Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Is it the same flame?
The same flame lit so many aeons ago.
In another place, another time.
And has a flame genes?
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?
Is it the same flame that once burned on a mountain?
Lit as a rite of faith,
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.
A flame may only burn.
(The 2012 London Olympics plays in the background)
In a classic example of happenstance, I read this news item after I had read my little ode to humanity.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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
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
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”?