Monday, October 13, 2008

Literary Landscapes

I loved this post on this blog. And it got me thinking - if I could visit any of the places from the imagined landscapes of the books I've read where would I go. It's a charming thought really. And for me, that's what books are all about at the end of the day. About people and places that are so delicately imagined that by the time you're finished with the book they already seem familiar.

So here's my list of top five literary destinations in no particular order:

1) Macondo from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

2) Dehradun and Mussourie from Ruskin Bond's stories

3) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

4) Malgudi from R. K. Narayan's Malgudi Days

5) Istanbul from Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red

There are of course many many more like The Faraway Tree from Enid Blyton's stories, Miss Havisham's ruined mansion from Great Expectations, the fantastic cityscapes described by Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Mr. Biswas's house from V.S. Naipaul's A House For Mr. Biswas and Jack's Garden from his Enigma of Arrival, 1968 Prague from The Unbearable Lightness of Being to name a few. Even some not so pleasant lit-scapes like Orwell's dystopia from 1984 - Oceania, the Oklahoma dust bowl from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Limerick in Ireland in the 1930's and 40's from Angela's Ashes.

I'm tempted to list out fictional characters I'd like to meet (from literature and cinema), films I'd like to live in and and works of art I'd like to be! This could take a while.....

(....more later on literary landscapes.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Najma Ki Jeet - Aur Meri Bhi!

I enjoy drawing. And I discovered it only recently along with the realisation that anyone can draw. My desire to illustrate a book for children took shape in the form of 'Najma Ki Jeet' - a story about a girl who wins a small but significant victory. The project was comissioned by the organisation Room To Read. It is for now my first and only children's book. These are the only pictures I have - not the best but will have to do for the moment.

Edit: For the record, the story has not been written by me.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Reflections on Design and Cinema

The following is a small extract from my diploma document. For those who don't know what that is - it is basically the final stamp on four (or two-and-a-half for some) years of design education. I look at it fondly as a reminder of all that transpired between me and NID. However, I chose to post this particular extract for a different reason......

In the four years I spent at NID needless to say, there was a lot to learn. For instance, I learnt a fair amount about what we mean by design and what one has to do to put the process of design into motion. Having been a student of Film and Video Communication at NID I have somehow always felt greatly at odds with the over-arching discipline of design vis-à-vis that of cinema. Cinema – a very intuitive and subjective medium not to mention a highly sensual one – seems far removed from the pedagogy of design. The latter is rational, logical and in its very essence something functional.

It would be far too simplistic to view the disciplines of design as cinema as two separate water-tight compartments when in fact their paths do cross often. Undeniably, a piece of cinema is actually part of a meticulously crafted and constructed reality. The beauty of cinema however, is in its ability to combine word, image and sound in space and time. It is the potential of the cinematic idiom to evoke emotions – real emotions – that set it apart from the problem-solving, analytical realm of design.

Cinema owes a great deal more to literature, music and the fine arts than it does to the academics of design which prescribes certain ways of dealing with a problem of life and living. Imagine trying to rationalize the tragicomic nature of Chaplin’s Tramp or any of Woody Allen’s neurotic characters!

Though one may say that a character is designed to perform the charade it does on screen, it is impossible to define the formula or right process by which a character may be ordered to do one’s bidding. The guidance for that comes from some sort of inner compass located first within the director/writer and in some extraordinary cases, within the gifted actors who play those parts.

Those aspects of cinema that touch a chord with its viewers operate beyond the practical realm of design. Good cinema cannot be inspired as a mere solution to say, a narrative problem. It is not the means to an end as is the case with design. It is both the medium and the message. The communicator and that which is communicated. And though it is mechanically conjured and virtually an engineered product, it transcends those limits once it reaches its final destination – when it is seen, heard and felt.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Sound Of Silence: reprise

I had posted an excerpt from this article some time back on this blog. It has since then been published in Rock Street Journal. Here's the rest of it. A travel piece on Diu. This is the original piece i wrote. The one that appeared in the magazine was abruptly cut short at the end.

