present and future when I travelled between two stations. When I opened the book and flipped through a few pages I realized that I was not interested in any of those things discussed in the book. However, I kept on reading because I thought the most ordinary and uninteresting things might be holding some hidden truths or secrets for me.

From the next stop this lady came and sat opposite to me. She was a dark lady with beautiful eyes. From behind the book I observed her for a few moments. I noticed that she took not more than a few seconds to settle down in her seat. She had a strange sense of calmness on her face. Her eyes were distant in its gaze but still they had a sort of focus somewhere beyond. With one single glance she assessed the people who were sitting in that compartment and as she was doing it for a moment our gazes got locked and with an unseen key she opened the lock immediately and viewed the passing landscape outside the window. I looked at her long fingers and found that her nails were discoloured or coloured by some stains. I thought she was working in some factories or something. But soon I corrected myself as I could make out from her personality that she was not a working woman. But it was not good to strike up a conversation with a woman who had just come into the compartment and I thought that would give a bad impression.

I did not know why and how, after a few minutes the book fell down from my hand. I realized with jerk that I was sleeping. I bent down to pick up the book and I found the book was not there. Here it is, said the lady. At her right hand extended towards me was the book of tarot cards. It fell off from your hand as you were gloriously dozing off, said she with a smile that I thought she was not capable enough to smile. She was more like an unreal person to me because her gaze was unsettling. The only real thing about her was the stains on her nails. It is quite surprising that you reached the Grim Reaper and you fell asleep, she continued with a smile. I looked at the page where she had inserted her index finger while handing the book over to me. I recognized the page though I did not recognize the Grim Reaper stuff in there. It is the card of death, she said as if she were reading my thoughts. She was seriously frightening me then.

Are you a tarot card reader? I asked her with some sort of hesitation. No, said she. But I am interested, she added. What do you do? I probed her as I had recovered from that initial shock of imagining her reading my thoughts. I am a painter, she answered with such a confidence that I had never seen in too many woman artists. Oh, that’s great, I said and I realized that the stains at her nails were the remnants of the paint that she had used for her latest painting. Immediately I started wondering what that painting would be looking like. What do you do? She asked. I told her that I was a journalist who reported culture. She gave me a smile of understanding. Suddenly I felt that our conversation was ended then and there because she, unlike other artists who used to cling on you the moment they heard that you were a journalist who reported culture, showed a clear aversion to my profession.

I commute in this line almost every day. May be I sit in the same seat every day, she told me without asking. I thought she was helping me to come out of my confusion. And what about you? She asked me. No, I don’t. I travel by autos as I live and work in town. And I am on an assignment to this place. Now it was my turn to spill more information without asking. Somehow I felt that I should have asked her about Grim Reaper, the death card. Are you thinking about asking me about Grim Reaper, she asked me and a shiver passed through my spine. I looked around to make sure that I was sitting in a second class compartment of a local train that ran between two cities twice in a day and there were other people in it. Yes, I was in a real time and I was not in a fantasy world though this lady who was a painter now sitting in front of me sounded and behaved a bit unreal.

No, I was not thinking in those lines but anyway as you asked let me repeat why you particularly spoke about Grim Reaper, I tried to hide my embarrassment and astonishment in some kind of journalistic objectivity. Her eyes and lips, and the twitching of her cheeks told me that she knew well that I was lying. Death is something very revealing, she told me looking straight into my eyes. I nodded my head partly in belief and partly in doubt. Death is something that assures of our very existence. Death also at times surprises, not with its arrival but with deliberate hiding of its arrival. I am not talking about death coming in the form of an accident, illness or heart attack. Healthy people die without any ailment and we are shocked and surprised. But death at times plays pranks with you by holding the information about the death of a close friend of yours for a long time. It is not unusual. What is unusual about such deaths is that all these while, when that person is dead and gone, you imagine that he or she is alive, and you feel hatred for him or her because he or she has not been contacting you for a long time and you feel ditched because he or she was supposed to do something wonderful for you. But you feel further irritated on that person who is already dead and gone but you believe that he or she is alive, does not pick up your call because he or she just does not want to be with you. And one fine morning you come to know that he or she is dead for almost a year and you did not know about it at all. What do you think about that person or his or her death is not so important at that time. What is important at that moment is the realization that you were living with a dead person all these while and keeping him or her alive by your own hatred or love. Suddenly you feel that you had been carrying an unclaimed dead body in your soul and some unclaimed memories. Death leaves a trace but what about that death which puts you into a sense of guilt about a crime that you have never committed, she asked me without flinching even for a moment.

