Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014: I am Blessed by You

(A few years back I was at Dandi Seashore)

Getting up early in the morning and hitting at your work desk, seeing the same innocent faces next to you, smelling the same smells, anticipating the same outcomes of the day, writing your heart out, wistfully looking at your social networking sites, greeting the same people who have sent you messages, chatting up with new ones with pure as well as vile intentions, vacantly looking at the postings others have done, reading so many things that you really do not need to know yet you read fearing being left out from social discourse, eating the same breakfast made by the same hands, going out, getting into the same car or any mode of conveyance, chancing upon the same strange people who have grown familiar over a period of time during the daily grind in metro/bus/railways stations, attending the same issues that reappear in different shapes and hues at office or workplaces, creating, recreating, feeling happiness, sadness, despair, elation, getting back home in the evening and attending the same rituals of yet another union. Life may sound too boring if you analyse the days in a year in your life. But this repetitiveness gives a sense of security and grounding though most of us feel that greener pastures are at the other shores. But we remain in one place, making all efforts to be happy and content.

Facebook, the agency that reassures one’s self worth day in and day out through its clever programming this year, has brought us the cheerful moments culled out from our lives and presented for us. As we go through them, the pictures that impart the feeling us riding the crests of joy, fame and success, we feel that the year was not really bad. If we see a year as a novel that tells a tragic story, these pictures are like those marked out pages where only joyous incidents are narrated. Reading those chosen pages could make someone take the book for a comedy. But it is not a bad thing; Facebook wants all of us to be happy and to be positive to receive the New Year, which in fact is not different from the year or day that has just gone by. Still we feel good. Like a soothsayer, this social networking site makes us feel good about ourselves. If it really does, then we should welcome the move. These vignettes from the year that is going to be past are like a platter of assorted desserts. The main course has already been taken; the hot, cold, sour, pungent, sharp, cutting tastes are taken with eagerness. Now it is time to relax for a few minutes. The platter makes you happy; it looks so beautiful and tastes so good. Have it, please.

(In one of my previous incarnations)

Looking back, I find myself waking up from different beds and sitting at different tables to write or read, throughout the year. I wake up alone mostly; sometimes a little bit of dullness in the head which has accompanied me to bed along with an occasional drink I have taken the previous night. Sometimes I wake up with a dazed mind with tears and screaming still reverberating from a late night phone call I have received in the night. Most often I get up with a clear mind and then I see a choir or orchestra set up in the stage of my mind with musicians ready to strike the right chord at the cue of the conductor. When I wake up and sit at the computer I become the conductor, words flow rhythmically. I find it curious and smile to myself when I am sitting with the computer on a table or on my lap, sitting on the bed itself because the environs look strangely similar. Just pull the curtain apart, the world out there is different, the language spoken there is different. Then I remind myself that I am in a new place though the hotel rooms look same. Sometimes I am in a transit home set up by myself with the help of some kind friends. I feel a sense of security and think that I am going to be here for long. I write from that sense of security. Then it is time to go.

When I walk along the streets and lanes, alone seeing things, I get this feeling of déjà vu. I have been here, I have eaten from this restaurant and I know that boy in his dirty clothes, who smiles at me. He has served me. I avoid that Sardarji who runs a gym. I know that barber who has cut my hair, I know that small provision store owner because I have bought things from him, I know the cigarette shop man and I know that old woman sitting on a wooden platform, selling vegetables. I know those old men in the parks who greet me enthusiastically. For a moment I think that I am daydreaming. But I am not. They are real people and I have been to those places. I avoid that Sardarji because I have worked out in his gym for fifteen days and then I am gone! I know those old men in the park because I have walked with them in the park. Those who care amongst them have asked me about my identity. I have given them different identities; to some people I am a writer, to some people I am an artist, to some people I am a journalist, to some people I work for an NGO. Experience has taught me to place myself finally. I do not say that I am a journalist anymore because if I say that they would tell me the names of the leading newspapers and ask me which one I work for. I used to fumble in the beginning till I chose one of the top names. I no longer say that I am a writer because then they ask me what I write. But I have found out a mid way. I tell them, I am a former journalist now writing books. It raises the respect quotient. They want their lives to be heard and written about. They tell me things and I hear them out. Some people are relentless; they just want to know my true identity. For them now I am a businessman. What business? They ask. I tell organizing exhibitions. As in? Big cultural events. They are happy. But what mental picture they must be forming about my business, I wonder. May be a contractor who rents out chairs, electronic equipments, make shift pandals, platform etc. They are happy because they think that this guy from South makes good money. He does not look impoverished either. Good...good.