The Sound of Silence: Weekends in Diu

When the going gets tough…..head to Diu! That was pretty much the mantra for us while we were busy pursuing a novel education in Ahmedabad. It was always the easiest place to get to and it was never too hard to find more than willing fellow travelers. For me the lure of Diu was always the promise of an invigorating weekend at the beach away from the madness of busy lives in the city. And the fact that this particular island destination comes without the tourist hoopla that surrounds most beach-towns was the icing on the cake.

A quaint little hamlet, the island of Diu is situated off the Saurashtra coast of Gujarat. Though it is accessible by rail and by air, we always made the overnight trip by bus – a neat 180 Rs to get you from Ahmedabad to Diu. The bus is no luxury coach but the slight discomfort seemed a small price to pay for what lay ahead. By around 7 in the morning, just as you begin to rub the sleep from your eyes, the smell of the sea tells you that you have arrived. Even now, despite having been there before, every time we make the trip, the first sight of the sea never fails to excite me.

We would spot the first signs of life in an otherwise quiet town - the fishing boats anchored in the bay bobbing in tandem with the waves, nets spread out to dry, the wooden ship building yard with unfinished skeletons waiting for the tide, neatly scrubbed kids on their way to school - a sleepy town awakening to yet another sleepy day.

The ritual on arrival was always to first and foremost, hire bikes! Mopeds, scooties, the Luna or bicycles should you choose to exercise while you’re on vacation. There is nothing more satisfying than zipping around on a relic of a moped on a road that bends and dips and curves, giving you fleeting, tantalizing glimpses of the sea. Plus it’s an incredibly economic mode of transport given that the rental is about 100 bucks a day inclusive of one tank of petrol! Another reason I prefer having my own mode of transport when I’m traveling is that one avoids being bullied by over-zealous auto-wallahs who moonlight as tourist guides. Eager-beavers that they are, their sole aim is to hijack your vacation. So beware - independence is crucial to the intrepid traveler!

I must admit though, that sight-seeing in Diu was definitely not a bore. Despite being a small-town with a distinctly laidback quality, there is enough to keep you on your toes. The Portuguese fort that sort of outlines the city is definitely worth a visit. It seems to rise up out of the water and offers a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea. Though overrun by loud tourists on weekends, the fort is not to be missed by the architecture and history buff. Old cannons, ruined ramparts, a lone light house and my personal favourite – the long stone pier that stretches out into the sea - it’s the stuff of movies and legends.

The real appeal of Diu is not so much in the sights but the setting of it all. Huge rocky cliffs, diminished only by the carpet of yellow daisy like flowers, are scattered all over the island. Ideal for soaking up the sun, exploring these mountains of rock chiseled by the sea is a must-do. The Gomptimata beach – a rocky shore with wild surf – on the far end of the island has some phenomenal cliffs where if you look hard enough you can find yourself a comfy little corner on a ledge and while away the hours reading a book or just watch the waves crash into the walls below.

A former Portuguese colony, Diu still retains some of its old world charm. The remains of a colonial past are there for those who wish to see it - in the churches and forts, the names of restaurants and the elusive half Portuguese half Indian families that still inhabit the island. Those who have been to Goa will recognize the vibe – a multicultural strain trying to hold its own in the midst of the local milieu. In Diu though, unlike Goa, this strain stands out simply because it tries not to. And if you’re not careful, you might miss it altogether.

What struck me most about the place on my first visit there was the serenity and stillness that seemed to lurk in every nook and cranny. It was easy – a breeze in fact – to find a deserted strip of sand to spread out on or waves to frolic in without having to worry about strange prying eyes.

In Diu, I have found it much more rewarding to steer clear of the so-called ‘popular’ and ‘best’ beaches and head to the ones that aren’t necessarily listed on any web site or those that feature as a perfunctory remark in the travel guide. In this respect my pick is Jalandhar beach – a pristine golden stretch of sand with big beautiful waves. We were advised against swimming in these waters due to strong currents but we didn’t mind. It was enough to just sit and let the waves come to us while we sipped on beer and felt our skin turn brown. The great thing about Diu is that no one beach is like the other. If one is rocky the other is sandy. One has the perfect waves while the other is a paragon of stillness.

