Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pic & Quote Of The Month

"I was born with an enormous need for affection, and a terrible need to give it"

~ Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)

Audrey Hepburn is considered to be one of the greatest female actors of the 20th century, along with Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Marlyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. She considered her performance in William Wyler's Roman Holiday to be her dearest. Audrey Hepburn was regarded as a slender, elfin, and wistful beauty, alternately regal and child-like. This cute photograph of Audrey Hepburn was taken in 1955. Am reminded of Osho Rajneesh who, while talking about sharing and being in love, had said, Cast pearls on swine! Sometimes, asses are better than humanbeings. Don't you agree?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Suicide Of A Dream : Comrade Kanu Sanyal

(Kanu Sanyal with background photos of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin & Mao)

The last of the trinity passed away by committing suicide. Comrade Kanu Sanyal hung himself with a nylon rope in the hut last week, where he was living in a village, in the vicinity of the historic Naxalbari village, which is near Siliguri in West Bengal. He was one of the three important founders of the Naxalite Movement in India. The other two were : Charu Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal. Charu Mazumdar died in police custody in 1972. Jangal Santhal had spent more than a decade in jail, became a chronic alcoholic after his release in 1979 and drunk himself to death in 1982. Kanu Sanyal was released from prison in 1977 and he started to live permanently in his beloved village, near Siliguri where he had chosen to have his last breath in the summer of March 2010.

A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India and the spark is going to cause priarie fire and a great storm of revolutionary armed struggle will eventually sweep across the length and breadth of India, was the oracular prophecy of People's Daily of China, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China after a peasant revolt broke out in Bengal during the summer of 1967. It happened in a small village called Naxalbari which is located near Siliguri in Darjeeling District of West Bengal during the last week of May 1967. A peasant youth got a judicial order in his favour to plough a piece of land under litigation. The local landlords ganged up and attacked the peasant. A socio-political unrest followed in that entire Terai region at the foothills of the Himalayas having many tea estates in between the forests. The peasants were organised by two grassroot level leaders namely Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal. The ideological shape to the resistance was given by Charu Mazumdar, who termed it as a movement for the seizure of power through agrarian revolution. All the three of them belonged to the Communist Part of India (Marxist), which won the largest number of seats in the state elections during 1967, thus forming a United Front Government in West Bengal with other coalition partners. The three leaders revolted against their own party, namely the CPI(M), which was part of the ruling coalition at that time. They organised the peasants to retaliate against the local landlords and started capturing back some of the lands by violent means. And the ruling state government, with CPI(M) at the helm of affairs, treated it more as a law and order problem and the entire uprising was controlled from spreading by the state police force.

No incident actually took place at the legendary village of Naxalbari on May 25, 1967. A firing on rural poor took place in Prasadujot, another nearby small village in the Siliguri division. There were clashes and tensions in the area on the land question and a police official was killed. Next day a huge number of police fired on poor peasants, who were unarmed. Eight peasant women were killed, two children of about six months were killed in the women’s laps and one young man was also shot dead. The entire uprising came to a grinding halt in and around the Naxalbari village within a few months. Although defeated, it unleashed a flow of events which escalated over the years into various extreme left-wing political movements of different hues and colours with deeper ramifications in India's socio-political landscape. All such extreme left-wing political movements of India got their appellation as Naxalism, named after the village of Naxalbari.
Subsequently in 1969, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the CPI(ML), was formed under the leadership of their ideologue, Charu Mazumdar. They formulated their strategy as the elimination of the feudal order in the Indian countryside by freeing the poor from the clutches of the oppressive landlords and replace the old order with an alternative one that would implement land reforms. Accordingly, they devised their tactics to achieve it through violent guerilla warfare by the peasants to eliminate the landlords and build up resistance against the state's police force which, according to them, came to help the ruling class of the landlords. They then aimed to gradually set up 'liberated zones' in different parts of the country that would eventually coalesce into a territorial unit under Naxalite hegemony, ultimately leading to a classless, communist India, with the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The fundamentals of all such adventurist extreme left-wing political enterprises are essentially flawed. Their philosophical understanding was inadequate and skewed-up as they did not completely comprehend the writings of the two Germans, namely, Karl Heinrich Marx and Friedrich Engels, who wrote interesting philosophical treatises in the 19th century, based on the conditions of the world as existed then. The extreme left-wing political movements of India took its inspiration from the disastrous experiments upon humanity conducted by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin in USSR, Mao Tse-tung in China, Saloth Sar Pol Pot in Cambodia and many others in every possible nook and corner of the world. Such political experiments of historic philosophies had only contributed to make the history of 20th century to become one of the most brutal and most cruel centuries in the history of human civilisation. Together with Adolf Hitler's Nazism and the Benito Mussolini's Fascism, the communist dictatorships under Stalin, Mao and others should be condemned as totalitarian excesses which wrecked more havoc to humanity than any iota of good which they professed to usher in. By equating all the totalitarian dictatorships as crimes against humanity, one should not fall into the traps of either the laissez-faire capitalism with its dogmatic liberalism or right-wing fascism with its religious fanaticism of any kind. What requires to be comprehended is the insightful writings of the Younger Karl Marx which were published in German in 1932 and for which the English translations were available only after 1959. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theorists like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin and Erich Fromm took inspiration from the writings of younger Marx and have given important theoretical inputs to understand the complexities of advanced capitalism and the commodification of life, which are the realities we face in the 21st century. The writings of a present-day philosopher like Slavoj Zizeck is more insightful than any of the pamphlets published and distributed by the Naxal theoreticians and political practitioners in India to understand post-modern life and the complexities we face in contemporary world.
Comrade Kanu Sanyal committed suicide not because he was old and ailing. But because he got totally disillusioned with the ways and means in which the current day extreme left-wing Maoists are spelling disasters to the livelihood of hundreds of poor marginalised tribals, peasants and agricultrual labourers across the country. In a way, it was a Frankenstein Monster which murdered his soul. In an interview before his suicide, he was asked to comment on the Maoist or Naxalite insurgency that have become active in many parts of the country. He said that they would vanish with time unless they strengthen their mass base immediately and trust in the parliamentary democracy of the country. The peasantry in the areas controlled by these Maoist insurgents prefers to approach the police camp, to save themselves from the Maoists and from the goons controlled by the landlords, said Kanu Sanyal.
Can there be any other horrifyingly tragic end to a magnificently grand dream?!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Angadi Theru (Tamil Movie) : A Non-Stop Torture

If your planetary position is not good, it screws up your Sunday. Not just badly. But miserably. I should have quietly gone to watch Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor which was screened today morning by the Enlighten Film Society. There would not have been any second thoughts if Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris or The Sheltering Sky or even Stealing Beauty were screened. I can watch all these three masterpieces of Bertolucci endlessly. Since I had already seen The Last Emperor more than twice earlier, I was reluctant to go, as there is not much to relish over and again in it, apart from the cinematographic finesse of Vittorio Storaro. Last evening, Mani, my new literary friend in Mumbai, told me about the release of a Tamil movie Angadi Theru by one of the upcoming and promising director Vasantabalan. Since it is being screened in a cinema hall nearby, my misfortune seduced me to watch it. And to undergo a non-stop torture for more than two and half hours. I could not exercise the choice of walking out of the hall due to various reasons and therefore I have to purge it out my system by writing this review. At the outset, let me caution you to not to read it any further and undergo the same suffering!