I was looking for an answer as if I were a student in front of a teacher who had just asked a question which did not have an answer at all or the question itself was the answer. She knew my thinking and this time I was a bit bolder. So I asked her whether she was recounting a personal experience. She said yes and continued. I don’t run behind galleries or critics or even journalists like you. I paint and show it whenever I get an opportunity. Importantly, I realize the fact that there are many people like me who paint but do not have options to show or sell their works. It could be out of hesitation or lack of drive. I am not a victim of neither. I do not have hesitation nor do I lack an inner drive. But I choose not to run a race. What I do instead is that I look for artists who are like me. And over I period of time I could get a few artists to work with me to organize shows of unclaimed artists, saying this she laughed. First time I saw her teeth. They were small and white. She held her teeth tight while laughed.

Then I met this artist, she continued and I listened. Her name was Varuni Sen. She had been living in the city for almost fifteen years, painting while home making and home making while painting. I met her in small group show where she had one work hanging on the wall. I liked it. And I liked her. And when I told her that I was going to do a show by the next year, she held my hands and said that I could count her in. Then for a few months we were sharing the progress of our works though we were not meeting that often. Then one day, she stopped picking up my calls. I was counting her more than a participating artist in my show. I was sad and the sadness turned into bitterness. I was thinking ill about her. I continued calling her. Each time I called her someone cut her phone. Then after some days they said, ‘the number no longer in use’. I sent her emails. No reply came from her. I was forgetting her. It happens like that. Someone fades into your memory when they fail to keep the contact.

Then one day, the Grim Reaper came with his sickle and delivered a message. I had opened my show with a few fellow artists in a small gallery in the city. I went there and sat throughout the day. I did not expect too many people to come in or the collectors to throng up to buy the works. I enjoyed sitting there and chatting up with some occasional visitor. Some proved interesting and some utterly boring. But then it is the part of all games. You need to put up with different kinds of people. And one day a common friend of mine and Varuni Sen walked in. The forgotten memories came alive and I was furious. I fumed at her for the callousness of Varuni who never replied my calls. My friend hugged me and stood in silence for a long time. I could not make out why she showed this sudden display of affection. I freed myself from her grips and held her at my arms length and looked at her face. She was crying. What happened? I asked her.

Varuni had called her that day and told her that she was going to meet me as agreed upon between us at the same cafe. I was waiting. In the meanwhile, in her car she realized that she had forgotten packet of colours that she had brought me from her recent visit in Paris with her husband. She had called my friend to say that she was waiting down stairs and the driver had gone upstairs to pick up the packet for me which was kept on the table itself. But driver did not come down for a long time. Irritated and enraged on the laziness of driver she went back to home. She knew that the driver had some soft corner for the maid servant who was already married to a plumber. Varuni walked into the house and found some strangers there. The maid and her plumber husband were standing there with some confused look in their eyes which turned menacingly cruel in a few minutes. To her shock she found the driver lying dead on the floor. Soon they jumped over her and strangulated her, my friend was still weeping. At that moment I stood there face to face with the hooded man with a sickle; the Grim Reaper. Varuni was living in my bitterness while she was brutally killed and gone. Her memories were lying unclaimed in me as I decided to forget her when she stopped picking up my calls. Today I was trying to reclaim her but she was gone.

I looked at her. She was not crying. She was not looking shocked either. Her gaze was distant and focus was beyond me. Suddenly she smiled. I did not know what to tell her. I wanted to ask her a lot of questions and I was numbering them in mind with the same journalistic verve I often carry with me like armour. The train slowed down and with the same enigmatic smile she got up and said, that’s how we reclaim the unclaimed memories, quite unexpectedly and accidently. Death is way of doing it. Saying this she walked out of the compartment. I looked around to see whether I was still in a fantasy world or in reality. It was real, the people, the compartment and the woman who just left the place. People sat involved in their worlds or in their mundane conversations as if I did not exist in their reality.

You did not ask her name? Asked the researcher when I finished my story. I said no. Why? I wanted to but was not able to. There was a silence in the room. Eight people sat in deep silence as if we were caught in a prism of time or frozen inside a large ice cube of that room’s size. And I was sure that each one of them was reclaiming an unclaimed body in their minds. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kasab’s Symbolic Death

(Ajmal Kasab- Our terrorist and their martyr)