If you’re not sunning yourself on a beach in Diu you should be in Naida Caves. When we got to the dirt road that said “this way to Naida caves” we were in half a mind to turn back and head to the beach where it was open and sunny and bright. What was in front of us was nothing short of something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Prehistoric was the word I believe someone used to describe these caves. But do work up the courage to venture into the underground labyrinth because it will be well-worth the effort. Once we had navigated through the undergrowth the caves just opened up in front of us. The afternoon light came in through shafts in the ceiling and suddenly it wasn’t so ominous anymore. A photographer’s delight the light, shadows, textures and sheer scale are mind-boggling once you’re there. Though it is unwise to venture into the caves late in the evening, a trip to Naida is a great diversion from the sun-sand-and-sea.

Just a few meters down from Jalandhar is Chakratirth Beach or Sunset point. A crescent shaped cove, it was here that we spent many many hours floating in the still water, playing the fool as the sun set on the horizon. If you’re traveling on a shoe-string budget you might want to consider shacking up at the Sea Village Resort on the hillock that overlooks this beach. The rooms here are made out of cargo containers which explains why it’s so easy on the pocket. It’s a tad grungy but makes up for what it lacks in comfort by its proximity to two of the best beaches in Diu.

On one occasion when we were feeling relatively rich, we decided to stay at the more up-market but curiously delightful Resort Hoka named after the Hoka tree - a strange branching variety of the palm that was introduced in Diu by the Portuguese. Hoka was marvelously comfortable with large, airy rooms, hammocks in the garden and the latest addition – a swimming pool! Another reason to go to Hoka – the food! Their sea food curries are delectable in their simplicity. Despite being a beach-town the sea-food in Diu was by and large disappointing till we discovered the menu at Hoka. I despised Tuna till the cook here made me change my mind!

It was on one such culinary excursion when hungry and hapless we stumbled upon Heranca Goesa. Tucked away in a by-lane opposite the Church of St. Francis this intimate breakfast and dinner joint is run by a pleasant Portuguese-Indian family. We were more than grateful for a hearty breakfast of chocolate and banana pancakes, eggs, toast and coffee. Their own personal kitchen dishes out these tummy-pleasing delights and for a moment you forget you’re still in Gujarat. It’s a great place to meet other travelers since everyone eats together at one table.

I have been to Diu four times till today and each trip has been incomparable to the previous one. It’s surprising how doing very little while you’re on vacation can work wonders for a mangled wreck of a brain. I remember coming back to Ahmedabad with my pockets full of sand and thinking “does it really get better than this?”

The road curved and the sea came up in front – moonlit, the landscape seemed dramatically altered. After sun-down, cruising at a comfortable 20 km/hr on our mopeds down the road that runs parallel to the sea, someone from the distinguished convoy of travelers would always start humming “Riders on the Storm”. And somehow it fit – a familiar melody, the distant but constant sound of the surf, the wind on our face and the salty smell of a weekend well spent.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paul Schrader Live!

image courtesy: google

At the Osian's Cinefan film festival held recently in Delhi I had the chance to go (read sneak out of work) and listen to Paul Schrader talk about screen writing. To my mind this was a golden opportunity to a) maybe learn something about screen writing from the guy who wrote the most precise character sketch ever b) to be in the company of Scorsese's ghost :)

The Siri Fort Auditorium is uncomfortably large. There was a table, chair and white board on the enormous stage and some sort of video projection at the back which I thought would give me a decent view of Schrader as he delivered his lecture. I took my seat at the back just as he walked on to stage and took his place. Bald, chubby, casually dressed in shorts and a t-shirt Paul Schrader was as far removed as can be from the mental picture I had of him from an iconic photograph taken on the sets of Taxi Driver.

As he spoke in that distinctive American drawl about writing and creating cinema in words, he became more familiar. The session titled 'Masterclass in Screenwriting' shaped up like an outline of a lesson in scriptwriting. There were some bold statements that were thrown at the audience. I'm paraphrasing at best but here's one such statement "If you're not willing to drop your pants and let it all hang out, or if you're looking for something more polite and discreet - this [filmmaking] is perhaps not for you." Not the best orator and hardly eloquent - but then it made sense when he spoke of the need for economy of expression. Words cannot make up in number what they lack in girth. In a time when words are cheap and silence costs dear, to say nothing is saying a lot.