The plot of the film has two gruesome accidents as its turning points. The first accident happens at an unmanned railway cross resulting in a train crushing to death the hero's father along with a dozen of others travelling by a vehicle. The second accident happens in the city of Chennai where an over-speeding lorry crushes to death another set of more than two dozen pavement dwellers who were sleeping on the roadside in the night. In between the first and second accidents, the poor hero gets more than two hundred and fifty slaps from the manager of a super market continuously for more than 10 reels of film print. After the second accident, both the legs of the heroine gets mutilated. The hero finally marries the heroine and the films ends much to the relief of less than a dozen of unfortunate victims sitting as audience inside the hall.

There is a crippling psychological complex afflicting some of the upcoming directors like Bala, Ameer and Vasantabalan and upcoming writers like Jeyamohan and Ramakrishnan and agit-pop essayists like Charu Nivedita in Tamil society. It is called as megalomania. It is nothing but a mirror-image of the Dravidian cultural iconography getting reflected on the other side of the spectrum. These creative persons are reasonably young and energetic, promising and talented. Unfortunately, they have started falling into the self-delusional traps of grandeur and have started believing that they have grown beyond criticism. By touching a hilltop hither and thither, they have begun to assume that they have already scaled the greatest of all mountain peaks. The domain of cultural and literary criticism in Tamil Nadu is left with a harrowing void, where there is none to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. In such a philistine scenario, the prevailing theme seems to be you scratch my back and I scratch yours. As a result, one cannot expect the second movie of a young director like Vasantabalan to be creatively more mature than his maiden venture. It is also unfortunate to mention that the dialogues for this film penned by Jeyamohan, for whom I have my greatest personal love and regard, has nothing worth mentioning either. How can one prevent the recurrence of such tragedies in Tamil cultural space?

Movie Rating : 1 out of 10

Note : But for the 0.5 score for the female lead actor Anjali who shows flashes of brilliance and 0.5 score for one beautiful song (Aval Appadi Ondrum Azhagillai) cinematographed beautifully, the rating of the movie ought to be 0 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rama Navami : Remembering Yogi RamSuratKumar

It was a small old house. With corrugated clay-tiled roof. That was where Yogi Ramsuratkumar was living in those days. Located around the corner of a street near the colossal Gopura of the Temple of Thiruvannamalai. There were lots of drooped garlands with wilted flowers hanging on the iron grills of the verandah facing the road. They formed a translucent curtain obscuring the visibility of the passers-by. But it did not render the visual communication, between the Yogi who sat inside and any ardent seeker passing by the doorstep, completely opaque. One can still attempt an eyeball to eyeball game if one peeps through the right apertures. For the probing eyes of the Yogi was always on the look out.

The fag end of 1992 was a time zone in my life which was full of turbulence and turmoil. Uncertainties and anxieties. Lethal post-adolescent pangs. At around noon, myself and my classmate Rajagopal had reached the house of Yogi Ramsuratkumar at Thiruvannamalai. Travelling by bus all the way from Paiyyanur, where we were put up for a village stay program. Those were the final days of my under-graduation in the discipline of Agriculture. I had read about this man called Ramsuratkumar from the writings of Balakumaran and V.Rangarajan. And from what GeethaRavindran had narrated about her experience of meeting him. When we reached, the door of the house was locked from inside. We then enquired with a boy who was around. He said that he was the one who does part-time gate-keeping in the house of the Yogi in the mornings and evenings, which were the visiting hours earmarked for the devotees. Besides this, the boy was also preparing for his next attempt to give his tenth standard board exams in which he had failed. I felt an immediate incongruence in this. Why should the Yogi not bless his own poor gate-keeper boy to pass the Board Exam? Or possibly get rid of him from this monstrous schooling system and liberate the boy into a true seeker? Why should he be caught in between? While I was thus pontificating within my mind, that boy interrupted and said the Yogi will open the front gate by around 4.30pm or sometimes later as well. I was wondering what would the Yogi be doing inside the house at that time of the afternoon. I had always been very curious to know whether these Yogi guys would be using the loo!

Me and my friend went to have a stroll around the Temple. When we returned sharp at 4.30pm, there was already some bhajan going on inside the verandah. The Yogi was sitting on the floor with his famous palm leaf fan. A few of his devotees were singing some bhajans sitting in front of him. The gate-keeper boy, whom we had met a little earlier in the day, had resumed his duty, standing and holding the gate from inside the house. My friend said he was not interested to meet any Yogis at that stage of his life and said that he would visit the Temple and get back. The gate-keeper boy then told me that on that particular day, the Yogi had come out unusually at around 4pm itself to open the gate and he himself had reached there a little late. I said that was all fine and I asked him to open so that I can meet the old man. The boy simply refused stating that he had the permission to open the gate only after Ramsuratkumar gives him the nod to do so. That seemed to be the prevalent practice in that household. I told that boy to go and tell that old man sitting there that I had come in the morning itself and was waiting the whole day to meet him. My fury increased as it was getting late. I had to return to the camp the same night, which was at a four to five hour distance from there, depending upon the availability of the bus. The gatekeeper said he was sorry as he was not supposed to talk to his boss like that. This was going on in a hushed-up tone between me and the dwarapalaka in Tamil, as the Yogi was conversant in English and Hindi only. I then suddenly turned towards the side where Ramsuratkumar was sitting. He was looking into my eyes with a smile.

When his eyes met mine, I did not turn away. I looked straight into him. In a short while, Ramsuratkumar suddenly got up, opened the door from inside, came out and sat down on the front steps at the entrance of the house. I was standing just in front of him. Though this knee-jerk reaction of the old man had unsettled me, I upped the ante by staring straight into his eyes again. And he was sitting in front of me at a more intimate, hugging distance! He was continuously looking into me. I also took note of the fact that he was smiling at me all the time. And probing me all the while. I think I would have looked like a funny boy with an affected sternness on my face that evening. Which might have induced him to smile more. Whatever. There was silence. Neither him nor I spoke. After a while, without removing his glance, he broke the silence and asked, "So my young friend, tell me...!"

