Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Lynching Game

(Image taken from the net for Representational purposes only)

“I feel sad about the mother of Junaid,” I say. My friends listen, all three of them, who have come to my room to play carrom. On the wall, which is my hall of fame with all those glossy posters of Michael Jackson, Kamal Haasan, Ben Jonson (yes the same Canadian sprinter who had gone down in the dope case), Monica Seles (the screaming tennis player), good old Bubka (the pole-vaulter) and so on (you guessed right, I do not have any cricket stars in them for I do not play cricket. Nor do I play foot ball. Then you may ask do I play tennis, to which I would say ‘no’ but I like them because during the good old days of Doordarshan where you had nothing much to choose from, these people were morale lifters, forget the dope cases, didn't those brimming muscles of his make you feel good about yourself for no reason? I should say, I liked catching the occasional glimpses of Mohinder Amarnath and beef chewing West Indians, especially Vivian Richards who had given a girl to a woman in the celebrity world of India upon her request) recently I had added the pictures of a few Indian gods and goddesses including Hanuman, the mighty monkey from southern part of the country who though quite powerful was conveniently given a subordinate position (complete with protruding jaws, a tail and blind faith) in the mythology and ironically elevated as an independent god with autonomous divinities, negotiation powers, thousand names, a trident, a colour and some kind of power of aesthetics criticism, which makes him or his followers the right judges of the country’s aesthetic production. 

Are you curious to know why I have added these pictures among the international faces (which are already fading in the posters as well as in the collective sporting memory of the world)? That is the only way to survive for a person like me, jobless, helping people to fill in application forms and write affidavits or complaints for legal purpose. Stationed in one of the shacks, which look permanent than the multi-storied place of the Bombanis, as they have been there since the establishment of the District Court sometime in 1960s, I have been doing this job for how many years I do not know. Even I do not remember how I landed up with this job. I remember going to a friend who used to do this job to borrow books as he used to be an avid reader and it must have been one of those days that he had asked me to help him out in finishing some pending paper works. I can say this much: it became a habit, then a job and today my friend had gone to some gulf countries and I the vendor work here as the shack is mine now for, exactly twenty two years since I first went collect books from my friend. 

As a bachelor and with no family around to be supported (they are all doing well in the village) I am not that greedy type who would work on Saturdays and Sundays. I rather sit at my one room apartment playing carrom with friends or occasionally visited by the clerks of some advocates who especially handle divorce cases. These clerks come with some rudimentary sketches of plots, conspiracies, juicy indications of some extramarital affairs and so on and my job is to make it a pretty lengthy affidavit which could be submitted to court so that the party would be granted divorce or given maintenance or children’s custody. I write it well because it gives me a lot of scope to improvise on the issues; I could make a black eye given to a wife by a drunken husband really look horrifyingly sore. I could even make a phone call of a husband to a woman acquaintance look like a sleazy invitation to an erotic rendezvous. Sometimes, into the second decade of my career as an affidavit writer I thought of migrating to the tinsel town so that I could become a screen play writer for those thrillers that run in multiplexes as morning show and in the C-class theatres as regular show. Then I left it there; this place has a strong grip on me and the cases are too alluring to leave. 

I have transgressed enough. Now let me tell you about my friends briefly. They are also of my age and their names are Raju, Lucky and Harjeet. They all have surnames and expanded first names that not only show their family inheritance but also the muscles that they have carefully cultivated in the local gyms in their twenties and thirties. 

Raju is into properties and operates quite neatly without an office. He used to have one a few years back which he closed down when one day he triumphantly declared that he had sold all the available flats in the area. Property dealing is an itinerant business. Some muscle men with muscles running all through the system acquire land from farmers and start building multi-storied housing complexes with fancy names like ‘Sea View Apartments’, ‘Paradise Apartments’ ‘Shubh Labh Apartments’, ‘Lake View Apartments’ and so on. These are just names because in our part of the world where water comes in tanker tractors the names of the apartments are just conceptual. It is associative in feeling. In the peak of summer, you live on the fourteenth floor of the Sea View Apartment and you don’t feel the heat of the summer, instead you feel the sea breezing wafting around and soothing you. There are two reasons for this; one, you have a split AC where you stand, blasting cold air on your face and second thing, you have paid quite a lot with your life (life’s earning, that is the parlance) and it comes natural for you to feel that sea breeze, if you don’t you are just a fool. After all the school bus comes into the compound and there is a children park, a joggers track and a 24x 7 provision shop (run by one of the poor relatives of the builder and she would in due course of time buy a few properties around). You are happy. 

“These days, why do you need an office?” Raju asks and while striking at the red with his tough fingers he continues, “You need a smart phone with a 4G connection and a bundle of visiting cards. Yaar, after this thing called whatsapp, you don’t need visiting cards also. You can do any business. Our new government is great yaar.”

There I differ and want to say that it is not a new government. It is a continuity of history. It is the course of economics, where global economics merges with the local aspirations. But I keep quiet. I want my Saturdays and Sundays rather argument free.

