Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Letter to Holika, my Sister


Dear Holika,

How are you my sister? I know getting burnt every year on a particular day is not a great thing to go through. But you have to because you had earned a boon from Shiva that you would not burn by fire. Wasn’t it the reason that your brother Hiranya Kashyapu asked you to hold Prahlada on your lap and enter into the fire? Wasn’t there is a larger conspiracy out there, the conspiracy by the God of Fire, Agni to burn you despite the assurance from Shiva? When Sita went through the test of fire, the same God helped her to come out unscathed. Why did it happen to you? Were you a bad woman? Weren’t you obeying the words of your brother? Or was it because you were black and believed in Shiva? Were you a victim of the Shaiva-Vaishnava fights for supremacy?

I understand Hiranya Kashyapu did not like his own son praising Lord Vishnu all the time. How could one tolerate that? He was a devotee of Shiva and his son was not respecting his father’s god. If I were in Hiranya’s place I would have done the same. Perhaps, I would not have asked to kill him. I would have banished him and would have cried for the rest of my life. But if you look at the larger picture, don’t you think that they wanted to establish the Vaishnava cult over the Shaiva one through indoctrinating Prahlada with the ‘idea’ of Vishnu? I think so. Hiranya had also got a boon from Shiva and Brahma. He would not be killed during day or night, or inside or outside. Hiranya was invincible.

 (Sita in Fire)

When you feel a lot about your power and believe in it, you are bound to falter. But where did Hiranya falter? He was a king and he was ruling the way he wanted. Democracy was not the norm of those days, right? Myths always say that whenever there is a problem it is always caused by the demons. Demons are the people who have dark skins and long hairs. They wanted demonize them further by adding horns, nails, tails and teeth. The picture became complete enough to be scared and hated. Hiranya did not want his son to go to the other camp. So he challenged the devotion of his son. He even asked his son whether his god was omnipresent. Prahlada said, yes. So he broke a pillar with his club. Narasimha came out. Narasimha, the avatar of Vishnu knew it well that Hiranya was invincible. There was conspiracy for sure. That’s why Prahlada chose to challenge his father during the twilight. It was neither day nor night. Narasimha knew that Hiranya could not be killed inside or outside. So he chose to sit at the threshold and did the job. In his next incarnation too Vishnu would trick the Dravidian King, Bali and send him to the nether lands.

I am not saying that Hiranya was completely right in choosing you to go into the fire with Prahlada. He could have chosen anyone else. In his court anyone could have been dispensable than you. Any soldier could have done it. But he wanted his sister to go. Was it because you were woman so that inconsequential? Your life was dispensable? Was he taking a chance against the larger conspiracy? Or was it his last ditch attempt to do away with his son thereby Vaishnavism? Anyway, you were killed. Prahlada came out. Eventually Hiranya was also killed. And today people celebrate Holi to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. My sister, in what sense you were a bad woman? Nowhere it is said that you had killed people or wanted to rule over the kingdom. You were not a threat to anybody. Did your brother secretly fear your virtues? Or like any brother of that time, had he thought that once he was decimated by the Vaishnavaites, you would be taken forcefully into their harem? So was it a sort of honour killing done in advance in a neat and clear way?


They have done it before and after too. Years later, when Ram went to the forest, Tataka, a Yaksha woman was ruling there. She was self willed. And the sages detested her. So Rama killed her. Later, Ravana’s sister-in-law Soorpanakha wanted to have Ram as her lover. She tried. But what did she get in return? Lakshman chopped off her breasts and nose. Don’t you think that it was the cruellest act that a man could do to a woman? Ram could have asked her to go back as he was so benevolent to everyone. Or Lakshmana could have dissuaded her and sent her back. Nothing happened. They just disfigured her. Don’t you get the message? If you have your own will and you happened to be a woman, you will be physically disfigured, killing your very dignity and soul. Had it been a goddess, an Aryan goddess, could they have done the same to her? Or was it like, Aryan goddesses would not go behind men? So having dark skin and living in south was a problem then. Or living in North and still having dark skin was a problem. You were taken for a slut.

Perhaps, it was good for you. The immediate burning and death. Prahlada came out triumphantly. Future kings and defectors are always like that. Look at Vibhishana. He deserted his brother and came to Ram’s camp and later on he became the king of Lanka. It was good for him. What did you get? The annual torture of death by fire. And they say the name Holi comes from your name Holika. May be it is the first time in mythology that a festival gets its name from a vile woman. We don’t celebrate Panchali’s disrobing. We don’t celebrate Sita’s disappearance into earth. Why. Was it because they were equally dispensable like you? Or they were part of the Aryan discourse? You, the she-devil, the one who foolishly thought fire would not affect you finally got your recognition in a colourful festival. Such an irony. But remember now only your name is attached to the festival. People have forgotten you.


