Thursday, March 31, 2016


In the street
Summer stands
With the crowd
To see the game
In television.

A day that has
Forgotten to set
Is caught out
By the vigorous night

To the stables
Abandoned by cows
Wagging tails and
Ringing bells
There goes a
Dust storm.

A little rain has
Just hidden itself
In a dark alley
Under the awnings
Eyes stand waiting
For the rain to stop.

A ring of smoke has
Just come out for something
Soon forgetting for what
It has come out; strange

Shaken by the thunder
Stars fall down all over
A lone girl collects all
And walks home shining

Naked bodies return
Holding handbags
And mobile phones
Knowing nothing

The game goes on
Both the god and crowd
Pray alike, oh Lord,

The current should not go. 

Interpreter of Languages: Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘In Other Words’

(author Jhumpa Lahiri)

It is surreal. The first episode that she describes absolutely unsettles you. Perhaps, for me it is Dali and Chirico wound together with some American pastoral image and left me alone at the verge of it. Yes, I am talking about the opening episode of Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest experimental book, ‘In Other Words’. As we all know by now, this book is a translated book. An American/India writer, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book translated in English? Which language did she write then? ‘In Other Words’ is the answer for this question. Lahiri wrote it in Italian and it is translated by the well-known writer and translator, Ann Goldstein. The book has several layers than its apparent first person narrative about the adoption of a new language and writing in it.

Let me go back to the surreal image that Lahiri creates at the outset. She stands at the shore of a deep black pool and she sees people wading into the waters that hold too many enigmas that the author herself cannot fathom. At the other end of the pool, there is a building which almost looks like a Gothic Church. She does not dare to cross the water, but finally she does. She goes into the building, experiences something ethereal and comes back. She just does not know whether she would go back to it again or not. The very thought of it fills her with fear. And sooner than later we comes to know that the pool that she refers to is the pool of a new language and the edifice out there is the literary structures that have already been built in that language.

 (In Other Words promotional material)

This scene is perhaps is repeated in a different way, but very convincingly in her story ‘The Exchange’, which is originally written in Italian and translated into English, and included in this book. The story is about a young woman who wants to become someone else. She goes into a palatial boutique where women dressed in black hover around over rows of black designer wears, leaving whatever they have been wearing till then. She too removes her much loved black sweater and tries out a few new clothes. Having grown dissatisfied with the attires that she has chosen, she decides to get back to her own clothes. But the shop owner seems to have misplaced her black sweater. She demands it and the owner, a big woman in black makes a few phone calls and make sure that none has taken her sweater by mistake. Finally, the dressmaker gives her another sweater which is identical but not the same. Slowly, the woman grows into it and she forgets she had another sweater of the same cut.

‘The Exchange’ is pivotal to ‘In Other Words’ because, Lahiri herself has been wishing to try out another language and become ‘another’ writer. She leaves her beloved English behind; English that had given her the identity as a writer. But Lahiri has been living in ‘Other Worlds’ too. Born to a Bengali couple, Lahiri spoke chaste Bengali at home while growing up in the USA, where her mother preserved her pure Bengali for many decades as if she had never stepped out of Kolkata in her life. For her mother it was a rebellion. But for Lahiri to avoid that language was a rebellion to begin with. She found in a linguistically conflicting zone when she was with her teenage friends in the US and when she came to Kolkata and spoke in not so good Bengali. She grew up as a linguistic outsider who was craving for an anchor in some language. English being her first language and as she puts, luck favored her, she became an acclaimed writer. But her first novel ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ ‘took place’ in Bengal, exactly the Man Booker Award Winning ‘God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy ‘took place’ in Aymanam, Kottayam, Kerala. Lahiri wanted a language, which she gained for herself; not as a given either by the parents or by the country.

 (one of the statements of Jhumpa Lahiri)

17th century English literature and the influence of Italian architecture in it was Lahiri’s doctoral thesis and perhaps this was one of the reasons that she got attracted to the Italian language. She knew there were authors already in the firmament of world literature who wrote in adopted language, Beckett and Conrad being the best examples, who wrote in French and English respectively.  Lahiri was looking for a ‘home’ when she decided to take up learning Italian. The whole idea of finding a home became an artistic pursuit in itself and then it became a soul searching as well as transforming experience for her which continued for almost two years. None in the contemporary art scene or literature scene would have taken such great pains and gone such extents to learn a new literal as well as visual language in order to come out with an original work of art, here in Lahiri’s case a book, which narrates the story of making of the book itself.

A writer is automatically a translator. He/she walks between not only two languages but also many languages. She writes in one and reads in many other languages, even if they are translated. It is rare that a writer reads one language and writes in many. Lahiri says that for her, taking the Venice analogy, languages are like little lands separated by lagoons and she feels the need to create bridges constantly. Sometimes, these bridges are brittle and sometimes they are strong. Lahiri took up learning Italian as a challenge as well as a mission; to turn them together into a literary project. The great sacrifice that she did first was abstaining from English! A language that is her life line is now thrown aside for the sake of learning and experiencing a new language. She started taking lessons first by reading Italian books with Italian dictionaries. And then taking the assistance of a couple of teachers in consecutive sessions and finally going to settle down in Italy for a couple of years to be ‘inside’ the language.

