Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A fish bowl world.

I am often floored by the attitudes of young affluent Indian women who are in their early twenties. Many of whom have completed their graduations and sit idol with too much time on their hands; and who openly propagate that their fathers don't "allow" them to work, and that they too have no desire to do so either! WOW and double WOW!

Yesterday as I sat in the changing room at the gym, this young and chirpy girl flaunted this brazen attitude of moneyed lethargy, as she winsomely pouted to me that "daddy's girl" was spending her life just having a good time! Good manners forced me to keep the vitriolic retort firmly suppressed behind the grimace that passed off as a friendly smile from my end, and I scurried away as my hands itched to give her a good spanking and get some sense into that fluffy air brain of hers!

But the truth of the matter is that we still cultivate such regressive attitudes in Indian society. Education for the girl child isn't always about creating a future of opportunities for her that engage her capabilities, and insists upon her defining her monetary independence and self worthiness. On the contrary it is really time-pass and a badgy-boo certificate for baby's marriage market debut.

Even in the art community I am often so angered by the "lazy wife syndrome" that I see too much of in Baroda itself. These are not choices that are made by women who are defining being home makers with the intellectual grasp of what such a choice is all about or the philosophy it is rooted in. The "lazy wife syndrome" is all about traditional constructs that still patina the so called modern thinking woman, and it becomes a convenience that shields women from the hard work it requires to be truly independent.

It is the middle class woman of India, and the women from the poorer sections of our society who really inspire me with their power to be a work force and contribute to the earnings of their homes and families. As the la-di-dah diamonded beauties talk endlessly on cellphones, spend hours in beauty parlours and spas, and anguish over which night spot/party to be seen at in the evening; an entire nation with so much that could use their capabilities, hangs in the balance of development and progress which so urgently needs attention and energy of the youth of this country.

But that apart. I also witness the breakdown of women who are over protected by fathers and in-laws, and when circumstances change and they are obliged to encounter their own selves to mediate decisions, then many times emotional derailments occur that are tragic to watch.

So daddy dear you may just keel over with a heart attack, and baby dear may just have a disastrous marriage where son-in-law money-bags diddles pouty Missy Gucci out of her pocket money allowance for ever! Get real and let's all cut the crap of this awful gender bias once in for all. Women as arm candy belongs in 007 James Bond C grade films that personally I find objectionable; and lazy babes are like decomposing veggies in a garbage dump! Do I need to say more?! I think you get the picture.

Friday, 23 April 2010

For whom the bell tolls....

I was invited to inaugurate a wonderful exhibition of childrens art today, done by the school children of Navrachana School in Baroda; and I have come away so delighted to have witnessed the energies of creative endeavour, and perhaps more importantly, the absolute magic of innocence that the work held at its core.

I still have kept my favourite works of Mithun done when he was a child, and though not framed, they are carefully kept in a portfolio along with my own art works, as they are extremely precious to me. I will not deny that sentiment plays a major role with this safe keeping; but what is more relevant is that child art holds such poignantly honest methods of communication which posses the ability to translate effortlessly.

I always urge art students from colleges and practicing artists too, to take time to view events such as these. Today surrounded by these beautiful children of varying ages, I felt so empowered to know that good educational institutions understand the value of developing the creative faculties of growing minds.

We need more teachers who will not create hierarchies that place the science subjects at the top of the order of merit and make learning a holistic experience to which children can adapt their potential abilities to; allowing them therefore to find the correct path to engage their future developmental processes with.

Standing in the corridor of the school with my old friend Tejal Amin who is the director of this institution, and as the school bell rang to indicate the termination of the days timetable, we were both transported back to the nostalgia of our own school days as we stood wrapped in the delight of excited voices, laughter and endless energy of hundreds of school children who carry the dreams of our tomorrow along with their bright futures.

Back in my studio I feel blessed to have had this interlude with innocence, because like the first monsoon rains such interludes help wash away the fatigue of confronting the endless battles with systems that choose to be corrupted.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A Lost Opportunity.