They call it the arrival of spring. When flowers bloom, winds blow and lovers feel terribly lonely or intensely passionate, they want to mark the moments with a festival. Myths connect it to Krishna and Radha. Krishna used to tease Radha by throwing colours at her and other gopikas. Krishna’s friends followed the suit. Then it became trend. They call out, Buran na mano holi hai, Don’t feel bad it is Holi. It is an anticipatory bail and an impending threat to the hapless girls from strange boys. We are going to smear you with colours and along with that we are going to do with whatever we want to do with you. Don’t feel bad. It is holi. This legend, now accepted by the mainsteam Hindu fold has become a covert license for many hooligans. People have finally started detesting this festival. Middleclass neighbourhoods have already started showing their low enthusiasm towards it.

During our nation building time, my Holika, they used to play Holi as a part of national integration. On this day people come out to share their happiness. They shared sweets and embraced each other. They thought that together they made a good nation through a cultural activity. Slowly it turned away from the cultural and integrationist aspects of it. It became an occasion for people to eat more chicken and drink more alcohol. Chicken and Alcohol when mixed with the suppressed Indian male libido, Holi becomes one of the most atrocious festivals in the world. During the last Holi, from my terrace I saw how a ‘senior most’ Bhabhi of a joint family down there getting literally groped by her brothers-in-law and other male members of the family in a drunken spree. Finally, a very elderly man had to intervene to stop the young men from touching their revered Bhabhi in the places where they had been craving to touch the day she entered that family.

(Sati practice)

May be I don’t like people touching me that’s why I don’t like playing Holi. For the sake of middle class social norms, when neighbours come to meet me at home with their colours I succumb to their colours and hugs like a helpless sacrificial lamb. They invite me to drink and I refuse to join them. In a year three hundred and sixty four days they are all out there to prove who is better than the other and on the Holi day they wanted to say that ‘we are one’. I tell them to get lost, at least in my mind. I am against all religion based organizations and establishments, and even rituals that infringe upon individual rights and dignity. I don’t like people hugging me. I don’t like putting colours on somebody’s face or body because I have felt the kind of violence on my body when others do it. It is sheer violence. What pleasure does one get by doing it? I just don’t understand. If someone tells me that it is done for national culture and tradition I will ask them to go and live in Middle Ages.


Dear Holika, in my mind you are not burnt. You had come out of the fire without any burn or injury. But how could they accept it? They need to do away with you, then only they can co-opt you in their mythologies. I know about someone who has been doing penance in five fires for so many years. Her name is Uma. And I am Shiva. I worship you both and I don’t play Holi.

Love and respect,

Shiva aka JohnyML

Monday, March 25, 2013

Letters of Love and Struggle: Between S.H.Raza and Krishen Khanna

(My Dear- Letters between Sayed Hyder Raza and Krishen Khanna published by VAG and Raza Foundation)

Do you remember those days when you sat to write a letter to your friend, relative or beloved? You had time then. You had patience then. You had enough to tell then. You used to press rose petals between the pages so that your feelings for the other could have been adequately conveyed. At times the letters used to get smudged by an uncontrolled tear. And at other times in the envelopes you used to hide sighs and whirlwinds of passion. The rituals of buying inlands, post cards, stamps, pre-paid covers, airmails, writing the mails, pushing it into the post boxes hanging from lamp posts, and eternally waiting for the post man to ring your bell were exciting. Don’t you remember that with no security guards and none to look after the red post boxes were safe then? There was an unwritten rule to respect the letters because people lived through letters. You may wonder where all those times have gone? Why don’t you find time any more to write letters? Some people say that they have become too busy to write letters. That is not the fact. Technology has changed our lives. Today communication has become easier. No longer do we feel the need to write letters. We communicate with people on a real time in the virtual space. Letters have become the memoirs of a bygone time.

However the epistolary art has survived the times. Perhaps, the modern literary form, Novel was in fact started in the form of writing letters. It was called epistolary novels. Letters were expressions of personal aesthetics and documentation of time, space and places. Volumes of letters written by well known and unknown people have been published as they provide us great insights about people and times. Prisoners wrote letters to their kith and kin. Loners wrote diaries in the form of letters addressed unto oneself or to God. There was a time in schools children were taught to write letters. Also there was a time that clubs promoted the networking of pen friends. What lies behind all these writing letters? Why do people write to others when they are away or not away from each other? Is it just an unquenchable desire to communicate? A way to self-explication? During those days, even those friends who used to be together all day and night used to write letters to each other? What was it then? And above all, each part of letter was preserved. None threw letters to dust bin. Throwing or discarding letters from a personal friend was considered to be an unpardonable sin. None told us to do so. But we thought so. We even cared for the piece of envelope that we tore away from it. And we preserved all those communications. There was no delete button in our communications.

