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Selling Dreams of Elitism

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I saw a real estate poster today, a big glossy ad of a new residential project somewhere in this beautiful landscape called Goa. Now I was not quick enough to capture it on my phone but, my mind saved a good image of it.

The model on the ad seemed to be of African descent. Now I am all about inclusivity and brands being especially keen to promote anti-racism (if that is a term), but funnily the tagline made me burst out laughing at the stupidity of advertisements. The tagline read,

“Goan inside, but Modern Outside.”

Does it make sense? Not to me.

One can’t help wondering and subsequently, questioning the attachment to the word ‘modern’. What does that even mean anymore? Then, if modern is a great appeal or reassurance then, is being Goan something lesser than modern? Why is there even a comparison?

I have been mulling over this simply because it is an inherent tendency often noticed among many, including a former version of the self. One sees yellow, dim lights in halls; glass and steel and a little bit of wood in balconies; and it becomes clear that those are the signs of modernity aka elitism. If you have that kind of a home, you’ve arrived. At least, this the kind of emotion that realtors seem to appeal to in their potential buyers. And then, in a society that values being attached to one’s roots intensely, it becomes important for the marketing team of the ad agency to bring in the sentiment of “I might look videsi but, will remain desi at heart.”

Sigh.

Maybe that’s why there will still be a lot of people who will go and check out those spaces that are “Goan inside but, modern outside.” ’cause har ghar kuch kehta hai. 

Pardon my love for quoting ads.

But, note that my ‘offensive’ against this ludicrous ad holds true, at least in the choice of Photoshop model.

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I have taken up a challenge to write a poem each week. This one was the second this year. So far, my most obscure and surreal one. Here goes:

It was only last afternoonthat I met that old man.

The day was pretty ordinary, if you ask me,

as I walked along the marketlooking for the right shop.

I was looking for fresh towels you see;

new ones always carry a good scent.

The sun had been shining pretty well

leaving my old oneswith the warm scent of sunshine.

It was only last afternoon

that I made my way along the bylanes

peering interested, yet avoiding eye contact;

lest I be caught by a seller’s pleading eyes.

I finally stumbled upon this old man’s shop,

a tiny square made up of plastic,

it’s fragile frame holding it together.

The shop seemed to mock its owner’s stature

who sat there shrunk and lifeless

with eyes wide and alive staring somewhere.

It was in the final moments of our deal

as I bade goodbye to him, that

his fingers brushed against mine,

as his eyes held me captive

and suddenly the lights went out.

I couldn’t see anything anymore.

I couldn’t look into his eyes.

My mind and body wracking with fear,

I tried moving around,

confused, scared,

surrounded by a thousand jeering sounds.

Suddenly, the whirring of his fan became louder.

The sounds and songs of the market

pressing hard against my ears,

I felt like I had morphed into a fly,

unwanted, trying to make sense of it all.

I could smell the dried piss on the walls.

I could smell the mustiness of each corner.

I could hear the old man’s wheezing

as I stood there reeling.

I can no more see the darkness of his eyes.

I can no more see the mockery of his state.

I can only thank his darkness for

stealing a little of my light.

– Shivranjana Rathore

(En)Trusting the Future to Youth

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It has been a few months since I have been teaching, mentoring and working with children and adolescents. The journey has been challenging as well as rewarding, leaving me with a fresh perspective with every interaction.

For the past two days however, I have been thinking intently about how can more children and teens be reached out. The reason that I feel this compulsion? Well, that’s not just mere knowledge that the children and teens of today will be the adults of tomorrow (duh!). No, my reasons are based on my observations.

I have seen 15-18 years old people suffering through death, bullying, peer pressure and so on; without, any support. Note that in saying that there was no support, I do not intend to imply that parents don’t support or maybe they are to be blamed in any way. What happens however, is that parents, after a certain time of spending their energies to keep things running smoothly in the daily, tend to look at things in a certain manner and fail to approach children to ensure an absolute support. It doesn’t necessarily speak of incompetency but, more of the human tendency to err.