Kasab’s death is symbolic in many ways. First of all Government of India, its Home Ministry and Intelligence Department prove now by letting the world know that India could keep secrets. It could keep secrets even from the eagle eyes the journalists who always wait for ‘breaking news’ to the world. ‘Selective leaking’ of information is always a part of the state propaganda. But in Kasab’s case it did not even do that. Secondly, the state could deflect a couple of sensitive issues regarding the foreign direct investment and related graft cases. Above all, the timing for Kasab’s hanging could nullify the possible ‘sainthood’ of Bal Thackeray. Interestingly, most of the television channels and print mediums that discussed Kasab’s hanging did not look at this Thackeray angle. The timing was just perfect. Mumbai that was mourning the death of Thackeray suddenly erupts into a street celebration and rejoicing over the death of Kasab. That is the irony of history or history of irony.
 ital punishment is barbarian or not. We ask ourselves whether hanging even a dreaded terrorist would set the clock of civilization in reverse. Most of the level headed people believe so. An eye for an eye is not solution for the problems that we are facing today. Members of Indian intelligentsia argue that it would have been better if we had addressed Pakistan and the state supported terror camps there instead of hanging Kasab. True, but socio-political and cultural symbolism is too strong a notion to wish away. Retaining Kasab in prison till his natural death would have been another issue, right from the petty thinking on the money spent on his ‘luxurious’ living behind bars to the futility of keeping a brainwashed jihadi a permanent hostage of/by the state.  We would have discussed it endlessly and as Kasab was young our next generation also would debate the same with the same verve.

(Bal Thackeray's final journey- Irony of History)

Kasab came to die. He would have happily received the bullets of the Mumbai Police and would have gone to the heavens that he had been offered by his bigoted masters. In gallows too, despite the words of regret and remorse that he is reported to have expressed, he would have pushed his neck into the noose with a smile behind the hood because what the jihadi training camps had imparted to him could not have been removed by the good treatment of the Mumbai Police. In short, I would say, Kasab would have remained a terrorist not only in the eyes of the 26/11 victims, their kith and kin and the outraged public of India but in his own eyes also. The inevitability of hanging was a part of the script written for him by those sent him to the Mumbai shores.

Kasab death/hanging means a lot to the Indians all over the world. I am not a supporter of capital punishment nor do I want to pose myself as an arrogant Indian nationalist who brays for the blood of Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular. In my opinion, Kasab should have been introduced to all those people who were affected by his execution of blind faith. It is reported that he was brainwashed at the terror camps by showing the videos of Indian Muslims being tortured by the state and the right wing fundamentalists. He would have seen the other side of the picture had he seen the pain in the eyes of those relatives of the people whom he had killed on that fateful day. If they had asked the state to pardon him and send back to Pakistan it would have been the greatest gesture by Indian culture and civilization. You may say that there is no precedence to it and we have a judiciary in place. But there is precedence to it. Nalini and Murukan who have been languishing behind bars for almost two decades are not hanged because of three people: Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

 (Sonia Gandhi)

The Gandhis may not approve of capital punishment. Or they may be more egalitarian in approach than the vengeful right wing public of India. But what they lost is a husband, a father and above all the (then) future prime minister of India. They could have asked for the death of the killers. But they did not. Perhaps, the kith and kin of the 26/11 victims also would have reacted in the same fashion. Who knows when people meet people things couldn’t have changed? Remember the story of Chekhov, ‘The Bet’ and Sandor Marai’s novel ‘Embers’. One waits for long for the spoils or revenge and by the time they see truth eye to eye, things change; wealth looks meaningless and revenge looks absurd then. Still if the relatives of the dead wanted vengeance without hesitation Kasab should have been hanged.

(Ashok Kamte- 26/11 Victim)

As some writers have rightly pointed out (Shivam Vij), all that is pertaining to terrorism is more of politics and civilian life or its ethics. While I justify the hanging of Kasab, I do not justify the whole process that led to this urgent hanging of the culprit because it shows that tomorrow anybody could be hanged for any reason if that reason is ‘political’ enough. I do not say that Kasab’s hanging proves our democratic values. But at least it shows that we have a democracy that shows some signs of life; it has not yet degenerated into absolute despotism. At the same time I am skeptical about the secrecy which I am afraid could lead to despotism of state acting like a secret service agency as we today are forced to believe that the Prime Minister of this country and Sonia Gandhi who literally calls the shots in the government did not know anything about Kasab’s hanging.

 (Hemant Karkare- 26/11 victim)

It also sends shivers along my spine when I realize that anybody could be detained anytime for any flimsy reason because the state does not like what you as an individual do. In that case we slowly move to a scenario where the state could prove a living person dead while he is very much alive. Then the state could enter into your thinking and detain you for thinking in those ‘objectionable’ lines. Your past, present and future could be fumigated and incinerated while you are very much alive. We will not be able to kiss even. The state would be like a wound at your ankle that refuses to heal. You will secretly start venerating a pagan god called ‘Orwell’.

