Saturday, November 16, 2013

Letters of a reluctant mug (to young daughter)

Dear young daughter,

I started a journal in 2013 eagerly awaiting the Mayan apocalypse (as you may now affably remember). But, such was the anticlimax of ordinary life that continued ever so peacefully, the journal seems rather gleefully suicidal. I have decided to write you a fresh set of learnings from my (yet quite) young life. These letters are convenient for me for a reason that they are not burdened by historicity and may come to your rescue if you should unwittingly inherit my cynicism. You should consider this letter as the middle act of a film that will never end. In any case, I won't know the ending. Just as I unburden myself and pass it on to you, I apologize for so viscous blue a shade of confusion that you didn't sign up for and I must explain why - because my life as is unfolding against the backdrop of larger, intensely frustrating battles of trust, humanity, politics, bodies, religion and more is posing some of the toughest choices I've made so far. A few decades later, hopefully you can tell me if this is relevant to you, I may feel less lonely (and will write to Sylvia Plath that her premature death was unnecessary).

I am already exhausted and my troubles already seem petty but I must continue. As you know, I've chosen academia as my occupation. I lay in bed at night and close my eyes hoping I manage to reach all deadlines. Gradually, as I get drowsier, I feel a strange pressure at the roots of my hair, a feeling that they are greying. I wake up in the morning to check. I am surrounded by a lot of people who "matter", people fighting the right fights, some making art and others lobbying with governments to change laws. I am afraid I've gotten too close to the process of making change (blame it on the unprecedented media proliferation) and hence grown wary of the means they use. Just the other day I took up a rant with A, "are you all playing the gallery? Whose change is it anyway?" Let me explain, there is a deep eagerness to publish, congregate and say. I am not surrounded by academics at this point who would think thrice, dissect an opinion and lay bare their own complicity. I am not surrounded by fellow reluctant mugs, it's the time to say things confidently because there is little consequence and no sanctity. I am no purist, but anything goes - nothing scandalizes, nor are there any limits to how many times you can repeat an idea. I hope you inherit my hesitation and value silence as a virtue. Nothing says I love you more than listening to someone in rapt attention.

There is more, but right now I have work, studies, backache and a conference call.

[To be continued...]

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Please call me a cloud

The business of disclaimers: Is a figment of imagination

Every time in my head, when I have imagined coming face to face with you, suddenly, dressed in patched, colorful, layered clothes against what I can see when I close my eyes every morning as blinking neon lights in the night, the mood is that of past betrayal and a fresh scab of longing. There is music, chaos, people are dancing, most are generally happy because they haven't worked so hard for a chance reunion. Things come easier to those who let go quicker. But, it's only you, or something about how the idea of you settled in a corner of my heart so comfortably that it refuses to leave me. Or maybe I like being haunted. I like repeating what you have said and what you would have said to myself often in the silent gaps between two happy days.  
Further in our chance encounter I also, almost always, imagine or actually feel in my imagination a sudden rush of guilt, want, need and sobriety - like something about me is so rickety it can break any moment, but it hasn't for the longest time, I've held it together such. My holding it together is what lends your eyes the cocky confidence in me and you, and lets you have your way. Maybe we decided in an impassioned moment to let you have your way for life. I secretly suspect it was done when we started exchanging books.

I have thus decided to change my name. Please call me a cloud. I feel like a ravenous cloud and my sound is rumbling. The only time that rumble changes is when I break into torrential rains. I am very hungry, my sounds deepening in dissent like the last note of Bhairav and you will only hear me weep in floods, drench you in some strange mix of anger and love. You, be the stone and enhance the pathos of our tragic tale. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pop9 photography

I realized I hadn't uploaded the photos I took with my (new/old) Pop9, a lomo camera that gives you 9 images per frame. It's a toy camera and is now available in a bunch of shops in India. It uses standard 35mm film so processing should not be an issue. I lost quite a few images, not sure why. Am yet to process the second roll. Posting a few images from the first. More on Pop9 here:

PS. It's really fun if you are into textures.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Leaky Eyes

