Thursday, 29 July 2010

Free Willy-Free Rekha!

What's in a name you may ask? To me it really is nothing. But then when other's determine your identity via this the true nature of the game begins. Like all romantic fluff heads, I changed my name with great flourish when I married at the age of eighteen in 1977. When I divorced in 1983 I retained my married surname ( I rather like the role of the double R!) and thought nothing more about this issue. However I forgot that the dear passport office in Ahmadabad had put my husbands name down as being my middle name.

For years the great tamasha has continued to get the name "Apichai" taken off as my middle name. The other hurdle has been to remove my ex-husbands name off my passport from the space designated as "spouse". Easy do you think???!!!! Well let me quietly enlighten you that this couldn't be further than the truth.

Because my father forgot to do the procedures for a special marriage act, my parents brainwave to get me married in a church so that all the "planning" did not go up a spout from the boo-boo management fiasco, has been the stumbling block on this tale of absurdity. The subsequent annulment which is the legal document for terminating a legal catholic marriage is a document poo-pooed at by the passport authorities. Well the fact that the catholic marriage papers were OK to get my married name endorsed falls on deaf ears and pan chewing babu's, so there ends any logic that may otherwise have solved this 27 year old saga.

This year in February Surendran and I celebrated our twenty-fifth year of togetherness by signing the special marriage act. However on my passport I have another "man" as my "husband"!!!! If this isn't first class double life racy masala stuff for good old pulp fiction, what else is yaar?!!!!

My lawyer is my great Linus blanket of comfort these days. Every time I begin to look like I am going to erupt, he sends me calming sms messages that leave me to splutter and simmer down. Do I care about a name? Not really. But what I do care about is that I cannot claim the associations of belonging and the identity that defines who I am. Free India, please allow me to be free too!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I am in mourning....

When I read a book that holds my imaginative will to become part of it's narrative landscape, then I have great sorrow as the book draws to an end; and this sadness then lingers on and stays with me for days. I laugh at myself over this, but my own self deprecation does little to lessen the pain of separation I go through, when I am parted by the finality of the ending of the book. I am not a great story-teller myself, yet I grew up with a strange habit where I created a sequential module of stories in my head that grew as parallel lives in my imagination, and were very vivid spaces by virtue of the detailed manner they were developed by me. These were orbits of comfort where I would take myself to, when the reality of my existence proved tedious.

I was reminded of this when I recently finished (after a very protracted period of time) Evening is the whole day by Preeti Samarasan, which is a book I have already recommended when I initially began entering the delight of this magical story. Though I would have changed the last chapter and the ending (!) I loved the book so much that I felt I was being removed from a space of belonging. As though my space of comfort to which I could spirit myself away to, was suddenly demolished as an act of spite.

I buy books and save them to read later (like a secret chocolate stash that no one else is supposed to discover), painting images of myself on the veranda's of our home, where with feet tucked-up I will read book after book from dawn to dusk; and transpose my life into a thousand other worlds of being. But with the adrenalin rush that rules my life and trains my focus on other areas of commitment I have promised my spirit to, I know that I will read as I continue to: snatched pages in-between the hectic pace of my studio practice and other facets of my life that I choose to be involved with.

As is the process I will fret for a while and push aside the offerings of book that others may suggest, till I know I can give my mind to another book without still feeling an umbilical attachment with the spirit of what I have finished reading. I will open my library (always with the pretense of doing something else), and let my eyes start wandering over the "saved away" titles. This will go on for a few days before I take down a book to read it's synopsis on the back of the cover. The point of connection is when I let the delight settle ever so faintly (like a tickle?), and then I know that a new world of belonging awaits me.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

When the Garden Wall of Paradise is too high to scale.....

Flying in a big bird, suspended in rain clouds and the pink mysteries of a sky saturated in the corruption of sulphur, I am God's child all at once without the messages of conversion or the frills of ritual, to ordain my spirit. With Fault Lines by Meena Alexander as my reading companion(which I had initially gifted to my father), I looked into my country through these memoirs, and saw reflections of myself through the refraction of being a woman with connections to this land called God's own country.