(in 2012)

I have lost the count of parks and streets I have walked. In Kerala, in Hyderabad, in Bangalore, in Delhi, in Mumbai, in Pune and in many other places, I walk just for the heck of it. Besides my morning walks in the parks or working out in gyms, I prefer to go for walking. In the beginning of 2014, I had decided to leave the security of my life for the second time by leaving home and hearth. I had done it first time almost twenty three years back when I decided to leave the place where I was born and brought up. This year I have been living in different places; at a friend’s place, at my sister’s house, in some dingy lodges, in some historically important bungalows, in artists’ studios, in hugely posh residences with two servants to attend me on, in moderate homes and an old school building. Looking back, people from different walks of life have come up to help me whenever I wanted help. This helps me understand that I have become an empty receptacle. Only in empty containers you can fill up things. I have learned, from the experience of this year to make myself an empty container; a person with minimum needs and minimum demands. What do I want for myself, I ask this question. A fresh pair of clothes, food to eat, a neat place to stay, books to read, a computer to write, an internet connection, a mobile phone, and....the list could be long. But I think I need only this much. Yes, I can hear you asking; MONEY. I have told you, when you do not have any demand, money too comes to you because there are other people around you who need you to make money for them. So money too comes. I am not exaggerating. I am blessed in that way.

I do not know whether you will believe me or not. I do not have anything that I could claim as my possession. I have learnt this lesson from this passing year; live the life you want and live happily. Be a receptacle and help as much as you can. Be free and be blessed. I am not a preacher or an evangelist to say this. But let me give my own example from this year. When I left the place where I thought I was living comfortably, I had taken my clothes, which amounts to a couple of  pairs. I had a shoulder bag that carries my laptop. And this laptop was given to me by an organization which I was working for in 2011. When I left it they did not ask for it. So that is with me even today! One friend looked for a small flat for me and some other benevolent souls arranged the household things. When I went there, it was a liveable home. As I knew I was not going to stay in that place for long I did not buy a fridge or air cooler or conditioner. I decided to run the fan only on ‘two’ speed in 45 degree temperature because I did not want the idea of ‘luxury’ come to my mind for I did not have any clue where I would be staying next. For three months I wore a loin cloth at home, cooked my own meals and ate alone. One friend gave me a couple of shirts, another one gave me a pair of shoes and all of them together give me the strength to pull on. When I decided to travel, I did not have any travel bag. A young couple gave their travel bag to me, which I am still using.

(New Year drinks that I may not open)

Throughout the year, I did not buy a single thing. All my clothes are gifted to me by friends. All my trips are arranged by my friends. I never asked for money or clothes or anything from anybody. They kept on coming and they still keep coming. Mostly I travel by flights; I know from where the tickets come but I never ask for it. I am always prepared to live in a five star hotel or a railway station because I do not have anything that could be stolen from me. I am always prepared to travel by a bus or a train without reservation. I can eat five star lunches that costs Rs.2500/- per meal to Rs.20/- per meal ‘Jan Ahar’ that you get outside metro stations in Delhi. I am not boasting. I do not make differences between these two. I drink Glenfidich or Glenmorangi and I do not have any problem to take Royal Stag or Old Monk. I can have a Corona beer in style and I do not feel lesser when I sip Kingfisher ultra. A few days before a friend came with a packet for me and I opened it to see a Mexican Tequila ‘Patron XO Cafe’, a bottle of Black Dog, one bottle of Jesterini and Brooks whiskey and one bottle of Ciroc Vodka, all for myself to celebrate the New Year eve. But I may spend the night with a glass of water, listening to some Malayalam songs in Youtube. By the way, I have not told you this: cars are at my disposal wherever I go. But I do not mind walking all the way, if there are no cars for me.