Of late, I've been working hard at changing the state of everything in life. Since it isn't enough to keep saying I am (re)employable, I did actually test the hypothesis. I still am, employable that is (but I only like the idea of employment, not the actual act). Similarly, a revamp is never finished until one really, truly feels like a new person and completely forgets about the recent past heartbreaks or rejections in general. It's amazing how films can help with that transition so well. It's like films and books are the gymnasium of the hypothalamus. You really have to put yourself through someone else's journey to see the light of the day. I know friends can help with that but again, of late, most friends around have been in crises worse than mine. You don't have to curate these books and films. They happen to you and they may not even be saying things but you may be seeing them. If you are waiting for me to list the books and movies, I'll do it at the end of the post.
I watched the 'Ship of Theseus' yesterday. The first story is of a girl who regains her eyesight though donation and experiences a change in her photography practice. The film is about larger things and I've heard this plot before where someone even starts hating their newly gained vision because they aren't able to handle it but I was set to churning by something else.The film portrays it beautifully. After I went home, I kept thinking if the loss and gain of any other sense would be so paradigm changing as that of vision. With limited vision, she relies on texture, ambient sounds, software instruction, light readings, description of colors and shapes and takes an educated guess/click. If you think about it, that's not how we (with full vision) click. We get overwhelmed by the visual cues so much that most of what "seeing" people can produce seems the same. That is probably why the fatigue and a lot of us stop clicking. She does too, and then goes to Chhitkul (where I was two months ago!), and fails miserably to get inspired (deja vu). The point isn't the newness of vision, it is the amount of distraction that it brings to life, my life.

The girl wasn't looking into the mirror, or at pretty young things, delicious food, watching her own body change shape. She radiated a strange kind of stubborn confidence which only came with opaque eyes. It's like things of her, in her, started to leak the moment she could see. The whole order and method of her photography wasn't working anymore. She even tried wearing a blindfold to experiment. You know how there is nothing left to educated guesses? I was so overtaken by how deliberate everything became for her, as if she/I was orchestrating it because she could see. To be able to see is also the ability to look - at someone. I hate it.

When you look at someone, cruelly, kindly, expectant, hurt, welcome or civilly, it's part of what you mean to give away and part of what they should get from you. I've really been training at looking to look indifferently. There's something about 'alive' eyes, the ones with a sparkle/twinkle. I have those. And, there are deadbeat eyes for poker players. I've been practising the look. I doubt I'll get it any soon. To add some wizard wisdom, remember when Snape taught Harry how to close his mind to the Dark Lord? Yes, Occlumency.

The books and movies. I read: The Fault in Our Stars, Hitchhiker's Guide..., High Fidelity and I saw: Lola versus, The Nanny Diaries, Liberal Arts, Submarine, Ship of Theseus.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Adacamp and OSB: Of Women and Technology

This post comes in between my journey to Adacamp (finally!) and Open Source Bridge 2013. For those wanting to know more about Adacamp, it is an unconference (this was the second one) run by the Ada Initiative which comprises a bunch of really awesome women who work in the field of technology. Although the camp focuses on women in tech, it isn't exclusively for programmers or those with a science background. It is also a space for social scientists, artists, educators and more. Since I missed out on the first one, I wasn't quite sure if the conference was planned to discuss women-pertinent topics or give women a space to discuss what they would like to. Turns out, it had both. The reason I am writing this post is because I am at the intersection of the "women group" and technology. I hope that this post is read by women in tech, especially in countries outside the U.S and does the job of cross pollinating the wonderful possibilities that can emerge out of women centric spaces.

What happened:

Adacamp has a fairly strict content privacy policy (which in retrospect I can totally understand). So, I can tell you about the kind of sessions that were offered. Being an unconference, most of the session proposing and programming happens on the spot. There were at least 5 parallel sessions going on for two days. Ranging from open education to open government, learning python to open hardware, work cultures for women, to women centric maker spaces (the one I really wanted to be a part of); the range was broad and exciting. I proposed two sessions: on angry young women, and on women centric maker spaces. A fun session where I learned things: soft circuits (and e-textile - with no stereotypes attached :P )

Things I loved:

The first day started with a session on "Impostor Syndrome" and had a room full of people nodding away at how they have felt like fake geek girls and similar. That spawned talks on likability as well. I wish the impostor talk was done with a different approach though. The other awesome thing was encountering woman entrepreneurship and how! All the participants were "starting" things or making things happen. Being a catalyst, an enabler and not only a victim or marginal stakeholder - is a great way to inspire fellow women/queer/marginal identities.

