Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Museum of Time

 

MUSEUM OF TIME

A museum of time. That's what this place should be, should become. A space as vast and rambling as this needs to be filled with the mechanisms of time. Have you not noticed that there are no clocks here? None of the walls have any variety of time-keeping instruments. It is designed to suspend you in a sense of timelessness, mired in a fragile feeling that time is not of the essence. Who needs to be told the time when you are busy spending money? Here money is disconnected, independent of time.

Time is not money here as the old adage would have you believe. Time is of no consequence. In this ambience of constant bright fluorescent light where the dark is kept at bay but always seems to be there on the fringes, threatening to engulf, you don't need the time. You need the aimless purpose of wondering where to spend money next. To be made conscious of what the time is is to deter you from playing your contributive part in trade, an unnecessary distraction that might stop you from being the selfless person you become as you wander these glass-walled corridors in search of adding to someone else's profit margins. To spend your money, hard-earned or ill-gained, on things to which you have added your own estimation of value over and above its asking price, is a feeling that you often find indescribable. It is at once a sense of fulfilment, satisfaction and ennui. Not easy feelings to come by when you live in the life, the spaces, where time is of the essence. Where the devices of chronometry dictate what action you will take in the next minute and the one after that, and after that.

You traverse these marbled floors which wind about themselves in soft-soled, sure-footed steps. You look at the wares on display as if you have never seen such things before. Perhaps you never have. Perhaps you have imagined it, something like it. You notice nothing else, no one else as you stare through the sparkling clean glass wall. Your eyes gradually become conscious then of someone else on the other side of the wall. Someone peering with the same concentration as you at the item you may potentially expend your money upon. You look up at that someone else on the other side and you stare into your own eyes. At first you are slightly startled, and then a smile spans your face, a short giggle to yourself. You look back at the enticing thing there, imprisoned in glass, spotlighted in LED brightness. It seems to rise up to you on a cushion of air. You look at it and you imagine yourself using it, wearing it, eating it, cuddling it. You are pleased. You enter the shop, pushing open large glass doors that heavily slide apart to give you entrance.

Welcome. Welcome to a world where you are exactly who they want should enter their shop. If you are not too avid about the reason why you entered the shop, you might look about you and notice there are no timepieces on display. Nothing to remind you of the faster, chronologically-bound life which awaits you once you leave these climate-controlled, shiny metal and glass halls of static commerce. What use is time if avarice has been well and truly established in its role to increase your hunger to possess? Possession is 3/4ths of the law. Isn't that what they say? That you cannot be dispossessed of your ownership or your tenancy without recourse to law? That by virtue of the fact that you have purchased a thing from within this splendiferous architectural structure and will continue to do so as long as you have money to spend, can you not lay claim as a tenant? By virtue of having spent hours in this place? Hours? Countless hours! Ah, there's the rub. Countless. See? Time does not exist here. You can never prove the number of hours you have spent here mainly because you willingly entered a zone where time does not exist.
 http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KSGB6DryCsc/UFHnDErwbMI/AAAAAAAAAIg/72cRrHtBnCo/s1600/Infinity+Time.JPG



In the museum of time the many instruments devised by humans to calculate and tell the course of the sun and the moon in our life, in the universal scheme of things, and in its repetitive form, will be in direct confrontation with each other. No one device will ever tell the same time as the ones near it. You will be immersed in an ocean of visual, auditory and physical time of every hour, minute and second of the day. And night. Every tick, every tock, every click and every clang, every whispering moment will resound in a silence that surrounds it. Clocks, watches, hourglasses, sundials, metronomes, egg-timers, large almanacs of fluttering pages, calendars which measure human time till infinity perceived will be on display, for you to see and experience every hour of every day, of every month and every year until you no longer wish to. Or can. The museum of time is never closed.

In the museum will there be two atriums, atria. One will be exposed to the natural passage of the day and night, while the other will, in multi-dimensional technological marvellousness, show the exact opposite of the natural passage. As you amble along the circular corridors of time on display, the atria in the centre of these corridors will simultaneously present real or artificial time as the gradual transformation of day to night to day to night...

