Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Idiosyncrasies and other malaise!

I was doubled up with laughter as I watched one of our spiritual children stand in contemplation last night, with her fingers crossed! Let me also inform you that she is twenty-seven years old and of perfectly sound mind!! When I asked her what in heavens this mime act was all about, she rather sheepishly told me that she had a story she wanted to tell us, then thought better of it, and to get the idea out of her focus......crossed her fingers to help her divert her attention!!!! Mad as it may sound, I personally always love such strangeness because it brings to the prosaic world of daily routine, a necessary madness without which I would feel rather cheated!!!!

Self made rituals are delightful areas that give insights into the personalities of people. My father had a habit of carrying his silver cigarette holder in his pocket, and professed to always touching his pocket just before every take off, as a fighter pilot in the air force. In his retired years the ritual of an afternoon nap had to be accompanied simultaneously by having the television set on with the audio, the radio on and western classical music playing too!

Sitting and waiting anywhere,  I trace the word They in a looping script with my right index finger repeatedly. I used to walk around the interior of our home when it was being constructed, with my large Burmese umbrella open! I carry sweet wrappers from India, half way across the world and back,so that they can re-unite with the other sweet wrappers back home! Did I say this was sane.....?! But the maza of these secret ways hold a personal intimacy with oneself that feels completely acceptable within the other areas of one's existence.

Surendran does a cushion-throwing ritual each morning! He stands at the foot of our bed where there is a wooden chest that stores the cushions each night, and he carefully flings them (like a funfair hoop-the-ring expert), to land exactly where they need to be arranged! For this to be done, he insists that the cushions must be stored in a particular manner and well, sulk he does, if this order is in anyway altered by mistake because the rhythm of his act gets put out of joint! Mithun has to crack every knuckle on both his hands just before he sleeps and has two quiet sneezes each night that preludes his closure to the day!

Even Begum our cat has her own set of strange behavioural rituals! The bath-mat in the bathroom is the instant doze-opiate that sees her upright one moment and playing dead cat the next! This can be at any time of the day or just occurs because it must! Bringing her two toy babies for safe keeping to me sometime during each day is another must on her list of idiosyncrasies.

So the next time you observe a person doing something rather odd it may well be a small private ritual that holds no specific meaning to anyone other than the person in question!

Monday, 22 August 2011

A pot that needs many cooks!

The problem is that when people shoot their mouths off on something as public as television, there is little they can do to repair the damage done. There is no erase button! On a recent episode of Vikram Chandra's The Big Fight I was both horrified and amused in equal measure by Renuka Chowdary, who appeared as though she was auditioning for a role on one of Ekta Kapoor's soap operas for day time TV! The kathakali hand gestures, the rolling of the eyes, the false laughter and the total dramabaaz in relation to a serious issue concerning government mismanagement only drove yet another nail into the coffin of the Congress party. But I guess mild mannered Manmohan Singh believes in the aaall is well policy!

I thought that perhaps watching Karan Thapar's The Devils Advocate interview with Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan would provide me a space to hear these two activists talk about their ideas and methodology, in relation to both the Jan Lokpal bill and the management of the protest being conducted by them. However Karan Tharpar derailed his own program by drowning out the voices of his guests with prejudiced opinions and  a judgemental stance, that made him look both boorish and a bully to boot. The CNN-IBN channel should inform him that viewers tune in to hear the views of those being interviewed and not hear the raucous voice of an over opinionated host who does not know the basic etiquette of his job.

I miss Vir Sanghvi's television talk show. I remember the brilliance with which he interviewed Bal Thackeray where as a host he remained courteous but an an interviewer brought to light for his audience issues of substance that allowed for a viewer to gain an informed opinion.

I caught only a snippet of Arundhati Roy talking about her concerns on the Jan Lokpal bill. She highlighted the need to include  the NGO and corporate sectors that today play a major role in development issues of India, and view these spaces as equally being erroded by corruption. I would really like to see a program that can put together Aruna Roy, Arundati Roy, Shabhana Azmi, Arvind Kerjiwal, Suhail Sheth, Mani Shanker Aiyar, and Medha Patkar, hosted by Pranoy Roy; to discuss an agenda that can place differing opinions to converge to meet a common target.  