Things that I hope will happen:

I hope that Adacamp (and all the other conferences that I have attended so far) evolve into international participation hubs. It is very important to make that happen to truly understand how difficult it is to speak about anything as a group. On my part, something that I really hope to get started is a tiny maker-space where I live. I am yet to decide on whether it will be women centric or it could be broader. But, if you are in New Delhi, India and reading this, write to me and let's get things going! :)

Journey ahead:

My next stop is Open Source Bridge 2013. Equally excited, especially because I hope to see many fellow Wikipedians there! At OSB, I hope to give a small talk on queering Wikipedia. The presentation is basically around a set of case studies (and personal editing experiences) that demonstrate how cultural conflicts, knowledge making and Wikipedia's own policies are constantly in conversation and that for certain content to start coming in on encyclopedias (especially in the digital age and with a focus on diversifying), the encyclopedia project must fail (must change, look different, open/close). If you are going to Open Source Bridge and want to have a conversation around any of these - women, tech, Wikipedia, tech cultures in India, I'd be happy to meet up!

That's not all! My aim behind writing this post is also to tell you fellow women (tech and non-tech) friends that you *should* attend the next Adacamp! Keep watching their website or follow the twitter updates.
All pumped up on girl power and geek schwag, more later!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making money profane

At some point in life, we all start getting money. And, at some point we become comfortable with spending bits of it without being too afraid. This post is a partly inspired thought experiment after I read the post on Suspended Coffees (Read: 'Suspended coffee' helps those in need) that went viral probably a month or two ago. The idea is that you pay for an extra coffee in a restaurant and that can be given for free to anyone else who might not have the money to buy one. In a time when trust is really a rare commodity in our interactions in public, this phenomenon inspired and moved me a great deal. I was determined to try it out in my own locality (somewhere in India) to see how people react. However, there is another question I have been battling in the past year: how do I make spending money more fulfilling?
So, let me tell you of the three instances where I tweaked this "suspension" experiment and the different things I felt.
Part 1:
First, of course, was a straight replication of this suspension idea. I was visiting a friend in Bombay and told him about suspended coffees. He was also excited. So, while we are at the beach and this kid badgered us to buy a rose, we thought of trying it out there. The way I saw it, was simple. Buying a rose for someone we like at the beach seems so cliched and corny. But, wouldn't it be really amusing if we randomly got a rose that we never paid for (or realize we have an admirer whom we may never meet)? So, we paid for a rose and the kid gave it to a boy clicking pictures of himself at the beach. From what we could make out, the boy was not only astonished but also a little intrigued. He was visibly happy and I'd like to think it made his day.

Part 2:
While I was really happy with the rose incident, I kept asking as to what really happened there which was disruptive. Some possible causes to describe this: unexpected, good faith, personal gesture. So, I wondered if I could buy other things in the same vein but increase the utility part. And, the most obvious things I could think of were: food, travel and education expenses. So, again while in Bombay I found a taxi driver and gave him a hundred rupees. I roughly explained my idea to him - told him to take people where they want and in the end deduct hundred rupees. He seemed baffled but he could see the twinkle in my eyes. (This may already seem a bit hipster to you) I am assuming he actually executed my plan because he nodded in satisfaction, just like the rose boy earlier.

Part 3:
This I did in Delhi. For a year now I have been not-so-broke and I can't recall the days when I used to be down to a hundred bucks for the last week of the month. And then, something came up for photocopying or printing. So, I went and gave three hundred rupees to Sonu, my university's photocopier and told him to use this for a day and offer free copies. My university has a very high moral ground and such so I knew Sonu would do it. I went back to him the next day and he told me that people spread this "offer" and used it wholeheartedly, to copy anything and everything!