Postscript: There cannot be a strict Muslim angle to Kasab’s death even if he is a terrorist from the Islamic world. And Indians in general cannot be blamed for being anti-Muslim. We should always understand that while many Indian celebrate the death of Kasab, possibly the very same Indian also openly condemn the atrocities of Israel in the Gaza strip.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Last Harvest and the Best Too: Rabindranath Tagore Exhibition at the NGMA, New Delhi

(Rabindranath Tagore)

Two hundred and eight paintings by none other than Rabindranath Tagore are now on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. The spacious galleries at the new wing of the old establishment are painted in deep maroon and brownish yellow colors in order to give a ‘feel’ of Santiniketan, where the bard-artist had spent most of his creative years. Titled ‘Last Harvest’, this show is now India after traveling around eight international venues. The organizers promise that at least five Indian cities will have the opportunity to witness this historical exhibition produced by the full support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India as a part of the 150th Birthday celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore, and curated by the biggest scholar of Bengal School and art historian, Prof.R.Sivakumar.

There is a poetic justice in calling this comprehensive exhibition culled from the collections of Rabindra Bharati, Kalabhavan (Santiniketan) and the National Gallery of Modern Art, The Last Harvest. As Sivakumar says, this was the last harvest from the vast and rich creative ‘field’ of Rabindranath Tagore who was well versed in all imaginable forms of fine arts. Tagore did not paint till he was in his sixties though throughout his life he felt that there was a painter in him. He tried his hands at making some drawings but had left it behind out of some sort of frustration. But when he was traveling in Argentina, his hostess and publisher, Victoria Ocampo found out that her ‘guest’ was very good at drawing things more out of ‘erasure’ than addition. Her recognition was something important for Tagore as it paved the way for international exhibitions of his works; perhaps, the first Indian artist to exhibit internationally and got appreciation from the established professionals of the time.

 (Painting by Tagore)

Sivakumar, in his curatorial note, rightly points out that Tagore’s paintings were more misinterpreted than interpreted when they were shown abroad. As it was the custom, the critics who lauded the painterly efforts of an ageing poet, said that they were more ‘western’ in outlook as they promoted a sort of universalism sprang up out of his deep understanding of the ‘primitive’ cultures. As we know that most of the western art experiments of the first half of the 20th century were based on the re-articulation and co-optation of the primitive visual cultures. It had a lot to do with the anthropological findings and the resultant publications by the western scholars. Most of the western artists of the early 20th century were looking for an ‘authentic’ and ‘original’ expression as they understood the fact that the notion of originality had been severely undermined by the advent of photography and industrial production.

It was imperative for most of them to go to the primitive cultures or to the ‘oriental’ civilizations (which interestingly was also thought in a way ‘primitive’ and the cultures of the ‘other’ as argued by Edward Said) in order to draw energy for their  ‘original’ expressions. The critics who had been produced by this milieu interpreted Tagore also as an artist who drew his inspiration from the primitive cultures as his works showed similar spontaneity, naivety and unbridled expressiveness that defied the classical notions of form and content correlatives. They failed to regard the works of Tagore against a larger context that defined the very artistic self of Tagore, though he himself was a great proponent of universality of human creativity and philosophical thinking.

(Prof.R.Sivakumar, Bengal School Scholar and Curator of the Last Harvest- bad picture quality regretted)

When you stand in front of these works, which another Tagore scholar and an alumnus of Santiniketan, A.Ramachandran deems as the essence of Tagore’s works though there are more than two thousand works that Tagore had produced towards the end of his life (which Abanindranath Tagore cited as a ‘volcanic eruption’ of creativity), you tend to feel that you have seen all these works and you know the art of Tagore very well. Perhaps, this is something an artist would always cherish to have from his/her viewers of all times. This feeling of Déjà vu comes from the fact that Tagore’s works, though do not get exhibited at every other occasion, are in our collective consciousness as an integral component of our cultural make up. I do not dare to say that Tagore’s stylistic expressions or the lingua of art has influenced the successive generations considerably, the ideas that he propounded about art and aesthetics in his writings have definitely influenced the creative people of this country, I should add, ‘sub-consciously’.

I would quote from the catalogue of the show to justify this reading: “..But one thing which is common to all arts is the principle of rhythm which transforms inert materials into living creations. My instinct for it and my training in its use led me to know that lines and colors in art are no carriers of information; they seek their rhythmic incarnation in pictures. Their ultimate purpose is not to illustrate or to copy some outer fact of inner vision, but to evolve a harmonious wholeness which finds its passage through our eyesight into imagination. It neither questions our mind for meaning nor burdens it with unmeaningness, for it is, above all, meaning.”

