Thursday, 30 August 2012

In a landscape of many winds....

I whacked my head last evening on the edge of a concrete window ledge with such impact that I immediately lost the clarity of my vision and instantly felt nauseous. I knew that driving my car at that moment was out of the question and all the practical training of being a no-nonsense mum kicked into place. I quickly scrolled to the number of my girl friend in my blurred state of vision, who in a jiffy drove from her workshop to take me directly to the emergency unit of the hospital we frequent. Perhaps being in a state of trauma I became reflective, and whilst sitting quietly with an icepack balanced on my head waiting for the doctor, I felt deep gratitude for the opportunities life has offered me, and the lessons of survival one has been able to learn over the years that make life less complicated, and perhaps therefore more manageable in some ways. 

Today reading  about the Naroda Patiya massacre verdict, the terrible story of Kausar Bano who was nine months pregnant, gang raped and who had her stomach slit open and the foetus of her unborn child ripped from her body and who was then burnt alive, is a chilling reminder of those who could not be protected; and who's survival others snatched away without a thought. 

That hundreds of Assamese felt such an imminent threat to their safety, felt that their survival was compromised so severely that they felt obliged to flee, indicates how instantly we can create a panic to destabilise and wreck  damage to the psyche of entire communities that may never really heal, despite time.

A young artist of the Collective Studio who teaches in a school told me the other day of a small act of intervention that she did which perhaps aided to protect the innocence of a tiny child. The child needed to be taken to her parents who were waiting in another section of the school. The school property being vast and with a lot of trees, the child would have to walk a long distance with a male attendant  unsupervised and out of the vision of any other adult member of the staff. So my young friend decided that even though she would herself get late,  she would escort the pupil to avoid any probable potential danger of the  innocence of the child being violated. 

My head still swims with pain and I feel like a new sailor with wobbly feet and sea sickness, plus I can boast of a rather impressive bump on the crown of my head! But apart from the frivolity I wrap it all in to make light of it,  I have incurred an injury I could well have done without.  And perhaps most significantly  I still feel so fortunate to be safe in ways that I never can take for granted, knowing I am protected by the love and concern of those who really care for me. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Does the punishment fit the crime...

Fareed Zakaria seems to be paying a high price for an unintentional error he has publicly apologised for, and  further more for which he has taken full and unequivocal accountability for without passing the buck or attempting to pin the blame on to anyone on his research team. Yet the backlash from the corridors of power that silently dictate management policies regarding print and news media can be seen rearing their ugly racial heads, thus showing the true nature of immigrant minority bias. The reputation and contribution of this gentleman that precedes this rather trivial error seems to have been erased in a blink of an eye by those who are  whipping up this storm in a tea cup. That the Washington Post wrongly accused Fareed of earlier instances of plagiarism and then had to publicly apologise for their salacious inaccuracies,  becomes a mere quiet one liner in the reportage that has taken on an attack mode, is interesting to note. Has that particular reporter been suspended? I very much doubt that.

What comes through for those who are following the story is simply this: successful immigrants appear to make the establishment feel rather uncomfortable especially if they are known to not kowtow to pro-American views on foreign policy or other government agendas. The other interesting point in question is whether the confidence that Fareed Zakaria exudes and the  respect that he commands becomes the thorn in the flesh of others who then secretly desire to see him "put in his place", so to speak, out of sheer envy for the clout he does in fact possess as a serious political analyst and media person whose views are either sought or referred to by officials of significance,  around the world.

But true to human nature, admiration so often turns to dislike via envy and frustration. The decisiveness of strong minded people triggers interesting responses. People often imitate such individuals with the desire to be like them, and when the substance isn't quite there to create the clone (!) then anger takes over and suppressed antagonism starts to grow. Fareed Zakaria must have rubbed many people the wrong way just by being the way he is- efficient and an achiever who is not coy about his success. So what happens then: the moment the man has been human and made a mistake which he in no way denies or excuses, he is being crucified by his detractors with a rather perverse intensity to "nail the little brown b....r!"

I remain unconvinced that the suspension meted out by the TV networks and the newspapers that host  Zakaria's opinions, is an action that fits the crime. An enquiry yes that would have led to a rigorous evaluation of the situation,  but certainly not this extreme knee jerk response that jumped the gun to incriminate him and sully his reputation that he has worked years to establish. I am positive that an anglo-saxon would not have been treated this shabbily for a similar occurrence. But then what else can be expected from a society that blatantly displays it's political double standards on so many issues, and yet takes the moral high ground at all times. Hold high standards by all means, but for heaven sake don't degenerate into moral posturing at the drop of a hat that so transparently exposes bigotry and bias. 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Small life lessons between the pages...