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Too much self righteousness?

That the central government has made a complete hash of managing the call for protest against the Lokpal bill by Anna Hazare comes as no surprise to me. Though I hold Manmohan Singh in high regard and deeply respect him, I believe he just isn't prime ministerial  material. He lacks the crucial ability to hold conviction over any issue that he talks about. What comes across is a tutored version of what seems more bureaucratically informed than politically sound. And Kapil Sybil should stop sounding like the Vice chancellor of a university who is dealing with irrational students. Take your electorate seriously and understand that frustrations over years of corrupt governance is the legacy you have inherited; and work with a historic understanding of how it has effected the life of every Indian citizen.

However this isn't to say I am dancing the hoopla over Anna Hazare's tactics either. I am a strong defender of a parliamentary system and feel uncomfortable about compromising the methods by which it is meant to function constitutionally. Also, much as I am equally an advocate for the voice of the people, I cannot somehow get my head around the fact that every time civil society believes that the government is wrong, strong arm tactics like fasting unto death can become the hijacking techniques that allow for a very pedestrian understanding of what democracy means.

With the BJP strongly behind the Anna Hazare movement I have become uncomfortable with the "peoples agitation", because the stringent slogan shouting and vande mataram refrains are sounding slightly imported by political agencies with vested agendas and political scores to settle; and appear rather hysteric when viewed on the television channels.

Of course there are many Indians who are genuine supporters of this endeavor to make the government address the issues of corruption with a more honest approach to creating policy that can tackle corruption  at its grass roots; which in this case in fact means at the very highest offices of governance and judicial authority. However to allow for anarchy on the streets of India to become the instrument by which policy in government is drafted, makes me rather grey at the gills. I think this would be a very dangerous precedence to set. Tomorrow anyone who can muster up a show of strength on the streets will be holding the ability to make the parliamentary system get on its knees.

However I do believe that after a long time India has found a person to iconise who is both secular in approach and with a moral conviction to desire change. Like Mahahtma Gandhi, Anna Hazare appeals to the imagination of the common Indian person, and possesses an understanding of mobilising civil society to find it's conscience. But equally like Gandhi, he runs the danger of romanticising issues that hold political divisiveness that are subversive in nature;  and ignores the  implications that such naiviety can lead to.

The BJPwala's and the Baba Ramdev types are like vultures waiting to swoop on the kill. Team Anna Hazare should be vigilant and not make this historic possibility of civil intervention be wasted in rigid posturing. Negotiation and dialogue with elected representatives of the government and the opposition must be the only space to hammer out the drafting of the Lokpal bill.  All else will jeopardise the parliamentary system of democratic functioning.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


A Pakistani pilot writes a letter of apology for shooting down a civilian plane in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. As I watched the program on television I was once again swallowed up by the memories of my childhood, where from a very young I was never comfortable with the idea of "hired killing" in the name of nationalism. My father was an Indian Air Force fighter pilot who has fought in that battle. For me, as his daughter, I always have this deep conflict of pride and sorrow that I carry till today over the fact of my father was obliged, by his commitment to his job, to kill in the name of war.

Images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not easy to forget. The scars of the long drawn out Vietnam war that the Americans embarked upon in the 60's,  are visible till today in both countries as a stark reminder of the futility of making GI Joe's games become a reality.  Nobody wins in a war and yet it prevails as the chosen option of settling panga's across borders.

For any nation to sanction human destruction is a strange concept for me. That duty to ones nation then binds you to murder as a heroic action for which you are rewarded with medals of decoration, becomes equally painful an idea to comprehend.

Yet concepts of peace become merely idealised notional spaces that only transpire as great "treaty signing" photo-opportunities, that never translate into implemented modules of co-existence. Perhaps it is because human-beings have so much suppressed anger and violence that  erupts from small provocations, that war becomes an excusable exercise in settling scores. 

I have lived in close proximity of the heroic belief of military passion.  I do not know that I can ever feel the stirring of  such national pride that demands of me to take up the call of arms. Communication can always lead to negotiation if the will and desire prevail.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Up in smoke and cinders...

