Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Nameless and Faceless Martyr: Legend of a Rape Victim

(Young women protesting against rape at Rashtrapati Bhavan)

I don’t know her name. I have not seen her face. But her death leaves a deep hollow in my heart. A shiver passes through my spine when I think about the horror that had faced since the fateful night of 16th December. She fought bravely to survive. If she had survived she would have fought the system and the perpetrators of rape bravely. But death brought an abrupt end to that young life. Sitting here at the desk, like most of the intellectuals in the country, I too think that we are over-concerned about the death of this girl because the molestation happened in Delhi and Delhi is the seat of power, and we don’t care about the innumerable rape cases which are much more horrible than this one. But that is not the case. She was the inevitable martyr of the savage crime called rape and through her death she has alerted the conscience of this country. As Rajdeep Sardesai rightly pointed out, it is the time for the political leaders of this country to think differently. It is high time that they come back to the people and face them. They are supposed to leave high security covering provided to them and meet people in the street when they are agitated. We need a Gandhiji today to sit with the agitating younger lot of this country, to sit with them, share with them and give them positive directions.

Moving symbolisms are always a must for social movements. As Edward Alby said, someone has to become a scapegoat when none takes responsibility to become one. In 1970s and 80s when the Indian youth were not going anywhere and were caught in the dead and stale dream of nation building through licence quota raj, we had a symbol in the guise of the angry young man portrayed by Amitabh Bacchan. When he was shooting for Manmohan Desai’s Coolie in a Bombay studio, in 1982 he was fatally injured by accident. He was admitted to the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. The whole of India stood up in prayers and the ordeal went on for months for the actor. Finally he survived. It was for the first time after Mahatma Gandhi the whole nation stood up for one man; a huge symbol of hope and direction. Amitabh Bacchan survived his injuries. And today at the age 70 he is healthy enough to play another innings in Bollywood. 

(Amitach Bacchan in Coolie)

If Amitabh Bacchan intestinal injuries moved a nation in early 80s, today a girl’s intestinal injuries move a nation which has evolved itself into a modern nation through the process of globalization. But how can we call ourselves modern when we cherish the age old ideals of a male dominated society. While Aamir Khan in his famous series ‘Satyameva Jayate’ while debating the issues pertaining to love marriages questions the Khap Panchayat members on their insistence on traditional values of the Indian society. Khan rightly asks them whether they become only alerted and vengeful when the females take a decision on their lives and become the authorities of their own bodies and minds. He prods them by asking why the same kind of vengeance does not occur amongst the Khap leaders when children are abused and young girls are raped.

To my shock I found out that many of the young people (of course they are outnumbered by the ones who had congregated at the India Gate to protest against Rape during the last few days) cherish and nourish the same values as strong and vindictive as those of the Khap Panchayats. These young people say that the girls should be wearing proper clothes then things will be good for them. This view comes from absolute blindness and ignorance. Both these entities are fuelled by the ideology of male chauvinism. Dresses are a part of one’s personality and the way one wants to present oneself to the world. It is a part of confidence building and it contains a great amount of symbolism. Of course during our aesthetic intercourse with the mainstream movies we willingly suspend our political correctness and enjoy the scantly clad heroines and item girls. There is an osmotic exchange between the popular culture as exemplified by movie and fashion industries and the way the young people dress in any country. They mutually reflect desires, aspirations and attitudes. As we are in a male dominated situation whatever the man wears becomes cool and whatever the woman wears becomes a source that beckons rapists. It is absolutely a misplaced argument. None has the right to dictate what one should wear in their daily lives.

(punks in a street)

Social customs and practices are the results of codifications that took many years to evolve. Such customs are made mainly to protect the interests of the clans and avoid assumed social embarrassments. It was applicable for a frozen society that was held within a particular time and ethos. We have forgotten that we are a changed society today. And social mobility and visibility have become more or less equal for the males and females. And the social pace is such that we are no longer able to cling to certain customs and practices for not more than a season. In that case what could be the perennial value that would rule a society for a long time? No dress code is a permanent dress code anymore. No attitude is a cool attitude forever. In that flux situation what are the kind of ideals that we are insisting that our social members whether are males or females or queer gender should follow?

In an evolving society there cannot be hard and fast rules. And if at all there could be hard and fast rules it should be on the aspects of humanism and humanitarianism. One could cherish develop values which would make one a better human being. One would be able to accept the freedom of the other person, freedom of other communities, genders, religions and ethics in such a changed scenario. It was not that we did not have such values. There was an egalitarian time but somehow in the process of our evolution we have moved farther away from there. The more we think that we are a developed country the more we succumb to the primitive thinking that woman is a material to be consumed and object to be possessed and exchanged. This should change and the change should happen in our own lives, right now.

(Gandhiji- If he was alive...)

The girl who died interestingly is a soldier in a larger battle for human rights and justice. She does not have a face (definitely she had one but we do not want to face it due to various reasons imposed by state and conscience), she does not even have a name. And the nameless martyrs are more powerful than the martyrs with names. Named martyrs will not haunt us like spirits. They haunt us only as images and ideologies. The nameless martyrs will haunt us like ghosts that are never at rest. They will be rested only when justice is brought to them as well as to the cause they have died for. In each nook and corner of our daily lives we would face their invisible presence. In the face of each woman in the street, in the face of our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, in the faces of the destitute women, sick, working, toiling women we will see the spirit of this nameless martyr. She will remain alive till we stand up for equal rights and justice. We have got to get it for her. No RIP messages will rest her in ultimate peace. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Today I Decide to call Myself a Non-Malayali

(Santiago Siarre's work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale- A perfect irony of Capitalism)

I wonder whether I am any more a Malayali. I had all this pride to be a Malayali though I did not marry a Malayali woman. My formative years were spent in Kerala and my thinking process is more or less shaped by the typical Kerala milieu. My black humor, cynicism and the perennial irreverence for the normative come from the tradition of Kunchan Nambiar, Sanjayan, E.V.Krishna Pillai, Kunjunni, O.V.Vijayan and V.K.N. To criticize without fear was a lesson learnt from the columns written by critics and theoreticians like M.Govindan, M.N.Vijayan, Sukumar Azhikode and M.Krishnan Nair. My defiance for political understanding was shaped by reading E.M.S, P.Govinda Pillai, B.Rajeevan, Sakharia, K.Venu and Ajitha. My poetics is shaped out of reading Ezhuthacchan, Kunchan Nambiar, Cherussery, Kumaran Asan, Ulloor, Vallathol, Ayyappa Panicker, Satchidanandan, Balachandran  Chullikkadu, Kureeppuzha Sreekumar and the young ones like Anvar Ali and Pavithra Theekkuni. My feminism comes from Lalithambika Antharjanam, Madhavikkutty, Sugathakumari and J.Devika. My cinematic understanding comes from I.V.Sasi, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, John Abraham, Priyadarshan and so on. I love all the mimicry artists in Kerala because they are the people who carry forward the tradition of Kunchan Nambiar. And my artistic understanding comes from Namboothiri, Kanai, Shibu Natesan to all those friends who used to spend endless hours discussing art at the Trivandrum fine arts college and public library.