I am sure a lot of you already do some form of charity. My mum also feeds X number of needy people on special occasions. But, the purpose of my experiment/exploration was different. I wasn't interested in generosity or personal happiness or equality so much. And, I realized that was my kick was in disrupting routines, seeing if I can momentarily change how we are used to feeling about the world around us. When we don't have the money for that taxi ride or photocopy or tattoo or movie or gift, money seems like a really big deal. When we do have money, many of those things don't seem so special anymore for several reasons.
Can I make money absolutely nothing by inserting it in places where people expect to struggle for it? Money and struggle, the relationship is routine and obvious - one that you can't escape. But, in this routine living is where the jadedness seeps in and thinking for oneself (instrumental reason) sets in. That is why deeds of kindness, honesty, loyalty etc which are the given foundations of our society seem to take us by surprise. At times using money against its own logic can give the maximum satisfaction, at least to me.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Date a girl who isn't afraid

**In case you don't know the format of "date a girl who...", Google it. It has some stellar (and corny) posts that went viral. I am writing this because I live in Delhi, India and am at a loss to articulate how I feel as a woman about safety.**

Date a girl who isn't afraid. Date a girl who isn't afraid of you, her parents, her entire extended family, teachers, the police, politicians, others' opinions and of embarrassing herself. She will probably be like a pot of boiling, molten substances. You might see her everywhere, all the time, more than any other girl you know. Her opinions maybe ridiculous and her bravado may seem foolish at times. Admit to yourself she is trouble.

Find a girl who doesn't seem to be afraid. Go closer and smile at her understandingly to tell her that you have a hint about how many people she makes unhappy as she steps out waving her bag and flailing her arms, walking with a careless hop in the most unsuspecting of places, at a time when no one seems to be around, doing nothing at all. Follow her as she loiters endlessly. If you are taller, match your steps silently and watch what a world takes away from her within an hour of joyful loitering.

Keep watching out for a girl who isn't afraid because there is a daily possibility that someone will want to squeeze her, pinch her and undress her in the middle of the crowded market. Step back as she continues to walk and ends up being slapped on the bottom. Her cheeks will turn a bright crimson and the molten substances may spill out from within. Look up at the sky of densely impossible clouds. You may see them form familiar faces who have no confidence in her ability to walk by herself and be left to her devices. That is when you should walk up to her.
Face the tearing girl who is on the verge of being afraid and don't offer her your critique of the society. Shake her hand and take a minute to admire her. Not her face, not her body, but the warm, stubborn extension of her wherever she walks. It's like her walk builds a little garden of not-so-afraid wherever she goes.

Propose to be around her, express your earnest desire to know her and in the same breath, admit your terror at the risks she chooses to take. In her enthusiasm, she might topple her bag full of books and biscuits and flowers and a knife, maybe. Avoid the urge to start sermonizing on self defense, Swiss knives and pepper sprays. Her mouth might be half open with no words coming out. You might get an inkling that she's been through this before. At least twenty times. If she hesitates, don't chase her until she relents.

It's painful to date a girl who isn't afraid. What can you offer? How much will she accept of your genuine, non-chauvinistic support? But, you should know it is an immense pang of relief for her when you say that rape isn't about the loss of dignity. She will be your statement to the world, your illustration of balanced feminisms and of honest changes by walking through the world day and night.

Plan long walks, to lanes, gardens, slums and the beach. Make sure you've seen them all with her in the morning, afternoon, evening and the winter night. Kiss her in public view, nibble at her ear to tell her you are equally unafraid of how you feel, where you are and what you do. Don't forget to sing. And whistle.

Find a girl who isn't afraid and soon enough you will know what scares her. Be with her and make sure, that a few years later you both know more girls who aren't afraid.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The end of the first job