I have been telling you how my year was like. I have been blessed by friends and well meaning people. I do not want to take the names of the people who have been showering me with their blessings. I do not ask anything from them. But like Gods they know what I want or what I may want and they keep showering me with their gifts and love. But I keep myself empty always with my feet firmly anchored in reality and letting my imagination soar to the limitless skies. I am blessed because you, my reader, are with me. I live a life of emptiness so that you could fill me in with your love and care. I do not make any New Year resolutions because I do not have a vices to kick out. I kick out myself from myself every morning and every night so that your blessings could find a place to stay. I am not excitable and I am not easily susceptible to materialistic things. In high tide or low tide I want to be like this and I seek your blessings for that. I wish you a happy New Year and you stay blessed. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hope in Mumbai Local

I am lucky to have a seat in a packed ‘Mumbai Local’ as the time I have chosen is not the ‘peak’ hour. There are enough people inside to impart the feeling of the compartment being ‘packed’. Though I do not want a comparison between a Delhi metro ride and this one comes to my mind. In Delhi metro, even when it is packed you get a feeling of luxury. In a Mumbai local luxury is not even a seat; it is just a space enough to keep both your feet on the floor; your face away from some sweating bodies. Happiness is when you have seat, bliss is when you have window seat and sublime is when you have a window seat against the running direction. Wind that touches your face makes you feel good, you think positive things about life and you are all full of hope. Life is different when you are standing or just squeezed by other people and remain suspended in a position that you otherwise do not even practice during your morning yoga class. I get a window seat, against the running direction and I feel good. Neither bliss nor sublime because I am yet to experience the peak hour travel, which I feel that I would not do anytime in near future.

There inside the train I observe so many stickers. I have just written an article about graffiti art. I take interest in the posters on the inside walls of the compartment that due to the absence of so many people reminds me of the hull of a gunned down war plane. Red, white, black and yellow in colour, these posters tell me about the solutions of life problems. Right from marital issues to decimation of enemies, from having a boy child to exorcism these posters offer you different solutions. You just need to dial a number that is given in bold digits. For a moment I think of dialling it but I resist. Problems in life come as a package deal, solutions included. You need to read the manual of life carefully, that’s it. There is not a single problem in life that does not come with a solution. You just need to read the manual of your own life and act accordingly. There are people around us who want to enjoy problems permanently; they tear off the manual and throw it out through the window and enjoy the solutions flying away in shards like little spangles of lost hopes. As I decide not to dial the number, I keep watching other posters. There are job offers; technicians needed in a printing press, plumber needed etc. No poster says artists and critics needed. Galleries seem to have gone out of business. Even if they are in business they are not fools to paste posters on a railway compartment.

I am bored a bit of the ‘slow train’ travel. It stops in all the stops. And endless stream of humanity flows in while another rivulet flows out by the force of some invisible push. Mumbaikars know how to deal with it. I am not one yet and I do not know whether I would become one ever. I look up. Bored people look out or look up. Looking out is a bit troublesome. When you are hungry you do not want to see so many people defecating in a row. In your imagination, the possible food that you are going to eat sometime later gets contaminated by the visions of excreta. And another thing that puts me off is the sighting of the long phalluses that these squatting men display shamelessly. That causes some kind of insecurity in me. So I look up. By looking up you feel hopeful; optimistic. And suddenly I see more posters on the ceiling of the compartment than the ones that I have already seen on the sides of it. Those posters are not torn off. Nobody’s hands reach there. It is a safe place to stick your posters if you are an intelligent advertiser. It remains there and most of the people read it. Why because most of the people in a parked local train are looking for hope by necessity or by force. When your face is stuck right under somebody’s stinking arm pit, you do not think about deodorants but you definitely think about god. And you hope for some fresh air. For both, you have to look up. When you look up you see these advertisements and as you do not have anything else to do you read them carefully as if it was a sheet from a prayer book that you hold closer to your heart for solace.