Growing up with male friends who hailed from Kerala, it is only in recent years that I have come to understand the complex prism of their existence. To know that Surendran was in fact the odd one out, and not the norm. Where I came to recognise that education and left politics does not provide the freedom to adopt liberal thinking, because the fervour of conservatism anchors most household values; and each child of this soil seems somehow sewn to the fabric of this obedience, at all cost.

What perhaps is most saddening is how I am often confronted with lewd gazes from some of Surendran's old Trivandrun buddies who continue to exist in the bohemian blur of alcohol hangovers, and smell like yesterdays cigarette ashtrays! Liberal women too often become the sexual fantasies of such men, as their eyes wander over you like a dog in heat; and yet their own homes are kept in order by prim women chosen with care (to carry the legacy of caste and creed), who may wave a red flag but yet march to the tunes of old dictates.

I am soon suffocated in this green and luscious land, where the voice of my sisters seems far too placid to be true; and when I do encounter strident female voices, I seem to hear the faint pitch of aggression that comes perhaps from the strain of it's isolation: where trust and comfort and belief must obviously come with a price.

As I sit suspended in the great big bird that wings me home I read more pages from Meena Alexander's writings: I wanted to give voice to my flesh, to learn to live as a woman. To do that, I had to spit out the stones that were in my mouth. I had to become a ghost, enter my own flesh.

How long will it take for my red sisters to be really free?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The beasts in my paint brush...

I love buying books with visuals that provoke my own imagination to take a roller coaster ride. Our library is divided into the theoretical section at Surendran's studio and the visual section in my studio. Of course since my studio is in our home, Surendran can rummage at leisure whenever he fancies! On the other hand when I need something specific, he becomes my official librarian, and when whatever I need is located (during a coffee break of his, in-between painting), our driver then ferries it across to me!!!

I have all sorts of books in my section of the library, and one of my recent favourites (to look at) is a children's book edited by Kanchana Arni and Gita Wolf, and published by TARA publishing titled Beasts of India. Magical drawings by tribal and folk artists of animals leap off the pages at you! Exquisite and intimate to hold, I have it on my water colour table. And if I do not open it then I just tenderly touch it's cover some time during the day, and feel it's delight from the bold orange snake on the cover that bristles back at me, as though disturbed, by this silly act on my part!
Another favourite from my library is my section of books on miniature painting and Indian bronze sculptures. Flipping through the pages of these books I feel reconnected with myself. As a student the discourses on pictorial language were centered more specifically (in Baroda) to the narrative traditions in painting. It was not that this did not engage me, but I think that I learnt to understand and comprehend my own journey as a painter more accurately, when studying in London : where I would walk through the Indian section of the Victoria & Albert museum and began to know that artist's like Kitaj and Bonnard were not the aesthetics that held my soul.

It is here that the teachings of Jyoti Bhatt and K.G Subramanyan came back to me. In the many sessions in my studio at the Royal College of Art with Prof. Peter De Francia, I found my own cultural map more clearly visible, and holding more meaning for me. But the process of this understanding taking root with clarity, to evidence itself in my pictorial language, took a while. I needed time to purge the imprints of an expressionistic device of communication. But the magic of discovery is a beautiful thing, and it slowly came to me through a process of problematizing my own work and to find answers for myself.

When I read, many years ago, the famous remark of Souza's where he said in an interview that he used to paint inside his mother's womb; I did not really absorb the poetic beauty of his statement. Today I think I know what he meant. When you are so completely in unison with what you do, then it feels as though you could never have ever been separated from the delight of it's nasha!

As the tigers and lions roar out from the book Beasts of India and the bulls lock horns as they fight one another, the delicate intricate lines that give these creatures their spiritual life in these paintings place me in my own wonderland of imagination. For me, this is always the best place to be.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Make your own Paradise....

Yesterday I was like a drunken monk once again, with a severe attack of vertigo. As someone who is a minimal "sipper" of the nectar's of the gods (!), I cannot quite fathom why anyone would of their own choice, desire to weave through space in a state of tipsyhood!!!! As I valiantly moved about with the extreme self-consciousness of an idiot with sea legs, I had my friends and family protect me from falling into an untidy (heavy!) heap whilst I went out to attend to some chores, since painting was a little out of the question in my wobbly state. It was hilarious to see that I was immediately relegated (inside of their heads) as being a bit like a child that needed "strict" monitoring, and I was dealt with in an absolutely "no nonsense will be tolerated" manner. Strict wagging fingers to indicate that bending was a no-no, food intake insisted upon and "sit quiet" instructions galore! All I can say is that I knew just how much I am loved from all of this.