 (The Italian connection - Jhumpa Lahiri)

Anybody who has experience in speaking a different language than the mother tongue or has acquired a new language as a part of growing up, would have felt the extra work that his/her brains have exerted in the act of constant translation. It starts from cognition of the others’ speech or visual or verbal codes, then moves on to the formulation of a reply in one’s own familiar language and then converting it into the newly acquired language. It takes quite some time to get the new language naturalized within the linguistic-cognitive-expressive system of a person. Initially it is very exhausting and above all the fear of committing mistakes would instill a sort of mortal fear into a person which could render the person absolutely speechless, silent, left out and lonely. Lahiri, an award winning and internationally acclaimed writer had to go through all these starting troubles when she picked up a new language. She elaborates how she used to go through each word and look into the dictionary for its meaning.

Language is ideological; in no uncertain terms Lahiri makes it clear in her new book. Language is something that is used for inclusion as well as exclusion of the speaker/user from the mainstream society. Lahiri married to a man who speaks Italian with a Spanish accent, though has learned the language painstakingly and speaks it without any accent is suddenly met with blind responses or vacant stares or outright neglect. When she goes into the shops the woman at the counter looks at her as if she just does not understand what Lahiri has just asked her even if the conversation is done in Italian, whereas when her husband speaks Italian to the same woman with an accent she wonders how a man who looks an English man could speak such ‘good’ Italian. Language therefore becomes a sign of discrimination also for Lahiri.

 (Jhumpa Lahiri with her husband, Alberto Vourvoulias)

Is Jhumpa Lahiri going to write more books in Italian? Not only the readers but also the author herself asks this question repeatedly. For the time being Lahiri does not know what she is really going to do with her Italian. May be like the woman in ‘The Exchange’ she would use the new sweater as the old one; that means she would continue writing in/from her new home, that is Italian language. And she will grow accustomed to it. She would then fondly remember her other languages that she has left behind. Here Italian is perhaps, for Lahiri, a language all created by herself for her exclusive use. She finds autonomy not only as a writer but also as a world citizen in the new language. But she has to go back. The perpetual migrants cannot stick to the new found land. They have to go back to their ‘homes’ elsewhere however harsher the realities are there. But as of now it looks like Jhumpa Lahiri would take off again to the shores of the Renaissance land. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Denuded Self of Radhika Vaz: Unladylike

(Radhika Vaz)

Irreverence is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Radhika Vaz, the internationally acclaimed feminist stand-up comedian. Her autobiography, ‘Unladylike’ underlines the word, again and again. A girl who fears her turning to a man one day by dropping those ‘balls’ hidden between her legs, slowly grows into a woman, that too very assertive about her own personality, rules no bar. Being Radhika Vaz is being ‘freedom’ itself. A feminist could be fiercely outspoken, challenge the male norms and yet she could be loving, caring and deeply emotional. ‘Unladylike’ has it all; here is a young woman in pursuit of love, crossing continents to win her boyfriend who ironically has not given her any assurance of marriage. She wins not only as a woman in love but also as a woman in complete freedom. In her words, she could convince her Jat Mother-in-law of her wifely credentials or she could convince her MIL to pretend so.

My life being a stand-up comedy of sort, I have not taken much interest in stand-up comedians though I have keenly followed several of them and their performances. Eddy Murphy has been my all-time favorite followed by Chris Tucker and Martin Lawrence. Back home Raju Srivastava had done enough to tickle me by turning the rural innocence into sharpened socio-political and cultural criticism. Johnny Lever and Sunil Pal have done their bit to attract me. Reality Television has brought several of such Stand-Up comedians though Kapil Sharma, Cyrus Brocha, Vir Das and people of their ilk have hogged all the lime light. Back home I was grown up looking at Stand-Up comedians, who later became prominent film actors, paving way for many to follow their suit. Kerala is still a breeding ground for comedians (not strictly in the ‘stand-up’ sense) for the simple reason that the butts of their comedies and lampooning  just do not get offended by it, while rest of India reels under the pressure of hurting sentiments via comedy. Sedition could land you in jail so is comedy. India has become a land of holy cows.

 (Radhika Vaz with her book Unladylike)

Radhika Vaz does not mind calling herself a cow quite unholy. She could strip herself into nothing and assume the status of early nuns who had accepted sky as their clad. Vaz, in her popular solo performance, ‘What the F**k I should Wear?’ questions the dominant version of the world, which is scripted by the male chauvinists and speaks of her sagging body and the tension that each woman in the world takes on her shoulders in the morning in order to choose the right dress to look ‘sexy’. If one goes in that rate, according to Vaz, sky is the best wrap around for a woman, which would liberate her from all the demands. In the Youtube versions one could see the body of Vaz blurred in the key areas to keep the ‘modesty’ of the audience and make it ‘good’ for public viewing. Vaz makes a counter script to the male world and demolishes it like a one woman army. In her irreverent best, Vaz turns her acerbic witticism against the consenting women folk in India who celebrate Karva Chaut and does not mind calling them ‘Karva Choots’.