(Post box)

Any letter written by anybody is predestined to be read by more than one person. When the intensity of communication is on between two people, they do not think they do it for the world. They reduce the world into their letters. But one day those letters explode out into the world. That’s what intensity means. Today, when intensity is less and people consider communication frivolous, they indulge in group chatting. The most insulting form of communication is group chatting when it is done for the sake of it. The predestination of letters to be read by many is directly proportionate to the context, time and intention of those communicators. Epistolary art is a self perfecting thing without the knowledge of the writer himself or herself. As you write more and more letters you perfect your way of writing it. It becomes an art form. That’s why we enjoy reading the letters of those people with whom we share less or even hate them to the hilt. We are curious on two counts: one, we understand the psychological state of the person who was writing the letter. Two, we get to see the milieu that caused that particular psychological construct. Together they make the history of a time seen through the perspective of a person who in a way has contributed to the making of that history.

That’s why I got interested in reading the letter correspondence between noted painters Syed Hyder Raza and Krishen Khanna, jointly published recently by Raza Foundation and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi. Titled ‘My Dear’ this book contains the letters written by these two artists between late 1950s 2000. Fifty years of correspondence and the preservation of it. I have already mentioned how people keep the letters safe. Raza went to Paris, an alien place for the young artist in 1950s. His friend Krishen Khanna was living in India and working as a Banker but nurturing the aspiration to become a fulltime painter. Both of them were adventurous and wanted to make it big in the world. The pattern that the editorial has given us in this book tells us how the early years, that means late 50s and early 1960s, made them so fervent in writing letters. In 1970s and 1980s the pattern changes and when we come to 1990s the correspondence thins down. And in 2000 we don’t have too many letters. A cursory look reveals the pattern in which the world itself has changed. How technology changed, how economic status of these two friends changed and how their concern for art changed.


As an avid writer of letters and a preserver of communications myself, what I was looking for in the early letters of Raza and Khanna was the mental state of these two young men of that time. As I mentioned before, prisoners and loners communicate intensely with their kith and kin (unlike today’s late night chat of strangers over facebook just for the pervert pleasure that it derives). It is not because they are prisoners in a materialistic and practical ways. It is because they feel the imprisonment within their bodies. Each time they get up and look at the mirror, or each time they sit in front of their canvases or files, they feel that there is someone inside them waiting to be liberated. That moment one does not know how to liberate it. This perennial urge for liberation makes one to write to a close person. Exile is a sort of imprisonment. It is from this context that Raza writes to Khanna. We see how both of them want to get out of small rooms, lesser opportunities, pressing situations and so on. They were looking for a bigger world in their temporarily chosen small worlds.

Hence, in most of the letters written by both Raza and Khanna, we see a sort of contained complaining and hope for the future. When you are pressed down by the physical situations, what you talk more about will be the needs and wants. So most of the letters have references to materialistic needs. Then there are references to friends that are not quite nice. For example, both of them do not like Souza that much. They do not mince words when they talk about him. They do not like the flamboyance of Hussain either. If you look at in the light of human psychology, you could see how these two not so successful people of that time looking at those two compatriots who have become successful with some sort of envy and jealousy. Also from the mails of Raza one could hear how he is getting adapted to the Parisian life and its sophistication. Besides, his comments on Dr.Mulk Raj Anand is quite scathing. He says that as an art critic Dr.Mulk looks less at work and talk more and talks convincingly. What one wants in the presence of Dr.Mulk is half an hour of silence from him. Similarly there are complaints about Prodosh Dasgupt who was then the Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

As we read on the letters we see how their dreams coming true slowly. In the earlier letters they talk more about chances of exhibiting and how to procure money. But as they get stabilized in their lives by 1980s they start speaking about art per se. We see both Raza and Khanna becoming a bit philosophical than before. As young idealists of 1960s both of them are shocked by the Indo-China conflicts and at one stage Khanna even says that if need be he would go to Indian Army. The nationalistic fervour is quite strong and the Nehruvian idealism is still around, we feel from the letters. Also they think of raising funds for the Army Welfare Funds and Forest Protection. Their idealism is high. They are sad when they hear the demise of Nehru. And their hunt for opportunities continues. By 1980s both of them set up their studios. Besides, Khanna is able to leave his job and establish himself as a well known painter and writer.