The audience was waiting for some sort of an epiphany. But it didn't come. Instead what we got was Paul Schrader talking about his failed marriage, many failed relationships, his suicidal rage, the birth of his daughter, the problem of abject despair and loneliness and its most absolute ambassador - travis bickle and his yellow taxi cab, sparks that fly when a problem finds its own suitable metaphor and a film we thought was about Jake LaMotta when what it was really about was two brothers.

Naturally expectations ran high - and people did end up being disappointed. However, I did find something valuable in that lecture despite the general opinion that Paul Schrader 'aint much to write home about. Which was that no matter how many scripts you write or how many films you make, everytime you write a new script or make a new film or create anything - you have to begin at the very beginning. It's never easier, shorter, quicker or any less agonising. And the journey is always inside out.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Steven Spielberg and The Return of Indiana Jones : Entertainment Inc.

If ever there was a megalomaniac of cinema (the Hollywood kind) it is undoubtedly Steven Spielberg. There is nothing this man cannot do. Benevolent alien beings, not-so-benevolent alien beings, swashbuckling treasure hunters, dinosaurs, sharks, thieves, war heroes, war-profiteer turned heroes, racism, Nazism, colonialism - you name it he's done it.

Although it reeks of the assumption 'If it's bigger it must be better' Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull is so great to watch only because it is unpretentious and unapologetic about its need to entertain. I mean, just look at the opening sequence - the audaciously self- conscious introduction of Indy Jones as his shadow creeps up on the edge of a jeep and he puts on 'the' hat, a rapier-toting Cate Blanchet, highly magnetised mummified remains and a chase that ends in a nuclear blast which of course Henry Jones survives (and how!) . The scale of imagination (for a rationalist like myself) is just unbelievable. It's good stuff as far as entertainment is concerned. And the promise of a thrill-ride is well-kept right till the end.

Of course the tendency to indulge in some all-American flag-waving did not go unnoticed. "Better be dead than Red!". Come on! We already know what you mean Mr Spielberg when you have the Russians running amok looking for aliens that landed smack in the middle of the U.S of A. So leave the 'west is best' sloganeering where it deserves to be. Back in the 50s.

But let's call a spade a spade. This film shouldn't be judged for its cinematic appeal. Or for political correctness. Or for Spielberg's directorial abilities. For that evidence is plentiful in the form of his other films. Wikipedia has a whole other page devoted to a 'list of Steven Spielberg's films'. The point is that here is a man so comfortable with the medium at hand that he can do virtually anything with it. And for that - just that nothing more - he deserves to be remembered long after his time.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Delhi Times

I have a bone to pick with this city.

What is it about Delhi that makes even the most demure, polite,well mannered people whip out their claws and bare their teeth?

Delhi is not for the fainthearted. It is exasperating, infuriating and tends to just rub people the wrong way. A colleague at work told me that a man consumed by rage (in all probability due to an altercation over a near-invisible dent on his precious vehicle) started chucking mini boulders at other commuters, damaging a small cavalcade of big cars and even bigger egos. Where he found boulders to hurl on a main road is a question worth asking. (Although my guess is it was thanks to the BRT/MCD/PWD/NDMC or some other acronym that makes good use of the taxpayers' money by digging up every square inch of motorable road) And anyway, the fact that he found it in him to do such a thing is perhaps mundane and would draw less attention than the question of availability-of-boulders-to-throw-at-errant-drivers.

These are the times we live in.

A time when violence is the new normal
A time when we split hairs over whodunnits while a nation becomes a republic overnight
A time when we ask the most banal questions with utmost sincerity....

....and leave it to someone else to bell the cat.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

G.e.t R.e.a.l

It rained and I was happy. But I had reality shoved in my face by just another jackass - the rich kid with the big car - when he calculated the precise turn of the wheel that would splash just the right amount of murky rainwater to soak me down to the bone. Just when my head was a-buzz with rain-soaked laburnum and i-love-the-smell-of-wet-earth thoughts.