There are always certain defining moments in your life. Many a times, you don't get to know of it instantaneously. Sometimes you realise it much later. And sometimes you die without knowing a wee bit of it. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say it with humility and conviction that, it was one such defining moment of my petty life. But I didn't think so at that point of time. And the amusing part of it is that, I was damn serious and too sincere in what I truly believed in then. Without taking my eyes from him, I asked what I thought was the most profound question haunting my life, "What solution do you have for the problems facing humanity?". He laughed and said, "My dear friend, I am not a philosopher. I am just a beggar!" At that juncture, something in me told me that I should stop yapping and ask him what I actually felt deep inside. "So, what do you think that I should do then?", I asked him. Pat came the reply, "Say RAM, my friend, say RAM RAM!". I could not believe that one can dare to offer me such a simplistic solution for a complex problematique posed by me. It prompted me to almost yell at him, "What??". He laughed again and said, "Just chant what I told you!". That, I thought, was my turn to laugh. I smiled condescendingly at him and asked, "That's all you have to say?". He simply replied, "Yes, my friend. That's all!". By then, some passer-by fell at his feet. He patted his devotee's head muttering, "Ram, Ram!". I felt ridiculous at the gimmicks of the old man. I told him that I would take leave. But he raised his hands and blessed me, "Ram, Ram! My Father blesses you, my friend!". I was flabbergasted. He remained smiling without getting irked at my irreverential demeanour. My arrogance did not permit me to fold my hands and salute him. Touching his feet was beyond question. My dignity and self-respect would not allow me to deign to such levels. I slightly bowed my head, rather tilted it a little in the front. That would be more appropriate to describe the gesticulation I had made then. As if to offer my feeble recognition to an old man, more for his age than for his wisdom. I still remember that he was smiling when I left the place without turning back. I did not visit the Temple and departed from Thiruvannamalai with utmost disappointment. I was a 21 year old rebel then. A rebel without a cause and without a pause, as my mentor Palanivel Rajan had aptly remarked long ago.

After this visit, I was convinced that my first trip to Thiruvannamalai was a sheer waste. An exercise in futility. What was the point of travelleing that far and meeting an old simpleton who was having nothing new to offer as a solution to the problems of humanity! And when I ask him what should I do, he simply smiles and asks me to chant Raama Naama. Is any kind of chanting not a self-hypnotic auto-suggestion, to delude myself from the harsh reality? Moreover, to keep humming Ram Ram during 1992, when Babri Masjid was demolished at Ayodhya by the Hindutva zealots, reeked of a sinister gameplan. My puerile fascination, during the early 90s, towards the Marxist-Leninist ideological spectrum simply rejected such a spiritual enterprise as a hogwash in the stream of false consciousness. Nothing but an Ideological State Apparatus to create the hegemony of super-structure. These were the predominant reasons which coerced me to abscond from the domain of spirituality and religion during those years. More crucial than all this was the fact that I was anxious to settle down into a financially and materially better standard of living. The domain of spirituality was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in during those testing times. That is the other side of the bitter truth.
Once you reasonably and logically settle down in life, your passionate heart can be cleverly liberated from your intelligent mind. A working dynamic can be established between the heart and the mind, with what Friedrich Hegel calls as the cunning of the reason. It is time to grow wings and attempt to fly in the sky, before the rot sets in. Else life becomes too boring and mundane. It gets cynical and nauseating. To hold the bleeding soul intact within your tight embrace, there is not much choice left other than to try and indulge in passions which are dear to your heart. And when you start experiencing your intimate passions, you inevitably land up facing the twin eternal dilemmas of living : love and death. A sense of wonder towards life and the Universe would increasingly engulf your being. Questions without answers would become more intense. It is imperative to revisit the epistemology of Immanuel Kant and his distinction between noumena and phenomena so that a more comprehensive understanding of religion is possible in this post-modern world we inhabit. Apart from his seminal work, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), yet another less talked about but very significant earlier work of Kant, namely, Observations On The Feeling Of The Beautiful And Sublime (1764) dwells on the concepts of Beauty and Truth. It attempts to conceptualise the themes of the heart. Of emotions and feelings. How will you conceptualise the finer aesthetics of your soul? How are you going to grapple with the abundance of life which keeps happening beyond the purview of logic and reason? Though one cannot fully decipher them, it becomes essential to create a subtle dialectic between mind and heart, between launguage and silence, between the temporal and the spiritual. All this and much more, seduces one to endeavour into the luxurious domain of spirituality and religion. Such noumena and phenomena would happen as you grow sober. Or, to put it more critically, as you become more and more senile!

Like Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, we have to discover our own inner truths. Not a single but multiple truths. Am a novice in this dazzling journey. Some of those questions which haunted me during the yester-years, appear to me as superficial and pedantic at this juncture of my life. They have almost vanished. New questions have arisen. And certain old questions have got more deeper. But questions continue. They have actually intensified. Now, I feel that you can chant Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Rama or the name of any God or Goddess from the Little Traditions or Tribal religions of your own volition, whenever you feel like. All those names are divine and beautiful. It does not prevent you from registering your protest in any form you deem fit, whenever you think and feel you should react to any injustice in the society. They are all mutually complementary. As long as one tries to avoid chanting one's own name incessantly, one can fairly retain right proportions of sanity and insanity! And reasonable good health too.

Life has taught me the wonder and the beauty of Raama Naama, in its own unique ways. I cannot explain how. I do not want to. You have to discover it yourself, if you want to. Else do whatever you feel like doing. The perceptions about Yogi Ramsuratkumar has changed within me over time. Even now, I do not like the ways and means in which he has been idolized, which his latter-day followers have made him out to be. I keep far away from that. Such tragedies have always been happening to mankind. During the past few years of my life, I keep having occasional conversations with Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Where I just thank him and he merely smiles. Nothing mystical about it. Simple imagination. Just for the heck of it. It was He who first told me about Raama Naama and blessed me at a time and age when I was adamantly recalcitrant. Had I been Yogi Ramsuratkumar and had anyone come to meet me with such an immature question, believing it to be the most profound one on top of all that, what would I have done? How would I have responded? Would I have given him one tight slap? Or hugged him to dissolve his inner pain? I do not know. With me, neither of it would have worked. That is my personal predicament. What I admire in Yogi Ramsuratkumar is the sense of a higher, more evolved intelligence to discern the Other seeker and bless him according to his or her station in life. Or, is it the other way round? We get the Gurus according to what we deserve and what we are, at the core of our being. That is yet another Zen mystery. In any case, I am eternally grateful to Yogi Ramsuratkumar for he smiled and blessed me!

A few days ago, when visiting Thiruvannamalai, I visited that small old house. Where Yogi Ramsuratkumar blessed me in 1992. All of a sudden, before going to the Temple, Sundar said that we would go to that house. And so we went. The house remains almost the same. There was an man in his 50s who seemed to be maintaining it. It has been preserved as a small museum now. There are cupboards containing many letters which came to the Yogi, a simple mattress, few scribblings on the walls, an old photo of Lord Venkateshwara of Thirupathi, his unused cigarettes, and such other things of daily usage. There was also a sign board pointing towards the toilet located at the backyard of the house which was used by the Yogi! On seeing it, I got elated to get a vague answer to my almost 2-decade old puzzle. Actually, I just smiled.

Before entering the front-gate of that tiled old house, I touched the front steps where the Yogi sat and blessed me some 18 years ago. My eyes welled up. I offered my salutations to one of my first Gurus who gave me a cue to the Ultimate Guru of my life. And I felt the overflowing love and warmth of Yogi Ramsuratkumar and the smile which he bestowed upon me as the Blessings of His Father..