May be the Vaz Speak is not loud enough or rather the blasphemous utterances are done in the elite clubs and ticketed programs where the cultural police do not take a peek. Or rather Vaz speak is in English that makes the expletives that she profusely uses in her performances neutralized. Culture is affected adversely when it is uttered in the language of the roots. Vaz is a dare devil and her never say die and also her ability to show the mid fingers to both the male and female audience makes her exceptional in her critique. Vaz stands up in comedy, an art form which has gone down in the gutters using unimaginative double meanings to eke out laughter from the dominant male audience and reclaims it using the abuse directly at the face with no frills added. While the male comedians always have to resort to double meanings, Vaz takes up the liberty and responsibility to use ‘you-know-what-I-mean’ directly; in other words, while she calls a spade a spade she calls a dick a dick and a cunt a cunt.

(Radhika Vaz on stage)

‘Unladylike’ is a piece of autobiographical writing which positions the author in the mainstream and in the fringes alike. As Vaz is a successful Stand-Up comedian and performance artist who works internationally and speaks in English language, she automatically belongs to the mainstream, but when we understand that she writes from the position of a woman who seeks her liberation not only from the social systems but also from the linguistic system, she becomes a voice from the fringes. Interestingly, Vaz does not suffer from either position. She with her nose and mid-finger up at the reader/audience drills into them like an augur sharp with her sharp wit. When she speaks about her formative years in different countries and identifies her non-belongingness due to the uprooted-ness of her parents, we understand the throes of a young girl looking for an anchor. When she narrates how she heard her vagina farting for the first time in a silent library, when she opens her heart how she had craved to see an ‘X rated’ film with a real penis in action and so on we are pushed into an arena which we know exist but do not wish to acknowledge.

Vaz gives us an acid wash with her words. Each chapter shocks us to a new revelation; the inner recesses of a young girl who seeks approval amongst the peer groups. She wants to show off but her bounties are not so rich. She envies the booty of her classmates and wishes to have it like them. She pops socks inside her shirt so that she could pretend she has breasts, which she calls ‘chesticles’. Vaz desperately wants to let the other girls know that she too has got chums (menstruation). She displays a borrowed (begged and stolen as well) packet of sanitary napkins so that others could get the message, but only to be admonished by the matrons in the hostel. The second part of the book tells us how she reached the US of A and how she grew there as a professional in the advertising agency then into a Stand Up comedian. This book is a wonderful read. And the best sentence in this book is about Vaz getting a US visa from the US Consulate in Chennai. It runs like this: “Pick up your passport at 3 pm. This, as we all know, was code for ‘you can enter America’. I thanked her three times before backing away from the counter like a supplicant in a royal court whose execution had been stayed.” Go grab your copy. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Danger in Unsigned Art Reviews in Newspapers

(Review- For illustrative purpose only)

This article does not intent to hurt anybody; any journalist or any artist. Today morning, in the newspaper, Hindustan Times I happened to read a small report on an exhibition that is currently on in Delhi. It speaks of an artist working from Dharamsala, a spiritual retreat in North India where the Tibetan government in exile is headquartered. This unsigned article had a curious title which in fact attracted me to it. It read, ‘Artworks Explore Link between Creativity and Meditation’. As an art critic, I am a bit uncomfortable with the word ‘spiritual’ when it is loosely applied on the kind of works of art, which either has a Buddha head or purely abstract. But this title sounded a bit scientific and the assertion that the said works of art ‘explore the link between creativity and meditation’ made me think that reading it would help me to understand the ‘link’ (which I have been missing for so long) between creativity and meditation. Let me tell you, the reading left me disappointed for it was the usual stuff; artist is spiritually inclined and he paints spiritual subjects. Period.

I could have left the article there but two things struck me while reading it; the writer/reporter’s blind faith in the artist who speaks as the ‘author’ of these ‘spiritual’ works and the deliberation that the writer/reporter has taken to keep his/her name obscure. It goes by ‘HT Correspondent’. As I used to be an insider I know that this kind of a byline means either the writer is a cub reporter or the report itself does not have any fresh or authentic views which make the reader curious about the identity of the reporter/reviewer. Hence, this report/review appeared more or less as a PR exercise or maximum a result of the page editor who looks for a filler in the page stipulated for (here in this case) South Delhi. The gallery where the show is on is located in South Delhi and perhaps that is the only justification that I find the relevance of this story. But the danger is whether the reporter’s name is known or not people have a tendency to believe in what the newspapers generally say. So layman would definitely think that this artist has found out the ‘link’ between creativity and meditation. False.