Assholes will remain assholes. Yes. Even on days when flowers that gladden your heart dance their mirth in front of your eyes.

Throw down the gauntlet.
Take the bull by the horns.
Wake up and smell the coffee.
Get real.

and Get Going.

Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yet Another Inconvenient Truth

image via 'skineart by njlee

It floated into my stream of consciousness like a post-it tugged loose from cyber space. Cloaked in deceptive simplicity, the ring of truth is unmistakable in this charmingly lucid statement. So true and yet, somehow, so incredibly disconcerting.

To think that life will never make complete and total sense until it has passed you by............


I bet there is an appropriate Calvin-esque retort to this.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Until the next pit stop

Disclaimer: this is not a poem.

The tracks span length and breadth in the soil
over water, land, valley and rock
they leave a marked trail
the train runs snake-like
pregnant with the mass of humanity
lives in tow, trussed up in linen
or boxed up in cheap wood. The lives
dangle, they leap, they sweat
they sleep, they watch, they bore
they shit, they score, they cry
they scratch, they shift, they doze
they laze, they trace, they look
they cook, they eat, they wash
they give and they live
from one place to the next
forever in motion
no full stops no stopping for air
go sit on the roof if you can't
breathe inside where
the babies yell for their mother's breast
and the air is like glue
filled with the acrid smell
of pickle, sweat and soot
let your eye traverse the contours
of resting bodies - bodies in limbo
waiting to move - dormant
till the next stop.
the next stop
life begins anew
and so we play at the charade again
we move, we pull, we push, we shove
we lean, we stall, we, yell, we crush
we smile, we wave, we holler, we pale
we step, we hop, we skip, we jump
we lift, we heave, we ho and we hum.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Never too late?

The past few days have been - to resort to a cliché - an emotional roller coaster ride. To be reminded of the impermanence of life in the most jarring way, is to have a mirror held up to how you've been living it all this while. A spitting image of everything you didn't do. Didn't say. Didn't think of. Until it was too late.

No wonder it's liberating to think of yourself as a mere speck of dust on the face of the earth. Without the weight of responsibility, relationships and the rigour of living, as a speck of star-dust you are free. How cool would it be if you could zoom out at will and look down at the earth from space, and watch your troubles disappear to leave only a great big ball of blue-green? Rationalists can come running with their pitchforks of reason and yell "escapist!" but I am at the moment reveling in the (mis-guided) pleasure of denial.

To try and fudge over the hurt and guilt of not having been the person I should have been.

But I know I cant bury my head in the sand forever. So when I'm ready - when I've healed a little - I'll look up and face reason, reality and all those other things I'm avoiding right now. After all how hard can it be to pick up the phone and call someone you haven't spoken to in years? Or to write that story you've been meaning to write for the longest time? Or to tell someone that you wouldn't be the same without their quiet presence in your life?

Not all that hard. For sure.
And anyway, life is too damn short for me to believe otherwise.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In her own words

I cannot emphasize enough what a great teacher and extraordinary human being Chitra Srinivas was. She did not merely teach history from a book, she told stories complete with the triumphs and failures, the hits and misses and the highs and lows of humanity. Her integrity and genuine love for the subject she taught reflects in this piece she wrote after she opted out of the commission set up by the NCERT to review the new history textbooks. I'm posting an excerpt. The full text can be found here.

Text books: Sectarian Story or History?
by: Chitra Srinivas, November 10, 2002

"I am a schoolteacher who has taught history for the past 25 years. I have enjoyed teaching the subject. I don't claim to be an expert, and I do not belong to any group or subscribe to any particular ideology - the Left, the Hindutva school, or any other. I think the study of history is important because it helps us discriminate and judge, see patterns and connections and, above all, think logically by observing cause and effect.

History has long been treated as a boring subject; indeed, not many students want to study it at the college level. Yet, every government wants to control the writing of this subject. Because it is history that makes a nation. It is through history that one can control minds, especially the young, impressionable minds at school.