In Delhi Metro nobody looks up. There is no need to look up because most of them have their mobile toys to play with. Whether you sit or stand you are not looking anywhere else. You are looking only into your mobile screens where you must be helping a robber to collect more gold coins or helping a bike rider to negotiate deep curves or even keeping fruits in place. Hence, there are not too many advertisements you see in Delhi Metro. Recently they have introduced side panels for advertisement. When Arvind Keijriwal or Narendra Modi need votes they place the pictures of a broom and lotus there. When elections are not there, real estate magnets try to sell apartments thinking that all the metro travellers would one day be buying apartments. And it is for them to start dreaming. If nobody wants these spaces, Metro pitches itself in and flaunts its ability to take you from Rajiv Chowk (Connaugt Place) to the International airport in twenty four minutes. You are hopelessly displaced to the suburbs like Rohini or Dwaraka Metro gives you hope to take you there in thirty minutes. Delhi abhi door nahin hai (Delhi is not that far). People have left hoping against hope in Delhi, instead they invest their time in playing games or listening to music. Mumbai people hope for the best. They look up and they see life solutions in the form of advertisements, up there at the ceiling. Of late, I have been seeing a lot of sky also. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Clues to Find out the Artist/s behind Guess Who in Kochi

(work by Guess Who in Kochi- image- Deccan Chronicle)

Mr.Bean sitting pretty on an easy chair like a Karanavar (Grand Uncle in a Patriarchal society in Kerala), a Bharatanaytam dancer doing a ‘moon walk’ in MJ’s attire, legendary Malayalam film actor Late Prem Nazir posing like James Bond, the great gurus of Marxism, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels clad in the attire of two Sadhus (mendicants) and many more images like that, seen on the inconspicuous walls in India’s Biennale city, Kochi, have caught the attention of the international press. Signed by ‘Guess Who’ these stencilled graffiti works are done with a conscious blending of the regional and the global images and in an unmistakable ‘Banksy style’, which has been made international by the deliberate efforts of American Museums. The attention that the international and national press shower on these stencilled images especially came visible during a focused context of Kochi Muziris Biennale that celebrates local and global art is obviously because of the ‘glocal’ nature of these graffiti works. Had the same themes been done in another style, say for example in traditional Kerala Mural art style, it would not have generated such an enthusiasm around these works. Being global and local at the same time has done its bit for getting enough attention for these works. But a question that lingers the viewers’ mind is this: Why this artist or a group of artist leave their identity for guessing?

(work by Guess Who- Image- Ibtimes)

A BBC interview with the Guess Who artist which is currently available in the net suggests that the ‘authorship’ of these works has been owned up by ‘someone’. He/she speaks in first person singular and justifies his decision to be anonymous. Also he sermonizes why public spaces have to be aesthetically altered through adequate interventions. Besides, at the outset itself he clarifies that art cannot give so much of social messages. Hence, his act remains to be an aesthetical intervention that sets people think in a different direction. To put in other words, these are ‘image poking’. This was what exactly Banksy and so many of his tribe have been doing all over the world for the last few decades, until they get absorbed in the mainstream art market business and strategic systems. I have been using a male pronoun in order to qualify the name of the artist behind Guess Who to continue my writing though I have used a politically correct he/she in the beginning. Even if it may sound prejudiced, I would say, it is done by a He because the anonymity maintained by the artist so far cannot be possible if it was a woman artist. First of all, in the given social context of Kerala today where moral policing is rampant and holding hands or public kissing is abhorred like plague and those who do it are hunted down and are given rough treatment by both the right wing activists and the state Police, a woman artist cannot come out alone in the desolated streets in Kochi and do these elaborate graffiti works all by herself.