I am reading Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto really slowly. Beautifully written, I am as usual protracting the pleasure of reading something I love, to make it last longer. Living in each word in ways that hold my own life still and allowing the story to become mine. 

There are many beautiful subtexts within  this book that lead you into other stories about yourself and those you know; making this tender narrative hold parables and life lessons to offer you when you least expect to find them.

I read this passage last night in bed:
It is from a conversation that the father has with his son.
The father says....
'If anyone ever does you a favour, you cannot forget it. You must always credit them, especially in public, especially to those they love and those that love them. You must pay your debts, even those that you can never fully repay. Anything less makes you less.'

We often ride a wave and are carried for a while, but to take it for granted becomes the folly.

I also find that insincerity is a bit like a terminal illness. Those who indulge in it finally are consumed into worlds of manufactured interaction that ring hollow for everyone around them, and isolate themselves from fitting into functioning realities that hold truths they are hiding from.

It is imperative to always confront all things that add up to make the sum of our existence. And in doing this you will certainly find many personal emotional swamps that one can drown in. Whenever my heart feels bruised, I force myself to acknowledge what the core of my personal politics is. I insist that I place emotional sentimentality aside to walk the talk of behavioural ethics that is a determined paradigm already set within this framework of ones personal politics.  However difficult it may appear to be at that moment of time, I view it as a methodology which opens up an understanding of infinite learning much  more productive than nurturing  ones own protective instincts.

The Collective Studio has open discussions that disallow us avoiding issues of accountability, whether professional or personal. We hold this as the basic credo within the philosophy of The Collective Studio and in turn it has allowed for a simple uncomplicated co-existence to prevail. Everyone rallies around the other in those moments that may hold pain or anguish, self doubt or limitations; and so the journeys of self discovery are not lonely missions to be struggled with but where the experiences of others may lend us some strength. 

In the same continuing conversation that the father has with his son in Jerry Pinto's book....
the son asks....
'Wouldn't that make you want to run away from it all?'
and the father replies.....
'That's where pride comes in, and stubbornness. The city is a challenge but it's a challenge that doesn't care either way. If you go home, it won't jeer, it just won't notice. You can stay and work hard and make something of yourself and it still won't notice. But you will know. I would have known that I had failed. So I stayed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Another type of family!

I have such a wonderful support system of friends and loved ones, who in the blink of an eye just step in to help me in my moments of crisis. My mother now has a 24 hour assistant to aid us with the care giving we desire for Amma. However suddenly the assistant has taken off for fifteen days without giving us substantial prior notice to accommodate this rupture of routine into our  schedules, and the agency from where we have procured her services from could only commiserate with us, but do little else! 

In an instant I was embraced with a time-tabled schedule that put together a round-the-clock supervision of Amma, organised by our friends who are our extended family; allowing me therefore to continue with the project I am currently working on frantically. Without the generosity of their spirited support, I would have had to postpone my work schedule to a later date.  I feel truly indebted to them them for their belief and love.

When the Collective Studio originated we never imagined it would take the shape and form of such precious intimacy that developed this unique platform of growing together. Though Surendran, Mithun and I gave up many areas of our personal privacy as individuals, we found that collective living holds so much more consciousness than merely being desiring the module of a traditional nuclear family structure. The rewards are these exquisite gestures of good will and the delight of the safety-net that genuine caring  provides one with.

Our meal times together are spent in chatting, discussing, and generally some masti or the other.  Today at the lunch table we had a spirited discussion about language and specific terminologies that also hold nuanced meanings. Between chewing on the sliced carrots of my raw salad and nibbling at my mince cutlet  we were fishing around our  cerebral spaces (!) to put together a feisty discourse from all the corners of the table.  Of course Begum, our cat, remains unfazed by the rumblings of such animated occurrences.

I fly off tomorrow to Mumbai and leave with a complete sense of peace knowing fully well that Amma is in safe hands. What more can love be about.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Effective change is always possible.....