I was a member of the five-day Review Workshop organized in January 2002 by the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) for the class 10 textbook. I went with an open mind, but as the reading of the draft proceeded, I observed that there was virtually no discussion. For two days, the history text was merely read out. I was the only one who raised objections, whether about the language, facts or even the obvious ideological slant. It was a lonely battle.....

I have always told my students that the beauty of Indian culture lies in its ability to accept and assimilate any stream of thought. As a responsible teacher, I am unable to accept distortions in the writing of history that go against the very spirit of India's existence.

I wish for all my children a world where they will be free from hatred towards one another. I also love children too much for them to be left to the mercies of politicians who have their own sectarian agendas. "

Monday, March 31, 2008

For My Teacher

A phone call.
I listened.
I panicked.
It isn't true.

I haven't met her for the past one year. I was going to meet her soon. I had to tell her I'm working now. That I've made it through. That I have missed her these past few years. That I think of her so often. That I speak of her so often. That my friends know of my teacher who could transform an ordinary class into a mind-bending exercise . And that when they tell me how lucky I am I know exactly what they mean.

Four years of history, life, the universe and everything else. The mad-frenzy of G.S Elections, an unreal year with the Students' Executive, innumerable mornings of reading the news, chalo bhor ke raahi , scanning the paper for anecdotes and discoveries from bygone eras, projects on Sufi music and British memsahibs, bulletin boards, the cold war, We Didn't Start The Fire, panel discussions on Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the controversial history textbooks, the refrain of songs sung again and again in class and in the choir, taking frantic notes in class trying to keep up with her, classes in the warm sun on a winter's day, a card from her on children's day that spoke volumes, a note from her in a paper, the collective gasp of surprise when we got to know she was an F1 enthusiast, the steady stream of seniors who came by every now and then - always to meet her in particular, the stories of her students which she told and re-told a million times, her laughing eyes and animated hands, a yearbook , more songs, diya ceremony and a farewell that ended with karavaan chal diya, door ke desh ko, aur khamosh hum, dekhte reh gaye.

We learnt from her but she never failed to remind us that after more than two decades of teaching she was learning too. From us.

My memory of her was so much in conflict with what was in front of me. A small shred of the person i knew- we all knew. To see her simply lie there motionless was a reality I did not want to accept. I walked up to her to say goodbye, but i couldn't. To say goodbye would mean letting go. And I wasn't ready. Tears flowed not so much in sorrow but in sheer disbelief. In anger and pain at the thought of one such as her silenced by death. An unbearable lightness.

Death. The only certainty. And yet its coming leaves us powerless against the stark truth. She is gone. But even so, her spirit is too big and too free to be contained by the finality of death. I hope she finds peace. A place to rest with her books, Michael Schumacher, music, maps, questions and a window to look out of.

If the universe really is made of stories, then Chitra ma'am's stories will glow in the dark.

with love, gratitude and warm memories of times well spent. you are missed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Universal Truth on NGC

The other day, while watching a bewitching series about the birth of our planet Earth on National Geographic Channel I had one of those moments when you realise something and knock yourself on the head for not having thought of it before.

As I watched a make-believe earth hurtle through a make-believe universe I figured that...

The earth is big.
The universe is bigger.
Humans are small.
I am smaller.
My issues are wee.

Life is that simple.
It is.

Friday, March 14, 2008

In Memoriam...

Nostalgia is something I like to indulge in every once in a while. And it is indulgent I think, to savour memories and thoughts, re-play incidents and moments in slow motion with omissions and additions. To not take take stock of the present and revel in a past re-imagined. Phrases like 'the good old days' and 'hamaare zamaane mein..' or even my latest favourite 'aaj kal ke bacche' trigger a chain of thought that follows a trail of old phtotgraphs, memorabilia and notes from a diary. The present pales in comparison to the glorious past.And somehow things never seem as great as they used to be.