 (work by Guess Who- image Deccan Chronicle)

Now, let’s discuss the idea behind Guess Who. In fact, it is very easy to guess. In my observation, there is an advertising agency behind it. Though I have very solid inkling towards this agency, it would legally threaten my social position, if my guess work goes wrong. However, I insist that the Guess Who graffiti, which I would like to say, a copy of Banksy’s aesthetics with nothing new than punning the images and creating over visual overstatements and understatements that come quite naturally to a Malayali creative mind as it is the land that has produced the best of humour writers and cartoonists in India. From Chakyar Koothu to mimicry, from comic films to innumerable comedy programs in uncountable Malayalam television channels, from Bobanum Moliyum (Boban and Moly) to Tintu Mon comics, from youtube links to comedy apps, Kerala is always high on comic inventions and interventions. It could be a genetic modification of the Malayalis to transcend the tragedies of socio-political degeneration and to survive healthily in the given situations. Hence, these graffiti works of Guess Who cannot be discussed for its artistic merit nor can it be included as a part of a great art movement that is about to happen in Kerala. Why, because it is done by a male artist with a team of advertising professionals to back him up not only with ideas but also with sufficient machinery to produce elaborate stencils.

 (work by Guess Who- image Ibtimes)

Guess Who is done by an advertising agency, I repeat. And it thrives on improvisational aesthetics rather than innovative aesthetics. Advertising agencies, generally speaking, work on desire and familiarity in order to communicate an idea and sell a product. The desire quotient of a human being depends on his or her ideas on good, healthy and comfortable living. He needs familiar images in order to believe in what he buys to enhance his life style or living standard. When an advertisement tells you that you are not fair enough, it plays upon a familiar fairness, which could be the complexion of a famous actress who you are familiar with through films and photographs. So you have something familiar to identify with and the advertisement tells you that it is possible to gain that complexion if you really strive for it. And the product is a way to achieve that goal. That is the simple reason why an insurance company or a bank that offers loan uses ‘unidentified models’ to act out a character. The model makes you believe that you too are mortal like him and you too want a home like him, a moderate one. A film star like Shah Rukh Khan or Mohan Lal cannot sell an insurance policy to you because they look too immortal to be dying in an accident or illness. Again, most of the products that enhance your life as a human being in daily situation, are sold through advertisements that play up familial situations like family, office, hospital, street, restaurant etc. Guess Who works on everything familiar and in discourse; hence, I believe, these works are cleverly created by an advertising agency or a persona with an advertisement background.

 (work by Guess Who- image- New Indian Express)

Secondly, these stencils that are used to create the images that are hailed all over the world as the works of Guess Who, cannot be done without having a good team of professionals and equipments behind it. Too much precise and flawless like Banksy’s works, these graffiti works of Guess Who too betray the fact that they are done in a good studio with high quality equipments. A few graphic artists working for a few weeks or months have meticulously worked out on stencils under the strict directions of some advertising professional/professionals. Then a team goes out with them, equipped with spray cans or other painting materials, in vehicles, at least temporarily customized for this purpose, and done precisely during night hours not to keep anonymity of the artist but to have conducive working atmosphere. After execution, right before the beginning of Biennale, the team behind it has done secretly reaching out to the press or even open reaching out to the press saying that they have just found out a series of graffiti in Kochi. Then it spreads like wild fire. Now, those who question me on this should see ‘Exit through a Gift Shop’, a documentary directed by none other than Banksy himself.