 (Review 2 - For illustration purpose only)

Personally speaking, I do not have any problem with any artists who claim that their works of art come from deep meditation or an intense sense of spirituality. I know for sure that reading a few self-help books would not make you a professional trainer or reading a few spiritual discourses (whether it is of Osho or Dalailama or Jiddu Krishnamurthy or Sadguru or anyone like that) would not make one a spiritual guru. A person who has understood the link between creativity and meditation would never be able to say so because once that link is established the very life would become a deep meditation where painting or sculpting or anything of those so called creative activity ceases to exist. If you look from a different perspective, if you are creative and provided you are making a thing or conjuring up something with your mind and execute it through your hands then without this preamble of spiritualism and meditation, it is a deep meditative state. There is no link; because it is. If you are creative, in the very act of creation, you are meditative. But you could be meditative and be less creative where you would remain meditative but not creative. So the choice is left with you; Do you want to become creative therefore meditative or meditative and believe that you are creative too. I prefer the earlier one.

Those people say that they are very meditative and their art is linked to their meditation, are actually doing some self-deception. The state of mind in which the artist says that he/she is meditative and spiritual therefore the creativity that they have springs from that particular state of mind is a way of defining their creativity and seeking legitimacy for that. The fact is this that when you are creative, you could be nothing but meditative. You may be making a lot of noise; still you are meditative. You may be jumping around; still you are meditative. You may be sitting in the middle of the market; still you are meditative. You could be all in chaos and create something which could look quasi-spiritual or quasi-mythological and could call it meditative; still it would remain as a result of your confusion. So if someone claims that he/she has found out the link between creativity and meditation, it is all humbug. You cannot find out creativity in meditation. If you are creative, that is mediation. There could be a meditative state which is utterly inert and static, which blocks the nerve endings of creativity and make the whole being stand still or throb with the music of the universe. But it is not creativity. It is just finding rhythm with the universe. Great sages have done that. Once they have achieved that state of mind, they could hear what others could not (sruti) and they could remember what others could not (smruti). This is not creativity. It is just becoming a medium of the collective knowledge.

(Review- for illustration purpose only)

Therefore, the article that tells me about an artist who has read some spiritual literature, done fairly good yoga practice and has lived far away from the maddening crowd, and if the article claims that he has found the ‘link between creativity and meditation’ it is a false claim. It is as good as saying a quack had found out the complicated scientific truths about neuroscience. The jargon which is used without responsibility like in this press report, even barring the name of the writer, the fourth estate does a great disservice to the culture in general. The people who read and believe in it would perhaps tomorrow paint some Buddha head and some abstract stuff and say that they too have found the fresh springs of spirituality, meditation and creativity. It can never happen. The page fillers in this sense could kill the beautiful concepts of Indian art. When a famous newspaper like Hindustan Times publishes something like this, they could adopt a policy to say that ‘it is a promotional article’ or ‘the newspaper does not believe in the claims the artist has made. It is purely his personal views.’ Such disclaimers would help the reader to discern the good from the bad. The original from the fake. Otherwise, tomorrow the same jargon would be used for Subodh Gupta and Nikhil Chopra for they too explore their kind of spiritualism in their works. But in my view if they are doing something good, then definitely they are in a meditative mood. If any artist produces junk and it repels people both the initiated and the uninitiated, then be sure that the artist was just managing his/her art or just faking a spiritual orgasm. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

In Indian Trees

All of sudden
In the Indian trees
New fruits started
Hanging; strange

From orange trees
From apple orchards
From guava and grapes
New fruits; new shape

Trees looked at each other
And wondered, why and how
Banyan tree asked the fig tree
Mango tree asked jackfruit tree
Why those fruits were like that

It was when the people
Realized that those were fruits
In the shape of humans
With rope like stems

In India
We have trees
That bear human fruits

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mosquitos Talk to Me Now

Mosquitos talk to me now
In different tunes
Some like drones
Some like thorns
Mosquitos talk to me now
They want blood
They know how to get
Risking life for it
Mosquitos talk to me now
What a sharp focus
Like sunrays and lens
Burning a dot, intense
Mosquitos talk to me now
No politics or intolerance
No religion or inheritance
No sedition, no nonsense
Mosquitos talk to me now
They take what they want
Thankless they fly away
While your reflex shy away
Mosquitos talk to me now
When I am deep asleep
Even like a forlorn sheep
They suck blood from deep
Mosquitos talk to me now
At times I feel it is better
To have a dialogue with
Mosquitos than with men
Women, children and hen
For all of them beguile
With words and deeds
Mosquitos do not ask
For cheque-book
Bank balance
Party affiliations
Love quotient
They do not ask for
They don’t reduce one
A tightrope walker
Between one and thirty one
Mosquitos just take blood
A little bit for their existence
It is up to you to let them or deny
Because they talk things simple
Make things simple
Until you find a dried stain
On your bed linen; a life

Wasted for a living. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Magic Could be Black or White

This is magic; black or white

That one has to decide

Days come and go, nights too

Dreams persists yet slippery

Seasons change like minds

Sometimes hot and then cold

Fans and polar bears sleep

Then they keep awake for months

Mountains sigh, sweat and rage

Rivers bear the brunt; later

Sun throws fire and ropes of despair

To which farmers dangle by neck

This is magic; black or white

That one has to decide

Swords always do not cut

Sheaths always keep in place

Horses could run wild but

Only they rein who have killed

Without swords but with words

Gates of hell and heaven

Are divided by a thin line of magic

One needs to learn magic

To be inside both at once

There are two keys: patience

Unlocks the locks that turn

Only once to one side

But the other key, the grievance

You say it could open the locks

But not the magical ones

That lay hidden inside sleeping eyes.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dystopian Mahabharata of Soumen Bhowmick