Lucky, as his name suggests is a lucky guy. Coming from a land owning farmer family, he has an Enfield Bullet motor cycle, a Scorpio SUV (before that he had a Maruti Gypsy with extra large tyres) and an open Jeep complete with a full blast sound system, a crash guard (bumper) covered with some kind of rope, a number plate that is deceptive and could make someone think that it belongs to the army of the country and at its back a couple of lathis (bamboo sticks) and hockey sticks. Lucky often moves around in this Jeep. He does not attack anyone. Luckily there are no police cases against him in all these forty two years of his life on this earth. 

“These are just preventive, brother,” Lucky says. When you blast music in the sound system and drive around with some mistuning of the exhaust pipe, sport a pair of Ray-Ban shades and three days old stubble, none would dare to rub you wrongly,” Lucky laughs. I know that Lucky means it because he is a guy who earns a lot of money by doing nothing. “Money comes yaar. When you have these things with you, there are people who cannot sport them the way I do, out of fear, shame or name. So they want people like us to give them a cover. My only condition is only this. I can front them but no violence. I have a family name to protect,” Lucky suddenly becomes pensive. 

Whenever I look at Lucky, I feel that he is a guy who has just come out  from one of those gangster movies and provincial movies produced by that director famous for his bad-land movies. But Harjeet is none of the above. He is the quintessential family man with his safe and secure job in a fertiliser company and he has an office in the next town with four staff working under him. A god fearing man with a turban Harjeet constantly talks about life as if it were something that could be enhanced with fertilisers.

“Yaarr, children are like plants. If we don’t put the urea in the right proportion, they would overgrow but do not yield, then they become a liability. What is a crop that yields nothing? You could boast that you have hundred acres of paddy but if they yield is only 30:70, what’s the use? So giving children good education is important but where is more important than what. That’s why I sent them to Agro Public School. These Little Prince, Jesus and Peter and Gunmeshwar Mission public schools are just like weeds. The government should weed them out. It will destroy the crop,” Harjeet says.

We don’t have any reason to complain for Harjeet comes with a tiffin box full of snacks and a bottle full of raw mango squash, which is known as panna in our parts. 

But when I say, “I feel sad about the mother of Junaid,” they just freeze. They look at me unconvinced. What did you say, they seem to ask so I repeat. “I feel sad about the mother of Junaid.”

For some time there is silence in the room. It feels like a befitting mourning for the death of poor Junaid, a sixteen year old boy. He was coming back from another city after making some festival purchases. The only wrong thing, if at all that was a wrong thing to do (I look at Harjeet’s turban and the Ray-Ban shades hanging from Lucky’s pocket and Raju’s gamcha (stole) and the yellow and red thread that is there around all their wrists) was that Junaid was wearing a skull cap. He was in a train to his village, which is a few kilometres north from our town, and he and his friends were very happy to have made those purchases. A burqa each for their mothers, a churidar each for their sisters, a prayer mat each for their fathers and uncles (yes, a few skull caps too), and a lot of sweets. 

Junaid was any other sixteen year old boy from a small village. He could have been myself had it been three and a half decades back. He could have been Raju or Lucky. Similar aspirations, similar happiness, similar abandonment and hopes. Junaid is faceless like me, Raju and Lucky and Harjeet. Oh, we could argue that we have a face because we have a facebook account. Does a facebook account give us a face, seriously? Does that matter at all? Okay, let us see it in this way. When you have a facebook account and you have a face, what would happen when you log out of it and go to sleep? Do you cease to have a face? Do you cease to exist? What about those people who do not have a facebook or twitter account? Don’t they count as human beings? Junaid must have had a facebook account. I did not know him. (I ask Raju, Lucky and Harjeet whether they by any chance had Junaid in their facebook friends’ list. No is the answer). That means Junaid was a person with or without a facebook account. At least he had a face within his family and friends’ circle. Who knew he would not have become the Prime Minister of our country who used to sell tea in the railway stations? 

What was the wrong thing Junaid did? He wore a skull cap. He was smiling. Wearing a skull cap is a bad thing, first of all and on that you smile? What an arrogance. All those skull cap wearing people in this country should have a sad face. They should look down as if they live in shame. They should walk around as shadows as if their physical body is the real shadow and the shadows that they cast the real bodies. They should pay for what their alleged ancestors had allegedly done. Is that so? If you see a skull cap wearing person suddenly you see him eating beef? Come on, friends. A sixteen year old boy who is going with his body like a shadow suddenly felt that he should retrieve his body from the shadow because it was a festival day and he should add some sunshine to his face. So you would lynch him? Really?

Yes, yesterday I had a dream, are you listening? Yesterday I had a dream. I was strangulated by a group of plants. I recognised them. “What were they?” Harjeet asks spontaneously. Man, I say, it was a dream but I recognised them. They were potato plants, spinach, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, turnips, radishes, onions, peas and so on. They were tying me with their tender leaves, roots and tendrils. Tender? Not tender, they look tender but when they attack they are quite strong. They choke you and thrash you. However you plead, they just don’t leave you. There were so many other plants encouraging them to strangulate me. They were calling out ‘Kill him, kill him. He eats us. He kills us and eats us. Kill him.” In the dream, I called out ‘Murder, Murder. But nobody was there to hear me out. There were no witnesses, you know. I could see I am lying dead on my bed. But friends, it was just a dream. But in dream, you see everything looks so real,” I say.