For me the biggest tragedy in the Shash Tharoor episode is the lose of hope it symbolises for a certain type of educated Indian, to join politics. In him there was this whiff of the old nostalgia of what Rajeev Gandhi's entry into politics meant for the middle classes of India. Somehow we all felt vindicated that the English educated college graduate chaap, was not something that alienated us anymore from the majority of India.

The difference however with Shashi Tharoor's entery into politics was that he did not come with the baggage of a family legacy, and so for many of us he represented the aspirations of what hard work and career planning could achieve.

The double tragedy is :
a) If it is proven that he is guilty of the misuse of the powers of office, and that he compromised his official position for financial personal gains from this affiliation of interest with the Kochi IPL bidding, he alleges he was only mentoring; then he establishes by his conduct that all entries into politics will somehow always automatically become corrupted, from self interest.

b) If it is proven that he merely miscalculated and mis-read the working of systems within Indian politics, and that this controversy resulted because of being a novice to the game of political strategies that a complex multi-party democracy demands; then here too he becomes emblematic of the assumption many make, that the middle class educated Indian would be ill equipped to handle contributing to the political system of governance. His immaturity, despite being a diplomat for so many years, is surely going to concretize this myth; and so what Shashi Tharoor stood for, for many of us, now becomes a pipe dream and we become tainted by the shadow of his stupidity.

It will become the dreaded taunt for many of us to live with, that merely being educated and articulate does not prove you have the where-with-all to contribute to change. Perhaps our hope now rests completely on the performance of Nandan Nilekani of Infosys fame, to re-kindle the belief that the ordinary middle class citizen has the potential to bring value to political governance in India. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Waste not, want not!

Why can we not simplify life that is connected to anything controlled by the government in India?! The idiocity of the round-about game associated with ANYTHING that is government-run makes you realise that the efficiency of our country is automatically self sabotaged. My BSNL modum was giving me trouble for over a month ,and so yesterday I finally decided to put all else aside and deal with it.

My saga started at 3 in the blistering heat of the afternoon. With a skin problem where I get terrible sunburns in irregular patches I went about dodging the sun like an under-trial keeping the paparazzi at bay! Anyway the end result in procuring a resolution to my internet problem was like a treasure hunt that mapped almost the entire geography of Baroda by the time any real action was taken.

As I heaved and sweated, panted and puffed, snorted and grimaced; the telephone officials picked their noses and teeth, scratched their crotches and chewed pan, and spoke endlessly to each other over cups of tea and glasses of water as the sent me from one counter to another and one location to the next!

I am always asked if I am "foreign"!!!!! I hate this ridiculous assumption that since I am not draped in a pink nylon sari with a juda and anklets on my feet, that I am some kind of alien from another planet. Anyway I am digressing. I swallowed my irritation over all these side shows and switched into "saccharine sweet mode I-am-idiot-please-help-me" mode. I also informed them (which was true) that I needed to rush ff to a hospital to be with a patient.

Tragic stories are usually a passport to getting things done in India, and so Mr. Pan stained teethwala decides after a three hour marathon of here-now-there-next jaunt around the city, to finally release a new modum (which I was paying for, let me add), and I then believed my luck had turned!

Oh do get real, the story could not be this simple! Then commenced the configuring of the damn thingamajig! I will let you off the agony of the entire story and just say that this procedure went on for another two hours!

When Surendran came home at night I very quietly informed him "If I say it's winter right now, just agree with me today!" I think he got the message that I was feeling like a plucked chicken in a snowstorm with a one way ticket to nowhereville!

When will we clean up the obvious mess of our country. Each citizen knows this to be of imperative urgency if we are to realize the full benefit of progress. Why do we not raise our voices and demand that systems change where it matters. That we gloss over these fundamental flaws with excuses to validate and explain them away, only allows that we continue to dig our own graves by letting the governments we elect off the hook of accountability to us. Spot checks by people who can implement change, and top officials getting involved at grass root levels must now become a method at government offices to instill efficiency. India cannot afford to be this corrupted at the basic levels of management and impede the efficiency of it's citizens lives so callously. We know the power of the voice of the people. Why are we so silent?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Put yourself first.