That does not mean that I had closed my windows to the world. Born and brought up in an egalitarian society I was well informed of all what had been going on all over the world. I literally grew up under the pictures of Gandhiji, Kennedy, Marx and Lenin. I was guided by a pair of sharp eyes of my father who read more Russian literature than Indian literature. My parents were daring enough to give me a name ‘Johny’ even when we had a small temple right in the middle of our courtyard where my grandmother worshipped Shiva, Ganesha, Lord Ayyappa and Krishna. I grew up with Muslim friends who attended all the temple festivals. I feasted with them in most of their religious occasions. Hindu boys worked as volunteers in Muslim sisters’ marriages and vice versa. Party politics did not deter anybody from having strong social bonding. When it was dark, those college girls alighted at the local railway station were accompanied to their doorsteps by young men who did not every try to molest them. I was a proud Malayali.

 (My picture featured in Atul Dodiya's work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale)

I have been living away from Kerala for the last two decades. Not even a single day passed in my life without singing a Malayalam song or reciting a Malayalam poem in my mind all these days. For years on I used to be very nostalgic; a kind of feeling that was not finding enough avenues to express. Delhi has always had a strong Malayali population. At times I made friends with a few of them and most of the time I kept myself aloof. But I was not away from the Malayali ethos that defined me. I imbibed North Indian ways of living and negotiated with my body and mind to be an Indian rather than a Malayali. But my practice has always been egalitarian though the critical Malayali’s essence working throughout as a guiding spirit. People used to criticize me for not transforming myself into a complete North Indian with an accented Malayalam and more English. I am a very proud person with a strong command over Malayalam as well as English as useful languages. This had even given me opportunity to translate international literature into Malayalam by the major publishing house, D.C.Books.

But today I am ashamed of calling myself a Malayali. I am ashamed because the government in my state Kerala has lost all its sense of direction, democracy and justice. It was just a month back that a special enquiry committee deputed by the Finance Department of the Government of Kerala, after its meticulous investigations found that there had been discrepancies in allocation and expenditure of the five crore rupees funding to the Kochi Muziris Biennale trust. The committee also suggested that the organization should be black listed and a vigilance enquiry should be ordered. Following this the cabinet took a decision to order a vigilance enquiry on the Kochi Muziris Biennale Trust. If found guilty, it was even proposed that the organizers should pay the money back to the government coffers.

(May I help you- Young volunteers at KMB- Can you really help?)

On 12th December 2012 the Kochi Muziris Biennale was inaugurated. Ironically the Chief Minister and the cultural minister who had declared a vigilance enquiry on the organizers attended the inaugural function. In no other state you would find the state heads attending a function which is under scam and suspicion. Ever since the KMB Trust was complaining that they did not have enough money to finish the works and the Biennale was attracting a lot of visitors and it was a grand opportunity for the financial development of Kerala. Film star John Abraham visited the Biennale and offered Rs.10,00,000/- Media celebrated it. Auto major BMW also is reportedly pumped in some money to the Biennale Trust. Several other dignitaries visited the Biennale and some of them demanded that the government should support the organizers. Super Star Mammootty also visited the Biennale but he raised the issue of accountability and transparency. But nobody highlighted his comments. Today, both the ruling and opposition MLAs from Kochi region ask for further financial assistance to the Trust, which in fact the government had categorically denied when the enquiry report became public.

You may ask why I am opposing or people like me opposing further financial assistance to the KMB Trust. Yes, we have been opposing the lack of transparency and funding modes pertaining to the KMB. None of us ever said that we would stop Biennale. Anything wonderful happening for any reason in any aspect of social life is welcomed by us though it has been misinterpreted by many. I am disappointed because a government that has found anomalies in an organization is now planning to give more financial support to the KMB Trust. That is against all democratic values and it denies justice to people who demand transparency in funding matters.

 (Subodh Gupta's work at KMB)

One can understand why the MLAs and the business communities in Kerala want the KMB Trust to be supported. They want their business ventures to flourish if biennale brings more business opportunities in terms of tourism. And it does happen. There is no denial to it. But let’s approach the issue from a different angle. The initial support or Rupees five crore was given to start the biennale activities. The agreement was that the rest of the money would be raised by the Trust from the private sector. But the Trust failed miserably in getting private sponsorship. So they, in the name of art and culture demand more money from the government. Even after the vigilance enquiry hanging on their heads if they are asking for more funding from the government and the government contemplating on releasing more funds, then we should understand that there is something deeper cooking or something decaying terribly. What is decaying is nothing but democracy and justice. The government and business lobbies could flout the democratic demands of the opposing people and silence the voices of opposition. This is brutal. The egalitarian Kerala has succumbed to the rule of money and power.

