Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Courage: The pre-requisite of being an artist

It needs courage to become an artist.

An artist creates things that are non-essential for existence, but things which provide meaning to existence. Artists create beauty - in pictures, words, forms, dance - and most often than not, create them on their own notion of what beauty is. Many times the world does not agree, and sometimes it does. But the artist creates. Not because it is needed. Not because someone wants it. Not because it would sell. But simply because he has to. He creates because he must.

What does being an artist mean? It means that you would somehow create something of beauty that would be liked by people. An artist does not have a business card that calls him a Creator. Nor does he have one that calls him a Vice President - Manufacturing. Nor does he get a salary check from some one. He is his own university, he is his own factory, he is his own marketeer, he is own innovation - he is one man everything. He is stripped of all the paraphernalia that most professions has. A business man has his money, a career bureaucrat his post, a politician his constituency, a manager his salary check, a doctor his dispensary - and all of these give substance to the profession, and the man who practices it.

An artist is a stripped-of-everything profession. A man or a woman stands bare, with no protection, except a vision of beauty that they wish to share, with no protection, no props, no sustenance.

Which one of us humans can live a true-to-thought life like this? Where we have no place to hide? No degree to hold on to, no house to show off, no car to drive to - where we stand as ourselves, and ask the world to believe us simply because, because.

And yet, artists needs to depend on the same world for his daily bread and sustenance. So, maybe an artist needs to prostitute his art, for creating something that people like - regardless of whether it matches his vision or not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Goat and a Hyena

Strange people get married - and stay married.

The reason why they get married is clear- the great Indian Arranged Marriage System - where the only things which are considered as mating pre-requisites are an ability to earn from the grooms side, and the ability to attract and procreate from the female's side, or vice versa - depending upon the social status of each one of them. In absence of any other scale, the gold scale or the beauty scale prevails, and that makes sense to me.

However, why they stay married when it is very obvious that they are very different types of human beings continues to amaze me, despite the economic vulnerability of the woman.

I recently visited one such couple. This couple has been married for years and years - maybe 40 years - the one fact that some of my friends who have western sensibility would celebrate, obviously with an assumption that if intelligent people have stayed married, it is because it made sense for them to stay married. How mistaken they sometimes are!

This couple are as different as a goat and a hyena. The woman is patient, docile, obedient, god-fearing and dutiful. The man is rapacious, self-serving, waits upon others to do his thing - pretty much a scavenger. The Hyena makes the Goat do everything for him - cook his food, give him his medicines, clean his house, lay his bed, lay the table, press his feet etc etc. In return, the Hyena does nothing for his wife - he does not even talk to her nicely. He yells at her at the slightest provocation, and insults her whenever he can, while waxing eloquent publicly over how much he loves her. The Goat bears it all, sometimes with patience, and sometimes with irritation, but her upbringing has taught her to respect her husband, and serve him - and thats what she does, without question, week after week, month after month, year after year - even when she is now worn out, old and almost fragile. The Hyena on the other hand, suffers from heart conditions because of his terrible temper, but takes excellent care of his health, and can hope to see many more suns.

The Goat and the Hyena have been living together for years, and as is wont in marriages, they have stayed together not because they love each other, but because they once entered the bonds of holy matrimony, arranged by their parents, and because Hindu marriages are not expected to break.

However, what I saw in my recent visit to the couple made me wonder if Hindu marraige was not sometimes a slavery - in fact, almost akin to indentured labour.

For, the Hyena has now taken to piss, by choice, not in the commode which is what all ordinary mortals use, but into a special vessel made for holding it due to some Baba - who has told him that pissing in a commode made him less virile. As a part of her marital duties, the goat is made to clean up the ensuing mess, and also carry the piss to the appropriate place to dispose off, as she is after all the Hyena's wife. The Hyena is very much capable of doing this himself, as he is in decent health, but he chooses to give his task to his wife since it is so distasteful to him.

I could see what made the Hyena ask his wife to handle the piss. About the virility part, I do not even wish to speculate.

The Goat does all of this, without question, without a thought of revolt or saying no - and all in the name of marital duty.