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Trail by Shivranjana Rathore (C)

A few observations that compelled me to think and study this include an adorable 8 year old becoming conscious of his eating habits because he’s been told by his friends that he is fat (unsure if he was made fun of or gently told); a seemingly stubborn and confident 17 year old arguing with her mother on shopping as the price for her to accompany her parents eventually saying that if her mother didn’t agree, she always had her father to ask for money, and then finding something to read to find a way into self confidence; the mother of a 13 year old fearful of her daughter’s reactions since a death in the family since she didn’t think she was capable of reaching out to her; a group of 17-18 year olds with nice clothes (in line with Instagram fashion), pocket money to buy whatever they could get their hands on (sangrias mostly) gathering together to record a video message for a friend in a public space ending up dropping an empty plastic glass and not bothering to pick it up; an 8 year old bumping into snack packets in the aisle of a grocery store ending up dropping the packets, turning to look at them and proceeding towards the next aisle, with no care for the dropped packets; a set of four 20-something boys on two bikes feeling the need to honk on a road full of traffic and then continuing to do that even when they had no vehicle blocking their path and lastly, the sight of 15-16 year olds with expressions of glorious victory while walking out a liquor shop with cans of Budweiser.

Each one of these observations created a good impact on my mind because none of these people are ones with whom I have had any direct interaction nor will I have one anytime soon. But, the prospect of their lives going on this way, with no mentoring or support, left me despairing over the future. That’s when I came across a short film called Rites of Passage that not only gave me possible solutions but, left me with a lot of hope because finally, my questions seemed to not be one of those that were left hanging in the space. It gives me a way, to find my own around this. Hence, I write this blog post as a part of action that I can take in this direction. If you are someone who deals with people in the age groups that I mention and/or if you maybe know one in your life, this will be of great help for you.

I will not get into details of what the film is about but, one core point it leaves one with is the need to nurture the future of the world being the adults’ responsibility through

  1. Respecting children and teenagers as they grow older in the form of respecting the individual who is growing up and who will add something unique to this world
  2. Celebrating and having markers / ceremonies around significant dates that mark the adulthood of teenagers – things like turning 16 (in Indian culture), turning 18, getting voting rights / driving license – anything and everything that makes them a part of the adult world
  3. And last and most important using action in their own lives as models to inspire responsibility among young adults as opposed to preaching or coercion or the ideas of “that’s how you are supposed to be”

The film’s site offers a toolkit that can be used as well. Go ahead and do it and share with me as well!

PS: This is something else that I found helpful in the same line of thought. The thoughts of a man from Chile practicing a Buddhist philosophy.

Note: Have published this to reach a wider audience on Youth Ki Awaaz as well.

The Purpose of Art

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I have always believed in there being a purpose for most things, if not a necessarily large cosmic plan, but, yes there being some order in the chaos called life. It has been one year since I have been practicing art on a full time basis. I still remember starting out on a mere whim to test my diligence at something that I enjoy immensely. I worried, at that point in time, that I might be disinterested or lazy soon and with sustenance, one can rarely take such risks without a decently secure financial status. At the end of October 2016, I had a collection of 31 artworks – sketches, doodles, whatever else they might be. I was in awe of what possibility life can be and took a few drastic steps. I had no plans besides swimming in the waters of uncertainty and learning to tackle the deep ends that I was safely away from till then.

Starting with the sudden bang of an exhibition and merchandise sales, this one year made me question a lot of things but, the never the leap of faith I took. I questioned if I was making a fool of myself by even drawing something since no one seemed to want to pay for it, a few claps can’t sustain me after all.

I have also found myself disillusioned at times with the state of the world, the minds of people and the technology enslaved lives that we spend. Over time, I have found my peace despite the external reality remaining the same or maybe, in some cases, worsening. I learnt nuances of canvas painting, created a total of 80 artworks, wrote unending poems and stories publishing a few, started a podcast, read newer books and started teaching art education. In short, this year has been the most fulfilling year so far.

The reason I share this is because today, I feel full of gratitude. For the past week, I have been visiting and immersing myself in art forms of varied types at the Serendipity Arts Festival.

I feel the need of mentioning my story with SAF because this festival, for the first time, left me with hope, inspiration and courage; as opposed to most others that had always left me with a butterfly in the stomach at the elitism of it. I remember having a conversation with a fellow art appreciator where she insisted that art today is very elitist. Looking from another spectrum, I felt compelled to share that it wasn’t so and it was just the inability for each one of us to connect with everything.

This thought still applies but, as I complete my year as a full time illustrator / artist / art student / teacher, I concur with her on elitism of art today. Ranging between extremes of overpriced artwork to pittances being paid to others, I have found a certain stiffness to fill the bodies (and hearts) of people in the “art circles” at times. I have no technical education, no BFA or MFA nor an uncle or aunt or godparent with their name pushing my work ahead but, all I have is the desire to create, to communicate better, to be able to move hearts, mine and others’.