Which brings me to our mad home of many dimensions! The ease with which Surendran, Mithun and I have altered our ways to accommodate new ideas and experiments that are about introducing new energies and concerns into our lives and life style, comes from desiring to have an adaptability that allows us to maximize our resources, and never to remain stagnant or narrow in our thinking.

Closing oneself away from changes holds the danger of never learning new things that can bring unknown magic to your life. The risk to be open allows for many wonderful surprises, and the small bruises (if any) that may occur from this process will fade with the right methods of addressing them too.

Today we have this wonderful collective where learning sessions spill over into those interludes of sharing green tea together at night; and cake and ice cream can trigger a discourse on taste and visual aesthetics on a Sunday afternoon! Who know what tomorrow may bring into our home. I like the idea that the door is always open and that we do not feel challenged by change, and are able to adapt to things that benefit the process of our learning. My adopted granddaughter Aditi surprised us by making a power point presentation on global warming on her birthday, and by gifting each of us in the collective a present made from recycled materials. We sat in awed silence and completely humbled by the wisdom of this twelve year old child. It is precisely these magic moments of learning that risk and change can bring to one, and I am grateful that we have stayed unshackled by predictability and gifted to ourselves so much that enhances us today.

Maybe this is why our home is called Sauparnika!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Just the way I like it!

I remembered Bhupen Khakkar recently as I looked at a portion of my own painting and felt as though he must have whispered something into my ear as I painted the transparent diaphanous skirt of the women. I have been truly one of the most fortunate artist's from my generation. From the moment I came back in 1984 to India after my studies in London, a whole new world of experiences was thrown open to me that was centered around the engagement with artists in professional spaces. These situations offered discourses and the intimacy of sharing work environments that allowed for an osmosis of the unspoken to percolate, and so much transpired that was meaningful and real.

My memories of the shining grey kota stone floor in Nasreen Mohammedi's home and its shimmering reflections like mirages on a hot summers day, as one ate slices of raw tomato and cucumber as an offering of lunch are spacial flasbacks And of Bhupen huddled over a huge water colour with a cacophony of sounds emerging that ranged from the rumblings of Pandu's drunken outburst to the cricket commentary droning in the drawing room and somewhere in between all this, an articulate conversation would balance with effortless precision.

Where do we really learn all the many things we know as artists? It is these many nooks and corners of the lives of others that we have tucked ourselves into, that has tutored us to know more. Invited to work in Robert Blackburns studio in New York, this four day interlude stays vividly as a memory of a collective where the energy of the assistants was fed on the delight to work with this visionary man.

Working on site at the Ariana Park in Geneva for the 50th United Nations anniversary celebration I conceived my site specific work Songs from the blood of the weary, amidst lunches on the grass with Tadashi Kawamata and Willi Bastur and other artists from different corners of the world. Their names do not become important to list because it isn't about being with the who's who, or believing that their company is a symbol of prestige to be associated with. It is about exchanges with artists who carry the resonance of their own belief of themselves, with a clarity of understanding why their own beliefs are so important for themselves. It is this magic that makes these meetings poignantly special, and spaces of learning for all involved.

Today opportunities such as these that are pegged upon the premises of intimate sharing; of working on site and on location where everyone is a traveller in search of something that can inadvertently belong to the collective energies of involvement, are rare. The art fairs and the curatorial labyrinths that we boast of as the new spaces of collective engagement are soulless because the artist stands at the periphery, and is inconsequential to the process except as a monetary value.

Perhaps this could be one of the reasons that has led to the dearth of anything really special poking its head up on the art scene for a while. Is it because artists no longer know the sound of their own voices in the otherwise loud and deafening din of mushrooming galleries fighting to fix a find, tuppenny curators who are aesthetically challenged, god awful art critics who bask in the infamous stains of their smudgy ink, abysmal writers who distort history, arty-farty consultants who litter your space with their visiting cards, public relations junkies with no credentials, media managers who promise the moon but can't even spell it correctly, auction house mania that whips up mob hysteria over speculative gambles, etc., etc., etc.,.....!!! How many artists have been made redundant by a system that has swallowed them up at the very alter they were once worshipped at, simply because the equations of sanity have been turned upside down.