(Soumen Bhowmick)

Legend goes like this: Someone, after seeing this monumental work, ‘Guernica’ asked Pablo Picasso, “Is it about war?” Picasso reportedly said: “It is not about war but there is war in my lines.” There are several versions to stories pertaining to Guernica. Yet another person asked the artist: “Did you do this?” “No, you did,” Picasso said. He was telling the viewer who perhaps would have thrown his lot with the Franco regime that the war was a result of his apathy and the apathy of many others like him. Had they decided to the autocrat in the beginning itself Guernica would not have been bombed. At Triveni Gallery, New Delhi, when one stands before the drawings of Soumen Bhowmick, if at all one asks whether he has done it, he would definitely say, ‘No, you did it’. What Europe was going through in 1930s, we have it right here and now. When the Fascist forces are in an upward swing, artists have to retreat to the wastelands of broken imageries; Picasso had done it, exactly the way T.S.Eliot had sung it with a great force in 1922. Now in India, Soumen in his works does the same.

 (work by Soumen Bhowmick)

I do not have any intention to compare Soumen with Picasso. In fact such comparisons could only bring embarrassment to a sensitive artist like Soumen, and if I attempt it, it would be quite unbecoming to my declared stance as an art critic. Yet, I would say, Soumen has the same force and sensibility that Picasso had shared with all his contemporaries who stood against the forward marching of the fascist forces in Europe. Today in India where culture is a spectacle intermingled with quasi-spiritualism packaged and marketed in corporate style, such voices and expressions of Soumen may not get enough attention for the minuteness of his scale and the creative arrogance to stand straight. Those who have waded through slush and rain on the Yamuna bank in order to catch a glimpse of the displaced cultural spectacle would definitely not venture into a small gallery space where Soumen’s works are exhibited. Middleclass patrons of spirituality and ‘culture’ are always like that; they want a medium to forget and self-deceive than to mull over and respond. Culture for many today is a drug so is religion both divests the human beings of their rational and cognitive abilities.

(work by Soumen Bhowmick)

Soumen’s show is titled ‘Chronicles of V’ and the artist explains it in his small brochure as an abbreviation for ‘Vigilante, Vendetta and Vengeance’. According to his elaboration, he has taken this ‘V’ word from the 19th century Spanish parlance which originated in a society where people turned the executors of law and order when the government authorities largely failed in dispensing justice. Soumen, as a young man carrying the revolutionary spirit in his personality, art and life style, thinks that if each person becomes ‘vigilant’ then definitely the social injustices would never happen. One should not go to the far off lands like Spain to understand the meaning of ‘vigilant’. It was right here in our philosophy which always gives stress to ‘Arise and Awake’ (Uthishtata, Jagrata in Katha Upanishad). In due course of time we have forgotten the very idea of being ‘alert’ and today we have a totalitarian regime in place. In such a scenario, an artist like Soumen responds to the socio-political realities with a razor sharp perspective. He conceives a world where everything has gone upside down. In his world or the world that creates in his works everything has taken the feel of a vaudevillian show. Comedy, necromancy, cannibalism and autoeroticism become the hallmarks of his dystopian land.

 (work by Soumen Bhowmick)

Karl Marx had said, History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. As far as Indian realities are concerned, history has presented several tragedies; Bengal division in 1905, Bengali famine in early 40s, partition of India in 1947, Gandhiji’s assassination in 1948, Emergency in 1975, Babri Masjid demolition in 1991, Godhra in 2002, Muzafarnagar in 2014 and so on were the prominent tragedies and even if Marx had tried to envision them as farces he would have failed in it. But the election of the right wing forces to the center was the real farce presented by a willing electorate; slaves could not have chosen a better shackle than this one. Even if Soumen says that being vigilant one could resist such negative forces, he recognizes the futility of this resistance. In this confrontation between the oppressors and the oppressed both of them in a bizarre decomposing alchemy changes into decaying flesh and horrifying skeletons. Those who have fallen in the fight and those who have still got time left to warm their seats undergo this degeneration and like zombies they celebrate.

 (work by Soumen Bhowmick)

I would call Soumen’s works as the scenes from a dystopian Mahabharata in a Philip Guston mode. Here the war has become a farce; killing and dying have become games to be played. The way war is contrived, the resistors too are sucked into the war game. In the pandemonium of words, symbols, gesticulations, trapeze acts, cannibalizing and erotic stimulations and so on, the viewer sees the total collapse of sense and sensibility of our times. There is no Gandhari to cry over the dead bodies, there is no Krishna to pacify the heartbroken widows. Many a fighter have been cajoled into the mazes of conspiracy and got them killed and a vast land of eeriness is left behind. Only the Emperor and his sycophants are left in a devastated land. In their regalia they look extremely comical; any king would look comical when he loses his kingdom. A country without citizens and subjects does not need a king; that is the irony of it. In the wilderness, like King Lear, one could just rage and rave. Even the wise fools have been killed. That’s the reality Soumen presents in his works. I have only one word of difference; for the artist vigilantes are the upholders of civil rights but for me vigilantes are hooligans who with the blessings of the government do moral policing to convert ongoing tragedies into irresistible farces.   