 (Krishen Khanna)

It is interesting to notice that when there was organized art market in India, still artists were surviving and working because of a good number of patrons around. The patrons group was constituted by rich Indians, expats and foreigners. Indian artists were doing well in Europe by 1980s. And in India too brisk business on art was on. What we understand from the letters is that a few galleries (only few galleries were there at that time) were catering to a few artists. We were not looking at the diversified art world of India. Professional art practitioners were very less and only those people who had dared to live the life of artists became successful or got promoted. Besides, it needed a cosmopolitan outlook, a bit of flamboyance, a sort of eccentricity and complete scorn for the lumpen society. None of these artists were concerned about the poverty, educational problems, social disparities, the still not working democracy and so on. Modern artists were a breed apart. They were not concerned about the ills of the society. They were concerned about their personal success and their aesthetics. That’s why we call them modernists. Interestingly, I do not find any references to Indira Gandhi or Emergency in their letters. Or did I miss it altogether?

May be the vantage point from which I look at these letters provides me with a different view about things. In these letters one could find two warm persons speaking to each other with all sincerity. By late 1980s and in early 1990s they talk about Delhi and its art politics. There are certain references to Rajiv Gandhi and Chandrashekhar. After a point in 1980s Raza has a complaint that he does not get enough exposure in India. The reality is that by the time other Indian painters have become prominent. In India by early 1980s the Narrative School had become quite prominent. By 1986 the young rebels have formed the Radical Group and Indian Modernism had been critiqued from different quarters. Still Raza and Khanna, from their letter I understand, were not fighting a losing game. They speak of the Triennale of Lalit Kala Akademy, Bharat Bhavan Bhopal and the activities they conduct. They are quite compassionate about their contemporaries like Bal Chabda, V.S.Gaitonde and Tyeb Mehta. I was curious to see why there was no reference to the artists like V.Viswanathan and Akkitham Narayanan, who were also in Paris of that time and doing the Neo-Abstractions. One could think about art politics.

(Perv's Paradise- Facebook Chat)

If any artist of my times complaint about art politics and politics of art, I would ask them to keep complaining because both these aspects are going continue here. When human beings are involved in the administration of art there bound to be art politics. Raza and Khanna are aware of it. They mention it in their letters several times. But the politics of art is a different thing altogether. If human beings are doing art, then that should be a political act in a pronounced or subtle way because human beings are essential political animals. The day you pay rents or pay current bills, if you buy bread and eggs from a local shop, you have to become political. I have seen punks saying they are not political. Being punk itself is a political act. Indian youngsters have to understand it. But it is not necessary that you always do political art. If you are aware of your life your art will reflect your political stance on things and events. But unfortunately most of our successful as well as aspiring artists are politically confused. That does not mean that they need to spend their times reading political theories. Nor do I say that they should follow the misguiding social researchers who double up as artists and activists. The young people should create their own paths through their political awareness and understanding. Only from that heightened awareness good art would come out. That’s what I think when I read the correspondence between Raza and Khanna. Their letters are relevant not just because they are intensely and intentionally romantic but because they are the documentation of their struggles for many things including their kind of political awareness. Herd mentality of today’s generation will not bring forth such correspondences in future.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Leave Him, He is a Poet, not a Terrorist

(For Durga and Gaman)

You found an orchard for me
And brought sheep to graze in laze
They gaze in wonder who size
Dreams in words.
Amongst the woods you sang
The disembodied songs of separation
Which I translated into
Rainbows and tears.
They say one should not make
Words that pierce into the hearts
And brains of people for the fear
Of them turning the land red and white.
They say one should not sing songs
Of woes borne by them since eons
For each song might sire
Thousands like them.
They say words are bullets, swords
And they could slit the throats of power
But in fact they are just distant bleating of a pack
And a lonely lover’s sobs.
I was caught by Them, the powers that are
And was convicted for my words
I gave them a garland of brains
Seared by the goddess who begot me and my dreams.
That’s why the judge finally said:
Leave him, he is just a poet not a terrorist.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

At the Age of 44 I have Two Wives

At the age of 44, I feel like an old battle ship that has participated in many wars. Looking at the scars on its body I fondly and proudly remember the battles that I have waged. Memories of fights come back and I think many could have been avoided. But the fights were inevitable and unavoidable. One could not live without those fights. Sometimes you lead one and at times you are asked to stand in support. At times you as a battleship is there to impose a threat and at times you are there to keep peace.


According to Indian laws and Hindu laws polygamy and bigamy are socio-legal offence. But at the age of 44 I realize that I am a bigamous person. I am married to two women: Saraswati and Lakshmi. They don’t like each other. When I am with one, the other turns her face away from me. I go and pacify the other and a fight ensues at the former end. But I know how to live with two women. People say one who has two wives will never experience peace. I feel it all depends on how you handle them. I am in pursuit of both of them. And I make them to pursue me too.