Any time at once is what the museum of time will have on exhibit. Time as told in devices of wood, stone, earth, water, metal and synthetic substances. Many of rare and long heritage, carefully preserved to contest the ravages of time. Many of recent vintage, of recent invention. Analogue, digital, binary, shadows of the sun. Differently told, never the same.
http://blog.jetbrains.com/youtrack/files/2012/05/calendar.jpg
Your hands grip bags made of environment-friendly, recycled waste containing items in polluting plastic which you will never dispose of carefully, but you are particular in trashing the polystyrene cup which had a coffee in one of the stainless-steel bins primly situated next to a pillar, one of many which hold these balconies, these circular corridors showcasing wondrous artifice clothed in colour and texture, behind thick clear glass and shiny polished metal, painted wood and textured polymer. And you stand for a timeless moment, put the bags down near your feet, rest your hands on the smooth gloss of the steel balustrades and look down into the atrium. Down in to the depths of this building where time is absent. And you notice the other light. Not the fluorescent, neon, LED kind. You look up. Up to the clear domed glass roof sectioned by curving support beams. And you see it is day. Sunlight shines brightly outside. Clouds gently waft across beyond the glass. A sense of true satisfaction grips you. It is still day. Lots can be done. Be bought. Be spent upon. Time can be spent on what money can buy without being aware of the time itself.

Picking up your socially-conscious packed goods, you turn back to the corridors to look at the next direction you may want to go. To the left and down seems like a good choice. Away from the atrium, away from the natural light, into the mild-yellow fluorescence that renders the visual of time entirely useless. Something makes you glance back to the atrium. You see, no you only register, somewhere in a corner of your mind that the light in the atrium now seems to be that of night as you nimbly patter off on the marble path paved with good intentions to ride the escalator to hell.






The radio ballet for listeners which LIGNA of Hamburg-Berlin broadcast in Calcutta's South City Mall between 11th and 18th December 2012 as part of 'Parallel Cities' - an alternative art and media project in six simultaneous venues presented by Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, gave me food for thought to write the piece above.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Same Flame


http://videos.usatoday.net/29906170001/29906170001_1759932823001_0729dv-olympic-flame-400x300.jpg?pubId=29906170001
Is it the same flame?
The same flame lit so many aeons ago.
In another place, another time.

And has a flame genes?
Genetic obviousness.
A DNA of fire.

Or are all flames the same?
A concentration of combustibles.
Sparked by human hands.

Then will a flame have human genes?
Desire.
Frustration.

Is it the same flame that once burned on a mountain?
Lit as a rite of faith,
and belief.

Is it the same flame blazing today in a cauldron?
An emblem of the greed to win.
Losing not an option.


It is the same flame.
 The same flame which lights up our failure.
Our failure to live as we conceived.
Failings that sparked in us.
To set fire.

Inflamed passion. Blazing victory. Burned out defeat.
Higher. Faster. Stronger.
Or not.


A flame may only burn.

(The 2012 London Olympics plays in the background)

****
"Six billion dollars is being traded here so why do we compete for free?" - Sanya Richards-Ross, Team USA. Two-time gold medal winner in the 4x400 metres said that the Olympic ideal was at odds with reality and that athletes should be allowed to make money from their success.
(Reported on 31 July 2012 by The Telegraph, Calcutta from a feed by The Times, London).

In a classic example of happenstance, I read this news item after I had read my little ode to humanity.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Notes for toast

It was easy. A notebook, pen, or pencil, a convenient knee to facilitate writing; later type it up as a hard copy, double-spaced, ready for imaginary publication. Diligently stored in an arch file. Lost in the cobwebs and dust of time today.

Today. Today, ideas float in my head, demanding to be written, preserved for posterity. The laptop, on for the last 12 hours is somewhere else as I sit on the terrace of my barsati, open, exposed to the southern breeze. A kilometre or more absolutely ahead of me is an ugly monstrosity of a multi-storied residential apartment building, its sight covered by four palm trees which wave about in the strong breezes. There will be no rain tonight. I can see stars.