“I think you have taken this news to your heart, leave it yaar,” Raju says and subconsciously he pushes the threads in his right wrist with his left palm to take a strike. But I found that gesture quite threatening but I keep quiet. 

“Was that death so important to you? How does that mother matter to you?” Harjeet asks. Lucky is silent and is pensive.

“Because, because Junaid was not expecting this when he got into the train,” I say.

“All deaths are unexpected, a sort of accident,” says Lucky. He sounds profound for a moment and in the next he spreads himself as shallow as usual. “Why can’t it be treated as an accident?”

“No lucky, how could it be treated as an accident? All accidents are unexpected, I agree. But when we travel in a public transport our chance of accident is less than one per cent, right?” I say and Harjeet and Raju look at me. They seem to like the word ‘per cent’ a lot. “When you are in your own vehicle and when you are driving, you know the chance of accident is, say five per cent. But when you go out of your home, in your vehicle or others’ vehicle or in a public conveyance, you are not expecting an accident even by zero per cent. That’s the beauty of life. You know you will die but you are sure you don’t. Accidents and deaths occur to others, not to us. Don’t you think that’s what you and I think about life? The most interesting thing is that we don’t think about it all. Junaid was definitely not thinking about his death when he boarded the train. Nor was he thinking about a possible lynching by the mob. Was his mother waiting his body to come back or his shadow? I am sad for her because this time his body came back and that body was incapable of casting any shadows,” I sigh. 

There is silence. Raju keeps winning the black and white coins. Lucky somehow lost his interest in the game. Harjeet is enthusiastic as always but his aim is not to strike the smaller coins. He wants to get the big. The big crop of red. But to get the right crop circumstances and climate should be feasible. Here, I have dampened the climate and circumstances are spoilt by Raju’s aggressive game. Lucky takes the powder and shakes it on to the board before he takes the aim. While striking he asks, “It was good that he was murdered eventually,” Lucky says and with that he strikes and strikes the edge of the board without touching any coin and the sound reminds everyone of the cracking of a skull or a bone. I shudder. 

“If he was spared, he would live with the trauma. And he would become the breeding ground for terrorists,” Lucky said without caring much about what he said.

“What did you say?” I ask, “That was quite unfortunate, Lucky. How could a spared man become the enemy of the state? He would be thankful to the attackers for sparing him. He would perhaps, never would like to cross roads with them. He would avoid them and would push himself further into his shadow. Don’t you think that it has been happening with all those people who have been attacked and left to their own devices to survive? But there are instances where people refuse to succumb to the attacks. The keep coming, defying death. From the blood of the dead ones they beget hundreds of radicals who would defy the state. You may be right. But remember, a living Junaid was just a smile but a dead Junaid is a frown. A living Junaid would have lived his inconspicuous life and died. But look at the dead Junaid, he is more dangerous than the living ones,” I say. 

“What do you preach, sir?” Raju has contempt in his words.

“I don’t preach,” I say. “No state would survive by killing its innocent people. When innocence is violated that turns into uncontainable violence. When dignity is vandalized that turns into open wounds. When silence is attacked, that turns into screams. Look around. A bottle that you throw after drinking beer is harmless and even it is a treasure to a rag picker. A bottle of kerosene is poor man’s fuel. When you break the beer bottle at the poor one’s head, they procure bottle from the garbage and pour kerosene into it and throw it at you as a Molotov cocktail. A piece of rubble has memories and they lie silent on the earth. A piece of rock has histories of eons etched in them. Still they lie silently on the earth. But in poor, deprived and oppressed man’s hands they become powerful weapons. Our batons, guns, tanks, shells, surveillance, rapes, encounters, detentions, condemnations, hanging and none of the kind would stand a chance before these insignificant stones and rubbles. You break their cities and dreams. They use the same rubble to attack. When a dream hurts you it hurts you grievously than a weapon does. Do you think that each lynching case would be laid to rest forever as an aberration in the history? The spectres would come to haunt us. We are living on the graves of our ancestors. They are our protectors. But you know, ghosts are of the same league for they do not have hierarchies and castes. Ghosts unite against their common enemy; the deprivation of life. Those who have deprived life to the people would be seen as the common enemies of the ghosts of the deprived. Once possessed by these ghosts, there would be no stopping. If each grain of rice has the name of the one who would be fed by it, then each stone and rubble has name of the attacker and the attacked etched on it. It is like Brahmastra of the epics; it would search for the enemy till he is vanquished. Do we need to wait for that to happen?” I stop. 

I see the face of Harjeet shining when I mention the word rice. But then as he understands that my idea is not about lecturing on rice, he goes back to the red coin which Raju has not yet pushed into the hole. 