People talk about happy marriages. They reiterate the need for a happy home. Everyone pretends that families are self nourishing and care giving institutions. Most of us try to live according to the ideology-ridden pictures seen in calendars and advertisements. But at the age of 44 I prefer to go with what Aldous Huxley said in his ‘Brave New World’. Huxley said: ”Home, home- a few small rooms, stiflingly over-inhabited by a man, by a periodically teaming woman, by a rabble of boys and girls of all ages. No air, no space: an understerilized prison; darkness, disease and smells.”


You may think that at the age of 44 instead of growing positive towards life I have become absolutely negative. I am not negative at all. I realize that none can live someone else’s past and take pain on oneself for someone else’s deeds. I realize that the world goes on even without you. History is a reference point to understand what to be repeated and what not to be. I totally agree with what sages say that none understands anything more than what he or she already knows. It is just about unveiling of curtains.


At the professional front, I find hypocrisy and lack of faith in most of the people who are related to my profession, which is art. One good thing at the age of 44 I have learnt is to tell someone that I don’t like his or her work. I used to be polite when someone approached me with their works for an opinion. Now I tell them straight that what I like and what I do not. I have also learnt to dissociate from intellectuals because they too have club mentality and most of our intellectuals do not know life outside theories.


If anyone asks me how I want to go about with my life in the coming years, I would say that I am reassured about my intention to set up an ashram for studies, an archive for research and a museum for art. I still hope that this country would produce meaningful art. A year back I was fighting along with a few friends against the corruption in an art event. Today I see most of the eminent people support the same project saying that it is less evil than many other events. I do not believe in greater or lesser evils. Evils are evils.


At the age of 44 I think I have lost certain skills and gained some other skills. For example, I could cook fairly well. After many years I tried to cook again one day and I found myself failing miserably at that front. None is cut for menial works. But people are forced to do it. So they become skilful in that. I imagine a life where I need not do anything other than reading and writing. But such a life does not exist. A maid servant can screw up the life of a philosopher and put an actor in jail. A red flame from the gas burner could postpone important meetings.


Life is a gift given by god. It is a part of a larger scheme, which most of us do not understand. God is selfish like a child. He demands return gifts. We often forget to give return gifts. Every house is a dump yard of toxic plastic. We call it gifts. At the age of 44 I like a sapling coming out of a crack in a concrete building than a Bodhi tree that would offer me enlightenment against a payment. Thank you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Police-Criminal Nexus: From Protection Money to Small Hafta

(Chulbul Pandey- Salman Khan in Dabang 2)

‘Why Was Ram Singh Killed in Tihar Jail’, a Kafila post by Prof.Nivedita Menon is thought provoking for two reasons: one, it reveals the Police-Criminal nexus and two, it makes the readers think about the occasions where they themselves had to confront Police. Police-Criminal nexus is a well-known factor. As Indian Police behave like dispute settling thugs who accept money from both the parties, often when a problem comes up people either prefer to settle it amongst themselves or evade the issue altogether by accepting shame or disgrace at the face of injustice meted out to them. If you are afraid of robbers, rapists, stalkers, aggressors, vandals, encroachers, bullies, thugs, roadside Romeos and so on, you are equally afraid of the policemen who are supposed to protect you from such attacks. If at all there is peace in the streets it is not because people have taken to Gandhian ways but because people have learnt to avoid Police from their personal lives. I will not say that the Indian Police Force is full of criminals. But I can say for sure that a majority of them are sucked into these crime networks as a part of their ‘duty’.

Ram Singh was killed, according Prof.Menon, because had he been presented to court he would have spilled beans which would have brought several skeletons out of the shelves, carefully dumped by the Police officials themselves. Hence the easiest way is to do away with a criminal who would eventually reveal the crime of the law enforcers than to bring him before the law of the land and get him adequate punishment. The December aggression on a paramedic in Delhi which caused her death and the arousal of nation’s conscience was just a tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, Ram Singhs have a different appearance; a distorted picture of state and its law enforces.

(Tihar Jail)

Perhaps, the Bollywood depiction of Police intervention has always been right. Though the arrival of Police force only to nab those villains who have been either killed or incapacitated by the hero could be called a selective delay for a heroic cause and its effective catharsis, it in fact shows metaphorically at least, the mindset of Indian police. As Tracy Chapman sings, “... is it good to call the police, always come late, if they come at all,” they always come late. They come late because they know what is happening out there and they know who have caused that. If they come it is not the villain who gets arrested but the system itself. So delaying is an aesthetic tactic because in three ways villainy and its retribution could take care of itself; one, by heroic intervention, two, by natural or violent death thanks to delayed medical care to those affected or the hero’s god given license to kill to survive, three, providential justification of all what has happened before the culmination of events (in a movie narrative).