So, I am moving on. Almost no one is unhappy that I quit, including me. For those who love me, there is absolute confidence that I will move on to do better things. I've often told myself how it is absolutely necessary to not get comfortable in a spot, city, job, relationship, program. Ironically, I've always said that after having arrived at a new place, job, program, relationship; asked myself, wondered what I will do after what I haven't even begun yet. This was me, at least a year ago. I would call myself the insider/outsider and I think others called me (to my face and otherwise) the forever-discontent-trouble-maker. As you can surmise, I am not a fan of systems, team meetings, group work, departments and such. In the past one year I've secretly admitted to so many occasional-delvers-into-my-life that I loathe asking for favors and meeting people to solve their problems. Similarly, I cannot suffer idiots, if I see a luddite I call her one, I've been lauded/hit with descriptives like clear and articulate. Have I changed in the past year? Obviously, yes.
I would do all this with no hesitation a year ago. To do a small detour/parentheses, not all of you will agree with what I have written of me so far. That is because, like most of you have realized, I span a vast, vast territory of people. That is the only strength that I can own up to any day. I am very awkward but I will always have something to talk to you about. I can be funny as some of you know. I used to feel pretty, I feel cleaner and not so arty anymore. I don't click pictures with my camera and I've cut my hair short. The point is, almost none of you see my expanse of relationships the way I do. That is where my skills work like magic in keeping clean cubicles of every person I've ever met, like a file with their stories in the strangest of their phases and moments. I might have pictures, incidents, secrets, lost interests, love stories - everything about them/you. But, today I wonder, what use is this little museum inside of me to the real world where I've been hustling for a year? Does all this matter?
The change in me has been about tempering myself. I've cried hoarse to many of you about the kind of people I have to work with (study with, volunteer with, intern with, live with, reach out to, travel with - the post is not *only* about you or you). It was a new phase and degree of hustling. I traveled a lot in this one year. I was forced to make new friends with some of you because I had to work with you. I did implementation in office. I did theory in class. I crashed in the room. I visited home after a whole year. For the first time ever, my parents experimented with the thrill of giving a surprise gift on my birthday. A lot of firsts, you can see.
Come to think of it, I've never really imagined a realistic and immediate profession. It's always been between finishing three thousand word papers in one night and being a professor, politician or world traveler (as soon as possible, like right now). So yeah, we fall from imaginary stars, we lose some love and we sit down close in the face of uncertainty. Wake up to a morning of non-work and reconcile with the idea of all that you have so far other-ed - non-work, aimless, lost, nothing-much, what next, don't know, yeah-me-I-don't-have-a-clue-either. It's not so bad outside my head. I can be employed in generic professions. I can teach, do journalism, write reports and such. But, those do nothing to convey the panoramic and conflicted perspective that I have acquired so far in my work, study and life. That is why I am not jumping to another job. Most things come to me by eliminating things I don't want to do. Maybe that explains a strong craving stench in me for some stability in personal life. I find the idea of freelance work dreadful.
Till I find a new peg, it is going to be all about addressing uncertainty. And, I know that needs some courage and some pro-active measures. Maybe not yet. I think I want to go home for now. Or be loved and pampered. Life gets better, right? 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Series: There's always two of us

Because we rarely see the ground we cover

Monday, March 4, 2013

My favorite poets so far

So, let me begin to tell you of my favorite poets so far. These are not all the poets I love but the relatively less popular ones whom you must read for pure delight and amusement. Most of the poets I mention here don't use heavy vocabulary and I feel their joy lies in that. Consider it as a post on my favorite quotes or poems, the kind that catch your eye and you want to quote them often. Also, I am not telling you why you should read them. I will only tell you how I found them.

Rilke, Lorca, Pessoa, Brautigan, Dunn

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
So, I was absolutely, hopelessly in love and wanted to write beautiful words to someone when I was in school. I used to be a big fan of Ruskin Bond and one of my favorite Bond poems is It isn't time that's passing by (Read it here: ruskin bond | Tumblr). I vaguely remembered the last few lines:

"This was your song:
It isn’t time that’s passing by,
It is you and I."

I guess something that draws me into poems is the idea of a broken situation. I also believe that the best love stories usually have no ending and that once you get to know someone, you can never get to un-know them really. Similar with love, once in love you can change the manifestations of concern but the relationship never ends. That's Rilke for me.
Here are my favorite lines that I hope will initiate you into reading him:

"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
Which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
 Because it serenely disdains to destroy us.
Every angel is terrible"

Rilke reads: Duino Elegies, Letters to a young poet

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)
You find your poets in the most unlikely destinations, like recently I've been finding my music in television serial scores. Someone told me they learned Spanish only to read Lorca. Curiously, I looked him up and found the most beautiful Oxford Press book on Gigapedia with Lorca poems and parallel Spanish text (See here: Selected Poems: Federico García Lorca). Someone actually printed the book and gifted it to me. Someone else has my copy and Gigapedia is dead. Here is a mashup I wrote with a Lorca poem: Absent Soul|Yellow mouldy tattered paper. Also, you should know he loved the moon and lilies. The most dreadful Lorca metaphor:

"Death laid its eggs in the wound"

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)
This Portugese poet is a crazy find. Pessoa wrote his works under at least 81 different names. I heard someone talking about him at the dinner table and was so intrigued I had to look him up. If you are hopeless in a way that you have come a full circle and are jaded, Pesso will sing your song. That's what he did to me at least. At times when I am restless, I feel like him. Read:

"Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my  imagination and its contents, my personality - it's all evaporating. I  continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else,  that I thought something else. What I'm attending here is a show with  another set. And the show I'm attending is myself."

