writing

(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.

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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?

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.

 

Georgia O’Keefe and Ekphrasis

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Been a while since I wrote in here. Have sort of determined to be a little more less reluctant to type a blog post. Thankfully, I have been writing a lot but on paper. This world demands virtual media, however. And, need to succumb to it once in a while.

October brings along Inktober with itself and I have been creating more detailed artworks this year. Sign of progress, for sure.

I attended a workshop on Ekphrasis yesterday. According to the glossary on literature that I looked up to understand the term, I learnt that it is something that comes naturally to me. Ekphrasis is essentially writing something (mostly a poem), inspired by a visual, whether real or imaginary. I remember that I had started creative writing and poetry with imagined visuals, images that refused to leave my mind. Having never gone through the systemic teaching in literature and art, at times, I find myself doing a double take when I learn that there is a term for something I do! At other times, well, I learn something new. Feel like a student all over again. ;)

The workshop had a measly number of 4 people – one of whom ran away when we were left alone to write poems. We were presented with works by Monet and O’Keefe. I am a fan of impressionism and hence, Monet’s magic in seemingly simple, day to day scenes was quite captivating. However, I had pre-selected the artwork for my poem the minute I walked in. Poetically speaking, it felt like it chose me.

The artwork that I connected with instantly was O’Keefe’s Oriental Poppies (pictured below).

Oriental Poppies by O’Keefe – Source

I have honestly, never really been a flower person. I mean I like flowers in flesh but, never as images. Apparently, the artist painted these and much of her work in abstraction following no real theme as such but, her work has been appropriated by many according to their own perceptions. Her work has particularly been labeled as feminist and has been interpreted accordingly.

For me, art comes from a personal space. Either its memory or emotion, it always stirs from an emotional part of the mind. While there was a gentleman who felt he doesn’t “get” art, he wrote a short poem which was so powerful and interpreted one of Monet’s works beautifully; thereby, bringing in the belief yet again that art is personal and that, many times what the artist would have intended would end up living with the artist alone.

Oriental poppies drew me in like a magnet. The fiery colours and shades emanated a kind of passionate power that I couldn’t think of any other work there. Sharing a poem that I wrote inspired by the work:

Orange blooms

burning bright,

Huddled together

against the light.

Fire all around

emerging from the dark,

I see them in the evening

to the sounds of the lark.

As the night darkens

gathering her warm blanket over,

We huddle closer together

heads joint in a good night’s kiss.

Hand in hand

we walk,

side by side, we traverse

every road, while

burning bright

despite no light,

like those orange blossoms

in my garden.

Going Mental(ist) – Errors in Storytelling Today

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching sitcoms on binge. The latest show that I watched on binge and even used Google to end my misery at times was The Mentalist (yes, yes, I am quite late to jump on the bandwagon but, better late than never right?)

While there are many tangents that I can go to in terms of what I loved as well as hated about the show, I will pick up on one broad trend that is a reality for media in most places. Sitcoms even in the Indian industry (can speak for Hindi shows alone since I haven’t watched any other Indian shows in other Indian languages), are the ordinary citizen’s access to a world far away from her daily reality. From TV sets in common rooms to Netflix and the likes on one’s bed, media as entertainment has access to the most private corners of one’s existence. Of course there is the business side to it as well that deems producing things that aren’t just liked but, also accepted by the viewers. It is crazy how the virtual production of the Game of Thrones made ‘winter is coming’ as a mark of cool and awe-inspiring minds.

What I have thought about time and again however, is the need to balance economic orientation behind soaps with creating things that add a new value to the viewers’ minds, makes them question and think. Media and storytelling has that immense power.

With such an orientation however, when one watches an acclaimed show and sees it fall flat on its face, it feels sad. Web series are definitely changing the way things go but, the downside of the trend yet again is the surge of multiple channels owned by a few big business houses that own the TV channels spreading mediocrity.

Why I am ranting about media here is to note one point that has come to mind time and again whether watching an Indian web series or reading a comic or watching The Mentalist. My basic issue is with all of it, especially the series in question, is the reaffirmation of stereotypes that deepen a sense of bias against people. This is a very subtle form of bias that exists in the modern world. One has opinions based on one’s race, class, sex and appearance…the least that storytelling can do, is to break through those typical narratives forcing the viewer to look beyond hearsay. Another classic fallacy in Western storytelling is building everything around one male protagonist (usually white) who is wronged by another man and with the help of a secondary female character who nurses his hurt ego and teaches him vulnerability after he disses her all through the plot, he gets justice and stands taller with his arm around the woman’s waist looking straight ahead. Remember Harvey Specter and Christian Grey? The typical protagonists?