A wise wise man once said "We live life in retrospect." When i first heard that statement I was astonished by the simplicity of its truth. Generation after generation has believed that there was never a better time to live (not exist) than when they were young. The air is always cleaner, the trees more abundant, the children more child-like and life infinitely simpler back then.
Grandparents are among the first people to introduce you to this curious world that belongs to their memory and is eventually given over to your imagination. The ancestral house with a dozen rooms to get lost in. The crazy cook whose adamanga you steal at your own risk. The large family you wished you could have. The music sessions your grandfather had with his daughters as he played the veena and they sang. The story about the namboodiri who cured the sick boy of a snake-bite but died himself. And the many many ammavans, chittammas, chechis and chettans you just can't keep up with. have memories of your own. The railway track that you named 'trackey' and then returned to years later with a little cousin in tow. The swimming instructor whom you threatened with instant death at the hands of your father (who FYI is a doctor). The pond at the back of your grandmother's house where you poked the turtles while your cousins thrashed around trying to swim. The aunt who died of cancer but taught you how to squeeze colours out of a flower. The time when you lost one slipper in the slush after the rain and went home with one foot in a slipper and the other in a cast of mud.The train journeys when you would wait for a glimpse of the hill shaped like a thumb. The history projects at school that you put your heart and soul into. The teacher who made you not just like the subject, but love it. The moment when you knew you had made it to that one institute you had been obsessing about for 3 years..... and everything that followed.

It's the good stuff we romanticize. The rest is all reluctant remembrance. The things we leave behind don't actually get left behind. They get shelved into some compartment or the other and are labeled unanimously "For Future Reference." And then we reminisce about the good, bad and the ugly....incessantly and unabashedly. Why wouldn't the present then seem like a mere shadow of the past?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kitsch is not kewl

image:© O. Alamany & E. Vicens/CORBIS

I'm not feeling too eloquent and articulate today so I'm just going to use other people's words (for now) to try and describe what I feel about 'kitsch'. I was blog-hopping yet again when I came across masalachaionline's eclectic collection of posts featuring Indian artists and designers. One such post featured a bunch of photographs of 'Indian street-art'. The following was one of the comments left by a reader and I'm borrowing her words:

"these are wicked - I love any street art and look forward to seeing more of this. I don't like how Indian street art has been appropriated by retro-ironic types here though - really irks me when I see rails of mass-produced tees and totes with some faux-bollywood style poster, or Indian packaging or something - you're left with nothing of the original humour, but just some dry remnant of exotica."

A more oblique but interesting viewpoint is provided by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera in his fabulous book The Unbearable Lightness of Being where he says that kitsch is the anti-thesis of anything that is remotely reminiscent of individuality, originality and doubt. A leveler of the contradictions and complexities of real life, kitsch according to Kundera is akin to totalitarianism where "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions."

So what's all the fuss about? When what all kitschy art is really all about is imitation and appropriation of an established style without trying to question it any way. It doesn't challenge convention, it follows formula and is a function of capitalist machinery. How many more pillow cases/bags/t-shirts with printed faces of Rekha/Dharmender/Amitabh do we have to sell before we move on to something that can be called 'original' and 'authentic' without having to use quote marks?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Sound of Silence: an excerpt

Nagoa Beach, Diu.

The following is an excerpt from a travel piece I wrote for RSJ. The article will appear in the coming edition of the magazine. The piece was written keeping in mind the readership and general profile of the magazine.

When the going gets tough…..head to Diu! That was pretty much the mantra for us while we were busy pursuing a novel education in Ahmedabad. It was always the easiest place to get to and it was never too hard to find more than willing fellow travelers. For me the lure of Diu was always the promise of an invigorating weekend at the beach away from the madness of busy lives in the city. And the fact that this particular island destination comes without the tourist hoopla that surrounds most beach-towns was the icing on the cake.

A quaint little hamlet, the island of Diu is situated off the Saurashtra coast of Gujarat. Though it is accessible by rail and by air, we always made the overnight trip by bus – a neat 180 Rs to get you from Ahmedabad to Diu. The bus is no luxury coach but the slight discomfort seemed a small price to pay for what lay ahead. By around 7 in the morning, just as you begin to rub the sleep from your eyes, the smell of the sea tells you that you have arrived. Even now, despite having been there before, every time we make the trip, the first sight of the sea never fails to excite me.