In Ram Singh’s case too it is what exactly happened, we infer from Prof. Menon’s observations. First of all the Police thought of a heroic intervention, which here unfortunately turned out to be nil despite the resistance of Nirbhaya’s boyfriend. Second point became true as she was left to bleed and uncared for a long time, which in away assured her eventual demise in home or abroad. Third is the providential justification that now even the Police and general public accept as rendered through the alleged suicide of Ram Singh at Tihar Jail. In short, Police have got what they wanted. Their conscience has been cleared of all sins because it is the kind of conscience that they maintain by delay tactics and feigning ignorance.

(Prof.Nivedita Menon)

We need a thorough revamp of our Police force. I would like to recount a recent personal encounter with the Police establishment. I live in Faridabad. When my wife and myself were away in our respective workplaces in Delhi, on 28th January 2013, at 4.00 pm, a robber entered our house, threatened the maid servant, gagged and tied her, forced my two small children ( seven and half years and three and half years respectively) into the bathroom, and decamped with some cash and jewellery. What ensued was more painful and embarrassing than what happened on that fateful day.

We live in a flat with our neighbour’s door hardly eight feet away from ours. Neighbours in the middleclass neighbourhoods are such that they don’t even leave the ‘kooda’ thrown out from your home un-scanned. They are so alert about the visitors and the vehicles that they come by. They assess your social status by judging your guests. In short they are literal and virtual CCTV cameras on 24X7. But on that day, when the robbery took place, they claimed that they had not even heard a whimper. As our son had called from the landline and informed us about the mishap, we had frantically made calls to our neighbours who had found our front door latched from outside. We requested them to open it and go inside and see what had happened to the maid and our kids. We were mortified by the negative thoughts about our kids and the maid than the loss of valuables. But interestingly, our neighbours refused to do so and after much coaxing they came in a pack and further refused to release the girl from her gags and nooses.

 (Good Policeman is only in some movies- Ajay Devgun in Singham)

Our neighbours suspected the maid’s involvement. Anybody would do so. Besides, they thought the girl was raped. So they did not want to touch her. Human compassion had given way to the fear of becoming a witness therefore the future confrontations with the Police. Hence they all kept themselves away from the girl who was still lying on the floor tied and gagged. Finally we reached home and in the meanwhile the local Police also arrived. Even our immediate neighbours refused to acknowledge that they had heard or seen anything during the time of robbery. I am sure they have seen it but they don’t want to have a brush with the Police. They don’t find the Police a friendly force. They know that if they say they have seen the thief, instead of nabbing them, the Police would harass the witness. So there was no witness to my home burglary.

The whole world told us to suspect the maid. It was a drama created by her, they all said while forwarding their respective theories on how it might have happened. But we withstood that pressure. We took the maid to the Police Station for registering her version and file a First Information Report. What the Policemen asked me there made me develop goose pimples all over my body. They asked me to show a suspect so that they could start their investigation. I asked them to see the modus operandi of the burglar and see it for themselves in their records so that they could identify the thief. Then they asked us to handover the girl to them and they will do the rest. We refused to do so. We saw the brutes in the police force asking for the custody of a twenty two year old girl for at least a night. We told the Police that we did not suspect the maid. Our intention was to save the girl from the possible rape and molestation of her by the police personals themselves.

(Tracy Chapman)

In due course of time we came to know how the Police operated. They will take action only when the complainant makes effort to proceed with the case. If we don’t prod they will not move. Prodding and coaxing the police means giving bribe to them. Some policemen asked us how much money together we earned. I told them that it was not their business. Then they asked us to appoint private security at home as we were earning ‘well’. It was the advice given to us by the policemen who were supposed to find the robbers and get us the stolen things back. They even had the audacity to tell us that we were not going to get our jewellery or cash back. They even suggested that we could install CCTV cameras at home. What were the Police doing then?

We need to address the issue of Police turning into small time mafias when they are not working for larger powerhouses like MLAs, MPs, Ministers and Builders. When they do not find enough patronage from the powerhouses, they start operating small scale mafias in and around the blocks and streets. Extortion has become the major income of the police force. This has to be stopped at any cost. Otherwise white buses will run like kinetic hells in city streets where more and more Nirbhayas will get raped and molested. Burglars will always do precision strikes as they are protected and run by the Police force itself. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hello, it’s you I am talking to: Your Need to Have a Witness

Before going into the operation theatre she writes to me. A few lines, as if they were a testimonial of faith and trust. She writes: I am about to undergo a major surgery. It is the fifth in a row. I want you to see what I have done lately. I read whatever you write. Sometimes I hold on to your words just to float in faith. See these links. I may make no sense. Still I want you to see them.