I don’t want to belong to that society and claim that we, Malayalis are very politically informed people and we do not allow any kind of injustice in our state. Kerala has ultimately proved that art and culture could be another avenue of business expansion than critical thinking. I am not against Biennale. I will go to see it but not as a Malayali but as a dispassionate art lover. I hang my head in shame on behalf of all those friends who still give it a fight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Strip Me of my Manhood because I am a Rapist

Bobbitization, hanging, life imprisonment or chemical castration to the Delhi gang rapists, asks the newspapers to its readers. If I could pass my judgement on those people who have raped a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi on a cold December night (16th December 2012), I ask them to be chemically castrated first, torture them with all the possible tortures that they could get in a life time, cut their organs and hang them with immediate effect. They don’t deserve a dignified trial even. I am not asking us to reverse the clock of civilization and go to a brutal era where instant punishment could be handed out to the culprits in full view of the public. But it is the voice of a helpless man who has a daughter, wife, mother, sister, girl students and female friends. I am utterly helpless and if something happens to any of these people so brutal like what happened to that girl on that night, I would bray for their blood and nothing would stop me. I will leave all my secular credential behind, I would keep all my Gandhian thoughts aside and I will forget all my scepticism on capital punishment in a civilized country and would ask for immediate justice, though the decimation of four culprits will not bring eventual justice to all the women in the world because like these rapists who are caught now, many are walking scot free here and many intend to do this heinous crime when their reason betrays them with momentary pleasures of hunting and forced intercourse.

If my sentences could carry the legal vehemence of justice, I sentence these rapists to death. If my words were gallows I would have hung them from each word till their ugly necks snap in the noose of my agitation. If my words were razor blades, they would have cut their male organs. If my life could raise strong walls of darkness and loneliness I would have pushed them into the dungeons that I have created for them. If my words were chemicals I would have castrated them by now. I am outraged not because I have a daughter, wife, mother, sister and female friends but because I see myself as my gender as brutal one capable of committing any kind of atrocities on females. I am ashamed of calling myself a man who could fall back to savagery with an excuse of being drunk or intoxicated or I could feel like a hunter when I am there with a few friends whose presence would provide me all the courage on earth to hunt down a hapless woman and molest her like a beast. I do not want to exist in this world like a savage if my gender is not giving me any indication of civilization. My place is in the jungle.

Have you ever had sex with a woman, my male friend? If you are civilized man, your woman could stop you with one single word, ‘no’ if she does not want to have a union with you. One single piece of cloth or a single look of defiance, reluctance or non-approval or even a single pressing of thighs together could dissuade you from forcing yourself on her. And you try to do it without her approval either she will offer your body as if she were a corpse or she will have it with you in utter state of dejection. Again you try it without her consent, it will be the most brutal act that you could ever commit in the world even if she is your legally wedded wife. Then what do you actually do when you attempt a rape? You become a beast that kill for pleasure, you forget reason and wipe out all kinds of humanity from your heart and brain and you become a mass of muscles fitted with limbs that could be used as pincers, chains and gagging equipments. You hurt your partner beyond any measures when you force yourself upon her.

I see so many young and old men in the street who all look harmless even when some of them look so arrogant and capable of doing anything bestial. But all of them do not rape. The idea of rape comes from the momentary lack of reason and refuting of human nature, its sophistication that took eons to develop and manifest. The courage to do an act of rape comes from the notion of power that the man feels is naturally invested in him. The force of it comes from the primitive ideas of hunting. Such people do not deserve to live. You look at history; history is a narrative of rapes that are not explicit but are summarized in one or two lines. All the wars resulted into rapes because the weapon wielding soldiers found women as the potential objects to shame the opponent. Woman’s body was a location to play the politics of men who are at war with each other. Nations captured women and sent to the warfronts as service women who were destined to satisfy the sexual hunger of soldiers in war. They were brutally raped not by ten men but by hundreds of them in one day.

Our two major epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana revolve around the conquest of women’s body. Had it not been Sita’s abduction by Ravana there would not have been any Ramayana. Soorpanakha was disfigured because she was sexually potent and was desiring a handsome Rama. We never asked why a woman was punished like that only because she desired a man of her choice. Has she not got any power over her own heart and body? Had it not been Panchali’s humiliation in the Kaurava court, there wouldn’t have been any Mahabharata. When Pandavas were playing dice with their half-brothers none asked Draupadi whether she was ready to stand in as a guarantee. Today, a woman even in the company of a man is not safe because she does not have the right to go out with him, watch a movie and go back home happily. Her body is violated because she is denied any kind of social standing as an individual. Rapists whether they are influenced by liquor or not, are obviously drunken by power of being a man.

Shame on you my gender. I am ashamed of calling myself a man because under the influence of alcohol I could turn into a brute. I could forget all those years of civilization and refinement for that momentary act of exercising power over a body which looks different from my own body. I see the beast in me and if I need to continue living I should kill that beast now, right now. Otherwise my place is in the jungle. I should be like Ashwathama, who has this unhealed wound on his forehead. I should have my wound between the legs, a blood dripping token of my brutality; a reminder of my unworthiness being a man in the refined world. Now, dear third gender friends, you should not let me in your tribe only because I am castrated because I don’t even deserve your painful existence because I am a man, a rapist.

(apologies to all those men who are not rapists)  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

About Small Little Prayers

(Picture for representational purpose only)

In Ahmedabad it is not cold yet. Blame it on global warming. Years ago when I was here in this state of Gujarat, as a student I used to take a lot of pleasure in wearing jackets and sweaters because it was so exotic to be seen oneself in such clothes that were quite alien to your dressing pattern when you were living in a tropical place. Hot and humid days condition your body and a little bit of cold would pleasure you like a good foot massage. And you look good in sweaters and jackets. You prefer to keep them on even when you are feeling hot from inside. Today the climate has changed much. If at all people wear winter clothes here it is only because of some nostalgia or by habit; just the way you panic your train chugs into the platform or your flight is announced. You know very well that you have a confirmed ticket and your seat is assured. Still you panic. It is habit.

I go for walking wherever I am. It used to be jogging in the beginning. Slow and steady running, lungs refusing to cope up, silent visuals passing by you in a steady pace, unknown people crossing you or overtaking you, then the harmonious rhythm happening between your breath and the movement of legs. You become one and the same with your jogging. You can run kilometres without realizing the fatigue. You feel good when the breeze touches your ears and your shins feel the hardness of earth. Then one day your knees rebel and you shift to brisk walking.