(Painting by Tagore)

A poet who has loaded his poems and other literary creations with political symbolism and metaphorical lyricism, while talking about the visual arts, here speaks of pure communication. This idea of pure communication is pivotal to understand the painterly oeuvre of Tagore. Here he does not ‘burdens’ the visual forms with meaning or unmeaningness because he deems the very form (or formlessness) is meaning.  This gives us an interesting clue why Tagore did not paint or ‘failed’ to paint during the first six decades of his life. As a communicator of ideas, as a poet and as a thinker, in my opinion, Tagore was very much ‘comfortable’ with the meanings and unmeaningness that could be carried by words. As a wordsmith, Tagore understood the power of words and the music, harmony and rhythm that the words could create. And there is a stage or phase in everyone’s life that he/she then becomes more silent than eloquent in explaining the inner workings of one’s own self. Tagore, it could be deduced that, started painting when he realized that it was silence that pervaded his mindscape during the latter part of his life than eloquence that could set things right that had gone terribly wrong in the world thanks to factionalisms and the World War II.

That does not mean that Tagore remained silent while painting or stopped articulating himself using words altogether in this phase. He was more pained at the happenings of the world that prompted him to seek solace in what he could ‘speak’ without words. This exhibition under review here has four parts namely doodles, landscapes, human dram and faces, which rightly explain how Tagore’s intense introspection had got expression in a sort of word-less speech act. He was in fact erasing the words in the beginning, perhaps realizing the futility of speech (in a world that had moved away from harmonious speech to belligerent cacophony) and investing the erased areas with some sort of meaning or meaningless-ness. It slowly turned into a speech act, a sort of mime carried out on a piece of paper, which eventually turned into a set of paintings, which he had always thought he would want to do as his peers and relatives pursued vigorously when he was involved completely into wordsmith-ing.

 (National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi)

Erasure could be considered as anti-scripting or anti-scripture, which in turn produces a counter scripting. Each erased area carries the traces of memory of the erased, which Tagore knew for sure. He knew that the erased areas had a voice as expressed in the form of a word which now stood erased and his counter-speech act (which was his painterly act) became a re-encryption of his rhythmic thoughts which he deemed, needed no ‘meaning’. He smudged or covered areas with ink or colors thereby giving a new ‘volume and value’ to the vacant space. So in this phase one could see Tagore’s paintings evolving out of three acts: Conscious articulation through words (which became the first layer of the final painting), deliberate erasure of the same (the second layer) and the final inking process towards getting a rhythmic form with or without meaning (the third layer and the final painting). So in effect what we see here is a verbal thinking transforming into visual thinking through the process of erasure and inking. Hence, we have all the reasons to believe that Tagore’s paintings are encrypted silences that he created out of his eloquence.

Counter writing using silence, for Tagore was not an end in itself, we understand while standing in front of these paintings. When he reaches his landscapes paintings, he absolutely removes the presence of the word from the first act itself. That means he removes the first layer of speech act. Its place is taken over by the paper/surface. He painted from memory as well as by looking at the landscapes around him. This was a direct act of transforming the felt essence of his surroundings into a visual form. There are evidences that we see where Tagore doing the initial drawing as a base (words replaced by conscious lines) and then the filling up with colors. At times, he directly applies colors on the surface. Here the speech act, which the viewer would find caught in while interpreting the works of Tagore, is pushed to the third layer, as a resultant layer of a Tagorean painting. This aspect of doing away with the speech act and handing over the responsibility of the same to the viewer leaves the paintings of Tagore open ended. Barring the biographical references and the familiarities that one would find in the ‘faces’ created by Tagore, these paintings assume a universal nature because like in a lyrical poem (which is a hallmark of the Tagorean literature) they overcome self-referentiality and transcend themselves into ‘visual utterances’ which show the essential creative proficiency of a creative genius rather than his ideological positioning on the world affairs.

(JohnyML with Prof.R.Sivakumar)

Sivakumar has written four fantastic volumes on Tagore’s oeuvre which is currently the ultimate documentation and study of the Tagorean art. And the fifth one is in the making. And the set is complete with a ready reckoner catalogue that helps in navigating the four hardbound huge volumes. Besides, the present exhibition has an accompanying comprehensive catalogue by the curators and a take away hand book that details the theoretical and historical premises of this exhibition along with a few necessary image reproductions. There are some shows that are life time experiences. The Last Harvest is one such exhibition. If at all there is a negative take on this show, I would cite the lack of publicity given to it amongst the citizens of Delhi. As it is a long duration show, we could always seek solace in the fact that in the coming days more people would come and experience Rabindranath Tagore’s works. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fearless Tongues

You can severe my tongue

But not my words

For they spread everywhere

Like the fragrance of a wild flower

Unseen and unadulterated.

Tongue-less people sing the song

Of a muted rebellion but remember,

It is only muted, not mutated

Into the shape of obedience.

Each mutilated voice has a story to tell

And the wind will take it beyond boundaries

That you create with your laws and morals.