To go back into the room, away from the cooling breezes, and write these words is too much of an effort. Lethargy is engraved in me.

**********

The year-old government has an anthem. Vibrant voices sing in mournful chorus piped through acoustically deficient loudspeakers (not microphones, as many have stated) at the traffic junctions, replacing the always mournful versions of Rabindrasangeet which had been playing there for the last few months. At least there was a choice in that repertoire. Now its just one of those patriotic, marching sort of tunes reminiscent of the movies of the 50s, sickly-sweet, on a perpetual loop, guaranteed to piss you off.

The music self-procreates, constantly regenerating, exponentially spreading from one traffic junction to another. It's like the issues of mis-governance of the party in power that is a leading topic of the constant chatter in cyberspace. Still, I want to empathize. Mamata Banerjee is known for her honesty and her complete non-involvement in so many scams in which so many leaders are so implicated, not excluding a few from her own party. On the other hand, a retired justice who now heads the Press Council, calling her dedicated to serving her state and her nation, smacks of senile naivete.

After 34 years of suave and urbane corruption of not just the body politic but also of the mind, the people of Bengal were willingly lulled into a false situation of “everything's all right, things happen, just get back to your mediocre cultural aspirations and leave business to us”, we are expecting too much too fast from the new Chief Minister. She certainly needs her full five year term. At the same time, I can only hope she sees sense and stops tilting at windmills to get on with the real things.

**********
A recent amendment to the law protecting copyright is aimed at ensuring lifelong royalty to creative contributors like singers, song writers, script writers etc. Till now these royalties accrued to the producer and/or the label or company which released and marketed creative works commercially and otherwise. Most creative people got the shit end of the stick when their works made money over and above the fees/costs agreed upon. These were never shared by the producers/manufacturers, and yet those creative works were known by their creators and not the producers. So this is a positive move, but how it works in real life is a whole different ball game.
http://img.scoop.co.nz/stories/images/0902/39378db68acea0ae401f.jpeg
This then leads me to consider the actual act of copying, replicating, duplicating, in other words, plagiarising.

Recently, cyberspace has had me and some others generally discussing plagiarism. It arose with words quoted from a Steven Spielberg film which I commented seemed to have been lifted from a Bob Dylan song written a decade or more before the movie. One of these persons has taken it to heart and has thrown Mark Twain's words about the subject of copying at me, palpably irate at my possible accusation of the great Spielberg 'lifting'. The reverential and defensive use of Twain's words is similar to when they say that the quoting of the Scriptures is the last recourse of the Devil.

Two points need consideration here. First, I respect Mark Twain and his creative works and uphold him as a great story-teller and one of the finest writers in American Literature. However, I’m not na├»ve enough to believe every thing he has said and written as gospel truth or as some tenets I need to live by. I am permitted to differ.

Secondly, I started off by saying this was about plagiarising. The dictionary defines plagiarise as “to copy (ideas, passages of text, etc) from someone else's work and use them as if they were one's own”.

This then was my bone of contention. I had a few times commented on posts on many subjects made by this person where I had, instead of taking an accusative, confrontational attitude, merely posted the link from where this gent had so obviously obtained his material, done a good Ctrl C + Ctrl V job and not acknowledged his source. A gentle reminder to next time quote and acknowledge his source. He did so a couple of times in what I thought was a rather reluctant manner, and then went back to plagiarising.

How I knew he was plagiarising is because of his employment of language. Normally, he writes with innumerable grammatical and spelling errors, never bothering to use the spellchecker wasting away in his computer's word processor. And then he would post stuff which compared to his own writing was impeccable in its construction, spelling and ideas. And how did I confirm his plagiarism? That's what's wonderful about the interweb. You can find out anything about anything if you use a slight amount of intelligent, logical thinking. And Google.
The man, admittedly, has a wide range of interests and topics he wants to share with people on the social forums. That's a good thing because computers connected to the internet have made this ridiculously easy. At the same time, not giving and acknowledging the sources of your shared information and posting them without actually saying they are your own, is a crime to me. And more especially because the man is also faculty at a premier institution in Calcutta, in charge of impressionable minds, as he is a well-known personality in the corporate communications world of the city for the last couple of decades.