As the battle with the bulge continues and I pant away at the gym, I am becoming more conscious that as a nation too many of us are perhaps completely in denial over health issues; and more importantly, the wisdom of moderation regarding food and all else that comes into the "indulgence" bracket! This disregard for obesity can be so clearly seen where the host of at least two food programs on well know Indian TV news channels are over weight men who look like they will keel over and die of a cardiac arrest at any moment! How strange that we have obesity publicized in relation to food or is it perhaps that once again the idea of excess is somehow an acceptable equation with food? I don't know the answer but I do know I find it jarringly the wrong message for a nation.

I am consistently nagging our cook who loves to allow her wrist to dip just that little extra with the oil container! "Tasty" food in India somehow seems to add up for many as having to be oily and heavily masala-ed. People don't seem to get it right till they discover they have health issues that put the brakes on everything, and then better sense prevails and boiled and steamed becomes instantly adhered to!

Time, or rather the absence of it, is the common excuse that is glibly given in exchange to any enquiry related to exercise. Irregular work hours will be blamed on bad food habits, and junk food explained off as a "once in a while" whim. All this whilst the flab gets piled on, and we quiver and shake like a nation of jelly babies unconcerned about the truth.

My generation (I am 51), has come into the practice of health awareness more from a back door entry because the importance of fitness was not so emphatically obvious when we were growing up. Our own parents were far more healthy than us because their lifestyles were more simple. And so we sort of imagined health just takes care of itself immaterial of what we do in our lives! Today I am still sceptical as to whether we truly have an in depth understanding of health management because I see evidence that suggests otherwise. The fad seems more about weight loss than a holistic approach to nurturing the body so as to maximise its optimum potential.

From the fabrics we choose to wear, to the sizes of clothing that often constrict us causing headaches and digestive issues, to the hygiene we embrace, to the sleep patterns we follow, to the amount of hydration we take, to the quality of exercise we pursue, to the emotional needs we address, to the entertainment we provide for ourselves; and of course to the diets we formulate for our bodies - all this and more become the points of consideration we need to tie up if we are examining our well being in relation to our health.

No amount of money can ever buy us back our health once it deteriorates. Blood circulations slow down, and conditions of ill health that are not hereditary or congenital, are gifted to us by our own lack of caution. However hard you work in a day, a 30 minute work out (of any kind), will provide you something vital. The name of the game however in all this, is consistency.

In the last year I have lost many friends to conditions of health that could have been prevented. But being sensible is boring, but consider this: being dead leaves you with no emotion left at all!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

PC = ?

The new definition of PC is not Political Correctness but Politics and Cricket! Just when the Shoaib-Sania tamasha has died down, (and we thought sanity may prevail with more news worthy items from the media channels) we have yet another scorching story erupting from the bowels of the "doom-departments" of TV, that pick up the timbers of hysteria all over again! Somehow I think it's chocolate-box Shashi Tharoor who is more the core story here, with all the masala of a pretty woman draped over railings, as he saunters off cricket pitches into the loving gaze of her Gucci veiled eyes.

Oh cynic that I am becoming, where is my love for the pulse of a story or for getting at the truth of the matter (or in this case aptly, the heart of it!)!! Well as starters I was doubled up with laughter when Arnab Goswami started postulating on TV, with extreme severity mind you; enunciating every word (like my old french teacher did) and staring straight at me as I lay in bed, telling me that Shashi Tharoor was being "a bad boy" all over again, and the nation was once again in trouble because of him! ( Please imagine the corresponding shaking head, drooping mouth, sad eyes, frown and knitted brows as you read this)!!!