(work by Guess Who- image- News Minute)

Finished in 2010, this Banksy film features the life and ‘art’ of Thierry Guetta, a French migrant living in the US. Guetta has this habit of video shooting anything and everything around him. He happens to see his cousin, a graffiti artist in Paris who goes under the name, ‘Space Invader’. Guetta goes around with him, documents the nocturnal activities of the underground and graffiti artists and in due course of time Guetta is introduced to Banksy. Surprised by the enthusiasm of this man, Banksy slowly becomes a friend of Guetta and they become thick friends during a US sojourn of Bansky for his first show titled ‘Barely Legal’. Soon Banksy finds Guetta going haywire so he advices Guetta to start his own graffiti works. Guetta takes it seriously and mortgages his business to start an elaborate studio and establishes himself as ‘Mr.Brainwash’, the graffiti artist. Today, he is one of the globetrotting graffiti artists who sell the works for millions of dollars. I wrote this gist for one particular visual/textual evidence available within the film. In this film, both Banksy and Guetta are seen working in their respective studios. They are plush studios with several assistants working on stencils and final prints. Also I have seen several graffiti artists’ documentaries where they are seen working with assistants. Those underground graffiti artists, who in fact now despise Banksy for compromising with the market, do not have such elaborate arrangements to produce their works and most of them remain obscure or known only amongst the peer group networks. When that is the case, it is very difficult to believe that one underground artist in Kerala decides to become another Banksy and comes with a thud during the Kochi Biennale.

 (work by Guess Who - image- Youthkiawas)

Coming to the issue of anonymity of the artists like Banksy or Guess Who, I would say, it is one of the most interesting make believe thing or illusion that the twenty first century art lovers or art community have decided to willingly stomach without raising a finger. Every year without fail spoof news reports on the arrest of Banksy do the rounds all over the world through viral transmission over internet. On the next day the Metropolitan Police send a disclaimer saying that they are still on the hunt and they are not yet successful. Here we are dealing with a man who has made the world to look at his graffiti, then had a solo show in New York, has a studio in London and perhaps travels all over the world with a passport. He is even seen documented in his studio with his face and voice deliberately blurred. Isn’t it a bit surreal and comic that the British Police of Interpol fail to catch such a con artist? We went into Abottabad to finish Bin Laden, we went into the bunkers of Iraq to catch Saddam Hussein. We know how to hunt down every rebel in the world. But our Police fail to catch one little artist called Banksy. Are you saying something seriously to me? The fact is that Banksy is an integral part of the art industry and keeping his anonymity intact is what makes his art and business successful. The state, its punitive and legal institutions, financial interests, world cultural leaders, museum directors and many others are in this chain of deception. They all work together to keep Banksy under cover. The day Banksy’s identity is revealed, the Banksy myth is lost and the Banksy industry is collapsed. It is just like a game that we used to play in childhood. We decide to pretend that one of our friends does not exist and he is invisible. Now, we make a network amongst our friends and all of them would react to him in the same way. He gets confused. But in the game the boy gets confused and in this Banksy game, he is just a willing participant.

 (work by Guess Who- image- youthkiawas)

Guess Who works on the same game. If we come to know who is Guess Who, the mystery is lost and we will call him a copy cat of Banksy’s aesthetics. The assumed anonymity gives these works and to the artist some kind of dignity and press space. Our spaces are under surveillance. Kochi is not different. Why do our CCTV cameras fail when our home grown Banksy goes out to do his graffiti? Is Kerala Police so stupid that they cannot catch this ‘artist’ who wants to be really anonymous? Now, graffiti according to universal definition of the word is an act of vandalism done on the public property using images or letters, which are objectionable to the dignity of a large public. Banksy’s graffiti started off as intervention which was later dubbed as vandalism by the conservatives. Once it became a part of the art market, graffiti art in general got an elevated status in the public eye. It became a part of the heritage of the city! Guess Who operates on this renewed idea of graffiti. His works in fact enhance the ‘beauty’ of the city and adds to the heritage of the Biennale city, Kochi. Hence it is not an act of vandalism. Since the first edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2012, graffiti art has been treated as a part of the government policy. First of all Kochi Muziris Biennale is supported by the Government of Kerala therefore anything that is sanctioned by the Biennale should also be sanctioned by the state government. Secondly, the state government recently has taken a decision to fund a group of artists in Trivandrum to do ‘graffiti’ art on the major public walls in Trivandrum. In that case, Guess Who’s works are no longer interventionist art. They are works strategically created visual images placed in the public domain in order to grab attention towards the Biennale. That, in fact, is not a bad thing to do. But the hype and hoopla around it....looks a bit contrived.