**********
What is work culture? Even Wikipedia has no entry of it, though they do have one on 'organizational culture' where they warn you that the article requires clean up and they don't sound too happy about the entry at all. I see it as a tangible and intangible environment outside home, where people can be sincerely and gainfully occupied with the work they are good for, and be able to do it competently and honestly. And do so in a cheerful atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration. Leading to progress and satisfaction all round. Human nature as wishfully conceived by optimistic me.
http://bradveley.com/image.php?file=04109.jpg

In truth... need I say it? The truth is, of course, the opposite in most cases.

I've been gainfully employed for at least two-thirds of my life and I have damned good experiences of interacting with people who are paying for certain abilities I have. And yet they always surprise me, it hurts, when people do things they otherwise criticise. Only because it affects them.

Real human nature again.
http://alchymie.typepad.com/acoa/images/dilbertknowledgeworker.jpg
I have certain time-tested, established, and basic ways of conducting myself at work. So I find this much-touted 'work culture' depressing, and atrocious. Why can't people keep to the times and schedules mutually agreed upon, even when there are loopholes to wriggle out of such agreements? Why, in this day and age of instant digital communication possibilities, do people not respond one way or another on project outcomes one has discussed endlessly? What are all these meetings about? Every time I go to meet people on scheduled appointments, I usually find them busy in other meetings, so I must wait. When does the work happen, if all they do is have meetings? Work is kept pending for a variety of reasons, usually the most mundane: “Haven't had time to see it[/think on it/action it] yet, boss. Give us a few days.” This is after quite many days have already passed. And like, it's been quite a few months since we all agreed upon action and final outcome. In one case, more than a year.

And if this sounds like some fictitious government bureaucracy example, you're wrong. These are real, and happened with reputed, well-respected, private corporations and institutions.

A Facebook friend posted this recently: “Why are some people always late? More importantly, why do they show disrespect for other people's time? This paper explores both cultures (the Japanese take it as a personal insult if you're late; Indians think time is an illusion) and individuals (punctual people win in the end, it's mathematically proven - P(k) = E [A(k + X)] − C). This is a MIT paper, so don't expect humour - though there's the odd touch of wit (In Brazil, 20% of watches and clocks don't work properly, so 1 out 5 have a good reason to be late).” The link to the paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=317621

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Great Void


Such a dearth of heroes. Of idols, role models.
They exist. But in lieu, in the avatars of politicians, film stars, industrialists, sportspersons. Somehow, these entities are all wanting.
Not just wanting in the desirable qualities that would naturally earn them goodwill and deserving reputations, but also in the fact that they want. They desire.
They demand our attention, our adulation, our wealth and time. Individually and collectively. They want, and provide us entertainment. Of a sort. Momentary diversions, temporal relief are granted us through their speech and actions. But they insist we believe in them. That we must aspire to be like them. It's not as if they're giving you a choice either.
This is a part of the system. The system which must control you in entirety. Including how you think. We are already controlled in what we do, why we do it, and when. The mind is still free. So far.