RAM..! RAM..!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Love, Sex Aur Dhoka : A Brilliant Experiment

The Gods became very annoyed. They were seething with anger and remorse. It went out of their bounds. They finally descended upon the Earth and held an emergency meeting at a secret cave in the Himalayas. After careful deliberations and detailed discussions about the human agenda on feminism and post-modernism in the 21st Century, they gave their final verdict : the 1975-born lass named Ekta Kapoor will be eternally condemned to hell for stereotyping Indian womanhood in all her third-rated Saas-Bahu soaps and such other mediocre television serials churned out of her production company, unless she redeems herself with one spectacular production before the end of the Maha Kumbh Mela by April 2010. This left Ekta Kapoor with no other choice but to perform a penance to wash away all her sins accumulated thus far and to take a radically unimaginable step of her life : to produce India's first experimental dogma cinema, having its roots in the counter-cultural film movement, namely, Love, Sex Aur Dhoka.

Dibakar Bannerjee, whose eccentric photo is inset above, has directed this brilliantly new endeavour on celluloid. Love, Sex Aur Dhoka is a film entirely shot with digital and spy cameras with a minimal budget. It deals with the complex subject-matter of voyeurism, sex and dubious morality prevailing in our contemporary society. The film does not have any of those model-turned-starlets who appear as blinking dolls and shake their bodies to titillate our senses, compensating their inability to deliver a simple dialogue or express a single emotion cinematically. And there are no hunk-turned-actors with their bleating voices and bloated egos around. But it has cast a wonderful team of talented new actors whose acting skills are extra-ordinary. The script and the art of story-telling are masterly and a class apart from the mainstream Bollywood flicks that we have been used to.

The film is composed of three different stories, each one taking a leaf out of the contemporary thematic of India : love in the times of continuing caste oppression, all-pervasive sexual voyeurism, media manipulation and in the whole game, the complicity and betrayal of each to everyone. Including you and me as its consumers. I do not want to get into the details of any of the three stories as the film is ought be relished from the beginning till the end without any prejudice. Each of the story has been shot with a distinct style and the cinematographic finesse of Nikos Andritsakis is stunningly powerful. Though the time and the space linkage between the three stories are tenuous, it has been deftly handled so as to consummate the experience of watching this film deeply provoking. There are certain portions of the film which I feel could have been handled with more subtlety like the climactic sequence in the first story Love. And there could have been a more nuanced narrative at certain junctures of the second story Sex and the third story Dhoka. But these are minor flaws which can be overlooked given the beauty of this daringly experimental film, being the first of its kind in Indian cinema.

The film Love, Sex aur Dhoka draws its inspiration from the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's poetic film Camera Buff (1979), from the American director Steven Soderbergh's disturbing movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) and most importantly, from the rules formulated as The Vow of Chastity Manifesto of the Dogme-95 movement spearheaded by two the Danish directors ~ Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in 1995. The Dogme-95 is a counter-cultural cinematic movement which laid its emphasis on diegesis rather than mimesis. The fundamental precepts of Diegesis and Mimesis were enunciated by Plato in his Republic to distinguish the artistic expressions of the human mind. The essential attribute of Diegesis is narration or reporting while that of Mimesis is imitation or representation. The Danish Dogme-95 movement of cinema, which is more diegetic, is a radically new phase in the history of cinema and is different from the various interesting movements of cinema during the 20th century. Dibakar Banerjee has intelligently blended many significant elements from the Dogma film movement with the realities of contemporaty Indian ethos and has created a provocative movie, which has to be watched by everyone of us. Atleast once!

Movie Rating : 8 out of 10

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Till Death Do Us Part ..

(Painting : Death And Life ~ Gustav Klimt, 1916)

Apart from love and sex, this is one of the perennial obsessions of my life : death. The possibility of the death of my beloved ones. And myself. And the absolute certainty of it. The very thought of it stirs up a weird panic deep inside my heart. It starts to beat a little faster. I try to avoid thinking about death. Death of anyone dear and near. Run far away and manoeuvre an adroit slip. Imagine something else. More beautiful. More joyous. More lively. In this game of hide and seek, I win many a times. And with the cunning of reason, I successfully push it down to oblivion. Never allow it to sprout for a long time. Smother it as much as I can. It continues to remain dormant. Until at an unexpected hour, I suddenly hear its howl at my doorstep. Yet again.

One of the adolescent pastimes to stave off my mind from falling into the throes of agony caused by the possible death of a loved one was to conjure up the death of the loved one itself. I used to dramatise within my mind a detailed scenario of the death of my father. In that apparitional spectacle, I will be getting a sudden telephone call from my native to the hostel where I was studying, announcing the cardiac arrest and the consequent passing away of my father. I will then imagine about the mode of transport and the friends who might accompany. I will also imagine who all will be there when I would reach my home, how his body will be laid, and who will be around him. All this will be elaborate and more detailed. But the phantasmic sequence will come to an abrupt halt at this juncture : about how I will react at that point of time after reaching home. That used to be the climactic moment of the play in my mind. I could work out all the details minutely till the moment I reach that finale. However much I tried to conjure up thereafter, it always ended up in a blank. And such episodic flights of fancy will conclude, in reality, by me making an innocent phone call to my home and pretend to modulate my voice to normalcy. The ultimate solace of all this would be to hear the voice of my father at the other end.

Much water had flown down the river of my dreams since then. Gradually I had almost forgotten those mind games which I used to play earlier. The fate lines enshrined in my astrological chart took me to inhabit the Arabian coasts. And I was preparing myself to turn over a new leaf of my little life. Then, out of the blue, came the jolt of my lifetime : the long awaited, almost forgotten telephone bell rang to announce the departure of my father at the dawn of a Thursday. It was followed by a long silence at the other end. All I could hear was the chirping of a sparrow. My father had quietly vanished into the sands of time. And what I had hitherto enacted in my mind's eye got replayed in reality. Even though the colours changed, the contours remained more or less the same. Except the grand finale. I crash-landed straight into the centre of an agonising whirlpool of unfathomable grief and muffled sorrow. My life turned topsy-turvy. Even a whiff of what I subsequently experienced could never be imagined before. That is death. You cannot get prepared to encounter it.

That happened in 2001. And am still struggling to come to terms with it.

This Tuesday morning, I woke up to read an SMS from Venkat Saminathan : Maami passed away last night at 10pm. The timing of the message was around 3 am. I had spoken to Maami only a few days before. It came as a rude shock. Dilip and Suresh spoke to me. I rushed to Chennai immediately. I wanted to be with Ve.Sa. at this hour of immense grief. By the time me and Sengathir reached Ve.Sa.'s house in the afternoon, they had already taken Maami to the crematorium. Her ashes were handed over in a container which confluenced with the waves of the sea at Besant Nagar beach.

Ve.Sa. was sitting in the same verandah of the house where I had bid adieu to Maami last month during my trip to Chennai. Ve.Sa. had come out for an evening with Dilip along with his walking stick to the hotel where I had put up. He was barefooted as he could not wear his sandals because of the fracture he had suffered in his legs. That was the second fall and fracture within a short span of few weeks. He held my shoulders, climbed up the steps of the hotel and came to the room. We discussed till mid-nite over 100 Pipers. In between, he rang up Maami to inform her about his safety and tell her not to worry about him and that he would return little late in the night and she could have her dinner and sleep peacefully. He always talks to her in that tone and tenor : an intimacy which has grown more affable with time. From 1992 when I first met him to 2010.