I read the words in that small mail again and again. Nowhere there is a mention of fear of going under knife. Nowhere there is a complaint. There is no hint of pessimism. She is absolutely sure of coming back to life from the operation table. But in between the words I see the lurking shadow of a fear of losing it. Losing what, I ask myself. Losing that small little thing, which is so precious and personal, which one has been closely guarding and nourishing all these years.

It happens to many people, perhaps to most of us. There is always something that is not expressed or something that finds its manifestation only in certain acts, which generally don’t get familial or public acceptance or recognition. Looking around, we see happy families; contended children, happy husbands and joyful wives. But they are seething with untold and unexpressed pangs. What is your problem, they would ask if you say that you are not happy with happiness itself.

Children grown up and fly away. But you remain and before you say good bye to the world, you need a witness. A sort of confession, that’s what you need. You want to tell it to the right person. You have been searching for that right person all your lives. And often we all find wrong persons at the right times and right people at wrong times. But that need to confess remains. And most of us must be knowing that any effort to confess, if not done in the right spirit, ends up in confusion and frustration.

Everyone needs a witness and ironically, most of us leave the world without a witness to recount our lives. I understand her mail and its silent demand for a witness. I have not met her. But I imagine that I have walked with her under moonlight in a lonely night in a strange place away from cities. She had communicated with me in silence. I thought she was too young to confess and too old for new experiences.

She does not tell me what has been ailing her all these years. A broken family? But then many families are broken in these days though they look solid from outside. Even in the mail she does not say that why she has to go under knife. She wants to share with me those very private things she has done during the last few months; a set of small videos, where she acts out her life through the metaphor of her own hairs.

Yes, I witness it. I understand what she wants to tell the world. She has been holding it back all these years. But even now, I don’t think she wants it to be seen by the whole world. But she wants at least one to see it so that her memory is transferred into another memory, which she is sure of creating a continuity with several other memories.

You must be quite curious about the identity of this woman. But what is the point of knowing her identity? In fact, I am talking about you; you, yes, you, the one who has been waiting for a witness to come in and see your life in its entirety through an unspoken metaphor.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

‘Zonal Properties’: A New Arrival in a Future Museum

(Zonal Properties by Sukesan Kanka)

In my studio, there is a new resident: a painting by Sukesan Kanka. As you know, I share K.S.Radhakrishnan’s own studio. Whoever visited this studio at Chattarpur Pahari in South Delhi, has gone back with fond memories of that visit. One could see a few hallmark sculptures of K.S.R here and in the first floor I sit in a beautifully lit space. Here I am in the process of making an archive of Indian Contemporary Art. Also, silently I build a collection of works by young artists who are willing to part with one of their works as a token of their love for me. I have never asked a work for myself from any artists. But over a period of time I happened to have a few works as my collection; a collection constituted mostly by works that had been presented in some of the shows curated by me a decade back. Still I don’t call it a collection. As I have certain very kind hearted friends like KSR and Anubhav Nath, I have never faced a problem to keep these works. So if you ask me whether my art collection is worth reckoning, I would say, it is not yet. But metaphorically speaking, my collection is very rich. Whether my artist friends like it or not, I have a firm belief that one work of any artist whom I know or who have interacted with me at least once belongs to me. I could walk into their studios and collect them at any time. It is a belief. So far nobody has challenged it so I feel that it is a very positive belief. And I am sure if my efforts bear fruits in future the museum that I would set up with the absolute voluntary contributions of the artists, will be the biggest art museum in India. Besides, the archive of eclectic art history books, literature, catalogues, monographs, brochures and invitations, at some point would open a different world of scholastic engagement in art during our times. So welcome to an unnamed archive and museum. You are free to contribute to it. Don’t ever think that your spring cleaning is going to add value to this archive or museum. Contribute what you value in your life; books or works.

(Sukesan Kanka)

Sukesan Kanka is a Delhi based artist. After his studies at Trissur Fine Arts College, Kerala, he worked under the noted sculptor, Valsan Koorma Kolleri. The apprenticeship helped him immensely not only in fine tuning his skills and knowledge but also in understanding the Art World. Born in a family of goldsmiths craft comes naturally to Sukesan. He could make minute sculptures in precious metals as his school time training was in making intricate ornaments. He could make large scale sculptures as he got training under the noted sculptor, Kolleri. But Sukesan chose a different world; a world of drawings and paintings. It was not a boom time decision. During our art market boom years (2006-2008), even the academically trained sculptors turned into painting as two dimensional works were much in demand. Interestingly, many who had been two dimensional works became artists of three dimensional works. It was the irony of our boom years. Everyone was doing everything and Sukesan was not doing anything of that sort. He was silently assisting Kolleri to create large scale sculptures in Laterite stones and copper wires. But Sukesan did not let his interest for art history, drawing and painting die. He kept on studying art history and kept on making drawings and paintings.