So I go out of my hotel room. Though winter has become an old memory here, silk like darkness carries a whiff of cold in its invisible pores. I don’t find a park in the vicinity. So I choose to walk in a side road. I walk, dogs stare, milk mans cycles by, old people come out of darkness, graves of unsung Muslim saints spring up from nowhere, birds chirp, women was dirty vessels, devotees frantically beat their gongs, motor cars smile in their sleep, trees stretch their branches and a baby cries in a cradle. I feel someone is walking with me. I look around and see none. The feeling is so intense that I start talking to that person. I tell that presence about all those people walking at the same time in roads, parks, walkways, treadmills and in dreams in different parts of the world. I tell the presence about the amount of calories being burnt and mention about the fat and calories waiting on their dining tables to be consumed by them. I smile into a grey morning that has just pushed its limbs out of the blanket of darkness.

A dog looks at me keenly as it sees me talking to myself. But suddenly it remembers something and goes back to its puppies. She knows that these days people talk to others over invisible phones as if they were somnambulists making tele-conferencing. The road narrows down and I reach shanty and from there I reach a clearing where there is a temple and a few people who have just swarm out of their deep blue sleeps. They look wet by dreams and beaten by currents. Unseen words drip from their hairs. They speak to each other in hushed up tones.

I walk back as I feel that I am not welcomed in that area. I look a perfect stranger. I walk fast and the presence is no longer with me. I try to talk with the presence again in vain. I emerge to the main road as if I were coming out of a forest. The roads are already busy. Motor cars ply, shops open their eye lids and look out and with the pupils drawn up they look like blind people staring at the morning with some unknown purpose. My stomach rumbles and I feel like having a cup of tea. I walk along the main road looking for a chai laari. One is opened but the stove has not yet been lit. I walk past. I see an old woman sleeping on the pavement with her belongings kept within a thermocol packing tray. It must have been protecting a television set or a fridge. Now it is her home. Four walls made up of thermocol. Her sleep is sound as if she were a queen living inside a fortress protected by huge walls and armed eunuchs.

One chai laari is opened. The stove is lit. A pot on it steams. I ask the young man whether tea is ready. He picks up a milk pouch, cuts it open and pours it in the vessel which is already steaming. He gives me a smile and says yes. I stand there waiting for the first tea made by the young man. He has a young wife and two small kids. She smashes ginger pieces in a small steel vessel. Children eat some obscure biscuit. They seem extra obedient. The family looks very content on that pavement. A cot where the children sit and a few bundles summarise the worldly belongings of the family. The young man picks up an iron chair and places it for me on the pavement. I sit on it like the king of streets with no kingdom and no courtiers. And I feel a lot of happiness.

The young tea maker works like a magician. He throws a few spoonful of sugar in the boiling milk. Then he places a cloth over a steel vessel. He pours the thick solution which would be filtered in as tea over it. Then he pulls the four corners of the cloth to the centre to make it a sort of bundle and lifts it to the air. It looks like a pouch full of wet and hot secrets. The he takes out an iron pincer and squeezes the pouch. Tea that looks like muddy water hisses into the steel vessel. I think he would pour a glass of tea for me from it. He does not do it. He takes out two spoonfuls of it and pours it on the floor. It flows into the dirt below the lari. The he takes two small steel cups. He pours a glass of tea in it. Then he pours a glass of milk in the other cup. He walks across the road. And pours both on the concrete road divider in the middle of the road. Then he looks up to the rising sun and makes a gesture of supplication.

Immediately, all temples become irrelevant to me. All kinds of places of worship look nothing before that road divider. It looks like a majestic old tree or a totem pole lay horizontally. Road is his temple. Sun is the one that shines it. And at the pavement he lives with his family and tea is what brings him his humble subsistence. And what better offering could be offered by him to the gods of road where tired people come for a cup of tea? Which god he needs to worship? I feel overwhelmed. Soon a thought comes to my mind. Why did he waste those two cups of tea and milk? He could have given them to some poor needy people. But I rubbish my thought. It could be a very humanitarian act. But what about this idea of worshipping the unknown forces that rule his life, that keep him and his family safe?

He pours a cup of tea for me. I take it in my hands as if I were receiving a ritual offering taken from the feet of a deity. I drink it as if I was worshipping something that I don’t know yet or perhaps would never come to know. How is the tea sir, he asks me. I try to discern the taste? How does it taste? I don’t know. But I say, it is good. I pay him and walk back to my hotel room. Under my jogging shoes, all religions and the organized places of worship crumble like those nameless biscuits that those kids eat. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Looking back at 2012


Sit alone. Open the window blinds. Look down at the street. Motor cars ply. Cyclists peddle away their fatigue. People hurry along the pavements. Celebrities smile alluringly from hoardings. Sounds of various kinds fill in the ears. Then slowly sights and sounds fade. A blur overcomes the vision. An illuminated white space appears. Darkness surrounds. Something starts whirring behind. Columns of light pass over horizontally over the head. It is the theatre of life where one sees his or her life projected. It is a retrospective of the year that was. Twelve long months together named as 2012. Look at the watch. Time has just flown away like the migratory birds. They were there. But now the sky is clear. Days passed, weeks counted, months flapped, sorrows appeared like haunting ghostly shadows, joy threw colours as in the celebration of Holi and throughout all these despite the presences you realize that you have been all alone. What you see right in front of you is your life seen like a movie, produced, scripted, choreographed, filmed, edited and directed by you. But soon you recognize that it was not you, but someone was there with you. Otherwise who is there behind you operating that projection system? You call it God or your soul. It makes you introspect. Sit erect. Be vigilant. Get ready to critique yourself. That is the review of your life; life in 2012.

(Durbar Hall, Kochi where a part of KMB is happening)

Scene 1

Cold January in Chattarpur, New Delhi. Inside a crowded metro coach I see myself standing alone holding a bag full of books. One book is in my hand and I am reading. People talk, read and listen to music. I get down at Qutub Metro station. I carry the bag load of books and walk to my studio where I spend time reading and writing. I am happy the shelves in the studio are getting full with books. I look at them like a proud father looking at his children. Ram Kinkar Baij Retrospective curated by K.S.Radhakrishnan at the NGMA, New Delhi is one major event where I play a small part as an assistant curator.

I write blogs. I write articles on art. One of the blogs creates a controversy. In that I speak of the lack of transparency in using the government funds by a private agency which would conduct a Biennale in Kochi in the month of December 2012. People act and react. Friends turn foes and strangers become friends. Facebook becomes an active site of debate. I use all of my energy to defend my arguments. People accuse me of sour grape. Some accuse me of womanising. Some people go around and ask the influential people to shun me. One day I get a court notice that slaps me with Rs.250 Crores compensation case for defaming well known artists who are behind the Biennale. For the first time in my life I realize that I could be rich and pay that whopping amount of Rs.250 Crore to someone. My advocate sends a reply. It is very cold. I cover myself with a shawl. I feel alone. I keep smiling at myself.