We are all silent. Nobody knows what to talk further. My friends are good souls. Raju has different ideas about politics and economics. But alone he is a good man. He cares for his three daughters. Lucky, the occasional melancholic is very rich and he does not feel the need for attacking anyone. He believes in the philosophy of threat and persuasion without causing damage to the life and property of the others. In the state affairs it is called diplomacy. Lucky is married and has a child. He does not talk anything about them. Harjeet is a family man and a good group leader, who sells fertilizers for his company and makes a good profit out of it. Harjeet wife’s name is also Harjeet. She too is a good woman. He has two children, whom I have seen though I cannot distinguish between Manpreet and Manmeet. They call me uncle and I am very happy for that. 

When all of us are such pious creatures on this earth who are doing this lynching business? Who are those people who deprive the mothers of their Junaids and Aklaqs? I look at my friends’ faces. None of them would do. Then who else would?

The crowd. 

What is it?


The face-fuls and the faithfuls. 

United, we lose our face and faith. 

We become a crowd. 

We lynch Junaid.....

Until we get lynched elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When a Secular Sculpture Turns into a Religious Idol: ‘Mother and Child’ in Trivandrum

Materialism and spiritualism go hand in hand. What determines both is the presence of history. Through the mediation of time the public and private domains uphold as well as express a particular aspect of either materialism or spiritualism in order to make the living an experience and the living experience comfortable. The New Millennium is a particular juncture in the world history where denominations of various ideologies celebrate both materialism and spiritualism with equal verve even when they fight with each other severely on the ways in which such celebrations are to be taking place. Hence, we have the conservatives, extreme conservatives, liberals and extreme liberals, and any other streams that come in between these clearly demarcated zones adequately oscillating between materialism and spiritualism, two sets of notions and practices that stand as polar opposites and making visible and invisible bridges so that these two poles could be connected in whichever manner possible. The new age gurus, self help books, conformist theoreticians and theologians, and all those market pundits work round the clock to do this bridging or in other words to wed these strange fellows and force into sharing the nuptial bed. 
However, it is important to see how the grosser forms of materialism and spiritualism, namely consumable objects and religions respectively determine the course and dynamics of history and the psychological environments where history is formed or deformed, used or abused. While history has always taken this pride for its special place in all kinds of relationships that lead society to progress and at times to regress, sometimes, we see this ironical but very painful sight of it being displaced by the grosser forms of materialism and spiritualism, which we know as the relationship builders in any societies in the world because they are the fundamentals that balance a society as a whole and the individuals in particular. When the grosser forms over-determine the social and domestic spaces, the historical rationality or even the commonsensical historical understanding gets replaced by consumerism and religious blindness. 

Sculptor Aryanad Rajendran

I wrote this rather loaded preamble in order to set a background for what I am going to write now. Perhaps, this incident which is curious in many ways is not new at least for the readers in Kerala. In Trivandrum, around fifteen years back a huge sculpture depicting a mother breast feeding an infant was erected at the gate of the famous Medical College Hospital in Trivandrum. Aryanad Rajendran, a sculptor but not popular the way many other artists of his generation are, is/was the sculptor who created this ‘Mother and Child’.  Aryanad Rajendran is in fact an insider as he works as an artist in the modelling department of the Medical College. Hence, this sculpture though a government commission or a commission by the Hospital, which is under the state government, is/was a tribute to his work place. This sculpture has been imparting a sense of wonderment and also a sense of comfort for those people who pass by and who happened to visit the hospital premises for some reason. 

In Kerala, huge sculptures do not really thrill people just because they are big in size. The audience in Kerala has been trained in a way by looking at the huge sculptures of Kanai Kunhiraman for almost five decades now. They know what a huge sculpture means. Therefore when this ‘Mother and Child’ came up the visual sensibility of the Kerala audience was not particularly thrilled or challenged because it was a moderate sculpture with an enlarged look. (incidentally I should mention that in Chadayamangalam, Kollam, Asia’s biggest sculpture ‘The Jatayu Complex’ is being readied for public visit). If one travels through the length and the humble breadth of Kerala, one could see thousands of Christs, Shivas, Krishnas, Mother Mary’s, St.Georges and so on in huge sculpture forms in front of temples and churches, which would put Aryanad Rajendran’s ‘Mother and Child’ to shame. But I should say the presence of this sculpture has been a soothing one despite the ruggedness of modelling.

Though not clear about the intention of erecting such a sculpture at the entrance of a famous hospital I could come up with two important reasons: one, it must have been the time when the Government of Kerala or the Government of India itself was promoting breast feeding. Two, it must have come up as a morale booster for the young mothers and the soon to be delivering pregnant women who come for medical help to this famous hospital. And the sculpture has been there with all its secular credentials without hurting anybody’s sentiments even if the left breast of the woman is more or less exposed as a result of the breast feeding. I use the word secular because the ‘mother’ in the sculpture remains an emblematic mother of Kerala, especially a Kerala of yesteryears as this mother is seen wearing dhoti and blouse, not Sari or Churidar. She does not look like Mother Mary from any angle, nor does she look like any Hindu goddess who feeds a baby. Of course, in Muslim mythologies we cannot expect such a depiction. 