When Sukesan gifts me a framed drawing titled, ‘Zonal Properties’ and sees it placed on the wall opposite my chair, in way he pays rich tributes to a space from where he had started his Delhi life almost three years back. Towards the end of boom years, Sukesan came to Delhi. Bengali artists and Malayali artists generally do not miss KSR and me when they come first time in Delhi. First three months of Sukesan’s Delhi life was spent in Chattarpur Studio; a time he still considers as a period of intense learning. Within three months he found his own space, a teaching job, a partner and a small little studio. Sounds like he had a cakewalk in Delhi? Then you are mistaken. He had learnt it in the hard way. Relentless egoless meetings with artists, gallerists, curators, critics and other art world players opened certain doors for him. And he did not wait for his art to pay for his life. He found a dignified life by working in a school; a conscious decision made for not falling into the traps of an illusionary world created by market success gained by some artists during the boom years. Every day he works in his studio after the school hours, and Saturdays and Sundays are for absolute studio practice.


One cannot see a work of art coming out of Sukesan’s studio without reference to art history or general cultural history. He diligently follows art house and classical films, master artists from history and the biographies of world political leaders and scientists. One may even think that Sukesan’s works are the expressions of a creative artist who frantically tries to locate himself in changing times. The ethereal and hellish creatures come up in his works, begetting sins and more bizarre creatures, evidence a period of faithlessness. The images are the emblematic of a time that has been in transition for quite some time without culminating into a resolution. Though the materialistic world challenges Sukesan considerably and shakes up his belief patterns, there is a core in him that remains unshaken that helps him to articulate his visions and concerns through ironic and sympathetic images.

(A Still from Hawks and Sparrows)

‘Zonal Properties’ has a reference to Pasolini’s ‘Hawks and Sparrows’. The constant search of promise or a promised land takes two people to different experiences. A crow accompanies these two people. They are evicted from each place that they visit. Finally, even the crow lays claim of a place finally they decide to settle. By underlining man’s avarice and his inability to stand criticism and philosophy, they kill the crow and eat it. The film is about the displaced people; a displacement in time, space and experiences. Sukesan has experienced the essence of displacement and non-belonging-ness even if one wants to belong, in various ways during his sojourns in various cities and the final settlement in Delhi. Unlike most of the artists who have dealt with the same issue in Delhi or in any other metros in India, instead of referring to the physical manifestations of displacement, growth of suburbs, flyovers, rapid transport systems and so on, Sukesan makes an internal journey and captures those scenes, symbols and metaphors from films or art history. In this drawing, it is a scene from Pasolini’s movie.

There may be a lot of art historical references coming to your mind; from Millet to Van Gogh, from the Barbizon School Painters to the Post-Impressionists. Sukesan is indebted to this art history in a very ardent way. I do not consider that it is necessary for an artist to delve so deeply into art history to create his own works. It is also not necessary that an artist always refers to an existing visual text/code for establishing a new visual language. But when one does it with pure passion and diligence, a sense of purpose which cannot be challenged by any other external forces, we need to take such pursuance into grave consideration. Sukesan Kanka becomes an artist to look forward to in the coming years is mainly because of his pure passion for his works that are created with an absolute sense of erudition.

(Balbir Krishan)

Before I close, I should acknowledge the works that adore my studio/archive/future museum space. What you once you enter is a Sunya Buddha by KSR. It is a Gandhara Buddha head devoid of hagiographic details. Done in Bronze, KSR calls it Soonya Buddha. Balbir Krishan has kindly given me a small painting which shows two male nudes in his typical style. The third work I have displayed is a Chintan Upadhyay sculpture, which is a foot and half in size with golden skin. It shows a typical smart alec baby of Chintan but with an obscured head and hands sprouting from its groin. Somu Desai has given a series of portraits of friends done in Ammonia Prints. Though I have not displayed here, I have a Manisha Gera Baswani photograph with the image of A.Ramachandran standing in front of the plaster cast of his sculpture. I do not want to remember those works that had been gifted to me by artists but lost in a sense as I changed locations in due course of time. But I do remember those works of Shekharbaran Karmakar and Surendrapal Joshi. I am sure one day those works will come back to me.