I studied in London for two years and have always said that this city will forever hold a special place in my heart. So it is a personal sorrow for me to watch the news and see arson and looting occur in the name of "frustration" and the supposed "venting of anger" in this historic city;  and see very little control being established by the law enforcing agencies to put an end to these  riots. That the British police are racist is no big secret, and most certainly the death of a person from police firing would certainly have triggered a response of outrage and protest; but to run amok and destroy the property of innocent people, and steal with blatant disregard for what the consequences are for those whose livelihood depends on these businesses, is down right criminal.

Buildings are gutted and cars lie burnt in the streets of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol  and  Nottingham, as hoodlums take advantage and use social networking sites to fuel the rampage-parade with a vengeance; and display an ugly opportunism that is horrifying. On a recent television debate on this subject,  a panelist from the UK jokingly made fun of the history of English thuggery and said it came as no surprise that such incidents occur since this is part of a cultural tradition since many centuries! I suppose British humour will be the only tide to ride in the wake of such a dark period in British history.

It is well established that the Asian communities in Britain are hard working and contribute significantly to the country's economic growth. This often causes deep resentments with the African-American community and those from the Caribbean. So the fear in such times is that such riots can turn communal.

Theories of these riots being pre-planned and a conspiracy are now doing the rounds. Whatever maybe the case I do believe quick and firm action needs to be taken by the prevailing British government, and order restored as the first priority; with the culprits booked for vandalism and rioting and stringent punishments meted out to act as a deterrent to copy-cat scenarios. If local goons can stir up such havoc and continue to inflict terror over cities over a sustained period of time, without the police being capable of quelling this delinquency, then one truly wonders what will be the fate of the people of Britain  if a terrorist attack of magnitude occurs.

My London holds memories of the smell of paint in my studio, visits to the museums, dinners in Soho, cursing the rain whilst dashing from one tube station to another (!), cycle rides over the bridges on summer days, and walks in Hyde Park with conversations that centered around art and dreams, all folded together; amongst many other things that youth and optimism nurtures.

That people have to guard their localities themselves against rioters is sad to hear. I hope that this mess ends quickly and that better sense prevails. I hear that people are coming out in London to clean up. After all to destroy what is yours must mean you have very little comprehension of who you truly are; so it is heartening to know that human courage has begun to triumph in England,  and peace and normalcy may soon be accomplished because  the will of the people  desire this to be part of their  existence.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Happy Friendship day!

Apologies for my long absence from this space. Ill heath, house guests, the Collective Studio management, and travel, along with long hours in my studio put my blog on the back burner for a while. But hopefully I shall be back to my writing with less ruptures from this week onwards.

Happy Friendship day!
I feel really blessed with the friends that fill my life. Each of them add so much to who I am as a person. Their long phone calls, their daily concern, their attention  for details that bring delight to my life and their constant vigilance to see that my life is always full of the energies that best nurture my spirit becomes a cyclic gift that is seamless in time. Thank you my friends for all the love.

Mithun and Samera drove down for a days visit yesterday with the agenda to take Surendran, Aditi and me out for dinner! Next weekend will see my favourite "couple" back at home for a longer weekend that holds the promise of a picnic (!!) which needs me to muster my enthusiasm for  flies and the lack of  clean toilets(!!), but soldier on I will because it will be loads of fun with the jing bang lot of us doing masti and regressing in age, with sandwiches and cakes as comfort food !

I am aghast each time I put the news on these days. Land grabbing and custodial deaths, ministers with triple murders as their achievements and over played cricketers hounded by the media for loosing a game which causes  more furore than urgent national problems like illegal poaching of tigers or mining or the suicides of farmers.

I caught a strange debate on TV, hosted by Arnab Goswami that seemed truly bizarre and quite farcical with Mahesh Jetmalani and Anumpam Kher extremely being personal and rude to Teesta Setalvad, who despite the hostility held her own and was the only voice that was informed and rational. Arnab is a rabble rouser who held such potential when he was with NDTV. What a slide down to become this pontificator who does little else except wind people up, interrupt them and use air time in such a pedestrian way. Nidhi Razdan and Bharka Dutt remain anchors who have kept the quality of interviewing very high. They bring out points of view and positions that allow for issues to be examined and for debates to hold relevance. Maybe it is time for Tarun Tejpal and the Tehelka gang to start a TV channel. I would certainly be a subscriber.