Can’t you see the electric posts growing tongues

And speaking to the wayfarers in the sound of light?

Don’t you see, at the horizon, celestial spheres

In their holy communion reciting my muted words?

Won’t you see the mountains in the north

Redden their faces with the blood of untold stories?

Till then, keep smothering the mouths that speak up

Pull out the tongues that sing the songs of truth

Blind the seers and wound the innocents

And even you break the abode of Nightingale.

Who cares, like the painter who painted the jail walls

With his spit, blood, semen and tears,

The silenced people will speak through their

Bodily excretions, remember.

Remember the wounds will speak the language of blood

Scars will narrate the stories of torture

In the broken skulls you will see white dreams yet to be dreamt

It is not child’s play, Mr.State

Histories’ kids will come back to take the payment

With their broken bangles and dishevelled hairs.

On that day in their eyes you would see

A thousand tongues speaking one word:


Monday, November 19, 2012

Bal Thackeray and the Proud Marathi Artists- The Rupture in a Metro

(Bal Thackeray)

Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray is dead. The family feud is yet to start. Mumbai behaved for the first time. Impending riots are perhaps under suspension or it is so till activation orders come from Udhav or Raaj. I am not concerned about who would inherit the real Thackeray legacy. But I am concerned about the cultural scenario of this country. It is ironical that while the bigwigs of Bollywood express their shock at the news of Thackeray’s death, and the political leaders, at least for the sake of expressing their grief, do so, only the visual artists (fine artists who do painting, sculpture and related art forms) seem to be divided in their opinion on the death of Thackeray. While a majority of the ‘Marathi’ artists express their grief on the death of Thackeray, another majority of ‘intellectual’ artists (that include some Marathi artists as well as art activists also) show their ‘disapproval’ to such open expression of grief and they insist that they are all happy for the death of this man.

I am not a person who is illusioned, enamoured and charmed by the political influence or the king maker image of late Bal Thackeray. Like any other socio-politically and culturally inclined thinking Indian, I too have certain opinion and observations about his political career. First of all I don’t feel any bad if an 86 years old man passes away ‘naturally’. I wouldn’t have felt that bad had M.F.Husain been declared dead when he was in Mumbai. If at all anybody draws a parallel between M.F.Husain and Thackeray, I would say M.F.Husain’s death is mourned in a big way because we all were acting out a collective guilt; we could not do anything to bring M.F.Husain back to India from his royal exile in the Middle East. We could not persuade a secular government to do anything to curb the right wing fundamentalists of this country (remember only of this country because though Hindu sects have a global presence, the fundamentalism is a home-made product to be used within its never ending expiry date). We could not do anything to bring M.F.Husain back to this country (though we generally lobbied, protested and video conference-d in Delhi on his birthday, as an annual ritual). So when he died in exile, we mourned like the guilt ridden sons and daughters of a benevolent father.


What’ wrong if the Marathis in general and Marathi artists in particular mourn the death of Thackeray, especially when they are performing a collective guilt ritual as they do it? Now let me tell you a historical parallel with these deaths; the death of Adolf Hitler. It is observed that no German who claims to have originated from the real Aryan Roots, would prefer to talk disparagingly about Hitler even today in Germany. A level headed German may be against all what had been done by Hitler but he just does not want to talk about Hitler today. Theoretically speaking (as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy have observed), the Germans, live in a sense of guilt; a guilt, which is perhaps Oedipal in nature. They killed their father or when he was ‘killed’ they had to keep silence as ‘level headed’ people. Similarly, the collective guilt of Marathi artists is very much palpable in their utterances especially when they mourn the death of Bal Thackeray.

Now let me probe into the reasons why this mourning is guilt ridden and if at all it is guilt ridden it is still permissible in a socio-economic and politico-cultural debate and discourse. It is guilt ridden mainly because each Marathi artist who lives in Mumbai knows for sure that Bal Thackeray or his Sainiks have never done anything for the promotion of fine arts. Though Mumbai is known for its J.J.School of Arts and Jehangir Art Gallery and many cash rich private galleries, nowhere you would see the Thackeray school of thoughts promoting fine arts. You may even draw a parallel between Thackeray and Hitler because both of them were artists in their own rights and great orators who could move people to frenzy. Though there is/was a Bombay Art Society it has always been handled by the social elites within the Marathi community, to which the local Marathi artists were denied entry or presence. It has been the case till people like Rajendra Patil started taking interest in it (but unfortunately one would eventually yield to the elitism).