That had made me once contemplate giving up completely and just drawing for myself; hell, I had even stopped drawing for a month and a half post October. But, SAF rekindled hope and perseverance in my heart again. This was the first festival that was completely inclusive when it came to people with different abilities, different understandings and perceptions. There was something for every single person who came. I have been drawing again, recalling all images that had been floating in my mind for the past month and a half. I knew I would remember each one as vividly as they seemed back then too. Each time my mind has asked me to give up, Nina Simone’s words, ” How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” smack me in the face urging me to try harder.

With this nostalgic year end post and the hangover of SAF, I can only say one thing, art is for each human being because in the humdrum of life, it is art of any kind, that makes our hearts human. If you are exploring creation of any kind, like me, keep at it and you’ll get there someday. If not, at least you would have grown much more and found something else to morph into. That’s at least what I believe (and am told by fellow artists).

If you’d also like to collaborate with me on poems, podcasts, artwork, reach out!

Thoughts on One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

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I had never thought that there’d be a day when I would blog about a book I have read. For an overthinker like yours truly, I surely never articulated the power of literature to change things. Well, unless I decided to seriously pursue writing. I think that’s maybe because I asked myself why I wanted to write besides the momentary joy of it.

As a reader I believe that books come to you when you are ready for them. The seemingly inanimate pages displaying strings of characters and words collectively carry something palpable, something so intimate that the reader lives the words. Isn’t that the singularly most awe inspiring and powerful thing about the written word? Starting with simpler books for young adults, I read a varied set of books, each of which leave me with something new. Of course, there have been occasional instances of a few books that don’t sit well or put me to sleep within a few pages. Those, I leave.

Until 2017, I had never been the one to actively aspire to read a certain number of books through the year. In 2017, I decided to keep track of my reading, if not have targets. I am reading 3 wonderful books while the ones that I have read lie happily with slightly worn off pages in my bookshelf. Of these, the one that compelled me to write this is Perumal Murugan’s ‘One Part Woman’.

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I stumbled upon this book through an artist who recommended the read. Her work and her style continues to inspire me and I decided to give this book a shot since the basic plot type has seldom seemed inviting to me. When reading up about the writer after reading it, I realised that Murugan was in fact, the writer who somewhere stirred the desire of writing professionally, in me. I was pursuing my Masters when I had read extensively about him as a writer who was harassed for his work. I remembered being in awe of the offense taken at a work of fiction by a mass of people and the subsequent responses of the writer to not write anymore. I had decided that I want to be such a writer, who would however, continue dissent.

When I started reading the book, I fell in love with the imagery created by Murugan – the portia tree, the farm, the forest and the mountains, Kali’s drowsy body staring at the canopy, Ponna’s beauty – all of it made me feel like I was a voyeur in the most tender and intimate lives of the two. So, Ponna’s pain and anger made me sad and want to reason with her that being childless is no sin, Kali’s listless personality and eventual mistrust of Ponna made me weep wanting to reach out and tell him the truth.

Once the emotions faded, the crucial importance of this book is what stayed with me making me want to write this. Through the narration of the life, love and loss of Ponna and Kali, Murugan very intelligently displays everything that feminism speaks against, everything that is wrong with the patriarchal world view. For Indian feminists, I think the book serves as the go to book to identify and work through typically Indian realities in a discourse dominated by non-Indian writing.

That patriarchal mindsets are poisonous for every individual, became the truth for me through an independent research project that had cleared the picture. ‘One Part Woman’ further makes the damages of patriarchy so simple, bringing it in rural Indian context sharing thereby, how the rigidity of these ideas and rituals destroys human happiness of a daily basis.

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Kali and Ponna, the two protagonists in the story, through the eventual destruction of their love, display the seemingly micro yet key impact of patriarchal beliefs. Ponna is unable to bear a child which is a cause of much shame and sorrow. To an urban mind, this would of course feel exaggerated. One would want to say to the woman and her kin in such a case, that they need to just shake off the worry and adopt of maybe just understand that giving birth to a child is not the be all and end all of a woman’s existence. However, the writer is able to share just how painfully real these beliefs are and how what is required is a larger, cultural thought revolution. I have, through various tools, shared the hypocrisy of Indian society when it comes to honour engendered in the female body. On one side here, adoption does not seem like a possibility (which is the case even for urban Indians), the other side has the family contemplating getting Ponna impregnated (after all pleas and fasts to god fail) by taking her to a religious festival where for a day “gods” descend from the hills to bless women with children. Note, these gods are men, penis-bearing male bodies, intoxicated and let lose for a day to sleep with any woman that comes their way. Also note, that on this day, any woman is allowed to sleep with the man who becomes god for a night.