Today, however, the secular credentials of this sculpture are in question. Irrespective of their religious affiliations, people both men and women of different ages light candles and incense sticks to wish safe and painless delivery for the young women who have been admitted in the maternity wards of the hospital a couple of blocks away. Though this phenomenon was reported last year in December by a mainstream newspaper in Kerala and recently a radio jockey in a video clipping being sent out via whatsapp, the ‘news’ was treated as ‘something curious’ and ‘something to be approached reverently’. Only the radio jockey added a bit of cynicism in his comments though finally he joined the crowd and wished well to the people who came to light the candles there. Perhaps, he wanted to be critical but considering his vulnerability amidst a crowd that was doubly insecure because of their own vulnerability as the relatives of the girls undergoing labour pain in the hospital and the religious connotations involved in the act of lighting the candles and incense sticks. What shocked me was that none of the worshippers knew the artist who made it. What made me more curious was that none of them knew for how long this sculpture had been there. Most of them did not know why they are doing it; they had only one answer, because it helped girls deliver painlessly and Caesarean delivery became a normal delivery. 

Two things are important here; one, none of the worshippers wants to check out whether this sculpture is a religious one or a secular one. Two, none of them knows the time in which this sculpture has come up there. Their idea of worship plays around an ambiguity, a hearsay and a wishful thinking. None cross checks the success rate of the prayers at this ‘Mother and Child’. All the rational and historical lines that separate a secular sculpture from an idol of worship are blurred here. The ancientness that the people attribute to the sculpture is almost accepted by one and all around there and they all tend to believe that it has been there forever. If tomorrow someone says that this was erected in late 19th century or early 20th century by one of the Travancore Rajas, even if the reality is that it is hardly two decades old (or lesser than that) nobody would dare to question the veracity of it.
The worship modes are clearly religious and predominantly two different religions have shown their willingness to accept this sculpture as the part of their pantheon; namely Christian and Hindu. Christians, by following their church customs light candle sticks. Hindus going by their tradition light bunches of incense sticks. What is missing here are the chaddars that the Muslims could and would bring to spread before the sculpture (which could be a reality soon if no administrative intervention happens here). But in Kerala, like elsewhere in India, when it comes to religion (with more emphasis to spiritual satisfaction and wish fulfilment) people once again blur their scriptural and traditional differences and visit temples, churches and mosques. So the people who light candle at the mother and child sculpture need not necessarily be Christians and the people who light incense sticks need not necessarily be Hindus. They could be even Muslims. Though there were some kind of rational exhortations from some social organisation telling people that it was a secular sculpture it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The practice continues non-stop. 
Why does such frenzy happen in our social domain? Why do we sort of absolutely circumvent the visible contradiction of praying to supernatural powers asking for divine interventions right under the nose of a medical establishment which is supposedly the embodiment of the scientific progress that the human beings have achieved so far? Is it because of the maxim that we do our part and half is done by the God? Or is it because in our popular imagination, mainly of the popular movies where divine intervention is a reasonable thing to happen than scientific intervention? In the popular movies we see the intercutting of scenes between an operation theatre and the woman or man of the person who is operated upon, challenging and pleading with the god at the same time, often through a song. India’s psyche has enough space for supernatural despite its firm conviction is science. That is not a bad thing but a beautiful thing to happen because it connects people with what they do not know but know as a reality.

However, there is a problem when such sur-realities are brought into the social domain, kicking away the lessons of history. While blurring the demarcating lines between mythology and history one could as the historian Ramachandra Guha puts it, make ‘history into mythology and mythology into history’. It is an irony that all the socio-political and cultural calamities of the present and the last centuries are created by this conscious interchanging of history and mythology. When the grosser form of spiritualism which is religion, becomes the socio-cultural and political determinant factor, a simultaneous religion-ization of the public and private domains happens automatically. This is because of mythology getting dominance over history without cross checking the facts. When it happens, the majority of the people in the society turn into sort of believers simply because they do not want to be left behind in the mainstream socio-political and cultural debate. It is not really because they believe in that given religion in a certain way but they just become aware that they too belong and to belong they need to go by the tide. How far their belongingness goes is never probed into. It actually works within the domestic realm without their knowing as the religious festivals and temple or church festivals become suddenly important and a greater attention is given to the religious discourses. People caught in this web become negotiators of their own doubts and in the final analysis they start believing that what the mainstream discourse says has got ‘truth’ in it (this truth was contested till yesterday by themselves, a fact is conveniently forgotten). 