Now it is the mid-night of yet another Thursday. Three nights have passed by since Maami left Ve.Sa. who is now in his mid-seventies. Ve.Sa. would have probably started to have more intimate conversations with Maami. As I have been having with my father since 2001. Death is a deeply meditative phenomena in one's personal life. It is the most profound experience of sadness of the human soul. An artery emerging from one's heart snaps and the blood keeps drenching the heart. It never stops. One has to undergo the pain with its heightened intensity. There is no escape from it. From there, the doors open up. One can understand life more sincerely and more seriously in death alone. Death is the ultimate Teacher of Life. Life is not the same any more after encountering the death of a loved one.

Do we ever learn anything from it?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Art Of Graffiti

The cities are the devilish dreams of our Gods. To inhabit a pigeonhole, wake up as Kafka's Gregor Samsa, shave the weekend stubbles off, get into a new set of inner-wear to feel a deceptive sense of freshness which also vanishes with the first pee, wear that plastic smile and go cuckooing in the work-place is what we call as living. Modern life has metamorphosed us into monstrous vermins. Only skeletons move, wear suits and blabber those same fifty words day in and day out. Haven't we become the ghosts of ourselves long ago?

Graffitis are an artistic whimper of a moribund civilisation, a muted moan of the chaotic cityscape. The alienated urban man with stained hands scribble, write, draw or paint on the sidewalks, pavements, subways and public toilets. Those walls have become the canvass of his lacerated soul. Some of these graffitis express the subconscious outpourings of sexual repression. And many others are creative markings of a subaltern urban culture with subversive overtones. Some are profound artistic expressions which mock at us and raise fundamental questions about our hypocrisy and snobbery. They tear the facade apart and leave a tight slap on our conscience. That is, if we still claim to have one.

The city of Mumbai is the only place in India where i've seen graffitis on the walls, stretching across miles and miles. It is not found in Lutyens-Sheila Dikshit's Delhi as it may not suit the finer tastes of dignitaries to the Commonwealth Games and the power brokers of the nation state. It is not there in Bangalore or Hyderabad, which are fast becoming treeless real estates. Chennai can only boast of those gory cut-outs and gruesome posters staring at every nook and corner. The only ubiquitous cultural feature which can claim of a pan-Indian unity is the graffitis loaded with sexual symbolism adorning the walls of all the public toilets cutting across the country. Is there a cosmopolitan pop culture unique to Mumbai which has led to the flowering of many a beautiful graffitis on its long stretches of walls?

The art of graffiti may belong to an age old tradition of mankind. But the turning point came to this pop art form only during the most poetic year of 20th century - 1969. The year of 1969 was when the students' movement gathered momentum from Sorbonne to Berkely, the antiwar protests broke out across the globe, the Hippie subculture and the Woodstock Festival happened. The 1970s saw the city of New York emerging as the cultural capital of the world of graffitis. From there it had spread out to Paris and London and many other cities across the globe. Many cities have banned it as an act of vandalism and some have encouraged it like the city of Mumbai.

It is Jenny Holzer who transcreated this art of graffiti into an interesting art of installation. She started using the words and ideas floating in public space for her LED exhibits on gigantic billboards across various cities. She is a pioneer in using texts as an art form. Her works speak of the subtle power of words in creating resonances lasting long in the mindscape. She continues to inspire through her projections about feminism, power, violence, death and love. As the pop singer-duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel say in their hit number The Sounds of Silence, the words of the Prophets are always written on the subway walls. Only we should be able to discern it.


Protect me from what I want.


Sloppy thinking gets worse over time.


Instead of hearing it from an ass, i would rather fart.


Men are not monogamous by nature.


You must have one grand passion.


Did you live, before you die?


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aakkaatti : The Red-Wattled Lapwing

The experience of waking up in the middle of the night to the strange call of an unknown bird is chimerical. More so if one is fast asleep under the open sky, drenched by the carressing rays of the Moon. An eerie followed by a nameless longing, almost bordering on melancholy, will fill one's heart.

It happened long ago. During one of the summer vacations in my school days. I patted my grandfather who was fast asleep on the other coir cot beside and asked him what it was. He said it is the 'Aakkaatti bird' and went back to sleep. The incessant chirping of the crickets continued. And i remained wide awake. After a short while, it again echoed from the dark blue sky : the yonder cry of the Aakkaatti. I searched for the bird in the sky. I could see only the twinkling stars and the silent Moon looking at me. There was no bird anywhere.

The cry of the Aakkaatti became a metaphor of my lonely nights as my life turned more nocturnal. Everytime i visited my maternal grandfather's village, the nights will be filled with mythological stories narrated under the falling stars and the displacing constellations, the gazing Moon and the chirping crickets. The croaking frogs replaced the crickets during rainy season. Everything else remained the same. And the cry of the Aakkaatti will wake me up in the middle of my dreams again to be found nowhere.

Since i could never see an Aakkaatti in the night blue sky, not even the shadows of anything flying, the bird assumed panoramic shapes with varied faces in my heart. As i drifted away from my small town and the periodic visits to the village, it travelled along with me to distant cities. Milan Kundera says that life is a constant struggle between memory and forgetting. The memories of the sounds and the smells are as deeply etched as that of the images and the emotions. Even if Time - the Mahaakaal - has taken away my grandfather from me, the smell of the Earth can make me sense his body odour and his physical presence, everytime it rains. I can even hug him then. The sound of the Aakkaatti brings back to life so many starry nights which are deeply entrenched somewhere in the cosmos. The only solace of inhabiting the cityscape is that it does not rain on the Earth and there is no Aakkaatti around. So that we can continue with our masked lives without getting much perturbed.

It was in 1998 when that incident occured. Dhruv and me were suantering through the jungles of JNU when he suddenly stopped me. He pointed out at quite a large bird, with long slender yellowish legs, brownish wings and blackish head with a white patch running from the neck to the underbelly till the tail. I saw the shining red wattle around the eyes extending towards the beak. The bird was standing on one leg on the surface of the land and was looking at me. Dhruv, my birdwatcher friend from Assam, said it is called the Red-Wattled Lapwing famous for its calls in the nights. When he mentioned about the calls it makes in the nights, my heart skipped a beat. I looked at the bird again and told Dhruv that there is a bird called Aakkaatti in my village which also makes crying calls in the nights. Though the bird which we saw was beautiful, i could not compare it anywhere near to the Aakkaatti which lives in my mind's nest. I told him that this bird which we were seeing cannot belong to the same species as that of my Aakkaatti. As my Aakkaatti wont be standing on the ground for it always inhabits the skies.

After returning to the hostel, Dhruv checked up from the voluminous Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan by Salim Ali and S.Dillon Ripley and confirmed that it is called as Aakkaatti in Tamil. The characteristic sound is rendered as "Did-he-do-it" or "Pity-to-do-it"! Only after hearing an interesting mythology associated with this bird, i could get completely convinced that both my Aakkaatti and the Red-Wattled lapwing are one and the same.

And the mythology is : this wonderful bird surveys the night sky to make sure that every living creature is fast asleep and then it gets back to its home, to sleep on its back with its legs up in the sky, holding the heavens!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Road Movie : A Poetic Attempt

Are you a wanderlust?