Heroes tell you to free your mind. Idols want you to worship life, not death nor past, not graven images. Role models tell you to do what you must. Not how they want you should.
These thoughts arise because I was referred a link to a poll seeking online votes for the “Greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi”. A shortlisted roster of 10 prominent Indians were the final candidates.
Of whom 7 are dead. I have no idea if permissions were taken from the living to know if they wanted to be participating.
Of the list, 6 are really dead. The doubt arises because: of a listed politician-candidate, there is no news, other than as rare historical references by his party peers in closed gatherings. So to our media-controlled minds, he doesn't exist. Good as dead.
Of the ones alive who are listed, there is, in no particular order: a cricketer, a playback singer and an ex-President cum ex-scientist, currently author of an alarming number of inspirational literature titles which read like a rehash of Readers' Digest, Paulo Coelho, and good old village elder wisdom. And has a particularly permanent bad hair day.
The playback singer is mostly known as a record-holder of the most number of songs ever sung, something as mundane as the tallest building/ the longest road/ the shortest man.
The cricketer too is another boring record-holder of having whacked the most number of leather balls with a wooden bat. Both singer and sport are famous for their distinctive voices. And the sport has recently adopted bad-hair-day style as well.
Of the remaining, that is the dead, the truly dead, are four politicians, an industrialist, and an European immigrant who conceived, and then perfected the poverty tourism industry. Unknowingly. But with much love. Which she wanted to keep giving, asking for nothing in return but love. We were happy to oblige.
Of the politicians, one was assassinated, and the others dead of natural causes presumably, too have suitable memorials across the country in the form of statues/ busts/ portraits, road names, housing colonies, public transport termini, institutions of learning, glowing references in Ministry approved history books. Makes us proud. Of names. Big names. Important names.
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/2012/3/8e520988-873d-41ca-ad5d-7209cc7583f2HiRes.JPG
The industrialist is a bit of a wild card really, on this list. He's famous for inheriting India’s first indigenous steel plant, a scion of the family that has contributed in no small measure to the country's economy and prestige. He also initiated civil aviation in India.
[By the way...have often wondered why an airport should be named after a man who was last known to have died in an air crash.]
It's sad we have no greats. Alive or dead. Since MKG. And he too was a man. Human. Like all of us. Known as a major force and inspiration in our Independence movement, he is today venerated only in the absence of his vision and intellect. And oh yes, is seen as a watermark on our currency.

Are we, as a nation, really so bereft of character, of ability, quality that we have no one alive to take on the mantle of the next great Indian?
What happens then to the names of of all the new roads and flyovers, the institutions being made and yet to be made, the awards to be given?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The 7th Baul-Fakir Utsav and notes from there

Seven years of a festival, an Utsav, which has total dedication but no worthwhile sponsorship or patronage, which has some of the best in ethnic Bangla folk music, audiences of no particular stereotype thoroughly enjoying themselves, and then you hear it may be the last one you'll get to attend.

Not good news when the day is washed out by unseasonal rain and the second day of the Utsav becomes a damp squib too. Still, the music never stopped.

Tipaniya and troupe from Maharashtra rendering Kabir were a revelation. It was the first time non-Bangla folk was performed here. Fakirs from Bangladesh and India dominated the first day and the rain stopped late night Baul performances. Not being able to go the second day, I heard disappointment all around, all due to the weather gods. But the music continued in the temporary akharas where these wandering minstrels held court in various locations around the Shaktigarh math.

The other not-so-good news I heard was that an organisation which has so far been doing fairly commendable work to promote ethnic musics like Baul, Fakir, Sufi and other strains has suddenly decided to aggressively promote their own edition of a Fakiri utsav at another location in a different district of Bengal on the same days when the iconic Joydeb Mela happens in Birbhum. This is also sad because the Shaktigarh Baul-Fakir Utsav of Calcutta takes pains to ensure their schedule never infringes on another similar music festival and they have a built-in convenience with their dates which lead naturally to the Joydeb Mela, next on the calendar for the performers and listeners.

The good news or thing that I saw this time was that there were significantly larger numbers of young people than previous years and more people spread the word about the Utsav through social network means. I’m unaware of how this may have translated into better revenues for the organisers but I sure hope it did. But this time I personally heard less music and indulged in a whole lot more of social niceties. And that made me wonder again about the future of such festivals.