There is this wonderful blog that has many of his poems. You might want to start here: Poems of Fernando Pessoa

Richard Brautigan (1935-1984)
I discovered Brautigan on my way to Haiku. He is a minimalist poet from America. I have multiple Brautigan favorites but here's something so darn cute.

Boo Forever: 
"Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a top,
I'm haunted by all
the space that I
will live without
you. "

If you liked this, read It's Raining in Love, I feel horrible, she doesn't and Love Poem

Stephen Dunn (1939)
To be honest, Stephen Dunn isn't my discovery. I read a few lines posted by a friend and was so moved that I knew I had to look him up. I found him very recently and kept forgetting his name until I wrote it down. Here are the first lines that drew me to him:

"Tell your lovers the world
robs us is so many ways
that a caress is your wayof taking something back"

I think what Dunn does most beautifully is chop them sentences really hard, just where they are meant to. It's like a crisp dish, just warm enough, living up to every dream you might have had of how it tastes.
If you want to read more, try If a Clown and Testimony

That's all from me. Happy poetry reading :-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

For those who don't "get" art

 Come Venice Biennale every year, across the world and more such, many popular fora get flooded with jokes on art and how many sensible, common people with little or no education in fine art (or aesthetics) don't get what's happening. It ends in whimpers from many within the art community and outside. I've been dealing with this question myself and in this post, I will address two issues, one of personal taste and the other, what you should look for in art.

Just a line before I start. You might be curious who I am, what my authority on the topic is and so on. I also find it useful to explain my vantage point because it will help you empathize and stay with my argument. I have received formal education in literature, psychology and media studies and my first encounter with (fine) art theory was in my graduate programme. From then on, I studied visual art, theater and performance and cinema. As you can see, most of these disciplines that I've had the chance to dip my fingers in, have been accused of bull shitting. In other words, it is a common claim that many people do not understand what literature, poetry, psychology, media theory, cinema and visual art produce. So, basically this question haunts me every single day while I try to produce research on these subjects and make truth value claims. I am/was as skeptical as you might be at some point.

Setting the ground:

Have a look at this: I'm Sick Of Pretending: I Don't "Get" Art | VICE United Kingdom
Is this how you feel? Does this post echo your sentiments and also reflect the rubbish you encounter at art galleries, fairs and museums? Good, then we are on the same page. The student here claims to be an art student and has done all kinds of things to participate in the contemporary art culture but simply fails to "get it"! This tells us that she, just like you and I, has a personal taste. She has an opinion on what is pretty and what is ugly or what moves her heart and what doesn't. This is true for all of us. Most of the times when someone calls you Philistine (a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts) you quickly bounce back and say, "I know what's pretty and what's not." The question to be asked is, is all art pretty? Not necessarily. Does art have a function? Of course it does. Art can heal, it can inspire social change, it can educate people (the language of the image precedes the written word in fact), art can earn money in modern societies (so it can feed people too) and art can be as dangerous as 'the bomb'.