Have you ever travelled in a bus buying a ticket upto the last destination, got down in between, had a cup of tea in a tavern, roamed in a village fare, got to know that the winter of your life is going to end very shortly from a parakeet-astrologer, returned home safely and slept inside your quilt with a vague smile on your lips?

If so, you would love this movie.

Dev Benegal, the nephew of Shyam Benegal, brought in a whiff of fresh air in the mid-90s with his path-breaking experimental cinema English August, based on Upamanyu Chatterjee's Kafkaesque take on Indian bureaucracy. It steered a different kind of experimental cinema by independant film makers starting from the late 90s and carrying it forward into this decade, resulting in brilliant films like Hyderabad Blues, Rockford, Fire, Life In a Metro, Bend It Like Beckham, Being Cyrus, Namesake, A Wednesday, Dev-D, Firaaq, et al. This is much more pragmatic than the parallel cinema movement which began with beautiful notes during the mid-1950s and ended way far too pretentiously during the late 1980s.

Dev Benegal's Road Movie is a creative blend of cinema reflecting upon aimless wandering on one side and a nostalgic hankering on the era of touring talkies on the other. It is an Indianised version of a dreamy fusion between two of the remarkably greatest films of 20th Century : Paris Texas by Wim Wenders (1984) and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore (1988). Does Dev succeed in this venture?

The long, never-ending roads of the bleak and deserted Texan landscape is as important a character in the film Paris Texas as that of Travis, who personifies the predicament of rootlessness of contemporary man, trying to comprehend the meaning of his relationship with his wife and his kid. It is an eternally haunting movie of Wim Wenders. In Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the magic of friendship cutting across ages between the projectionist Alfredo and the young Salvatore both of whom passionately adore the world of cinema in a small Sicilian village, the sustained pursuit of one's dreams during childhood and youth and the mesmerising beauty of cinema itself are the recurring themes. They were enchantingly captured in the classic of Giuseppe Tornatore.

In Road Movie, the young protagonist Vishnu is disillusioned with his father's business of selling hair oil and gets a chance to travel to a distant unknown town in a 1940-s model Chevrolet truck. The god forsaken truck also has a dilapidated film projector along with rolls of old films. While travelling in the deserts of Jaisalmer and Kutch, he encounters a dhaba boy who is on the run for a better life, an interesting old mechanic who is in the eternal look out for a mela and a dusky gypsy girl in search of water - all of whom happen to travel together in the truck for sometime in their lives. The desert landscape, the search for water, the rustic cop, the ruffian chance upon their travel in their own ways. The fellow-travellers depart from each other and the memories of the journey lingers in the mind of Vishnu as he gets back home.

Abhay is my all time favourite apart from Rahul Bose and Irrfan Khan. In this movie, he has done pretty well in his role as Vishnu - as casual and as usual as he always does. But the performance of Satish Kaushik as the ageing mechanic who is in search of a mela is splendid. One great find is Tannishtha Chatterjee. With her dusky face and speaking eyes, Tannishtha has the calibre to become another Nandita Das. Watch out! The most beautiful moment of the movie is the dreamy surreal village mela that suddenly blooms in the middle of the desert with wandering gypsies, villagers, dwarfs, masks, tel maalish, Charlie Chaplin and Guru Dutt - a phantasmagoria of cinematic excellence. Kudos and hats off to the director and cinematographer for that aesthetically elevating sequence.

Overall, it is not a masterpiece. But it is definitely a bold and poetic attempt with flashes of brillance scattered all across, found wanting for a more cohesive and powerful script. Hope much better Indian Road Movies will be directed in the future.

Movie Rating : 7 out of 10.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Equus : A Play On Life, Passion & Psychiatry

One of the fascinating things about living in Oshiwara, Andheri West, Mumbai, even if it entails a long 4 hour arduous travel on a daily basis to my place of work in South Mumbai is, being in the vicinity to Prithvi. It has been a gap of almost 2 months since i could get to see a play there. Otherwise, on an average i could watch atleast a couple of plays every month. This time i went with Ananthan, in his Harley Davidson bike legendary for its punctuality, to watch the play Equus written by Peter Shaffer. It was directed by Daniel D'Souza and performed by his experimental theatre group called Jester Productions which comprises of guys and gals in the age group of 20s. The protagonists of the play are a young boy named Alan Strang, performed by Daniel D'Souza himself and a child psychiatrist Dr.Martin Dysart, performed by Eamonn Ennis.

Alan is a post-adolescent boy who gets attracted to horses sexually and spiritually. During his growing up years, his devout mother who is a school teacher narrates him stories from the Bible. Alan gets obsessed with one particular horse story which his mother had read out to him and starts creating a personal theology in his mind with worshipful horses and its supreme god Equus. Alan's mother also teaches him that sexual act is dirty and that only through true devotion one can attain salvation. Alan's father is an atheist and he does not like Alan getting influenced by the Biblical stories of his wife. Getting upset with this, one day Alan's father destroys a picture of Crucifixion which Alan had hung in his bedroom. Alan replaces it with another picture of a horse with huge staring eyes. The conflicting views on life, religion and sex starts from his parents and Alan grows up to discover them in his own way. Alan was also influenced by his grandfather's interest in horses and riding. But Alan has a strange fear to ride the horses because of an experience of a fall from a horse back during childhood in the sea shore.

Alan gets acquainted with a young girl Jill who gets Alan a job in the stables. Here in the stables, the job of Alan is to clean and groom the horses. Using a currycomb, he grooms the horses from the ears, working towards the tail, right through the coat. The harder he does it the more the horse loves it! Out of the few horses, Alan becomes erotically fixated to a horse called Nugget. Alan starts visitng the stables secretly in the night and takes Nugget for an imaginary ride by sitting naked on the back of the horse. Nugget does not gallop but dances to his movements of an imaginary ride. Alan fantasises himself as a king sitting on the godhead Equus, both him and his horse waging a war against all the forces of evil in an imaginary battlefield. The fantasy game culminates in Alan reaching an orgasm and this becomes his secret routine in the nights of his adolescence.

As Alan grows close with that young girl Jill, on one evening, Jill convinces Alan to take him to a cinema hall where a pornographic film is being screened. In the theatre, Alan sees his father who had come stealthily to watch the same pornography. On seeing Alan, his father gets embarassed and tries to give some false excuse. But this incident makes Alan realise that sex is a natural thing for everyone, which includes his father as well. Alan refuses to go home with his father and goes to drop Jill in her home. While going home, Jill cajoles Alan to go to the stables with her. They reach the same stables where Alan frequents secretly in the nights and play out his fantasy.

In the stables, Jill undresses and seduces Alan to have sex with her. Alan asks her to close the door and windows tight as he does not want Nugget, the supreme godhead Equus, to watch them having sex. The very thought of Nugget staring at him with its large eyes, while having sex with Jill, unnerves him. Jill closes them tight and they start making love. Suddenly, Alan hears the tapping of the hooves of the horses from outside. He withdraws out from Jill and when Jill tries to reason out with Alan that such initial clumsiness in sex is just normal, Alan shouts at her and madly screams and drives her away. Then Alan asks for forgiveness from the horses, especially from Nugget and cries for mercy. There is silence pervading all around and the horses keep simply nodding their heads to his frenzied talk. In a fit of rage, he takes a hoofpick and blinds all the horses as he thinks they have stared inside his naked soul completely and there is no escape from his shame and guilt.