Perhaps you do need aggressive promotion and corporate patronage. Where's the cut-off point? How do you know that the music and the musicians will not succumb to playing to the money, as opposed to playing for the money? Where's the guarantee that with changing listening dynamics, the music will not be completely corrupted into the fusion/confusion nonsense that has already taken hold in the world of music? I have no answers for these questions. I have some experience of promoting music and all I can say is that the lines are being blurred every day. Rock guitarists performing their own stuff at classical guitar concerts are a scary indication of how things are changing.

I’m far from being a purist. In fact I advocate change. I would not otherwise be a jazz lover. I’m not sure where these changes will lead, though it is a fact that all change leads to some where else. Ever the optimist, I have hope that the musicians themselves will be true to their calling and their creativity. The increasing presence and keen interest of younger people at such utsavs and jazz fests are surely indicative of not just change but also new directions, and this need not result in desultory fusion, that formula as dependable as Bollywood.

I am not one who wants things to be the way it was when I was young, or when I first heard the music. I’m just hoping that a lot of these unfortunate experiments in fusion music will die quick deaths. That as a listener and a regular purchaser of recorded works, I will be offered a bigger variety of new talent and skills who will adapt, interpret and improvise on what I believe are standards in music. Yes, of course social, political, economic and cultural changes will affect and influence the music. This is necessary. The direction it needs to go is not a bastardisation but a seamless development, a continuous process where external factors are incorporated, adapted, improvised with, rather than itself becoming the change. I’m not sure if I can explain because I’ve been writing about my feelings about music for so long and I’ve never been completely satisfied with what I think and how I express it.

Still, the Jadavpur Shaktigarh Baul-Fakir Utsav holds a special place in my heart. I don't want it to wrap up because the economics don't work out any longer. So if it comes to paying the piper then one might as well, provided of course that you are allowed to play your own tunes too.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

One of those evenings...

Just one of those days. Rather evenings. Sitting out in the open on my terrace, on my own, after a long time. What Delhizens call a barsati and get all orgasmic about. There's the pretence of winter in Calcutta's air. Some folks out on the roads wear winter clothes and others not. I'm not worried about the lack of winter in December. I know climate change is a reality. So my environmental activist friends tell me. And I tend to trust friends. I'm worried about having to do bullshit work for shit money for which they will pay me in February. I'm worried about having to pay the rent tomorrow, pay for utilities, for food and living decently, if not comfortably. And too I'm missing my daughter. I'm missing my girlfriend. Both of them far away in other parts. Like the state of my finances. Same.

Today is the the common birthday of two of my closest friends. The one I knew from childhood because of family connections and then through school and adult life, finally to the cusp of our dotage, went and died five years ago. The other guy I've known from school days is still around and I wish him a long life full of whatever he wants. Which leads me to thoughts of other dead friends. Naturally my own mortality is pondered.

So then I move to other thoughts. Thoughts of fusion music. And my considerable antipathy to this form of music. Especially the variety that attempts to put Indian classical in juxtaposition with jazz. Some of which may or may not be punctuated by rock and funk and overtones or undertones of a Western classical influence. Depending on where you're coming from.

And I say, hey, I want to hear you play your music in my country. Stuff I don't usually get to hear live. I don't want you to play or experiment with the music from my country and show me how skilful you are. Or how well you harmonise with the culture of my country. We are all in harmony, at peace. Have always been. That's a given. It's the politicians who have issues, who want war. And also the big business. They're worse. They also want branding. You're musicians who play a certain sort of music. Do that. Don't be politically correct. I know you're good, or so I've been reliably told. And it's why I pay good money to see your show. Then please don't play fusion. Or world music. Or stuff that is as confused as the politicians we elect. The ones who wage war on our behalf. Not just with other countries but with their own country folk too. Without actually consulting us. You, as musicians have a more definite purpose. It's to play music. IMHO, fusion and world music is somewhere on the peripheral fringes of music as I understand it. Not that my understanding is of any concern to you if you anyway want to do that crap. What does happen is that you lose out on a paying customer. A person who will pay exorbitant prices for a cheap beer just because a club with elitist credentials allows you to perform in their space. And lets you think that the sun shines out of your rear end.