(Adolf Hitler)

Hence, the Marathi artist always had this grudge against Thackeray for not doing anything for them while he claimed to be the leader of a movement that brought back pride and dignity to the Marathi people in general. So they always loved and hated Thackeray simultaneously. When the moment of his death arrived they knew that it heralded the death of their father who had not done much for them though he had brought a dignity and pride to their voices. Here I should say that my observations are only based on the Marathi artists not on the Marathi people in general. When the Marathi artists express their grief on the death of Thackeray they feel a double guilt because they have always been critiquing the same person on intellectual and political grounds (placing reason over passion), and at the same time the realization that the other group for which they have always voiced support has not brought any good for them.

Let us take the example of the art scene of Mumbai during the last twenty years. If anybody asks to name ten to twenty famous artists promoted and supported by the galleries and press, we would come to know how this guilt works in the minds of the Marathi artists: Jehangir Sabawala (Parsi-Mumbaite), Sudhir Patwardhan (Marathi), Atul Dodiya (Gujarati-Mumbaite), Prabhakar Kolte (Marathi-Mumbaikar), Jitish Kallat (Malayali-Mumbaite), Baiju Parthan (Malayali-Mumbaite), Bose Krishnamachari (Malayali-Mumbaite),T.V.Santhosh (Malayali-Mumbaite), Riyas Komu (Malayali-Mumbaite), Chintan Upadhyay (Rajasthani-Mumbaite), Sunil Gawde (Marathi-Mumbaite), Anand Joshi (Marathi-Mumbaite), Yashwant Deshmukh (Marathi-Marathi Manus).

 (Sudhir Patwardhan)

Just look at the proportion of visibility and support that these artists get within Mumbai. I am aware of the fact that Mumabi is not Maharashtra. Nagpur, Pune, Kolhapur, Nasik and so on also produce artists. But you look at the list of artists who actually get support from the galleries or other socio-economic agencies? And now look at the complexion of the India Art Festival. There are no Mumbai galleries (rich, powerful, intellectual and secular) that are supporting this festival. And look at the number of artists. They are all from different regions of Maharashtra. If you ask why there is a Marathi pride amongst the artists, you will find the answer in these indications itself. If these artists feel that the cash rich galleries run by non-Marathi interest do not support Marathi artists from within Mumbai, is that a problem? If they mourn the death of their father figure, wil it be an anti-secular issue?

Now let me come to another vital point. One might argue that Mumbai is a metro and it is the business capital of India and it need not necessarily be representing the ‘limited’ aspirations and feelings of the Marathi community. For the sake of argument it is right. Any metro is a city within a city. It has a different rule for its articulation. While being a part of a larger state with an administrative system in place, such metros function in a different mode without identifying itself with the larger parameters that define the socio-cultural complexion of the land where it is located. To put it differently, a metro does not express the aspiration of the people who belong to the metro. Instead, any metro is a dream of the migrant. Migrants make the metros possible and in the process of its metro-fication, the migrants as well as the natives get pushed out of the borders. The vacant spaces created thus will be occupied by varied economic interests to which the political interests of the larger scenario would also join in different stages of its inception, growth and final formation. Hence, Mumbai need not necessarily be expressing the aspirations of the Marathi artists, who are often mocked at as ‘Marathi Manoos’ in the glittering exhibition openings.

(Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai)

But let us take the same case scenario elsewhere. Let us go to Kochi, which is also a metro city though not in the same line of Mumbai. If tomorrow the Kochi art scene is captured by the interests from outside, and Malayali artists are called ‘Malayali Manoos’ will any Malayali artist or the general public there approve that? I do not think so. There cannot be too many Karmakars, Kulkarnis, Mores, Patils, Dhotres, Deshmukhs and so on ruling the Kochi art scene. I don’t see that such a scenario will be tolerated by the Malayalis. I remember working with a senior artist friend in Goa. He invited me to start a contemporary art museum in Goa with the help of the Goa Government. In no time, despite my sincere efforts, my presence was questioned and in its place a few native ‘Goan’ names were brought. I had analysed that situation without much frustration. I realized that a Malayali curator ruling over a Goan Museum could not be that palatable to a Goan, even if they are all my friends.

I am not here to promote parochialism and social rupture in the line of regionalism. I am looking at this scenario with a sense of realism. Even if we talk about pan-Indian identities and pan-national ideologies, I cannot think that a typical Haryanvi Jat would ever allow me to hold a powerful position in a local body unless I belong to the Police Department or the Administrative service. Let us be very realistic. Those artists who support Bal Thackeray on certain political-social lines, do that because they have to do it as there are no other alternatives. And no Sainik has ever asked the Malayali or Bengali artists to go out of Mumbai only because that they belong to another state. My argument on Narendra Modi was also the same when the Chandramohan incident happened in 2007. No artist (non-Gujarati artist) was tortured or hunted down by the Modi government only because they voiced against the right wing fundamentalism of the state. Marathi artists are not militant, had they been really, there would not have been many private galleries in Mumbai. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Fear Travels to See Death

(This poem is dedicated to a lonely soul who walked along the Mumbai streets and translated those visuals into words for me)

A traffic jam

That looks at its face

On the glass facade of a mall

Paramilitary forces marching along

To save people from anxieties

Irony plays the final farce

So that people could feel good

An enigmatic smile hangs in the air

An old lady who sells paintings

Hide her tears of a hurting memory

Looks at the sea with vacant eyes

People hurry to get back home

As if expecting an impending storm

Sea remains calm with it waves

Washing a hurt faith standing alone

But who sees it all? Fear has taken the toll.