A former Portuguese colony, Diu still retains some of its old world charm. The remains of a colonial past are there for those who wish to see it - in the churches and forts, the names of restaurants and the elusive half Portuguese half Indian families that still inhabit the island. Those who have been to Goa will recognize the vibe – a multicultural strain trying to hold its own in the midst of the local milieu. In Diu though, unlike Goa, this strain stands out simply because it tries not to. And if you’re not careful, you might miss it altogether.

[ to be continued.....]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Of Dogs, Cats And Everything In Between

For Jofree
and The Band of Mothers

"all dogs go to heaven"
so do cats, birds, cows, donkeys, tigers, armadillos, hedgehogs........

On a recent visit to the local animal help organisation called Friendicoes, I had a sort of an epiphanic moment of my own. Standing in the midst of dogs and puppies of all shapes and sizes (literally) clamoring for attention, I was amazed and moved at the spirit of these beautiful animals. So many of them had been through some horrifying, scarring experiences - most often at the hands of an insensitive uncaring human being - and yet they trusted me and others around them implicitly and without question.

Some of the stories I heard from Geeta (Founder, Friendicoes) left me shocked and disgusted at the cruelty that seemed to come so easily to some people. Toffee, a Great Dane, was rescued from his own home after being neglected by his owners. He hadn't been fed a single morsel of food for 8 whole months. You could tell that he would have been majestic in his prime. And yet he couldn't even stand on his own or swallow his food. He had been starving for so long that his body rejected any food that was given to him.

There were others who had hope. Rani the silken black Lab, padded up to me and nudged me till I patted her head and scratched her tummy. Champ the puppy with a fractured foot darted across the room without a care in the world stopping only for some cuddles. The lithe doberman Dobi strutted around like the proud pooch he is.

I've never had pets but I was reminded of all the times I spent in the company of some pup or cat or scraggly dog on the street. My brother and I 'rescued' many puppies-in-distress although admittedly some didn't need or want to be rescued. But each time we had to let them go, we cried buckets. Howled and wailed so much at having to let Jerry/Snowy/Manju/Tuffy go that my father would promise to bring a puppy home soon just to stop us from screaming like banshees.

A year or so ago I had the opportunity to take care of a little waif of my own. (Well not mine exactly. Me and four other besotted women :D) We found her tucked away in a locker at NID mewing with all her strength. And when I pulled her out I was surprised at how little she was. Barely the size of my palm, she was only a few days old and probably lost. I remember holding her at night, scared to bits that she was going to die because she looked so lifeless, hoping she would pull through. She did - and how!

The next five months were all about Jofree. It seemed that all she wanted to do was play - or eat! Every little move she made was cause to celebrate. The five of us would fuss over her endlessly. She made fools of us and we gladly obliged. We talked nonsense, saved the best piece of chicken from dinner, bought Cerelac and feeding bottles and fought for her attention. I remember how A would have an entire conversation with her absolutely certain that she understood. N would make Jofree sit on her shoulder while she walked to class and R patted her to sleep on a particularly traumatic night. We were so wrapped up in that kitten that we were called the 'Band of Mothers' by some friends. Possessive to the point of being irrational, I think if the relationship between Jofree and her 'mothers' is to be judged in human terms, Jofree would have said "I think we should just be friends."

Jofree was the most lovable sprightly kitten. Maybe everyone says that about their pets, but this kitten had the spirit of a crazy ball and the energy of a lightning bolt! She wasn't too clever but that made us love her even more. She answered to her name and came running at the sound of rustling plastic which to her meant FOOD! She would climb up trees and wouldn't know how to get down. Eager beaver that she was, her attempts at friendship with the other cats on campus ended poorly. Due to obvious reasons, being a cat didn't come naturally to her. So Jofree learnt the hard way.

Despite all that she grew up into a gorgeous cat. We thought she was gorgeous. Every time I think of Jofree I think of everything she taught us. How she brought five friends closer together and tested their patience and compassion. She reminded me that being human means being humane. I'm so glad we found her.