It is sick. What makes me sick is not the fact that the Hyena behaves the way he does, but why the Goat behaves the way she does. She is a human being, a person in her own right, a thinking caring intelligent person, she has no compulsions of any kind. Just why does she submit to such cruel insulting behaviour? After all, if the Goat stopped accepting the insults, would not the Hyena have to stop? After all, who else in the world will take such an insult?

Just why does the Goat not behave like a human being? Just because of marraige vows? Yeah, right. Dead right.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let the Midnights Children Sleep!

I read the news about Deepa Mehta doing a movie on Salman Rushdie's "Midnight Children" with trepidation and horror.

Midnight Children is a book I read the first time when I was in my raw teens, during which time I did not understand much of it and flung it after the first few pages when I could not figure out how a nose could be so important. I read it with determination the second time - this was when I was at college, and it was a mark of dishonor to the group that I belonged to who prided themselves on all things literati - and was awed by the intricate ornate imagery the author wove, and its hugely metaphorical content to the birth of our nation. I have since then read it at least thrice, though not in recent years, and have fallen in love with is quirky characters - Salim Sinai, the hapless exchanged-at-birth child, the rumbuctious Brass Monkey, the rotund but sexy Begum Sinai, Mary Pereira, the ridden by guilt midwife, the Aunt Alia who feeds guilt and resentment in her pickles, the sinister Widow with her half grey head of hair - and the quirkier setting - the tetrapod laced Mumbai, the fortune-changing Mahalaxmi Race course, the breathtakingly beautiful Kashmir, and the dark murky hate spewing streets of Mumbai - and not to forget the stuffy Chothes Chest in the Sinai bathroom where Salim lay hidden, as he is hit by his first adult moment.

The book is rich in feeling and metaphor, and creates a world which dazzles, smells and shakes and has characters which cower, lust, love, fear, and take shape in ones mind, and stay with one, hours after the book is put down. Salman Rushdie is a masterful story teller. His story needs some telling, but for people who have the patience and the imagination to stay with him awhile, he amply rewards them with a world that is rich and suggestive, like real life. Like the famous Arabian Night stories, the Midnight's Children can be spun into a tapestry of another set of stories - in which each of the characters takes off from one point in this story, travels to another one, and then comes back to this one to take his rightful place.

And now, a story of this kind, the kinds that holds a world and many other yet-to-be-born stories inside is, is going to be played out on celluloid, and its fluid rich imaginative world will be concretized on reels. I hate it. Just completely abhor the idea.

It is not that I don't like Deepa Mehta - I also understand that perhaps this movie would give Salman Rushdie another spot of bright illumination in public life which the beleaguered man may or may not relish, and may give him some much needed money - nor do I mind the re-interpretation of the story in thousand different ways, which is what most good stories are for, anyway.

What I truly mind is the change of medium of the story. .

For, just how would the cinema capture the musty smells of the clothes chest in the Sinai bedroom as he views his mothers bottom? How would the camera capture the Sr. Sinai's falling-in-love-in-parts-by-part, and its completely apt metaphor to India being a country made up of parts? How would the camera manage to get inside the guilty purse of Mrs. Sinai as she goes horse racing, guilt ridden and shadowy? How could it capture the conversations-in-mind with all those many midnights children that Salim Sinai has, his falling in love with Parvati when she is just a nebulous presence in his mind.

The list is large - and I shudder to think what butchery would take place of my beloved story and my beloved weird characters as Ms. Mehta will apply her celluloid knife.

It would not be her fault, the fault would be the medium's. The tyranny of it being two dimensional - visual and audio, and that's it. No imagination, no smells, no in-between emotions, and the worst of it all, the tyranny of 2 hours! Stories of this kind are told over and savoured over days of indolent reading and telling, and the "Phir?" question marks that one goes to sleep with - and wakes up luxuriously to return to it again…

Ms. Mehta, please don't do this. Please do not put faces to my Salim Sinai, and the Brass Monkey and the virile Shiva Please do not tell me the color of the Clothes chest. Please do not tell how Bombay looked then - and how the Widow looked. I know them all in my minds eye, and I do not want to know them through your eyes. My eyes and mind are in great shape, thank you.