This change in the domestic space gets reflected in the social/public domain. The markers that determine a particular religion or religions become all the more important and based on those social relationships are re-modified and re-modelled. While the secular skin is kept intact the fissures start appearing in the flesh, muscles and sinews, taking the fluids of these ruptures directly into the stream of blood and brain altering the ways of feeling and thinking about the other/s. When religion determines the social relationships, it in another way over-determines the social spaces. That’s how we a community that refuses to give an ambulance its space to speed up, gives space meekly to temple or church processions. While an ambulance is not escorted by the Police force, a festival procession always has a contingent of police force along its route. The spaces in television, newspaper and all other media are determined by the religious considerations and no editorial dares to critique the congestions created by the religious processions. That conclusively says that we have become a society determined by religion/s which is definitely not a symptom of modernity. While core spiritualism helps people anchor to the depths and beauty of the life in general, religions destroy this core and occupies the social and mental spaces vitiating it to ultimate destruction.

In Trivandrum what is left is the simple taking over of the ‘Mother and Child’ sculpture by a religion or a joint committee of religions provided the still intact social fabric of Kerala. Once a committee comes around to put an end to this practice, there would be another committee forming to protect the practice of lighting lamps before the sculpture. The secular intention of the sculpture would transgress to the level of making it a rallying point of differences between the rationality and religious bigotry in the social space of Kerala. Once a defence committee is formed to protect the practice, there would be a fight for dominance within the committee, of castes, tribes, families and so on. The neutrals like the doctors and artists could also be drawn into the friction sooner or later. Hence, here is something that should be done by the Government of Kerala in order to avoid a huge future crisis and a religious fight that would disrupt Kerala’s secular life. The Government of Kerala should put an end to this practice and tell the people that it is a secular sculpture and no worship is allowed there. Though the practice of people lighting lamps before a secular sculpture could be seen as an innocent act of faith, the danger that it engenders could create another Babri Masjid or Ram Temple issue. A simple act of faith could scale up into a gigantic religious war resulting into genocides and pogroms. When a dam is built thousands of temples go under water leaving no trace of it. None complains, for the act shows the political will of the respective governments. So is the case of city development including the establishment of rapid transport systems. So the political will could change the situation in Trivandrum; only the political will could change and reclaim the sculpture as a secular one. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dangerous Reading in Trains