The two are tricked by her parents and brother wherein Kali isn’t told about Ponna’s going to the festival while Ponna is told that Kali approves. What then happens is where the intelligent storytelling comes in. True to expectation, while Kali, who had become aggressive as a husband often raping his wife every other night in a state of drunkenness and anger at her even asking him if they should consider the festival as the way to have their child, is heartbroken eventually and directs all his anger towards his wife; Ponna, on the other hand, is childlike and enjoying the new sense of adventure that her life seemed to have brought in through this desire to seek a god to help her. It is in this sequence when the narrative tone changes from Ponna’s true identity, her likes, dislike, sorrows, disappointments, all brought to the fore while Kali’s constant benevolence at being okay without a child yet still craving fatherhood, sling away into the shadows of his sorrow.

What had seemed like the most passionate love for Ponna with vivid descriptions of Kali’s sight, his expression of love for her by nuzzling his face between her breasts; turns out to be yet another story where the woman’s voice was stifled. Ponna had been in love with someone else but, it was custom for her to not fight for it and give in to the family’s decision to marry Kali. Ponna was Kali’s first love but, not the first one to be made love with.

One Part Woman therefore, becomes an essential read for Indian readers to share the key reason for feminism – the culture of silence breeding a continuous quiet among its women. As far as one can think, whether physically same or not, a woman is a human being first. Why silence her voice then?

Exclusive Art

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photo (3)
Inspired by a New Yorker cartoon

This piece is something that has been brewing for a while and while I tried for it to be published somewhere where it doesn’t feel like a rant as well as gets a greater audience (twin win eh?), it is indeed a “controversial” piece and hence, I could not find any buyers for this. Sigh. I am not one to write lengthy Facebook statuses as well because well, I prefer writing in my notebook more. However, after an evening briefly spent visiting and checking out installations under the Story of Space, I am compelled to barf it out here.

But, before that, lets set a little context.

Those who know me or have maybe known me earlier when I was in school, seem to be surprised at my choice to work as an independent writer and artist – both, self taught. That’s mostly because everyone felt that my brains deserved to be embodied by an IAS officer or maybe, a number crunching CEO or economist. However, this professional choice was inevitable as far as I am concerned since this is exactly what I have known myself to be, since as far back in time as I can remember.

Like most amateurs (if you may), I have believed that art is for all. Of course, there are people who might not “get it” but, that is the purpose of art – for the artist to express herself and for the viewer / consumer of art, to experience it in her own way. Of course, the downside of all this is also the very difficult opinion that people who do not earn a living off making art, believing that they ought to get it for free. But then, that’s another story altogether.

However, as much as I love (f)artsy environs and galleries and conversations and events, I find myself slinking away in a corner at the sight of certain herds of hipsters or whatever the tribe is called today. Till yesterday, I had believed this opinion to merely be a personal prejudice or judgment hence, the need to not proclaim it on my blog earlier on. However, this evening, I found the same sentiments being echoed by a friend who isn’t an art enthusiast nor an artist but, simply keen to see and learn new things.

The Story of Space is a fascinating project that was held between 10th and 19th November in and around Panjim, Goa. The project, broadly speaking, explored the concept of space through an intersection of science and art. While for me, through whatever little I could catch, it pointed towards thoughts of us being made of ‘star stuff’ and the inter-relatedness of science and art, in relation to everything in life / nature.

Most of my sojourns into such shows or art spaces have been alone. I like experiencing the artists’ expression by myself, without the distractions of any familiarity. However, I also enjoy an occasional shaking of the mix, a new thread of thought and opinion to add to my own thought bubble. 

On the last leg of my run to check out a couple of installations at Sukerkar House, a decrepit looking old building minus the usual charm, I found myself uncertain to walk in. I paused and looked around and sensed a strange vibe of discomfort, rushing towards me in waves as if the frequency of the throngs of carefully recklessly dressed artists, volunteers, curators and art and design students / enthusiasts. I suddenly felt an air of being an outsider, if you know what I mean, when you seemingly don’t belong somewhere. I wondered if it was my careless lack of the carefully casual outfit or my missing hipster glasses that did not fit the wannabe winds that blew at that moment in Altinho. Mustering my amateur, self-taught guts I walked in, passing over two and then, a third installation; my thumping headache adding to my misery of not seeing much beyond the already well explored idea of space in them.