Saturday, March 12, 2016

This Shell of Mine so Warm

This shell of mine so warm

Comforting as nothing else

I sit through out crouching

Over the annals of dreams

And pains that many had

Been through, many years

Perhaps eons; blood and sweat

Poured into the mold of will

Out they come one by one

The eternals and the humbles

Sing alike and sigh alike like

Mothers who have sons

Who gone out to become

The warriors of light; letters

This shell of mine is so warm

And comfortable as nothing would

Out there worldly men seethe

Bees on rotten fruits fly thick

Both mindless, oblivious of

The unborn ones in wombs

They fight the fights of stupidity

Argue, shout, scream and yet

No hope, each step an expletive

They win the cup of a race

Loose many that they never size

Monday, March 7, 2016

Guns and Thighs: Ram Gopal Varma’s Life in a Book

(Ram Gopal Varma's Book Cover)

“I would say that the media is more dangerous than terrorists because it attacks under the guise of safeguarding values.” One may conclude that this statement is by one of those angst ridden anti-right wing seditionists who has just walked out an Arnab Goswami shouting match at the prime time news hour in the Times Now Channel. Surprisingly, this is the concluding sentence of a book of memoires written by the much maligned film director Ram Gopal Varma. Published in 2016, this page turner titled ‘Guns and Thighs- The Story of My Life’ is full of incisive observations which only a dare devil insider could talk about the Indian film industry (read Bollywood) which is controlled by absolute business interests than emotional quotients of the people involved. What makes this book a good reading is the emotional no-bar-hold-ness of Ram Gopal Varma, who started off as a video cassette lending shop owner and ended as an ace director of the Indian film industry.

This fifty films old director is fifty four years old now. Like all the fathers who brought up their sons in 1960s and 70s, Ram Gopal Varma’s father too thought that he should have a college education, which would fetch him a good job and eventually settle him down as a good, law abiding householder, exactly like him. However, Varma had a different plan about his life. As he was studying in an engineering college in Vijjayawada, he spent most of the time in movie theatres and streets. As the legend goes, he learnt the ropes of surviving in the big bad world from the movies than from the university. From the very beginning he was hooked to the workings of gangsters and policemen. He hung out with local goons and in college, he himself became a gang leader by keeping six of his well-built fellow students at the edge of their sense. Despite Varma’s diminutive figure they thought he was a born leader because he could make them believe that if one turns against him, he had five of them stand for him. Sooner than later he realized that’s how governments, politicians, policemen and the underworld kings worked. It was simple yet a reliable method. Ram Gopal Varma, the film maker who has a special appetite for underworld stories was born in college itself. He just needed the right opportunity.

 (Director Ram Gopal Varma)

Every week end I go to my favorite book store in Delhi with a list of books to browse. I come out with none of them. Instead I will have something like this book, which I have never thought of even existing. I was not aware of Ram Gopal Varma’s books. But the chance meeting of such books always gives me a different high. I have to confess that the best books I have picked up ever are always out of chance meetings with them in some inconspicuous corner of a book store. I take a fancy of these books like Varma’s because they are not the regular writers but definitely they have something interesting to say. I have to confess after reading this book by Varma that out of his fifty films, I have seen only one so far! That’s ‘Company’ done in 2002, the launching pad for Vivek Oberoi. I watched this movie not because I was so much a fan of Ajay Devgun or the debutant Vivek Oberoi but because of the presence of Mohanlal, one of my favorite actors from the Malayalam film industry in the movie as a soft spoken police commissioner namely Sreenivasan. I wrote a very fulfilling article (at least for me) at that in one of the leading journals in Malayalam and even predicted a good future for both Mohanlal and Vivek Oberoi in the Bollywood industry. Contrary to my predictions, Mohanlal settled back to his comfort zone of Malayalam films and Vivek by wrongly choosing a series of movies ejected himself out of the industry, despite his occasional efforts to stage a coming back. Varma tried to re-launch Oberoi in his Rakta Charita in 2010 and Mohanlal in the legendary Thakur’s role in ‘Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag’ in 2007, both turned out to be box office disasters.

‘Guns and Thighs’ however is not a lamentation on the flops that Varma has famously churned out from his stable. He has worked in the Telugu industry with the stalwarts like Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh and so on, and was also instrumental in launching many careers including that of Urmila Mathondkar, J.D.Chakravarty, Vivek Oberoi and so on. He could easily cross over to the Hindi movies because his way of story-telling was fresh and forceful. Varma was game for trying out something extremely new, whether it was raw eroticism or raw violence. While most of the Bollywood thrillers focused on the cop-thief chase stories to a greater extent, Varma thought of the leisure times or the scheming times of the cops and the thieves, or in other words what the underworld kings, sharp shooters and the investigators did just before committing a crime. Were they just normal people like us or they looked different? Varma realized from newspapers and television that the sharpshooters, rioters, killers, hit men and so on looked very ordinary. Sometimes a gangster could live next door and you would never come to know about his real identity until one day he is implicated in a heist or a hit. If so, what did this ordinary looking people did when they were not hitting or shooting? That’s why he came up with movies like Shiva, Satya and Company. Varma was a hit maker.