It seems a similar incident happened in real somewhere near London during the middle of the 20th Century. A 17-year old boy had blinded half-a-dozen horses and was treated in a psychiatry ward. That incident became the inspiration for Peter Shaffer to write this play. But the most interesting aspect of the play is the role of the psychiatrist Dr.Martin. It is the characterisation of Dr.Martin which turns the play upside down and makes the whole narrative so engrossing.

Dr.Martin, the psychiatrist, will be working in a psychiatric clinic and he is dissatisfied with his profession. Though he had taken up his profession by choice, he very often keeps wondering that the kind of work he does is not at all what he wanted out of life. He feels a deep sense of alienation with his vocation and his personal life. Many youths come to him as his patients. And Dr.Martin is not sure whether in the name of psychiatric cure, he is only pushing the troubled youth to get back to a normalised dull routine without any beauty or passion in their lives.

The play begins with the soliloquy of Dr.Martin thinking aloud about his personal and professional life and about the outlines of the case history of Alan who has been recently admitted in the hospital. And the narrative moves back and forth as both Dr.Martin and Alan interact with each other during various counselling sessions. Dr.Martin also hypnotises Alan to bring out the hidden aspects in the life of Alan when the whole story till the night of his first attempt of sexual intercourse with Jill and the subsequent blinding of the horses at the stables gets unfolded.

After narrating his story in a state of frenzied interrogation by Dr.Martin during hypnosis, Alan goes off to sleep falling on the floor of the psychiatric clinic. Dr.Martin looks at the sleeping Alan and asks himself whether what he is doing to Alan in the name of psychiatric treatment is fundamentally right, whether he is going to rob Alan off his intense passion for the horses, whether he is actually envious of Alan deep down inside as his own life has become shorn of any passion and whether he is standing in the dark with a blade in his hand striking at heads.

Dr.Martin says to the sleeping Alan as the play ends ~

Passion, you see,can be destroyed by a doctor.

It cannot be created.

You won't gallop anymore, Alan.

Horses will be quite safe.

You'll save your money every week...

change that scooter for a car...

and spend glorious weekends...

grooming that.

You'll pop round to the betting shop

and put the odd pence on the nags...

quite forgetting they ever meant

anything more to you than...

bearers of little profits and little losses.

At one point of time during the counselling sessions with Dr.Martin, Alan suddenly turns the table against his Doctor. That is one of the most poignant moments of the play. Let me reproduce the dialogue between Alan & Dr.Martin and the subsequent soliloquy of Dr.Martin ~

Alan : Now it's my turn. You tell me, answer me.

Dr.Martin : We're not playing that game now.

Alan : We're playing what l say.

Dr. Martin : All right. What do you want to know?
Alan : Do you have dates?
Dr.Martin : I told you, I’m married.
Alan : I know. Her name's Margaret, she's a dentist.
You see? l found out.
What made you go with her, then?
Did you use to bite her hands when she did you in the chair?
Dr.Martin : That's not very funny.
Alan : No.
Dr.Martin : Then what?
Alan : Do you fuck her?
Dr.Martin : All right.
Alan : Come on, tell me, tell me.
Dr.Martin : That's enough now.
Alan : I bet you don't.
I bet you never touch her.
Is that because you don't fuck?
Dr.Martin : Go to your room. Quick march. Alan.
Give me those cigarettes.
Give them to me!
Now go.

After this very disturbing converstaion, Dr.Martin thinks aloud to himself ~

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
The boy's on the run, so he turns defensive.What am I, then?
Wicked little bastard. He knew exactly what questions to try.
Not that there's anything awful about that.
Advanced neurotics can be dazzling at that.
They aim unswervingly at your area of maximum vulnerability...
which is, I suppose, as good a way as any of describing Margaret.

My wife doesn't understand me, Your Honor.
Do you understand her?
Obviously, l never did.
I’m sorry.
I never like to ask.
But l always imagined you weren't exactly compatible.
We were. It actually worked for a bit.
I mean, for both of us.
She, for me, through a kind of...
a clear, redheaded, inaccessible briskness that kept me keyed up for months.
Mind you, if you're kinky for northern hygiene which l am...
you can hardly find anything more compelling than a Scottish lady dentist.
it’s you who are wicked, you know.
Not at all.
She got exactly the same from me. Antiseptic proficiency.
I was like that in those days.
I see us in our wedding photograph...
Dr. and Dr. MacBrisk.
were brisk in our wooing, brisk in our wedding, brisk in our disappointment.
We turned from each other briskly into our separate surgeries.
And now, there's a nice, brisk nothing.

Mentally, we're in different parts of the world.
She's forever in some drizzly chapel of her own inheriting...
and I'm in some Doric temple, clouds tearing through the pillars...
eagles bearing prophesies out of the sky.

I wish...
there was somebody in this life I could show...
instinctive, absolutely unbrisk person
that I could take to Greece...
and stand in front of certain shrines and sacred streams and say:
"life is only comprehensible through a thousand...
"local gods.
I'd say to them:
"all you can see...
"and more will appear."

The play is brilliantly staged and amazingly performed by actors in their early 20s. The entire cast, including the 4 actors playing as horses, the parents of Alan, the magistrate friend of Dr.Martin, the nurse, the owner of the stables are all seated on the sides along with the audience and they watch the entire play along with us. The lighting is done meticulously by Daniel D'Souza, who directs and acts as Alan. He has done remarkably well in his role as Alan and as director of the play. In the seduction and subsequent love making scene of Jill and Alan, both the actors get semi-naked which does not add much charm to the play except as a mildly titillating shocker. That apart, the play has been staged beautifully well and it deserves a thunderous applause.

The play Equus by Peter Shaffer raises the fundamental question of what Friedrich Nietzsche in his work The Birth Of Tragedy has philosophically posed : the complex interplay between the Appollonian and the Dionysian dichotomy of life. In the Greek mythology, both Appollo and Dionysus are the sons of the Zeus, the King of Gods. Appollo is the Sun God representing thinking, logic and rationality, while Dionysus is the God of Wine representing passion, feelings and intoxication. In Equus, the Dionysian Alan is fuelled by his passion for the horses and intoxicated in his personal theology of worship and love. But he fails to reign in his passion and is unable to come to terms with himself. And the Appollonian Dr.Martin is rational and logical in his approach towards life. But he miserably falters in his very purpose of existence and is becoming a shallow void. How can they both reconcile?