Oh goddy goo....am I loosing it?! But then as I imagined that the trouble lay only with me, I heard a groaning sound emanating from next to me. Turning and believing that Surendran had ODed on the chocolate-cake desert after dinner and had a stomach ache as suitable retribution for being greedy; I confronted instead a pained, beseeching, imploring to change the TV channel pronto! Even our cat Begum hid under the bed as Arnab tut-tutted menacingly and finger wagged at all at large from the idiot box. What is wrong with the guy?????!

Maybe it's just that he feels challenged that Shashi T is a better chocolate-box hero-type then chubby Mr. Arnab himself! Well whatever be the reason I am staying away from the remote control today for fear of Mr. AG playing at Uncle Sam with me again!

Prediction for the day: My crystal ball tells me that Lalit Modi with his cutesy lisping and Yuvi baby with his pouting sulks are the next in line to add more masala to the gossip that passes off as national news these days.

Whilst people continue to die of starvation and food grains rot in store houses from bad governance; we of course will focus on the trivial aspects of life; and jump around like cats on hot tin roofs believing that gossipy news is a better option that staying real.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The carrot and the stick game!

Lee Hayan is a young Korean art student who is currently on the cusp of completing her undergraduate painting course, from the faculty of Fine Arts Baroda. She was approached by Vidha Saumya who was deputed by Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke to organise/curate(?!) a show of young artists for an exhibition titled April Salon. This young art student was extremely ethical in all the subsequent communication with the gallery; talking with both Vidha Saumya and Usha Mirchandani over the phone repeatedly about all the details she needed to know; and promptly attending to all that they were asking for, despite being in the middle of her final examination. The cost of the framing (done professionally at Harmony Arts of Baroda), and the packing of the work in a proper wooden crate, plus the cost of the Gati courier service; was all borne by this young student.

Well Ok....so what's all the fuss about, you may ask. Well, when Hayan went with all her enthusiasm to attend the opening of this show, she was in for a rude shock. The set of ten match box works, beautifully box-framed ( I know because I have seen them myself), were no where to be seen in the exhibition! Well if that wasn't a heart stopping moment for this young art student, Ranjana Steinruecke just minutes before the show opened, authoritatively asked her to reduce the pricing of her works from Rs. 7,500/- each ( which includes the gallery commission and all other overheads) to Rs. 3,000/-.
When Hayan requested that she preferred not to do so as this was the agreed upon price with Usha and Vidha, she was rudely told off by Ms. Steinruecke and informed that if she did not bring the price down then even if someone was willing to purchase it at this original price, she as the Gallery director would not want to sell it for that price! Where the logic in this lies only pretty Ranjana will ever know!

Hayan was sent packing with her set of ten beautiful works because of the whims of power.

That you humiliate a young person you seek out to invite yourself, seems rather a strange modus operandum!

The moral of the story is that young enthusiastic and vulnerable art students are preyed upon by greedy galleries who want to jump into the "grabbing game", (even before students complete their degree courses!), to adorn their walls with "new finds" like trophies from a hunting trip. These galleries of course, make it out that they are the imperial lords and ladies of aesthetic judgement and power brokerage, and that these young art students or fledgling artists should cower in fear and respect, before them. What a sham!

Perhaps it is not inappropriate to remind such galleries that good will is a much better currency for the longevity of transactions that are not fly by night.

I remember the exquisite finesse and courtesy that Mr. Alkazi of Art Heritage, Pheroza Godrej of Cymroza and The Daruwala's of Sarla Art Gallery extended to me when I was the "new find" in the art world in 1984. What is the greatest pity is that many of these smaller galleries posture at being human in their approach, but too many turn out to be sharks.
Carrot and stick games are boringly transparent and shameful. It is a sad day to know how desperate are some galleries that they care so little for the simple and basic precincts of decency.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


I think my cat secretly watches Pink Panther films because her favourite game is to hide in and around corners, and leap out at poor unsuspecting me; believing this game of cat and mouse (me of course being the terrified mouse!) is great fun! I look like a lunatic half the time, as she nibbles my ankles whilst I attempt to carry on serious conversations on subjects of supposed profundity (!) with students, and simultaneously try to avoid this pretend piranha! Most mornings I am woken by a purring mound as she balances on my hip whilst I valiantly try to get a five minute extended snooze in; finally being forced to get out of bed from her insistent gentle kneading of her back claws in to my flesh, all this being done as the delight of being my morning alarm service! Any takers for this, just drop a note!