February and March. The fight against corruption is on. I feel tired of the abuses that people hurl at me. I try to abuse them back. Anonymous people threaten me with dire consequences. Life goes on in facebook and elsewhere. Many artist friends move away from me. I recognize my true friends. They could be counted by finger. I see turn coats from both the genders. I see powerful people playing double game. Each time I feel helplessness I tell myself that I am not the only one and I am not alone.

Scene 2

(JML at Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy)

Life goes on in Chattarpur studio. I am happy there despite the pinching cold. By April things look really sunny. Someone had met me in January at the National Gallery of Modern Art. He had introduced himself as the initiator of an art fair called United Art Fair. In fact I had forgotten about that incident. I edit Art and Deal magazine. I could feel the momentum of its revival. The change in design and the new writers’ vigour; people start liking the magazine again. My days go by in reading and writing. I stop meeting people for the simple reason that I don’t want to listen negative stories about me. By this time I pull myself back from the Biennale debate.

One day I get a call. Some wants to meet me for some reason. I meet that person at the Cafe Coffee Day in New Friends Colony, New Delhi. He asks me to become the project director of the United Art Fair. I tell him that I am not interested. He insists and I tell him about my trip to Chandigarh to present at paper titled ‘Landscape After Battle’ at the Lalit Kala Akademy. Diwan Manna, the Chairperson of Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy has invited me. I go there. I am struck by the huge hoarding with my picture. They treat me like a hero. I feel good. I present paper. Make friends and come back. My phone rings again. United Art Fair person wants to meet me. He comes to the studio. He insists. I seek advice from my mentor, KSR. He gives a positive nod. I take the plunge.

Scene 3

May- September: I join the United Art Fair as the Project Director in May. Insist that we should travel and meet artists. I, with a team travel in fourteen different cities. Artists say they are helpless and they cannot pay money. The UAF changes strategy in June. It declares a free United Art Fair. Artists come in like flood.

June- July- August- The days of preparation. I do not sleep much. What make me tick are the thoughts about UAF. I stop reading and writing. I stop going to Chattarpur studio. I attend the UAF office religiously. A major facebook campaign starts for UAF. It becomes a huge hit.

 (From United Art Fair 2012)

September: United Art Fair takes place. Apparently it looks successful. Thanks to organizational faults, a few artists are not exhibited properly. Despite a few complaints the UAF becomes successful as a brand. It is an artists-driven art fair.

Scene 4


October- One of the most stressful months. Post UAF soul searching. Self criticism and lonely days. Very few people are seen around.

November- I go back to Chattarpur Studio. My bags are full with books. I start reading and writing again. I feel I have mellowed down.

December- I take the decision to be free. I am no longer with the United Art Fair.

Scene 5

Credits roll: Ram Kinkar Baij Retrospective, Kulwant Roy Retrospective, Rabindranath Tagore Retrospective, Works of Chandan Gomes, Vicky Roy, Samudra Kajal Saikia, Neha Lavangia, Dhanur Goyal, Waswo X Waswo, Manisha Gera Baswani, United Art Fair, India Art Festival, Kochi Muziris Biennale (despite its shortcomings).

People: K.S.Radhakrishnan, Diwan Manna, Subodh Kerkar, Vandana Shukla, Somu Desai, Chintan Upadhyay, Rajendra Patil, Ajith Kumar G, my family and a whole lot of facebook friends.

Happening: God and Goddess manifestations in me. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Pursuit of Happiness and Six Feet Land

(Leo Tolstoy)

‘How much land does a man need?’ is a story written by Leo Tolstoy. A man is offered as much as land that he could cover in one day. Pahom was his name. He went in different directions and finally started running thinking that the distance that he would cover by the sunset would be his and he would be rich forever. He ran as fast as he could and each time he felt his lungs hurting he prodded himself to run more so that he could acquire more land. Finally he collapsed and breathed his last. The servant came, dug out a six feet hole in the earth and buried him there. In fact he needed only that much land- six feet of earth in total.

Greed has no end, Tolstoy wanted to tell his readers and the remuneration for greed is nothing but death. More than this apparent moral lesson, it also shows a larger truth of life: whatever one earns to earn and possess goes useless when death comes calling. You will need only six feet of space. Your sepulcher may be made up of marble. It may be spread out in acres of land. It may tell all your glory, your knowledge, wealth, worldly gains, conquests and charities you made but still you are there straightened up initially, crumbled later and dust to dust finally in an earthy vacuum of six feet. But is there any surety that you even get six feet that you rightly deserve as remuneration to the life that you have spent on earth? You may be cremated in an electric oven, you may die as a destitute, you may be buried like the carcass of animals died in host after an epidemic.

(Taj Mahal)

Still you run for your earthly possessions. We live in a world where money speaks to money. Even the biggest religious establishments that offer solace and redemption speak to the seeker in terms of money. Is it a wrong thing to have material possessions in a world where success is defined by visibility and visibility is assured through money? We have developed our economy from the real barter system to the symbolic currency system. Today we live in a world where money is transacted virtually and where showing of wads of currency notes either brings astonishment or disgust in the eyes of the onlooker. Money not seen but all what money could bring seen is the new mantra of our lives. Yet we need to show off our wealth through certain manifestations. The more you show it to the others the more you draw attention, reverence, influence and fear. The more you get all these, the more you feel like acquiring. You forget the story of our six feet of land.

Human beings have the tendency to clutch on to what they have. They feel like ‘possessing’ it. They don’t let it go. Whether it be a tiffin carrier or it be a suitcase full of notes, be you the richest of the rich or be a beggar in the pavement you clutch on to what you have. You just don’t let go. Clutching on to what you have and latching all your being on to them is like a gravitational pull. But all philosophies tell you to take momentum and get out of the orbit that is controlled by the materialistic pulls and release yourself into the firmament of pure being. Kabir says, burn your house and come to the streets. He asks us to let everything go. There is a famous story of Mulla Naseeruddin. A beggar was sitting on the pavement and was crying out that he had nothing. Mulla saw a small pouch of coins in front of the beggar. He snatched it and ran away. The beggar left his pavement possessions and darted after Mulla. Panting and puffing he caught hold of Mulla and demanded the pouch back. Mulla laughed and said, “you were the one who was wailing for having nothing. Now you have a few coins and you are running for it.”