And Mr. Salman Rushdie, just how could you do this? Just how could you consent to the butchery that is bound to be unleashed on this magical story of yours? How can you kill all the other stories than can come out of Midnights children still? You are the father of this story, aren't you? Or have you too, tired of your creation, and are out to milk it for whatever its worth in gross coins you can touch, rather than thoughts and minds you can reach?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hungry eyes

I wish I did not have these visions.

Of blue oceans, and blue skies and blue hills and blue trees...

I am tormented by them - these visions - and find it difficult to focus on my daily life as my soul yearns for them, and rubbishes everything that I do have. I have everything that I can materially ask for, and emotionally want - my cup of life is full. And yet, yet, there is this yearning, which keeps me awake at night, and browse furiously through books, and the web - looking for that place that I can call my home.

Actually, it is not the yearning to call a place a home, it is perhaps a yearning for having lived and travelled and smelt other smells and mingled with other skins, and seen the beauty of nature. I just want to go back to nature.

I am selfish enough to cling to my air-conditioners and my neatly kept home to manage my day to day life, but my eyes - they are the ones who are hungry. They clamour for food they like, for food they can enjoy and savour, and I struggle as they take over my entire persona and make me feel as if I am one big starving eye.

Why is beauty such a need? Why are my eyes so hungry? Why can't they leave me in peace?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The road not taken...

The road not taken -is very often a cul-de-sac.

I am forever irritated by many of these feel-good maxims which can lead a tormented soul astray by pretending to stand for wisdom. The road not taken... is one of those.

Most well trodden life paths are taken because well, they are worth being well trodden. Most well trodden paths would provide a person with a good enough life, good enough money, good enough friends, and good enough peer respect. That is one the reasons why parents insist on their children taking well trodden paths.

The roads not taken are difficult, uncertain, and full of blind spots. Most often than not, they end nowhere - the precise reasons why they are not taken in the first place.

Many young people, in their first flush of youth, this writer included, hunger for such roads. Not because of anything else, but because the road seems so fresh, so new. Fresh and new it is, but it
is also treacherous.

This is also true for new products and new markets. Most new markets, are well, not profitable.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Butting heads

Today I had yet another discussion with Ravi. The same one about his parents. Ravi's parents have a mould that they have created for him, and they want Ravi to fit into that. But he does not fit. If he fitted into their mould, he would not know himself. He has got to choose between being himself, and what his parents want their son to be.

Ravi is almost 35, and yet, his parents have not given up. Or rather, Ravi has managed to not kick-shatter the mould and break free. Yet.

Why must parents make a child, an adult child at that, do their absolute bidding? It is fair for parents to expect their children to love, honor and respect them - but to live according to their norms - why is that expected? Why can parents not let their adult offsprings decide what they wants, and let them do it. Why can't they just ensure that in case the offspring fails and makes a grievous mistake, they are there to hold him, and leave it at that?

Just why is fitting into a pre-defined mould so important to be declared as a "good" offspring?

Amazingly, the differences between what Ravi's parents want, and what Ravi is - are not very significant. When the offspring is indeed very different, parents somehow reconcile themselves to it, and most often than not, learn to revel in the uniqueness of their offspring. They do not understand, so they stand aside and applaud.

But when the offspring is not very different - he is always being pushed to somehow "fit" in, to drop the things that make him different, and simply squirm into the mould.

And the guilt that is ladled out for non-conformance is huge! Guilt is thrown at Ravi at being able to walk on ones own two feet, to be able to want from ones own heart, and to be able to reason from ones own brain! Ravi's parents stands there and accuse him of being different, of being not of their kind and somehow make him feel as if he is not really theirs.

I watch helplessly as Ravi grapples with his own roots and his identity. It is painful to watch.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No more sitting on my hands!

Its been a while - maybe about a couple of years, when I have had to sit on my hands, and force myself to not write. There are things that I want to write about, rant about, wonder about, muse about, tell stories about - and I keep telling myself that this is not the time, some day later as the daily grind simply refuses to let go.

I just told myself today that this could not continue. I needed to stop sitting on hands. And so, here is the first post on the blog