 (Company film poster)

Varma is very philosophical about many of life’s accidents and chances. According to him a good failure is better a bad success. It all depends on who talks about success and failure. If a successful person is successful, he says, that there should be a reason. Somebody who aspires for that kind of success should silently watch what makes the other successful and if possible emulate and improvise upon the given. Varma has always been doing that. He hates the ‘inbetweenists’. According inbetweenists are those people who have a very flexible philosophy and always want to be in the right side of things. They could be the nastiest people and most often they remain where they are in their lives. Varma quirkily points out that what makes the successful people successful because there are more inbetweenists in the world than the real achievers. Inbetweenists always have an opinion on anything and everything. And if that opinion goes absolutely wrong, they don’t have any problem to go back on their stance and come up with some pedestrian philosophy to explain why they are so. One cannot do nothing but agree with Varma.

The book progresses through various anecdotes both comic and tragic but Varma never tries to judge any of them. He only judges once that too his wife of that time for her insisting him to stay back at home for celebrating her birthday than going for a recording in Chennai. One should listen what Varma has to tell her in this matter:  “I don’t celebrate my birthday in spite of having achieved whatever little I have, whereas you have achieved nothing so why do you want to celebrate your birth? If you think the mere fact that you were born calls for celebration, don’t forget that when your parents had sex, the last thing they would have had on their minds while doing it was sot conceive you in particular. Your dad had a desire and your mom obliged, and it was sheer accident that the particular spermatozoa which managed to enter your mom’s womb just happened to be you. Your dad could alternatively have gone to a prostitute and the particular spermatozoa through which that woman might have conceived could have been you and you could have ended up in a brothel. In effect, when you have absolutely no control over or no contribution to the process of what, who and why someone gave you birth, why should you make such a big deal about celebrating it?” Varma says further to us: Needless to say, she slapped me. Let me quote further: “I believe that the obsession with birthdays is primarily a function of the fear of most individuals have that their existence might not matter to anybody else. So on that one particular day if an X number of people greet them, it makes them feel stars for at least that day and then they can wait like nobodies for another year to go by to become stars for yet another day.”

(Cartoon on Varma's visit to the Taj Hotel with the CM on 26/11)

Does it sound too chauvinistic? But the truth is those who have gone through this horrendous experience of their womenfolk bringing the house down for forgetting their birthdays or greeting them on that day or even taking them out for a dinner or buying them a new dress, know for sure that all those go with a birthday thing of a non-achiever is total waste. Like Varma says, one should celebrate whatever little they have achieved. Irrespective of gender people should celebrate the days that made sense to them rather than celebrating a birthday.

Coming back to the opening sentence of this essay, which happened to be the closing sentence of the book, I would say that it was not Varma’s views on the right wing media but on the media in general that is hungry for making nothing out of something. On 26/11, when Varma visited the Taj Mumbai where there was terrorist attack, along with the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Desmukh and his son and film actor, Ritiesh Desmukh, the media went hysteric saying that there were nefarious plans behind Varma’s visit with the CM’s contingent. In fact, he says, he was tagging along and the places that were shown to them were already been cleared of investigations and were already shown in television for mass consumption. But the media, instead of discussing vital issues pertaining to a horrible terrorists’ attack, spent many precious hours discussing the inanities of Varma’s visit to the place. Let me conclude my views in this book with the same sentence once again: “I would say that the media is more dangerous than terrorists because it attacks under the guise of safeguarding values.” 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Being Simple and Solving Problems

Being simple is a very complex thing for many; and being complex is the easiest thing. Let’s just take a common place example. We walk into a coffee shop. A Smart, smiling and English speaking boy or girl, complete with her brown apron greets you from the other side of the counter and asks what you would you like to have. You settle for a CafĂ© Latte or Espresso, whatever. Soon comes another query: Sir, small, medium, large?  You have already decided it is medium and you say it. ‘Sir, you would like it strong or light?’ You answer that question hiding your discomfort. Would like to have cream or without cream? Now, what’s that? You have asked for a coffee and the boy has already complicated things. You get a medium cup of coffee and an atrocious bill. You pay and drink the concoction as if it were hemlock. Drinking a cup of coffee could be that complex an affair. There are people who suddenly tell you: I will take you for a wonderful filter coffee or some delicious ice cream. Some may even suggest a ‘pan’. Then they drive you around the city for twenty minutes and all the way you will have to listen to their narratives on the kind of filter coffees or ice creams they have had. While you invent some equally bombastic story, from the back seat, a little nine year old chimes in, ‘Mom, you did not tell about our funny ice cream trip in Alaska last summer.’ You have already lost the game before that claim.