The weekend had Mithun down with us in Baroda and the house teeming with the children taking time off from collective studio practice activities, and indulging in lazing around. Friends joined us for the big Sunday feast which has become the standard norm; and scrabble, IPL and tons of yummy food became the agenda of the weekend. Our home sometimes resembles a Jane Austin novel gone slightly off it's intended narrative with a stream girls and boys of varying ages that pop up in every nook and crevice of the house! Begum our cat, who is always in the midst of anything that occurs at home, always finds something to push off its perch. Most times it is of value and gets broken or damaged! What occurs is a sequence of pretend-pretend again. Me pretending to be angry and she pretending a ghost cat lives in the house and does these bad things!

Was in Bombay for the day on Monday and really take my hat off to the Mumbaikars for their zest to live with commuting time that averages many hours from one destination to another, for so many residents of this metropolis. I was tripping around a few locations and Crawford market was one of them. Dressed all in flowing black, with my Cristina odhani worn more like a veil over my face and head to protect me from the scorching sun, I fitted into the ambiance perfectly and could have been miya gulabi quite easily! Just my Prada glasses flashed from this veil of mystery....maybe 007 films should be my reverse revenge with my cat, Begum!

Today sees me off in the hospital with one of our spiritual daughters who has to undergo an investigative surgery procedure. As I potter around at 5 am, Begum looks at me from half closed eyes, licks my hand with pretended comfort and goes right back to sleep, whilst for me it is Florence Nightingale time!

Friday, 2 April 2010

An Artist and a Gentleman!

At Gallery Prescot last Wednesday, hunched over a table with my hair covering my face as I valiantly was scribbling down my address (for a friend who wanted to post something to me); I was gently peered at from under my greying tresses! I looked up to find Gieve Patel smiling his dazzling smile, and was engulfed in a warm embrace that said so much more than any pretty greeting could.

I first meet this graceful man in the '70s at a show where six artists who had declined to participate in the Lalit Kala Triennial that year, banded together to have an alternative exhibition concurrent to the show they were protesting against. As all good stories normally go, so does this one have a twist in the tail; or perhaps more accurately, it was an infected toe in a shoe! Amongst the scraggly bunch that we were from our preparatory class from the Fine Arts Faculty of Baroda, doing the padyatra of homage to art in the metropolis on a shoe string budget; having to dig into our dwindling resources for a doctor was causing us more pain than perhaps the poor boy with the infected toe! So when Gieve heard our sorry story, with a twinkle in his eye and us gawking like hypnotised gold fish in a bowl, he switched avataars and became a doctor that soothed and comforted and cured.

In later years I had the delight of sharing interludes of time with him on more equal terms, sometimes in the frameworks of idealised setting of huts on a beach as we painted and ate cream biscuits for tea; or in other spaces of crisp debate where we have disagreed and passionately held to the convictions of our respective ideas. But within all this, what is so remarkable is that there is such a palpable genuineness that defines this man. No nakaras, no star attitudes, no I will wish you only if you acknowledge me first falsities: just a no frills person, where the hallmark of his education shines through his complete existence.

Perhaps it is my convent education or my half Parsi ancestry, but the term Gentleman most aptly describes Gieve Patel. Mores the pity that we encounter less and less people who qualify to be termed so. Call me old fashioned, but refinement and intelligence tops my list as a great combination, and believe me, Gieve Patel has oodles of this! Take some pointers bachhas!