The play does not give any answers to this fundamental question of life. But it sinks the question deep inside you which makes it ever haunting. It is so hard to make a choice. The 'normal' which is the shining good in a child's eyes and the 'normal' which is also in the dead stare of a million adults. How 'normal' do you want to become?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Swami Nithyananda : Perversity Of The Public Gaze

I have not read anything of Swami Nithyananda nor have i attended any of his lectures or meditation classes. Though i don't like any of these 21st century spiritual guys, i always admire their management skills. I used to like the youthful boyish image of Nithyananda : there was a latent gayish charm which disappeared, much to my dismay, as the vagaries of time made Nithyananda grow old! A couple of years ago, one of my colleague, Hari, who is an ardent disciple of Nithyananda told me on a sunny afternoon at Bangalore, while i was sipping Smirnoff, that Nithyananda likes to wear sarees on certain Full Moon nights in order to rediscover the female counterpart of his Self - the Shakti in Siva. I just whistled. I was delighted to get a fantastic new angle of transvestism which i thought is brilliant, as the third gender can now identify themselves with a spiritual guru for their salvation. Everything is fine as long as salvation is out there.

Yesterday's expose of some TV Channel on the alleged sex affair of Swami Nithyananda at his ashram in Thiruvannamalai has put an end to all my speculation : that Nithyananda is predominantly heterosexual! It seems some zealots are crying foul that the Swamiji has insulted the Hindu Paarampariya by this very act of having sex. Some others are planning to take the Swamiji to court while the others are crying hoarse to arrest the Swamiji. How ridiculous! As long as the lady and the Swamiji had consensual sex and as long as there is no exploitation and misuse, this should not be the concern of anyone. Swami Nithyananda cannot be equated with other rotten scoundrels who exploited women and misused many. Afterall he was just having sex with his lover. How moronic it is to project this as an act of crime! In fact, legal action, if any, should be taken against all the TV Channels for repeatedly telecasting the private moments in the lives of two individuals and perversely infringing their privacy.

The very act of having consensual sex among any consenting adults is not just legal but also divine! Why is there such a hypocrisy when the issue of sex crops up in India and the US? why can't we live and let live like the French? Why should we make such a hue and cry when a Chief Minister has more than one wife, when a lady ex-Chief Minister gets intimate with her female companion, when a 83 year old Governor sleeps with young girls? There is no substance in all these chest-beatings. It all stems from simple and pure envy! One cannot rule out the involvement of other spiritual business houses in tarnishing the image of Swami Nithyananda as the market competition in this sector is quite high these days. Adding to it is the ever hungry perverse media guys who cater to the perversity of the public gaze.

These guys in this spiritual business domain should learn much more from one of the three most interesting Banias of 20th Century India - Osho Rajneesh. The other two interesting Banias of 20th century were - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Dhirubhai Ambani. Osho Rajneesh did not get into all these clownish nonsense of celibate puritanism. He was open in his approach towards sex. The only solution for Swami Nithyananda is to go the Osho way candidly and with renewed vigour. He should make his views clear on sex and be done with all the moralising claptrap. Let us respect the love of Swami Nithyananda and the lady and leave them in peace. Long live their love for each other!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mukul Shivputra : Whither Art Thou...?

It might have been in the winter of 1996, a couple of years before i had left Delhi, that i had heard the mesmerising voice of Mukul Shivputra for the first time. It was with Jaya Shankar that i went to attend the SPIC-MACAY live concert at Teflas in JNU and was sitting on the floor in the first row. It was quite unusual to see Jaya Shankar getting so excited about Mukul. The bearded and dreamy looking Mukul came a little late, in disheveled kurta and unkempt hair, his eyes red with sleeplessness and intoxication due to dope or alcohol. Mukul should have been in his early 40s then. He was not even bothered to sit straight facing the audience. And i found the air of rebelliousness and the streak of irreverence adding charm to the mystique of Mukul. After a few interjections, the master of Khayal took off and the ambience became sublime. I was stunned beyond belief as i had never imagined that a human voice could transport you to another world to this extent and leave you afloat in a state of blissful trance. It was a cathartic experience. Its too difficult to get grounded and continue to live on a mundane plane therafter.

If it is so agonising for a layman like me to get grounded into the mundane and continue to survive with all its mediocrity, i cannot possibly imagine how painful it would be to sustain for a more delicate soul like that of Mukul's, who would be longing to get eternally drenched in the celestial music of the cosmos. Beneath the facade of respectability, how thick-skinned, how insensitive, how ruthless, how cunning and how snobbishly arrogant have we become! How can a vulnerable soul like Mukul put up with an audience like us and still manage to contain the unending love to give a rendition of breathtaking exuberance? Don't you think, in this whole process, the soul of an artist of the order of Mukul will have to get bruised badly and the heart left bleeding in the deafening loneliness of the Universe?

A few months ago, when Ponraj visited Mumbai and when we were having a rare sitting with Ananthan, he told that he had read it in the newspapers that Mukul was found begging in front of a temple in Bhopal for money to buy drinks and that he had disappeared after hospitalisation and that the government of Madhya Pradesh is searching for him. It came as a rude shock. Since then, i've been regularly googling to find more about Mukul's health and his whereabouts, about which there is not much news available till date. What nefarious designs of the Cosmos had pushed the son of the legendary Kumar Gandharva and the student of all time maestro MD Ramanathan to such despair? Is it just an issue of substance abuse and addiction to alcohol? Or is it yet another tragic saga of the self-destructive tendency latent in all geniuses running riot and wrecking havoc in the life of Mukul?

During the beginning of May 2009, Mukul was found at the gates of Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir at Bhopal, with the company of other beggars, begging for money to buy his next drink. Thousands of beggars are available in all the Temples, Mosques, Churches (interestingly, you wont find any in the Synagogues!) and all across the roads of cities and towns in India. Beggary in India has a rich tradition behind it. It can be neither looked down upon nor be romanticised to absurdity. Some great saints have lived their entire lives begging as it is considered to be a sign of complete renunciation of all material needs. But that is a rare and complex phenomena. Sai Baba Himself lived His entire life in Shirdi that way only.

All beggars cannot be saints. Extreme poverty, migration and exploitation have forced human beings into beggary. Those who dare to stay put in their villages and in their forests are getting seduced by the ideologies of Marxism-Leninism & Maoism and are turning to armed rebellion. The State machinery is getting consolidated to curb the Naxal menace from the thousands of Naxal infested villages all across India. Some of them turn to non-ideological crime : thefts and burglary. Redistribution of wealth and circulation of money is the most amusing leela in this world of maya. The theatre of cruelty vis-a-vis the theatre of absurdity!

In such a wierd scenario, when our dear dear Mukul goes begging, it becomes difficult to comprehend. There may be myriad reasons which can be ascribed : the death of his mother, the sudden death of his wife, the pressure to prove as his father's worthy son or pure neuroligical disorder. Who knows what can be the reason for such tragedies that keep happening to the few genius of mankind? I consider it as a tragedy because Mukul is no saint who would love to beg and i feel that he should find ways to mitigate his inner angst and suffering and thereby continue to enjoy his art and his life in whichever way he feels like, without falling back into the blind old alleys of the demons.

After the rehabilitation and medical treatment at the Gandhi Bhavan in Bhopal last year, Mukul Shivputra inaugurated the Khayal Kendra and came on the stage to give a fascinating lecture on the history of Khayal and also to render two beautiful bandishes (melodic compositions), one in Raag Savani from the Tansen era and another in Raag Darbari, an Amir Khusro composition in honour of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya..

Much more are yet be heard from him. The Gods and the Gurus should conitnue to smile. Pray that the Grace continues to shower..