Now, guess who is behind Guess Who.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

J.Devika, Kiss of Love and the Orgy of Tongues and Saliva

(Kiss of Love protesters in Kerala)

Kissing is not an innocent act; it is a cultural construct. Like the dress code that people follow in different cultures physical acts of intimacy and their permissible limits in the public domain are also culturally constructed and ethically defined. In most of the societies ethical notions derived from folklore, myth and certain religious dictums assume legal authority by virtue of them being there for a long time and followed by many without contesting vigorously. When contested both in the private and public domains such quasi-legal notions fall apart and then those people who uphold such notions take refuge in large scenario of cultural constructs. Added to it are religious teachings that are meant for maintaining a conformist society in place. A kiss exchanged between two consenting adults in a public domain becomes an objectionable thing when it is seen as something that undermines the dictums of a conformist society. Those who object the act of kissing in public primarily seek legal sanction for their opposition and when they fail to find any such support they add religious sentiments to such objections. When religion comes to the fore in issues that involve sexuality and gender, a conformist society takes up the defining principles of the ideological (state) apparatuses like family, church, temple, police, school and so on to support its arguments. That’s why in Kerala, the larger civil society whose norms are defined by the male members of it, raises family values to resist the Kiss of Love protests by human rights activists and intellectuals.

(singer K.J.Yesudas)

Will you allow your mother and sister to kiss or get kissed in public? If police stop sexual relationship between two consenting adults, will you do it in public to protest? Questions like these have been seen on a daily basis in social networking sites that eke out disgust than argumentative response. Most recent one went on like this: AIDS is a communicable disease and the possibility of it getting contracted through saliva is high when it comes to Kiss Protests. For an average Malayali male (generically for an average Indian male) a mass protest where male and female human beings kiss each other could only be seen as an orgy that involves a lot of tongues and saliva. You must remember that peculiar question asked by a male police official to his female counterpart when she demanded trousers and shirts as uniform in the place of intimidating sarees and churidars. The question was: What will you do when you feel like peeing? The female police officer was quick enough to answer to that chauvinistic and sexist question. She said: We will do exactly what you will do when you feel like shitting. This incident happened almost a decade back and the question was posed to a female IPS officer. After a decade, after much public debate the Kerala society is still where it has started. The climax was contained in a comment by the popular singer, K.J.Yesudas who objected girls wearing a pair of jeans. Ironically Yesudas is one of the Indian singers who have sung the maximum number of sexist and male chauvinist songs. What else one could expect from a singer who has sung a song like ‘Thanka Bhasma kuriyitta Thamburatti’ (The lyrics say obliquely: Oh lady, I will interrupt your vows and squeeze your breasts).

 (Mohanlal approaching to kiss Shobhana in Thenmavin Kombathu)

Little did the young couple who had kissed behind a restaurant in Kozhikode know that their act would change the gender discourse in Kerala (and in India too). Little did the hooligans know that their act of vandalism on that restaurant would turn the heat on their ideology. Little did the news channel that telecasted the MMS clipping of the kissing couple know that they were triggering a larger debate. Good that it happened because the butterfly effect of their kiss has now taken Kerala by storm, though the cynicism of the average Malayali males still lampoons this protest down with their sexist comments. Now, let me tell why the average Malayali male sees the kiss of protest as a public orgy of tongues and saliva that would actually harm the ‘protect’ dignity of their mothers, daughters and sisters. (They conveniently forget the fact that the women whom they attack on streets both in the context of protests and otherwise, are also somebody’s mothers, sisters, daughters and wives). They also conveniently forget the fact that women do not seek male agency of redemption anymore. The very act of protecting somebody’s dignity has already been nullified when women take up their own agency and fight it out for themselves.