And then I think of how rum is a good drink. It's the first alcohol I ever drank seriously. That is, to get pissed- farting-drunk. Which I did. And then I remember I first had rum with another friend who is dead. Whose final throes of a life half-lived took place in my room and ended on a hospital bed the next day. Six years ago. So then I contemplate on how very good the stuff from Himachal is. In combination with rum. And then I wonder how a litre of rum, in ratio, can be cheaper than its 375 ml bottled version. I know too I will never understand economics, even when it was my graduation subject. But I do understand cheaper booze when it is offered to me. Is that applied economics?

And I absolutely agree with the presently acting Telecom Minister of India, Kapil Sibal's orders to digital social media to manually filter objectionable content related to the Gandhis, the Congress and maybe the Sibals too. As a matter of fact I want Kapil Sibal to further ensure that social media companies filter and delete posts, status updates and the rest of the bumf on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter which lack intelligence, goodwill and cheerfully positive statements. Since I live in a democracy I want to be able to decide what qualifies for those standards. Just like His Capillary Sibilance (yuck!) can decide what is objectionable and uploadable. There's a good opportunity here for the Minister to ensure an abundance of employment. Especially for the dullards who are being technically certified in internet technology every year and are being projected as the future of our country. It is they who are posting objectionable content not being gainfully employed and in all probability devastatingly underemployed. Or becoming redundant as their jobs are outsourced to the Philippines. In fact this will, by extension, also take care of the inane posts from all our tech-friendly politicians and wannabe politicians like Shashi Tharoor, and Amitabh Bachchan. Even Suhel Seth – neither here nor there but wannabe with a capital W alright.

So this is one of those evenings of mine which come and go. This time, before it went, I wrote it down, literally dragging it into words on a page, imprisoning it in verbiage before it escaped me. Escaped my memory. My sloth. And indifference. So here, presented for your perusal, your commentary, your ignoring of it, your utter lack of interest in it, is a report of one of those evenings which make up my completely ordinary life.

Monday, August 01, 2011

In the Name of God

30 July 2011

This evening a screening of Anand Patwardhan's 1991 documentary film “In the Name of God – Ram ke Naam” was held at the Max Mueller Bhavan auditorium. Organised by a three year old magazine published from Calcutta called Kindle, the screening was followed by a discussion between the film maker and Tarun Vijay, the national convenor of the BJP.

The film was really all about the content and context in which it was made, a year before the Babri Masjid was destroyed and India was consequently polarised further into religious domains. As far as film making goes there's a lot I didn't care for, yet as a documentary film it's a solid piece of work and it hits the Hindutva supporters where it hurts quite a bit. Still, I found myself nodding off in a couple of places despite that... probably my fault.

The post-screening discussion, anticipated to be exciting, didn't disappoint. Once the almost sermonic Hindu/Muslim/anti-Indian posturing by both Anand and Tarun, and to a large extent the moderator as well took off, Calcutta's vibrant audience made their presence felt. Tarun Vijay as the BJP representative played his role well, grandstanding to an audience he could easily feel were antagonistic to him. Anand Patwardhan maintained his veneer of coolth and rationality as one might expect of someone of his repute. Neither of them though, can be held to represent the aam janata's voice. The moderator, Parnab something, apparently the Roving Editor of the magazine (whatever that might mean), was trying to be diffident and unbiased, but I suspect he was having fun watching the audience react the way they did. Calcutta-people can have quickly inflamed passions. You don't need much to set them off and if you try to be condescending and above them all, you're likely to get hurt. When Tarun Vijay walked off stage taking umbrage at Anand P's remark about black money in Tirupati and other temples, he was summarily halted at the doors by heated audience members and sent back to the stage. Back in his chair, Vijay realised that he had no chance with a questioning audience and proceeded to hog the mike as his defence. He had earlier stated that everyone in India was of Hindu origin regardless of what their present beliefs may or may not be.