It is always the artist who will matters most for me. In their studios or in those other spaces where work and ideas come to light; I like to be in the vicinity to stand in the orbit of another imagination, and be held by its quiet magic.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Shut up and listen or else.....!!!!

Imposing a nation wide bandh! Well so what if it's unconstitutional and that many people do not want to participate. If you live in a BJP state you are just roughed up and manhandled till you toe the line according to their dictate. Goons are escorted like VIP's in police cars, to see that every shutter on every business is closed. Who cares that the aam aadmi may survive only from his daily earnings! What matters for these office bearers that are elected representatives of the people, is that you can boast that they succeeded in paralysing the normalcy of a nation (including their own voters!)!!

Of course violence is NEVER admitted to! Every politician that whips up mob frenzy and incites their cadre to intimidate through methods that employ strong arm tactics, will come on countless television programs and debates to "virtuously" proclaim their absolute disdain for instigated violence! Fingers will be pointed elsewhere but never at their own who are guilty.

The grinning satisfaction of Arun Jaitley as he was arrested today, made me feel as though I was watching some school boy game of cops and robbers! I am living in a city where if we have one day of heavy rain, major sections of Baroda are flooded instantly; and life is completely disrupted for thousands of people. Where is Mr. Modibhai and other BJP wala's for the real issues that need to be dealt with as part of their tenure as elected members of political office? Protesting against a policy/decision such as price hikes have venues like parliament. Why bring it out onto the road in ways that serve no other purpose but to inconvenience. And in parliament what do they do there? Their protests disrupt the functioning of governance and invite chaos! Can somebody explain to me where all this finally leads to, in so far as offering alternative suggestions that position protest in ways that are constructive.

If it is the aam aadmi 's inconvenience that this bandh represents, then why double the burden and destabilize the lives of these very people you pretend to speak for, by destroying their lives even for a day?! Camera footage shows the property of small business owners and food-stall vendors being trashed. Wow! What guardian angels are these who wreck violence on those they claim to protect?!

Your white kurta Mr. Jaitley may get a bit grubby in all this designed tamasha you so diligently played out for the television cameras today; but the really soiled fabric is your credibility and all those who follow similar attitudes that trampling on the lives of ordinary Indian people, who you are in fact supposed to be serving the citizens with loyalty and consideration. What an utter farce you and your tribe are.

Friday, 2 July 2010

It's a Dog's kidding!

I have not known where these last 16 days have floated by. Work seems to snap at my ankles like a irritable shark on a new fangled diet, and as I huff and puff up the stairs and down, the only chirpy soul is Begum who thinks I have invented a new game with her! Sauparnika (our home), sort of swells like a well fed belly, with people that come and go with a multitude of different agendas, that some how all get dealt with within the 24 hours that are legally what define each cycle of a day. Like a juggle whose on probation I try hard not to fall in a heap in the middle of it all, often pretending at skills to manage things because there is no other options in sight. But the amazing thing is that amidst this chaos that seems to have only me at it's center of madness; all else and everyone in my vicinity appear to me to be in tranquil bubbles that are serene, and never look like they will ever threaten to burst!

The other day I went with two friends to a book shop. The joke at home is that Surendran is the last person to go to a book-shop with, because dawn will become dusk and he will have no idea that time has even moved momentarily. Well, the three of us were on a "whirl-wind-quick-pick-up" shopping stint that was taking us away from our studios at a time where petulant pouts showed our true feeling! Also we were to dash back home as we had a film crew who was to come home for dinner. With great efficiency the task of finding "the book" to gift was selected. And then came the melt down! Without realising it each of us started nosing about in the shelves. Books were taken down and passages read. We then found a great book of photography and sort of comfortably settled ourselves in a little huddle, and began to ooh and aah over the images....!!! Well all I can say is that when realisation dawned, we gave Schumacher a run for his money!!!

Another day has whizzed past and I am once again weaving around like a bear in love with a flighty honey-bee! I think I need to make an application to the department of time to get an extension on my time slots....Or maybe some zippy skates and Akshay Kumar thums-up energy may do the trick!