A weary sun calls pack up and asks the stars

To do the dusting of the floor

Trouble loving youths celebrate

The news of king’s death with

Unreleased anger, pride and ignorance

Rebellion pasted on branded clothes

They swish past in chauffer driven palaces

Two eagles, the eternal lovers of sky, fly around

Birds flap their wings to distant homes

Unintentionally chronicling the life of a city

Parked brooms of witches on the way

As if a summit of sorcery already in full swing

A slow performer of love prefers a fast car on the road

For he satisfies everything with screeching of tyres

Eternal weavers of time weave silken clothes

Of life and display in glassed cages as tagged desires

Even the traffic constable’s whistle blows out

A collective fear that pervades the city right here

A religion once travelled to foreign shores

Fearing condemnation and death reappears

From nowhere to calm the people with chimes and choirs

Against the forced peace there comes a torrent of traffic

As if there were the wild beasts chased by chopper wings

The temple of desires calls people to shop

Like an old prostitute beckoning the wanton youths

With her artificial smiles and abominable lip gloss

Here one could wear a condom to a car or the other way round

And call it a desire machine and throb it to death

A fat god, protected by a fat police man and both of them

Look for protection from a fat crowd which has lost its mind

Against death and life’s ultimate games of hide and seek

The sea remains there along the city, a bit bored

With eateries selling curious appetites

Life gets stuck between jammed vehicles

Downed shutters and dimming dreams

A traffic light tells everyone the story of

And adventurer lost his way into the state’s guest house

Like the chair once shelved the bottom of a famous cheat

It glows in a flimsy glory and counts its life down

It hopes the king would pass by and would wink

Only to be seen by its three lights at once

Health seeking souls walk in their branded soles

Pacing up to the rhythm of music and heaving gossips

‘The town side of the maximum city is towny today

Jazz by the bay is no spazz by the bay’ someone sings

Along the girdle of water at the sexy mid rift of city

People still looking for dreams that fly by evening breeze

Celebrating the death of a king, a chariot passes by

All decked up in lights, but without horse or a charioteer

Death sprinkles nothingness from a disused fountain

With agonized gods doing marble copulation

I am sure the paintings of death and pestilence

Will be on display today and for all coming days. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Cartoon and an Eraser

(Death of Sardanapalus by Eugene Delacroix)

Perhaps, death could melt
Ideologies and its clutches
Like a glacier in severe summer
Melts and turns itself into a
Cool river and tumbles down
The heat of life could transform
Old hatred and the strength of beliefs.

When a poet dies
Nature would stand still;
Birds would cease singing
And the hunter would withdraw the arrows
Words trickling out of thousand tongues
Would flow from innumerable eyes.
Like the smile of a blind
Who has been marooned
In the island of darkness
Those who have eyes would
See the soul of the poet.

When a painter disappears
Into his painting made out of memories
The colors would run
Along the streets like blood
And perhaps would touch
His mother’s toes
And it could spread like a scream
In the front pages of newspapers.
His smile could stick on
To the threshold of a night
Where a dream waits for the
Invitation of one who is deprived of sleep.

But on whose death news is that a city
Stands still and covers itself in
A Shroud of fear and anxiety?
Why should the unknown lives of the refugees
Stand on their knees before
The cruel swords of arrogance?

When did it become a rule
That when big trees fall
The small ones should get crushed?
Why should the edifices in a city burn
And the fetuses in a womb fry
When a lonely tree in a wasteland
Is being felled by nothing but death?

Let those Neros play their mandolins
Let those lovers elope to safe abodes
Why should we crucify a people
Only because we have got a cross?

Let all those rich and famous
Stand in a queue while their
Feet plunge into the muck of ideologies.
Let them write scriptures
On the petals of marigold flowers
Let them cut down a sandal wood forest
To prepare your pyre for special fragrance.
But please do not send your comrades
With petrol bombs to my crystal clear thoughts.

Be the ‘deathless’ and the eternal one
By ingesting the pills like the ones
That postpones menstruation at will.
But please don’t erase a people
Like a wrong line in a cartoon
With a piece of eraser of your whimsies.