(Image for representational purpose only)
Books could cause huge damages; to a person’s sanity, dignity and health. Did you say ‘sanity’? What’s new in it? Books do make good citizens turn against the state. Had there been no books the world would have been a better place.
Stop wishful thinking. People would write, publishers would publish and people would read. Even if they do not want to read, the book writers and the publishers would make it such an appealing thing that it would drive people either to the Amazon portal to order the books or go to the busy books stalls in the busy markets and ask the shopkeepers, “Brother, do you have ‘that’ book? No, sold out? Really? Why don’t you suggest me something good to read?”
All the book stall guys are the same. You may have observed. To such sweet, polite and proud queries like these, they would always have this ready answer: “Madam, this is the best among the latest. A real page turner.” “Really? Give me two copies. One for myself and one for my daughter. She is coming tomorrow from the US.” “Here are your copies, madam. Hello, how are you sir?”
Here I have to correct a thing that I said in the beginning. To become good citizens also you could read books; books of a different kind, which would make you proud of your country, your army, your religion, and mind you, they may help you to scorn at the other religions also. These books could make you (or make you imagine at least) a millionaire overnight (or over a year if you go by step by step), good wives (note the point, never good husbands. Good husbands are never made, they are born), good Yoga practitioners, good cooks, good flirts, good sports persons and very good at bed. 
Oh, you are asking me for a simple formula, to differentiate between books that screw up your mind and the books that help you to be a good citizen? Your question has the answer embedded, dear. 
All of a sudden I started finding books in the metro trains. Good citizens started leaving ‘good’ books in the metro coaches. Good citizens who respect the border of our country and disrespect the border of all the other countries, good citizens who like to migrate to rich countries and hate all those poor people who come from the rural part of our country to the cities in search of ‘bread and butter’ (bread and butter or roti-zubzi or simply do roti?), good citizens who stand up when the national anthem is played in the movie theatre, puff up their chest and sing along and so on started either leaving books in the metro coaches or started reading those foundlings for a change. 
I made a survey of these books and these are the books that I found: copies of scriptures (abridged versions) of the dominant religion, thousand mantras of many gods (if you recite it between the stations your wishes will be fulfilled), Who Moved My Cheese? The Monk who Sold his Ferrari, Autobiography of a Yogi, The Success Story of Patanjali and the following authors Devdutt Pattanaik, Paulo Coelho, Amish, Chetan Bhagat, then some Autobiographies of Adolf Hitler, Jhansi Rani, Mahatma Gandhi  and so on. I was amused to see a copy of a cook book by Tarla Dalal. 
Reading could be dangerous. But it depends on what you read. You read at your own risk. Always, the author or the publisher never takes the responsibility of the ‘thought damage’ that they could cause. That’s okay; because that’s what we do when we drink a bottled or canned or tetra packed fruit juice or aerated drink. We know the danger, we read the cautionary note but we don’t care. Books are also like that. There may not be a note of caution; but there could be some damage. However, my damage was of a different kind.
The other day I was in the metro coach, as usual going to my work place exactly ten stations away from where I get to with one change of line. It takes me exactly thirty two minutes to come out of the station and takes another eight minutes of walk to my office. In total forty minutes of commuting, of which thirty minutes of reading on one way and another thirty minutes on the return trip. That’s the one hour of reading time I have in a twenty four hours long day. Am I happy about it? I am happy about it because the files that I have been handling for the last twenty three years have rendered me almost brain dead, but this reading these days functions as an antidote. It is a cleansing experience. One hour of pilgrimage through books inside the air-conditioned metro coaches. 
I was reading the notorious author (only in this country she is considered to be notorious, rest of the world she is famous) Arundhati Roy’s latest book, her second novel, ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. Such an ironic title. A year back when the book was announced, I marked it in my dairy and waited for the book to come. Not that I am big fan of this author but I had once met her in a mall in the south part of the city. I was just coming after delivering some files to the head office and had thought of doing some window shopping. I asked the driver to wait at the side lane and ventured into the sprawling mall that looked like a coral reef in the unlikely waters. Suddenly I saw her, this author coming from the other side of the corridor. A small woman (I used to think that she was six feet tall and strong muscled who could fight the country’s army single handed) and a shy smile which definitely said, ‘leave me alone’. I did not dare even to look at her eyes (though I feel like a tiger behind my office desk with so many files heaped before me, the fate of people to which I was the arbitrator). She went her way and I went back to my car. Nothing more was to be seen. I had seen something wonderful and I did not contaminate the feeling with the visuals of dispensable consumer goods. My driver asked, “Saab, aap to jaise gaya vaise vaapas aaya.” (Sir, you came back as fast as you went). I did not say a word. 
I stood there where two coaches are coupled with rubberised folding panels which remind me of accordion bellows, and read the book. A few young men were minding me, I could feel. I felt the gazes coming from different directions. First I thought one of the gazes was aimed at the book. I thought the person was simply interested in the book as the publication of it had aroused quite a lot of media enthusiasm (though not as huge as her first novel written twenty years back). Then I felt a gaze struck ‘this side of my face’ (somehow I remembered a phrase I had liked from a poster printed in one of those foreign magazines that used to come to the office library). It happens, I told myself. Somebody must be curious to see a person reading a book so absorbedly especially when everyone is lost in their smart phone screens.
“Why are you reading this book?” a shudder passed through my innards as I heard that question from a mouth that was a few inches away from my eyes. I just could not recognise the owner of that mouth that had a very thick and red tongue inside. 
“Why the fuck are you reading this book?” that tongue repeated. 
By this time, somebody had snatched the book from my hands and someone has pushed me to a side. The train suddenly shifted rails, I thought as I was about to fall to a side losing my balance and grip. But before I fell someone held me tight by my shoulders and straightened me. I knew it was not a kind gesture. The grip on my shoulder had the power of hatred.
“Don’t you know that this woman is a behenchod saali anti-nationalist?” I saw six pairs of eyes staring at me and beyond them there were uncountable pairs of eyes looking at the scene. Only difference was those eyes were cold and the ones near my face were hot as anger sent sparks as if from a grinding machine. 
“Maaro madar chod ko, (beat that mother fucker up),” owner of one of those pairs of eyes said and before he finished someone had acted upon the order. 
The blow had landed on my stomach and for a moment I thought the breath had left me and something had gone out of me through my rear end. I moaned and yet without losing my dignity, I tried to reason with them.
“Brother, I am an old man, do not treat me like this. I do not read this book for the author, I happened to get it from this metro yesterday night. I thought of reading it and leaving it here once I finished. See, it is a good story, a good page turner,” I knew I was telling a lie. I remembered my book shop friend calling me up saying, “Sir, your copy is here and please pick up whenever you want.”
“You bloody anti-social South Indian, are you trying to fool us? We know what we allow them to leave in the metro coaches. This shit of a book cannot come here. We do our combing for the kind of books that good citizens leave in the metro coaches. We know the kind of good citizens who read them. You fucking uncle, your South Indian revolution is not still dead” a very young man who could have been my first son’s age (nearly twenty) twisted my shirt collar with one hand and my left wrist with another. Even in the pain and shame I was thinking how these young people got such atrocious ideas in their minds. When this author wrote her first novel, these boys’ parents’ had even not thought of wishing them to this earth. 
“Sons, please listen. Don’t do this. I could be reading it for pleasure. Or I could have been asked to read it by some learned person. Or I may be a journalist who has been assigned to review this book. Or even I could be from the Intelligence Department and am reading it for reporting the seditious content, if any in it,” I did not know what gave me courage to say that much.
Did those words change the attitude of those boys? I do not know. What I knew was this much: they kept on abusing me with the choicest expletives that makes the capital city of this country distinct from any other state capital and they went on punching me.
I did not know how many stations had passed by that time. The absurd drama of self styled mobile censors went on for quite some time it seemed, as they kicked me out of the coach (definitely without the book) I just could not make out where I was. I felt absolutely in a different place in a different time. It took a few minutes for me to regain my presence of mind. Yes, I knew this place though I had never come to this station before. It lay on the same line but seven stations ahead where I usually got down. Seven stations. That means they abused me for nearly fifteen minutes. Plus the three stations before they caught me; that comes to seven minutes and together it makes twenty two minutes. Three minutes less to my destination in the other lane. How many pages I could have finished today? At a rate of one and half page per station, how many pages? My thoughts went in that way.
I staggered down the stairs to go to the other side to catch the return train towards the intersecting station. At the foyer of the station plush like a mall I read the neon-lit board hanging like a trapeze artist in skimpy clothes: “Read with Metro, Making Reading a Habit. Ask for Books at the Metro Counter. Or Find Your Surprise in the Coaches itself.” 
It had a picture of a cross section of citizens reading in an absolutely clean, ordered, not crowded metro coach as if smart phones never existed in the year 2017. I could not locate the faces of those guys who had ruffled me a few minutes back in them. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Truth of Drawing

