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.