I attended a lecture yesterday that positioned "Teaching art from an insiders perspective" as it's core focus. Perhaps because the speaker was faced with the task of a mixed audience, the issues that were tabulated for discussion in the paper appeared far too basic; disallowing therefore  any significant discussion to be borne from it,  that could have addressed and reflected real issues that are eroding the standard of art education throughout the country. Instead  miscellaneous wikipedia-like statistics took over the forum in the preceding discussion slot, thereby hijacking any opportunity for historisizing and contextualising the progress of art  teaching over the years;  and analysing any resulting impact of this upon contemporary Indian art, if at all, and visa versa.

The real issue that becomes the stumbling block in such instances is more to do with misconceived proprietary notions. Educational institutions must be open to critique and censure. To over protect them and condone deliberate apathy by continuously blaming bureaucratic interference for perhaps ones own lack of imaginative intervention as educators,  would be a grave folly. Love for the vocation of teaching alone is not what motivates many to become art teachers, so this virtuous charade of chest beating must stop too.  It is a rather cushy job with a substantial pay packet to boot and plenty of free time, so let's do the job boys, and quit complaining!

I have grown weary of hearing the laments of limitations that one is met with if you have any probing query regarding the Baroda fine arts faculty. I thankfully grew up in an era of teaching at the same institution thirty years ago, where the homes of my teachers extended into exciting spaces of learning too. Film screenings and informal lectures occurred that had no connection with seeking approval from any university office whatsoever! These were also "practising artists" who in those days really didn't have the infra-structure of support  of a gallery system that is thriving today. Yet the generosity of spirit of these individuals created a system of learning that didn't ever compromise itself on the laments of limitations! 

I have some good friends who teach at the faculty of fine arts in Baroda. I respect their efforts, but the"boys club" and it's stuffy shirted pomposity with the "rolling of the eyes" drama of fake frustration is all really growing rather tiresome. The hallmark of educators like Nasreen Mohammedi and K.G Subramanyan is their insistence of inclusiveness as a methodology of learning; and the potency of their legacy as teachers is established because they didn't seek to play "professorial" roles, and held a genuine desire to engage with polemic discourse. Their insightfulness  came from a lived and exemplified premise of excellence as artists, who constructed their vision of teaching from the  wisdom that came from respecting that others too hold the quality to contribute to the collective concerns of art education.  

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Don't hark up the wrong road...

I remember the pride of wearing my school uniform. Perhaps it was an off shoot of the pride with which my father wore his as an Indian air-force fighter pilot. Early in life we were taught the responsibility and the rules of conduct that govern wearing a uniform,  and also made to acknowledge the sense of belonging that it should inculcate. I remember my teachers taking time to share thoughts and ideas about conduct, responsibility and ethics which were camouflaged as anecdotes, but nonetheless left the desired imprint of teaching us values that would aid us in defining our personalities.

School children dot the roads each morning in Baroda, most of them with their well ironed uniforms and properly polished shoes;  the girls with bows and clips and ribbons and the boys with smartly cut hair...yet barring only a few, they almost always never adhere to ANY traffic rules. If they cycle it will be in rows of three and four abreast, putting their lives at risk by blocking narrow roads for other vehicles. The scooters and  motor-cycles whizz about without anyone wearing helmets, and of course cellphones are held in crazy grips by them attaching their ears to their shoulders to be able to ride and chat at the same time! And as for road dividers.....why have them. Our traffic will ply any which way is the shortest route as decided by them...willy-nilly you die in the process of such anarchy or not!

I find it perturbing to see how no rule is ever considered of relevance to maintaining law and order or basic safety within public areas of co-existence. The Indian mantra is short-cut leylo and simply enjoy yaar! Kya tension unnecessarily lene ka hai...

I was horrified when travelling only a few years ago to witness how two ladies accompanying one another  mixed up their passports amongst themselves when passing through Indian immigration on embarking on a trip abroad.  The mixed up passports were duly stamped and the scary part is that these two ladies did not even resemble each other in the slightest! Then we lament over tragic consequences that arise from lapses of security that such blatant apathy  deliver.

Why parents and educational institutions cannot take on the onus of creating a consciousness within their wards to be ethical and respect discipline, amazes me. Why is it only always about competitive success that they all harp on about with children, and the real issues of training get side lined.

Etiquette is another area we just have no clue about in most instances in India. I have some hollers as stories that leave you wondering at why at the nimble finger that normally flicks at gaming buttons on the proverbial "give me all answers' telephones cannot get some know how on the does and don't of social politeness!!!!