Drawings Hands by Escher ( For representational purposes only)
Why do artists do drawings? Nobody generally asks why a singer hums or why a writer pens down his ideas in a notebook. But artists are often asked why they draw. Very few artists in the contemporary Indian art scene have taken courage to answer this question for the simple reason that a majority of them just do not draw. They create gallery ready paintings and sculptures and the act of drawing is reduced to the level of blueprints that could be depended upon for transporting the ideas into a grander scale. Many an artist thinks that drawings are unfinished artistic expressions and lesser fields of artistic prowess therefore they have to be treated as secondary exercises. This misconception is largely a recent one in the history of art because irrespective of the geographical locations, most of the artists in the world today consider themselves as ‘producers’ of art objects than creators of ‘art’ itself. The gallery readiness and the project based approach to art in fact removes drawings as a veritable hindrance than a demonstrable artistic flourish. Yes, we do have artists who treat drawing as ‘finished’ art objects so that they could also be treated as gallery ready objects. I have seen artists specially creating ‘drawing books’ and ‘sketch pads’ to be exhibited in their forthcoming shows which I find germinating out of the guilt factor in them induced by nothing other than art historical familiarity that they have cursorily gained in due course of their formative years. 
A singer hums because she/he takes it as a part of their existence that finds expression in various ways of auditory renderings. When she/ he hums what they create is a sonic space within the gross space of their physical existence, where they could trace the joyous movement of their happy soul without realising that she/he is in that pursuit. She/he does not intend it to be ‘performed’ for an audience nor does she/he do it for recording for the posterity. Hence, the humming of a singer exists as a part of a whole repertoire of their singing career contributing subtly to the finesse that they achieve towards the matured phase of their creative career. Now think about a scenario that someone decides to make a home video of their singing/humming and stores it somewhere without their knowing about it. At some point these recordings become very valuable evidences of their genius and its manifestations in the world of music. So is the case of a writer who pens down his/her ideas, many of which perhaps would never find the light of the day. But they constitute the literary flourish of the writer in various forms and in turn they become a secret inventory for the writer to make private visits to it often or once in a while in order to enjoy the variety of it with the same innocence and wonder of a child who looks into the grandmother’s chest full of souvenirs, memorabilia, collections of artefacts, clothes, ornaments and above all fragrances. An artist who draws like a singer and a writer would enjoy the same happiness, which had been enjoyed by the masters in the world art history including those from India. 

Drawings are the silent paths of the soul of the artist that traces his excessive and uninhibited joy and responses to events, phenomena, people, beings and objects in the nature. When an artist draws s/he immerses herself in the very act of getting one with the form, shape, light and shadow of the above mentioned elements. While a painting or a sculpture has conscious deliberations of the artist for the desired effects, drawing happens naturally for it does not desire anything as a final product. If meditation is done to merge with the higher element of the nature, which we call the higher soul, god etc., drawing is a similar thing where the artist sheds his separated-ness and becomes one with the act of drawing, therefore the object that becomes the model for the drawing. There could be hundreds of people watching him drawing but he feels so lonely in the wilderness with his model right there in front of him. The act of drawing then becomes a prayer, as Tagore would put it, where the drawing and the artist become one and the same. That’s why great artists keep looking at their drawings as if they were something very fresh. It becomes at once a point of departure as well as a point of inspiration. Attainment of such unity of time and space within the ambit of creativity needs tremendous amount of discipline at the same time an innate sense of contentment. That means, the product of such meditative act is not treated as a product of contemplation for others so immediately. It could wait, may be it could be ‘found out’ or even with sufficient time gap between the drawing and its public viewing one could develop a sense of detachment with it. With this attitude when the drawings are seen or shown by people, the reception of it becomes fresh and above all, curious. The drawings, seen with the difference of time become tell tale evidences of the artistic mind, personality and his/her truth. And if he or she is insincere, mind you, the drawings would tell that also to the world without any shame. Drawing is as mysterious and revealing at the same time as the visible lines on the palms and the invisible lines on the head.