And then, we entered a fourth room, into something that was called the Escape Room and that sounded very cool. Much to the chagrin the curator, I did not know about there being batches to enter the Escape Room that lay behind a door at the end of this room. I ended up walking into a room full of men and women with large glasses and long, unkempt hair in buns or braids, wearing lose t-shirts that looked like they came from the same factory in the glare of the single bulb that hung from the ceiling, shadowing their awkward gazes. Each pair of eyes stared at me in that longest moment as I squinted back, questioningly. My attention hating side screamed at them for screening me so intensely and then, my voice finally broke the silence that was pressing on my ears. Upon asking what was happening with raised eyebrows, I was then informed about the groups and that I would have to wait for the next one. Relieved that it was just strange speed of communication and not anything to do with perhaps my scrunched up nose as I tried to focus in light’s glare, I walked out heaving a sigh of relief.

Not too keen on waiting any longer (and keener to get myself a croissant or a coffee…or both), I walked out of the venue checking with my friend if he wanted to wait after. With a frown, he responded that he didn’t want to stick around that place even for a minute. Intrigued that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t just my prejudice I decided to dig further, asking him what, in particular, was the cause of displeasure for him there while he did seem to enjoy the other installations and artworks.

His reply, to summarise, was simply the pretentious energy, the cold, raised-eyebrowed and hooded eyed looks that he saw there. He felt that the people present there seemed to exist is a slightly darker art bubble than at the other places, uninterested in allowing anyone else in.

I was stunned. I have felt similarly about litfests and major art galleries and art show openings, despite admiring a lot of the artists’ works on display. I presumed that it was my own misplaced intellectual arrogance that I thought I sometimes suffered from. Who doesn’t want exclusivity after all, isn’t it?

Turns out, I really have grown up!

What I felt was something to do with my untrained artist / writer status, simply was the tendency of the herd mentality that exists within all but, only a certain chunk of the world manifest it. I think I have a problem with it largely because while knowing that creation is an act of selfishness because it gives the artist a much needed release or sense of purpose, I also believe that as a way of life, art also is something that is universal even if someone is seemingly artistically challenged in the eyes of the most fascinating artists.

Art, for me, is a way of communication, an expression of the heart or one’s soul (mind, if you don’t believe in soul). Sometimes, these expressions are very simple and speak of broad emotions that humanity deals with. Other time, they can be very complicated that maybe only a few understand. However, the intention of any art form essentially is not to exclude because the act of creation in itself becomes a way of the artist opening up and sharing a part of themselves.

Dear Father

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A part of my brain, the one that fears judgment from the world, the one that refuses to be vulnerable in front of humanity; that part of my brain is cringing as I type this. However, I must go on despite its warnings against this being a complete bomb and unnecessary cry for attention. If, as a reader, you feel the same, I urge you to go ahead and close the window. Sorry, I do not have a dislike or hate button here for you. I am sure someday soon, we will have them.

I have only once in the past written about my father and yes maybe briefly mentioned him in a recent post on Instagram.

Today, however, I write from the point of view of grief, especially after the death of a loved one. My father left his physical form 8 years, 6 months and 20 days ago. It was sudden, right 5 weeks after I turned 18, the birthday I was most excited about. 16 was never an interest.

Very interestingly, this year, I have been thinking of him often. Much to my surprise. I had presumed that I have grieved and accepted and taken his death in my stride. When Chester Bennington passed away, I found myself weeping almost as badly as I did when papa was close to the last moments of his life. My head went back to the time Robin Williams’ death made me feel on similar lines. I wasnt sure why I felt so deeply sad at this. I remembered all the times when I have been happy with my father, the times when I thought he was not right or made me angry. :) I learnt of what all he intentionally or unintentionally taught me during the time that we spent together. I learnt of why some of my favourite memories with him remained my favourite till date despite having made a considerably good number of memories since then.

Today, I have come to terms with his death in a way much deeper and intensely happy and peaceful than I had ever imagined possible. I have goosepimples as I type this line, in particular.

To him, I would say, I am happy that I met you, happy that I was born to you. I am happy where we are today and I hope you are happy and peaceful where you are.

I love you and today, very strongly, I understand what J.K. Rowling meant by those who you love never leaving you since they can always be found in your heart. I know you are always in mine.