 (Seriel Kisser of Bollywood, Eemran Hashmi)

As I mentioned before, kissing is a cultural construct. In many societies kissing is not seen as a taboo. A passionate kiss that begins with lips and ends up in sexual union is not considered to be a kiss of love. It is considered to be a kiss of passion. A kiss of love is an act of showing affection, provided both the parties involved in it are comfortable while doing it. A kiss need not necessarily involve lips or tongues or saliva. It could be a flying kiss and even one could kiss with eye lids and eye lashes. Kiss also need not necessarily connote sexual foreplay. Kiss could be an innocent act. It is so in many other societies. But unfortunately in Indian societies that include the Kerala society too, kiss is an act of violation and subjugation. A strong kiss is as good as a tight slap. That’s how the films (the most influential public medium of modern times) have taught us. An uncompromising heroine is subjugated by a violent kiss on her lips. The kisser could be the hero or villain; irrespective of their roles, they are males and their aim is to subjugate the woman. When hero kisses forcefully it becomes a sort of conquering for good and when the villain does it, it is an act of violence that eventually seeks justice through the male agency. Those people who have seen ‘Thenmavin Kombathu’, a Malayalam movie by Priyadarshan, know the effect of kiss. Muddu Gavu is the catch word; the hero does not know the meaning of it. Finally he finds out and he takes his revenge on the heroine by acting it out forcefully on her. An average Malayali male who is born and brought up in the culture of Muddu Gavu (or similar things that have been happening for ages) cannot think about a normal kiss of love and affection. For him, it is always hidden by the sudden introduction of a flower. Otherwise, one has to be a shameless kisser like Fahad Fasil or Emran Hashmi; both could be avoided by calling them new gen actors. We have larger than life figures in Amitabh Bacchan, Rajnikant, Mammooty and Shah Rukh Khan who flaunt their aversion to on screen kissing like Oscar trophies.

 (Mammootty leading his sisters, poster of the movie, Hitler)

An average Malayali male is not a Prem Nazir. He is a Mammootty. He is a Valyettan (Big Brother), Udyana Palakan (Gardener) or Hitler (that does not need translation in any language). He is like a proverbial dog. Thinnukayumilla Theettikkukayumilla (A dog in the haystack. He does not eat hay nor does it allow the cow to eat it). He has become a Mammootty because he is born in a culture that subjugates women through kissing; the violent and passionate kissing. If that is not possible, he like the mythical Hanuman abstains from it. Hindustan Latex, the biggest condom producers in India has its head quarters in Trivandrum. If they would introduce lip condoms, I believe, Malayali males will proudly consume it. That would be one product that does not need any export for business success. The average Malayali male has taken kiss of protest wrongly. For him it is a public orgy because he expects to be witness/voyeur than a participant in the protest. He expects an orgy in these protests. When he fails to see it, he becomes aggressive. It is the Freudian repressed sexual fear and anxieties that come to play in the public domain when he attacks the protesters with lathis and clubs. Somehow, in Kerala, the kiss of love has become a gendered protest. Women have to lead the protest because men are Mammootties. Malayali men do not dance and they do not allow their women to dance too. Chitra checchi is good but Rimi Tomi, Ranjini Haridas and Praseetha are ‘pokku cases’ (gone cases).


I have been using the phrase, ‘average Malayali male’. I am sure, my friend Dr.J.Devika will be critical of that term. From her experience as a leading protestor in the kiss of love agitation, she has made it clear that there is no average Malayali male. Every Malayali male is average in his thinking, including the so called intellectuals and leaders. Devika has said that ‘May be fighting moral policing is optional for you. But for us women, it is life and death.’ For the male intellectuals in Kerala, joining the kiss of love protest is an optional thing. They are not different than the so called average Malayali male. Devika has written from the Kerala International Film Festival venue where she and likeminded women had led the kiss of love protest. But I want to assure Devika that the intellectual Malayali male who hops festival venues by night becomes a chauvinist and prefers ‘kambi padam’ (porn films) to Kim Kiduk and Abbas Kirostami. They are not going to change. But we are with you dear friend, Devika.