While the entire plot line and appearance of the show is clean, minus heavy words displaying hyper-masculinity and full of humour and love. The characters are all shown to possess their own pasts and like all of us are products of their environments who have evolved a lot with time. All of this is what makes this show very likeable. However, as the series progresses, slowly all the mature writing falls through the cracks. Lisbon then becomes the female cop who was no nonsense and super professional not because she is good at her work and prefers to keep things that way. Rather, she was so because her dark past made her display a tough exterior to protect herself until love comes knocking. The same love that makes her throw away everything that she defined herself by and reduce her existence to anonymity. Jane is a funny, con man turned righteous hero who spends all his energies trying to salvage the murders of his family caused due to his irresponsibility. From the hurt and grief stricken man looking to avenge his loss, he slowly becomes the egoistic narcissist ought to display a sense of superiority especially against the woman he loves, without any care when the same woman loses everything in order to help him. Their story is the typical story, only with a little addition of Lisbon’s past. On the side are 3 more characters – Rigsby (tall, athletic, dumb white male aka jock in the dictionary of stereotypes), Cho (short, pokerface Asian guy with the focus of a horse with blinders because you know, he’s Korean with a gang past) and Van Pelt (red head with the perfect body that is objectified immensely, also a farm girl with the belief in horses, unicorns (not really) and rainbows, she is shown all business unless of course, love grabs her heart).

I would end with just one thought – while adding a background story to the lives of the characters does add a more humane touch giving life to these stereotypes, it still reaffirms every bit of it keeping narratives stale and predictable. Stories, while of course need to be a sort of business to sustain storytellers, are however, more powerful that dumbing down generations by affirmation of stereotypes. They can change the destiny of the world, if only, a little more courage is shown in telling them.

Healing, growing… Nostalgia.

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I haven’t really blogged with my thoughts on here in a long time. There is an anon blog for that and also, I am a little old school with my pen and paper for things that I need not share on the internet. Yes, even those who know me, don’t really want to believe that I might have a whole lot of private and personal stuff in my heart. I cannot blame them ’cause I always do have a lot of stories to share.

Anyway, I felt like rekindling this blog to a more personal one as opposed to regular thoughts on the difficult realities in the world that we have created. I started reading a book called Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra who is a Delhi based artist and explores the partition through personal stories and reminders in terms of objects that people carried as they fled across the newly created borders back then.

As I go through the endearing accounts and stories (yes this isn’t a book review!), my head swims in a different space altogether. From what I have known, I had been a sucker for nostalgia and continue to spin stories and memories as if they were right in front of my eyes. I don’t know if it happens with everyone but, when I remember certain magical parts of my life so far, my mind actually plays a very mellow sound and I feel the same warmth and happiness that was felt when I was younger and would soak in the warmth of the winter sun with a copy of Harry Potter, undisturbed for hours. That is the thing about nostalgia, you start once and it plays an entire film in front of your eyes.

When I started working, I realised that my obsession with nostalgia was maybe keeping me somewhere close to a part of the past that was safe and warm, trying to keep me sane in the reality of my present or the clouds of the future. I clung to the toasty warmth of my memory blanket as I walked on ahead into what seemed like a long, dark tunnel with the only light that was there, within. There came a point that I had to drop the blanket midway, squaring my shoulders to walk straight into the abyss, without a care of what would happen. I kept going with my mind protecting the warmth for contingency expecting darker demons to confront me as I walked on. Then, finally, I found myself on the other end.

This time around, however, I chose my stories carefully, making sure that none of them had father in them. I was afraid of being labelled as the girl without a father, the poor soul that was still in remembrance of him, even after all these years ’cause maybe she has never gotten better. Maybe, she was still there. I shut my father away from all my memories and continued to remember the sunny afternoons from a decade ago. Only, this time, the sun seemed a little cooler and the blanket, a little thinner. Discovering the artist in me taught me how to isolate my mind that remembers from all the naysayers that whispered in my head. And finally, after 8.5 years of his passing, my mind has healed itself and the sun is warmer again.

These thoughts were churned as I entered the give – away contest for Aanchal Malhotra’s book where I had to write about my favourite object. Among many tokens from the past, I immediately had my answer ready. Only the reason was that the act of writing about it told me. Here is what I wrote (and got the book! :D) –

It is quite difficult for me to pick one favourite object. I have many tokens of memory from many stories in the life that I have lived so far. There are bus tickets, shells and stones and even paper bags that tell stories from my past.

However, my favourite, that comes to mind right now, is a bundle of pages that together form the photocopy of a Thai cookbook. My father was a writer and reader and so am I and that, and a love for food and history was what was common between us. Well that, and curiosity about everything related to culture. From an afternoon  when I was 13 years old and browsing through cookbooks since I had started experimenting with food, I remember picking up a Thai cookbook that taught the basics of Thai cuisine – tricks and tips and tools needed for these. 

My frugal father’s response was a flat no. I remember being surprised at the no since no matter what, I was never denied a book. I have never bought anything much in life as opposed to books and for the first time, he said no. I didn’t protest because I believed that he saw reason in not buying it and internet had slowly come into our small town by then hence, he suggested we find these tricks on the web. I agreed and we moved on.

Within a week, as I headed towards my study table – my study and his table were in the same room – I find a black and white picture of the same Thai cookbook’s cover! It was a bundle of pages all tied together. I flipped through it and realised that he had found the book and taken a copy of it. I have changed 5 cities till now and it still is with me safe in a plastic folder with all my important documents. 

I had lost him 5 years later and this book lives with me as a reminder of the millions of stories that he has taught me through his actions.