Anyway we shall all love to see another day....or at least hopefully, because on my morning walk it is either step into the cow patty or be hit by a broom-zoom vehicle .....take your pick.....! 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Mea Culpa!

Today is the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.....
Yesterday was friendship day!

Where does one thing begin and another end in this rather paradoxical cycle of destruction and retrieval ....

I hear people who support the Modi regime wish away the Gujarat genocide as though it is only a small blemish on an otherwise career-graph of excellence. That families from a particular community were targeted to be annihilated with the precision of deliberated strategies is of course not to be dwelt upon; and in the pro-Modi debates that  propagate him as the golden boy of Gujarat who now needs to move into the prominence of national politics,  this horrifying massacre is continually played down shamelessly.

The memorials at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have photographs that document a chilling account of vengeance and human beastliness that is terrifying to even imagine, let alone confront as a historical reality. We continue to pretend that such attacks on human rights and life are few and far between. What is frightening to realise is the human capacity to harbor the desire, and encourage the wielding of power, as tool to wreck fear and destruction  in order to get into positions of control; to terrorise.

Acid attacks, rape, bonded labour, organ thefts, land scams, fake encounters by the police, sexual harassment by politicians, indifference and apathy name it, the list is endless. Controlled lawlessness that supports corrupted governance, makes the life cycle of countless citizens in different countries hold a hopelessness, because no election really brings the change that keeps at bay the viciousness of greed.

I hold my optimism close to my heart....yet.................

A girl commits suicide from the despair of harassment.
Children die from lack of medical care.
An old woman runs from pillar to post to try and access her dead husband's pension of Rs. 250/-.
A child dies from falling through a hole in a moving school bus.
A small boy suffocates to death in the bowels of the earth because an unused bore well is left open.
A care giver of the state  molests the children he has intend to protect.
A teacher makes a child lick her urine to teach her the discipline not to wet her bed.
A woman is stripped naked by the police to teach her shame.
A son abandons his widowed mother because she is a burden to his freedom and wealth.
A family burns alive their son's wife.
A woman aborts her girl child.
A whistle blower is killed for his/her honesty.
A farmer is forced into debt whilst grains lie rotting from want of conscience.

I am shamed into silence and
My optimism feels drained.
I am haunted by the photograph of a woman,  
fleeing down a road with her body burning body,
after the atom bomb exploded 67 years ago in Japan. 

Each year the cycle of violence continues.....
.....and we help perpetuate it......
all the time.....everywhere. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

The space of imagination......

For all the years I have been teaching, I am always asked why I do so, since I take no monetary remuneration for it. I don't really bother much about offering explanations too often since the question doesn't really have a single definitive answer. What has prompted this involvement is because I recognised how poorly art educational institutions function in India without exception; and barring a few stray teachers, the commitment to nurturing the individual development of students is just not happening in these colleges. 

Teaching art isn't about influencing people to reflect your ideas, nor is it about skills alone. Teaching art is really about human engagement that is anchored in honesty, and the courage to confront life unflinchingly. To create spaces of discourse that open up personal and collective histories to be re-examined in the here and the now of ones life. Those who believe that working in the isolation of their studios alone can keep an imagination fertile or alive, only fool themselves into opiated comfort zones;  merely postponing the inevitable of public interaction that defines the very nature of  disseminating art.  Art demands for a  nakedness of the mind, heart and soul; and this is pivotal to the process of both making art and delivering it to an audience, and cannot be circumvented ever. I perceive this in fact to be  the bed rock that determines a truthfulness of intention for an artist, and offers itself as a methodology to arrive at a clarity of articulation that in turn aids the formulation of  any visual language. Inter-dependecies within art are necessary and need to be explored much more.

One must hold at the very core of our art practice, the belief that the art that we produce truly can make a difference to the world we live in. For this to be a genuine belief, then it is logical to assume that art should originate  from the desire to engage with life, with out pretense or posturing.

It is perhaps a tall order.....but then that is what sets apart really meaningful art from the otherwise banal and trite efforts we see around us in abundance.  As a teacher I continue to wrestle and fight till I make my students and young artists in residence find the truth of who they are.....

.......the reward is an imagination that is alive and alert.....powerful and real....because knowing and feeling will find their exquisite compatibility to deliver un-compromised if hard won.