(Mulla Nasiruddeen)

We are like that beggar. Running for what little things we have and wailing constantly to add on to it. People say acquiring wealth is a way to liberation and happiness. Or pure joy and pleasure.  Pure joy is something that you feel and you understand the joy based on the memory of the initial memory of moment that had given you that pure joy. By doing that you create a distance between the actual sensation of joy and the memory of it. Then it is not pure joy. It is a pleasure that you indulge in or you want to indulge in. People seek pleasure as they misunderstand it as pure joy. Pleasure has the semblance of joy. When there is an ultimate decimation of the distance between the two one gets pure joy. Money is the distance between pleasure and joy. That does not mean that money is unnecessary and penury is virtue. The understanding of money as distance between pleasure and joy is what making us run after it.  We make mistakes when we by pleasure with money and take it for joy. And we feel that we need to enjoy more and more pure joy, which is boundless, we think of buying more and more pleasure. We don’t see the fact that all the pleasurable things are like packed products which come with an expiry date. One has to throw it once consumed or by the expiry date. Joy cannot be thrown. That means money cannot bring joy. It can bring only pleasure.

You may ask what is that joy separated from pleasure or that pure joy absolutely integral with the enjoyment of pleasures. It is a sense of freedom, lightness and happiness. It is like an undisturbed sleep, the balm to all worries. I recount a story here. Perhaps it has been recounted by many masters and I got the story from one of them. A rich businessman, while traveling by a wheat field got a flat tyre and had to wait till the driver changed it. He saw a man of his own age lying down on a charpoy placed under the cool shade of a neem tree and smoking a hookah. The rich man walked up to him and struck up a chat with him. While talking he came to know that all those fields, orchards and endless lands with fruit bearing trees belongs to this man on the charpoy. So he asked why he could not sell a few portions of his land and invest in a business in the city. Then what, asked the farmer. You will get more money, said the rich man. After that, quizzed the farmer. You can invest more and make more money, said the rich businessman. After that, asked the farmer again. Then, you can take rest, said the businessman. That’s what I am doing now, replied the old man with a smile.

(A grave)

Resting is another form of happiness. It relieves you of fatigue and also brings you contentment. It prepares you to face graver truths. And when you are content perhaps truths become simple. You could see it like the horizon line at the end of the wheat fields. Such kind of happiness is not about absolute detachment from the material life. One has to go through all the karmic processes. One has to hold one’s own responsibilities. Detachment is not from the responsibilities but from avarice. To get that detachment one has to have the vision of that six feet of earth that is waiting for you.

There are three types of people who mainly talk against greed: One, the really rich ones who have grown tired of making more money, Two, the ones do not have money at all but aspire for making it. The third, people are those who have abandoned the pursuit of wealth for realizing higher forms of being in one’s own life. They do not seek riches but riches come to them as it would give them enough freedom to function in a society which is bound by greed. While the first category understands the futility of acquisition, which is rare, the second category speaks against it because they become bitter by constantly comparing their penury with others’ riches. The third category is those of visionaries who while deeply involved in the worldly karma realize their six feet of earth and the silent vacuum of eternity contained in it. They are the creators of a better world within a world that is on a race from morning to evening.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gandhiji and Art Museums

(Birla House which is now Gandhi Smriti at Tees January Marg, New Delhi)

There at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, Rabindranath Tagore’s works are mounted in a well curated exhibition. And in the old wing at the same premises you see the works of one of the pioneers of Indian documentary photography, Kulwant Rai curated by Aditya Arya. A couple of kilometers away from there, you can see Mati Ghar, an art gallery with an ethnic look at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) where an exhibition of Indian and international cave art is mounted in a curious fashion. And a few meters away from there you come across the National Museum, the prime institution of Indian art. Interestingly these three institutions are spread around the landmark spot, India Gate where on a Sunday afternoon thousands of people throng to enjoy sunlight, kites and a bit of nationalism. While motorists find it difficult to park their cars in the vicinity of India Gate and visitors find not an inch to move around. However, these three institutions sport a desert a look with the exhibits stay brooding on their fate.

Whenever times permits I visit these galleries, allow myself to be soaked in a sort of feeling that either you get inside a mausoleum or a deserted patch of land that drags you often with its sheer loneliness. Works of art return my vacant gaze and the more you spend time there the more you feel like talking to ghosts. Invisible fingers touch you as you stand in front of a wall text and read through the lines that explain a part of history that you did not know existed. You feel a tinge of eeriness at your nape as you loiter along the dimly lit corridors flanked by frozen moments of cultural history captured by genuine souls. May be when you stand in a mall or in a market place too you get the same feeling provided if you are deeply alone and are communicating with the innumerable moments of history happening right in front of your eyes in the form of mundane occurrences.

(The place where Gandhiji was shot at)

If you look at the romantic poets and painters you see them moving away from the maddening crowds and settling themselves in a remote land, under a tree, with a book or painting materials and some inescapable dreams. While sitting there they see the visions of life and the truth of life beyond our naked eyes. Romantics are romantics because they want to go away from their immediate reality to find another reality that looks more real than the given real. They romance with time and not with space. For them space is a medium to engage time and the lonely plateaus, hills, valleys and the flight of fancies are the spaces that they choose to engage with the time that is not caged by the clocks and watches. Grave yards are one of the spaces where time transcends to eternity and most of the creative people have this secret romance with a cemetery. Whenever I travel by cemeteries I feel like stopping there, walking along the mounds and marble slabs and forget rest of the things happening around the world. It is here you get a perspective about life in utter silence created by dead people sharing their life’s secrets with earth.