It was obvious Tarun Vijay could only espouse the old tired party line of Hindutva, and that too to a Calcutta audience, members of an electorate which has historically never given the BJP or associates a chance. He spoke on and on and was not really amenable to questions. When a 16 year old schoolgirl asked him whether he knew Ram's date of birth and his real birthplace, he proceeded to be condescending with the young girl and then went off on a tangent wanting to know if his questioner or anyone in the audience could give their great-grandfather's DoB or name his birthplace! He didn't expect that a whole lot of people were actually pretty well informed of these details. He ended up saying that Ram was born “10 lakh years ago”! He finally stormed off the stage closely escorted by a confused and worried looking personal security guard. Some of his supporters who appeared out of nowhere effectively blocked off some raging audience members wanting to take the fight outside, as Vijay made his getaway behind their affronted, protective backs.

The audience, comparatively calmer, yet seething energetically sat back in their seats to endure a tad more of Anand's rational posturing. Yes, he has made this film which is important, significant and almost predicted the later violence of Babri Masjid, and and some other controversial films. He spoke of being considerate of other's opinion and always listening to what they said even if one didn't quite agree. He flaunted statistics about the minority community in his suave manner. He rued India's awful polarisation into the Hindu-Muslim centres of power and opinion, somewhere along the way mentioning Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains et al as an afterthought. But his film was no different. I wonder how a person who makes the sort of films he does, can remain only in observational mode without being affected by the circumstances yet still stay inactive. The only activism he has reputedly indulged in is to fight a number of legal battles over the years to ensure his films are permitted public screenings and freely distributed in India, thereby garnering overabundant publicity for himself. His standard justification most likely being that of one trying to uphold freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The anger and the concern of the majority for the minority. I thought of the stickers I had seen many years ago on the walls of Bombay's suburban trains, yellow horizontal strips with printed red letters screaming, “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain!” (“Say it with pride: I am a Hindu!”). And then the repartee appearing a few weeks later on those same walls, sober black text on a white background: “Pyar se kaho hum insaan hain” (Say it with love: I am human”).

[Found somewhere on the WWW]

I sat there and thought of my family and our extended family in all its glorious permutations and combinations. I thought of how many of us had married not just Christians, but Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs; of the ethnic origins of our various spouses: South Indian, Marathi, Gujarati, Chinese, Anglo-Indian, Anglo-Saxon, Mizo, Nepali, Punjabi and not just Bengali, and how we all had offspring from this miscegenation, who, if I may be allowed a slight amount of pomposity, are truly Indian. As differentiated from people who call themselves Bengali, Tamilian, Bihari or... Hindu. I thought of my maternal grandfather, a Thakur Brahmin from UP, who met my grandmother and converted to Christianity of his own free will to marry the woman he loved, of how he adopted a Muslim orphan from partitioned Bengal and raised him as his own along with his four children. I thought of my paternal great-grandmother and how she adopted a Muslim boy orphaned on the delivery table of the hospital where she worked as a nurse and raised him along with her four grandchildren, legally willing her property in one-fifths to all five. I thought of how this same lady and her daughter, my grandmother, two widows, offered their house in Park Circus during the pre-Independence Calcutta riots as a refuge for anyone persecuted from any community, regardless of their ethnicity and socio-economic status, merely because they believed so strongly in their Christian faith.

And I knew then that both these men were so wrong. India was not polarised because of our beliefs or attitudes. We were forced into becoming polarised because of men like them who play their blame games, with their disturbing espousal of their black and white theories, aggressively asserting that it is either this or nothing. They want us to see the world as they see it, as two distinct parts: us and them. I found Tarun Vijay and Anand Patwardhan to be opposing sides of the same coin.

As the session drew to a close, I wanted to ask both these men a couple of questions, and I might add of the moderator too. They remained unasked mainly because only 3 or 4 questions were allowed during the entire fiasco. But that is as may be. Since they had spoken so eloquently and often referred to the Constitution, what I wanted to ask was: Where does secularism as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution of India in its very first line, come into your arguments? And what have you done to promote it actively and positively as a human being first, leaving aside your “Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation”?