Life could be much simpler. Asking too many questions for the sake of asking questions is one way that most of the people make simple things complex. If you understood what someone has just said, you don’t have questions. If you have not, you have some. But after some stage in your life, you don’t have many questions. You don’t need to be really old to realize this. People make things complex at times to invite questions. So in answering those questions a major chunk of the time in office or anywhere is spent. People feel important when they ask questions and in turn make things complex. A person with an average IQ could understand anything around him/her without asking too many questions. Even if an issue is explained at the board room, if you are a staff member and worth of your salt, you would immediately grab the nuances of what is stated; that’s why you are there in the boardroom. But somehow, in the name of brainstorming so many precious human hours are spent without much result. People fly off to retreats and sea shores or hills to do brainstorming. A majority of the problems that human beings face today could be solved while sitting in the loo. There is nothing very complex about life. There are no such problems that do not have an answer. One just needs to silently face those questions; loo is the best place to do that.

I have seen a number of people wasting their time in arguing certain issues and feeling miserable when they are not able to convince the other party. First of all argument is one way of making simple things complex. In life nothing could be achieved by arguing with anyone. An argument starts because the other party believes in something different than what you believe. If both the parties are stuck at their own belief patterns no argument is going to win one over the other side. Then how issues could be solved? If arguments do not arise then issues automatically die out. There at some corner of the country, a good for nothing fellow clad in some religious attire makes an absolutely foolish statement and the so called intelligent people take the cue and start arguing. Look at our debate television. Apart from being mere entertainment and slight persuasion, these television programs are a huge amount of wasting human energy and time for silly matters. If we decide to simplify things, then definitely the arguments will start. If someone says, JNU students use 3000 condoms per month we should just laugh it off. If some cartoonists come up with brilliant cartoons on the issue, we should enjoy it and make our lives simple. In the name of involving in the democratic process, we enter into arguments regarding things about which most of us do not have in depth knowledge or authority. In the free for all scenario, we make life complex and miserable.

To make life simple, as people believe generally, they need not go to faraway places seeking solace and simplicity. Rural areas are as complex as the urban places as in rural areas too we find human beings who do not have much to do with their brains. We could be very simple people by being intensely aware of things and keep off from many things. We make a lot of noise about growing traffic. The best way is to take off our car from the roads. We get morally agitated when the city is littered by filth. What we need to do is to avoid littering the city ourselves. When there is water shortage, instead of complaining, use water judiciously. In the name of organic life, instead of driving kilometers to buy organic vegetables, better plant some vegetables in your backyard. When life is simplified, problems vanish. Many people think that our presence in social matters is a must to maintain the democratic process. The best way is to choose your representatives judiciously; instead of making a ruckus after selecting anti-social people as your representatives. People need a high amount of awareness to lead a simple life.

Unfortunately, simple life is always misunderstood. Many people think that a simple person is a ‘poor’ person. Most of the great personalities are very simple people. I have come across so many great people with great contributions to society but absolutely unassuming in their presence, manners and mannerisms. Once I was visiting a museum located in a mall in Delhi and at the corridor I happened to cross paths with the famous writer Arundhati Roy. She was walking in such way that she was almost hiding herself and not making a big deal about herself being the ‘Arundhati Roy’. Simplicity is a way of life; it does not have anything to do with what you wear, how you travel and what do you eat. When you are simple, you are caring about the other people. You understand a simple human being your pain as well as the pain of others. Simplicity is largely about shedding the ego. One does not attend yoga classes or get into spiritual retreat to kill ego. One just needs to understand what simplicity is. Simplicity and ego are inversely proportional; when one increases the other decreases. So when you are a simple person, you don’t have any problem with the other. I have seen people, crossing their legs in packed metro trains as if they own the whole space. It comes from three things; lack of confidence and self-worth, high amount of arrogance and total ignorance. A simple person need not assert; his/her simplicity is simply the assertion of being a good soul.

Simplicity in life is the ability to hark upon the voices that comes not only from inside but also from outside. Generally, the spiritual gurus tell you to listen to your inner voices. But however you try, you will be able to listen to your inner voice unless and until you could hear the voices of outside. What you hear generally as the voice of the outside world is the undefined cacophony. We recognize conversations out of habit. We understand the traffic because we are tuned to the noise of the traffic. That is not the outside voice. There are innumerable voices that lay outside us. The chirping of birds, whispering of beetles, ants, crickets and other creatures, the gurgling voice of a stream, the softy voices of dew drops, the hissing of bamboo thickets, rustling of leaves, clattering of rain drops on a roof, lisping of a child and the noises made by butterfly wings and smiles on the lips of the people. Once you hear these voices above all the din of the routine noises, you automatically hear the inner voice that advices you to be simple. The day you hear your inner voice, you cannot nothing but be simple in your life. Stop arguing; give more time to listening. When you listen to the voices of the other, you understand that it is not different from your own. But when you argue you fail to hear the other. You are in a race and in an argument with one and all that’s why you need a vacation to go to hills to listen to the voices that are right next your window pane. Listen to it. You are simple and alright.