May be that’s why artists and people who love art visit museums; the mausoleums of dead works of art that have gained a spirit status in their due course of travel from an artist’s studio to the final resting place. But people are afraid of visiting museums because they are afraid of listening to silence and reading the frozen moments. They are afraid of museums because they lose a sense of space and they are transported to Time. They want to remain in space and time at once so that their sense of immediately felt realities is kept intact. The moment the time-space correlative breaks your imagination and experience change their dimensions and you will have to take off to a different plane of understanding life. In contemporary galleries often such engagements are impossible why because the temporality of space does not allow the time to make manifestations. The work of art is so close to you in time and the artist’s history is so familiar that you keep your viewing attached to the givens than the perceptions. In a museum, the tags are like epitaphs, though they do inform about the works and the artists, they force you to detach from your time-space constraints. A museum liberates you the way a graveyard does.

(Mera jeevan hi mera Sandesh hai- My life is my message)

That’s why I visit Gandhi Smriti or any museum that has something to do with Gandhi. In Delhi, less than three kilometers away from the National Museum, at the Tees January Marg, one could see the former stately Birla House where Gandhiji stayed during the last 144 days of his life. It was here on 30th January 1948, Gandhiji was assassinated. Today it houses one of the largest museums of Gandhi’s memory and the latest addition is a multi media interactive program on Gandhi’s life and vision by the noted multi media artist, Ranjit Makkuni. This museum has a perennial attraction for me not because it displays Gandhiji’s life through visuals and multi media programs but because it is one place where you could transcend time and space and be one with a time beyond your naked eyes. You feel Gandhiji’s life as the way you feel it in Sabarmati Ashram.

For me, Sabarmati and Tees January Marg are two ends of Gandhiji’s life. It was in Sabarmati, he formulated his plans for the independence struggle after docking back from South Africa. And at Tees January Marg, he became a martyr for the causes he held closer to his life. Unlike in other museums in Delhi, I see a lot of people visiting Gandhi Smriti. They stand in reverence and watch each exhibit with some sort of meditation. Foreign students and visitors click photographs and whisper their views to each other. They don’t giggle the way you giggle even in a temple. Gandhiji holds the grain of truth and the truth was his life and the exhibited objects you see the magnanimity of that simple life. At the preserved room of Gandhiji’s last day, on the blameless white wall a framed statement hangs in all its simplicity. It says, “My life is my message”. Who else in the world could reveal volumes of truth in that one simple unassuming statement? Space collapses into time and time collapses into space here.

(Gandhiji's room at Birla House)

It is not peculiar if one wonders whether Gandhiji’s life was one of the biggest, most enduring and alluring performative act. In fact, it was. Each of his acts of was choreographed and rehearsed by a sense of urgency and sincerity. He was aware of his deeds and each of them contained a meaning and a message. One of the copious letter writers of the world, Gandhiji had enacted more messages than he could put them into letters. I remember reading Thomas Weber’s study on Dandi March. Gandhiji had two bullock carts following apart from his disciples while he was walking from Sabarmati to Dandi. In one of the carts khadi clothe was stuffed which he sold in order to raise funds as well as to raise awareness amongst people about the necessity of eschewing foreign clothes and entering into a self-reliable economy. And in the other cart it was a specially designed commode that he used in regular intervals as he was very particular about his bowel movements. While sitting at the commode he wrote letters to the world leaders, friends, political leaders in India and elsewhere and to all those people who sought advice from him. Being a clever pragmatist he even asked money from those autograph seekers. With a smile he asked them to pay for his signature so that he could use that money for the national cause.

(Gandhiji's tools)

May be one is informed of Gandhiji’s life and one could connect. But what about all those people who visit this museum? Are they all informed and educated as anyone else is? What about those foreign visitors who come here because they know Gandhiji but not deep scholars of Gandhism? This is where I find Gandhiji himself as a work of art with a great effect both aesthetical and pragmatic all over the world. Like the godheads of world religion Gandhiji has become a god in himself and for me a god manifested in man is the right kind of god because such a god could deliver justice with the perseverance and discretion. Gandhiji is the just god who exists in the conscience of our socio-political imagination. Gandhiji’s image itself conveys that aesthetic catharsis that a great work of art in a museum could provide. That’s why despite the lack of proper historical knowledge people throng before the exhibited memorabilia of Gandhiji. That’s why may be even a three year old child looks at the benevolent portrait of a smiling Gandhiji and says, ‘Gandhaji’. Which artist in the world has got that blessing of being so popular even the toddlers would stand before his portrait and smile back at him as if he were his/her own grandfather? 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Perhaps An Anachronistic Idealism

(At Gandhi Smriti where Gandhiji was shot at)

It is not the first time people ask me, ‘why you are like this? Why can’t you do things that people generally approve of? What’s your problem in collaborating with people and getting things done?’ All these questions are career related and in their voice I could feel the tinge of care and the spice of irritation. Often my answer is a smile and some mumblings that even I find myself difficult to decipher. I ask the same questions myself and I find myself my mind a pyramid where undecipherable hieroglyphics of idealism written largely. I try to decode them, unpack the burden of my thinking and the result is always an inward turned smile to myself which looks more like a sun shadowed by foam like clouds of immensity. And I ask what idealism is that I claim to have or I cherish to follow or nourish to live with?

I do not know it at all. If you say that a strange helplessness that I always feel in the presence of those people who squat at the pavements with bundles that contain their accumulated ‘wealth’ of sorrow and agony of displacement, if you point out that the anger that lashes its waves like an ocean against the walls of my abstract conscience while seeing young artists waiting for some savior to redeem them from their plights of materialistic wants, if say that I am driven by a kind of empathy with all those people suffer without complaining, I would agree with all of these yet I would not be able to touch that particular point of my own self where I hold this crunching feeling to aspire for something that would provide everyone equal rights, opportunities and justice. I see everyone hurrying up towards something that would give them absolute joy in the materialistic world. I pull myself out of the crowd as if I trace out a human figure and remove it from the hoard of people around me. I try to see that vacuum in my own shape and see whether I could find any unseen dynamics operative. I fail and I fail miserably.

Even in this failure, it is my attempt to understand those reasons that goad me to be the odd one out. Newspapers and magazines today glamourize even worst kind of struggle and use all of them as the raw material for the idea of success. I read the stories of those people who have left their well-paid jobs to follow their dreams and becoming successful in their chosen paths. Some stars produce tear jerking serials on human issues only to be pepped up by astonishingly ironic advertisements that go absolutely against the grain of the issues that have been discussed. Eventually, if you go deeper into all these ‘stories’ that make you think and act, you realize one thing: if at all there is an ideal in today’s world that is the ideal of success, which is always translated into materialistic success. And there is nothing wrong in it because we all need tangible solutions not only for our worrying issues but even for the most joyful feelings. We need to express everything today through the medium of materials.