If you are wondering why I am talking of personal taste and the function of art, most of us go to look at art and ask these questions. We ask why red and blue, why metal and glass, what is this object trying to "do" and what is its meaning (in the functional sense; like bridges are meant to connect, food is meant to feed and art?). Of course, these questions come after your first impression (where personal taste comes in). What I am asking of you is to ask a more abstract question of art. And, this is my strategy to know "good"/inspiring art from bad/pretentious/uninspiring art.
Disclaimer: Just like you may not appreciate beer, different cuisines, the complexity of a new sport, dance or find a cultural ritual absolutely absurd, anything without a historical context can seem bizarre. So, before you write it off, read up a little around it. For example, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain or Rauschenberg's Black Painting may seem unworthy of being masterpieces to you. However, if you knew that Duchamp deliberately used a urinal to make fun of high art monopoly and Rauschenberg wanted to explore nature's essence by simply painting a canvas black you might warm up to them, no? I could go on about what makes us like popular art (different for everyone) but will save that for later. 
So, to give you my final strategy to engage with art works or performances, talk to the art. Ask the art object if it represents or acts. Simply put, in my opinion, a photograph of a woman rubbing money on her vagina is of less artistic value or maybe none as compared to video of women in burqa and hot pants in France walking on the street to oppose the Hijab ban.[5] If you see, while both instances seem like "shocking" acts by women, the first may not be disrupting, talking back or breaking stereotypes and its shock value merely relies on the nudity element or the obvious statement it makes. The second instance becomes interesting for me, not because of what it has inherently but for what it does to the society around. That is, to me, the crucial line between inspiring and 'dead' art. Of course, people make pretty, shocking, new things that may not be performing this disruptive function. And, you can like that too.
If you liked my argument but wish I could substantiate it with more examples, let me tell you about John Cage and his piece 4'33''. John Cage, a famous music composer produced a 4 minute piece which was completely silent. Yes, you would ask - where is the music? Use my strategy, ask what the piece/artist is trying to do, not what it seems like (not music or noise or silence). What Cage claimed his piece was trying to do is to assert that any sound is music, including the sound of silence.

Apologies for the longish post, but I hope this gives you more confidence to walk into a gallery and ask again - is this art?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paradigm shift

I was wandering in CP, looking for the next metro exit when I saw a gathering of people. The moment my eyes lifted from their feet up to their shoulders, the Starbucks logo in green, surrounded by more green lights left me in a state of surprise and mischief. I almost pied-piperly scurried towards the sign and stood there, not understanding much. In front of me, some guy was announcing how truly Indian this Starbucks shop was going to be. Behind in the crowd, a drunk beggar was mimicking him to our delight. A layer behind, hawkers had set shop, selling balloons and cheap coffee.
All of us were just standing there, mocking for a second, wanting to go inside another - what they call a spectacle. I couldn't decide how to feel about the inauguration of a coffee shop. I wanted to laugh but I wanted to go in. I felt guilty, foolish, elated and the sense of having arrived. To draw a Rushdie analogy, I knew no child born after this moment was going to escape Starbucks in her language. Imaginary crackers lit up the sky in my head after having experienced a moment of collective history making. I know, dramatic.

This reminded me of my mother. One day I found her box of old toys; wooden blocks, wooden train set, tops and Vicks puzzle pieces. Yes, the Vicks medication brand. Each puzzle piece had four 'cough' demon faces. The evil creature that is supposed to represent phlegm in red, blue, green and yellow. I was so amused and dead sure that no one else would have this puzzle set. Mother said she got it from Santa Claus as a kid. She told me how, back in her days Santa Claus gave actual gifts in toy stores. She also got a Coke top. I couldn't fully imagine everything but in that moment I knew that this moment defined her as a person. That was her time.
Volker Schlondorff made a short film for the omnibus "10 minutes older". It was called Enlightenment. The film really changed the way I thought of time and also fed into what I believed as personal time. Basically, it seems to me, that in the act of living and in the things we consume we inhabit a time. Though we keep changing all the time, at some point we get fixed in time. We stubbornly use X over Y (also known as nostalgia) and sometimes we celebrate A over B (a function of our modern time over the past time that someone older than us inhabits). My Starbucks moment was this precise encounter with my moment, rather the end of it. It was like reaching the horizons of my time or a break. Some day, years from now I will be telling a baby that there were no Starbucks in this city and that people gathered to see the first one open. Much like how electricity, telephone, the first car, mall and so many more landmark moments just like my mother's Santa Claus and Vicks puzzle.
I am really struggling to pen this but I hope you get what I am saying.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Long distance affairs are like a song with a beautiful, steady melody. There is a song because there is obvious melody, something consistently sweet in there. Peaking in little bumps time and again, week days are for silence, heightening the melody's haunting, soothing effect on you. And, at times it feels like the song is about to reach a crescendo, culminate. That is when you will know whether it is a song of victory or despair. But, instead, it just softly climbs down and continues to haunt you. You could choose to leave the room, in which case the melody is over for you. Or,  you could choose to stay and be tortured in sweet agony for an indefinite period. You could wait.