Materialism, this never ending race for expressing one’s happiness or success through visible, tangible, palpable and measureable manifestations is today’s mantra. Seen it from a different angle, this is what all artists do: expressing one’s self through tangible mediums. Then suddenly the idea of materialism becomes so artistic and aesthetically driven. You dress well and you feel confident, they say. You consume a particular brand your worth is increased, they say. And once the same thing is repeated, it becomes a norm and rule, and slowly a philosophy. Where you hang out and what you travel in and where you dine and what do you drink everything gets attached to a tag of generic acceptance and this acceptance comes via the idea of aesthetic refinement. Once the refinement of one’s own self and worth is measured by tactile/material products something deeper is muffled and killed. An inner voice is silenced and a rebel is killed. I look at all those people who wear head phones and listen to the chattering of Radio Jockeys and to the music they choose to play, and to innumerable product advertisements I feel that they all deny a chance to the inner voice to be heard out.

I am an anachronism in the contemporary world. May be I am absolutely wrong when I say that people do not listen to their inner selves. They must be constantly speaking to their own selves in order to find solutions for their respective problems. But the majority, it seems deny that they talk to themselves. They wish to be heard so they talk to others. They talk endlessly so that they could create their own selves in their own physical shape molded out of sounds. The world would have been much better if people were talking less and listening to the inner voice.

What is the point if you listen to your inner voice, you may ask? What’s the use, what’s the profit that you get out of it? What do you really achieve when you listen to your own self? Listening to one’s own self brings a lot of peace, a sense of equilibrium and a sense of harmony. People who live by the lessons of product advertisements do yoga, walk on tread mills, join laughter clubs, go for vacations, dine in the best restaurants, work out in air conditioned gyms and so on. I have observed most of them simultaneously engage in something else while they do the abovementioned things. They talk to a fellow walker, they listen to music or they talk over phones. In fact, these are all the ways to deny body, mind, heart and soul and their innate urge to speak to you. When you walk, if you talk or listen to music, your body gets dissociated from your mind and mind gets dissociated from your heart and heart from the soul.

There is a perfect equilibrium between what you do with your body and your soul via mind and heart. The moment you do multiple things at one time, you are severe the link between your body and soul. Have you ever tried to meditate? If you have tried to do that you have also asked whether you were really meditating while sitting quite. Masters tell you to bring your body and mind into one point and leave all thoughts aside. The moment you try to do that you start asking whether you have left all thoughts aside. The moment you ask this question there is a thought. I am not telling anything new here. It has been said by masters thousand times. What I am trying to say here is a very simple thing: you can think your thoughts, you can raise your questions and you can talk to yourself while you do something to listen to your inner voice. As you keep doing it slowly you forget you are on a treadmill, you are lifting weights or jogging and listening to music. You become an entity that functions on its own. That is the equilibrium of the universe to which your body and soul have been tuned to permanently but lost connection temporarily.

My idealism is that: harmonizing myself with the universe, leaving all thoughts aside and becoming a flowing river. You may ask whether I am preaching and trying to be a guru or something. I am not doing anything of that sort. This idealism is all about attaining that joy by doing anything that is required to be done in order to live a dignified life in this world. I do not think that I need to wear designer clothes to be different. But I do feel that even if you wear designer clothes that will not hold you back from becoming one with your own self. But the problem arises when you do all what you are required to do are directed towards attaining a status where you could afford and wear designer clothes. It is applicable to any consumer products in our lives. They are all there and are produced to be consumed. But the moment our life becomes an agency of consumption and all our activities are tuned in order to achieve this status of consumptions things change. All the woes of the world start from our activities to become a consumer.

Consumer is god, says the market. I would say consumer is a false god. Our world is filled with false gods created by religions. And today consumer products are new gods where we become devotees. At the shrine of the market place where we go to worship, they say that you are not just a devotee you are the god himself and you start believing in it. Market place is a short cut to spiritual satisfaction. Market is the religion where we pray to false gods of products. But seen against a series of religions that ask the people to kill each other for hegemony and power, even the false god of market is a welcoming change. This religion is more acceptable because the market do not ask the consumer to kill each other to become a member. But in the long run, when the false gods worship another set of false gods, it becomes a strange religion that eventually asks for the decimation of the fellow being.

My idealism stems from life practices. I do not take a holier than thou attitude here. May because of my upbringing I am more inclined to the common good than personal good. I think more about giving things ‘unto the last’ than obtaining it first for myself. And I understand the temporality and momentariness of events. Things take place, put people into prominence and pass. The next day in its place you see a different set of events, different people and that too pass. What remains is the person who undergoes all these. He/she too will pass but the memories inscribed or non-inscribed remain as history till they are found out and rearticulated. Some people say, having certain anachronistic idealism is a sort of irresponsible behavior. It is an escape route, they say. But for me, realizing one’s own self through greater focus and doing good and detached in certain ways is not an escape route. It demands responsibility.

The greatest lessons of my life are learnt on a day to day basis while I walk from a metro station to my work place and from another metro station to my home. I cross a border between two states (Delhi-Haryana) and it is exactly where I see people doing different things at different pace. There is a thriving market that sells eatables, snacks, fruits, clothes, liquor and so on. Poor people from villages come and squat there. All kinds of dealings take place in this stretch of a kilometer. Each night when I walk back and then get into a shared auto rickshaw, I see people and I feel it as the greatest pilgrimage I have ever done. I do not believe in the glitter and glamour of the profession that I am pursuing. But I believe in the people who work in this profession who are passionate about their land, people and their own lives. I believe in those artists who gain dignity for themselves and dignity for their fellow beings and their land. I don’t preach nationalism. But I do believe in a nation that has formed my thinking and my love for the world. Without this idealism I cannot function. I may be dubbed old, useless, dreamy, romantic, lazy, laid back, irresponsible, conventional, traditional, fundamental, retro-active and so on. But I am not worried because I am not the only one.