Between Two Denials

I don’t believe in brave,

Until nothing else begins to stand; anymore

 

Over conversations, I said it; I wondered and spoke out. More like spoke out as much as I could and not as much as I wanted. Little fears cloud around and carry heavy rains; peculiar rains; no water, just destruction. 

I asked, what would I choose – opportunity cost or self-loathing? One that visits sometimes dressed like a memory or the one that seeps through every vein of lived out life? What is to never choose and live and live but never choose. 

What if I say I heard him talking as if he knows everything; words, his words, pulling their own meaning down. How much of meaning my words have given to him. Words, my words, making up for everything left unsaid. 

There are rains, heavy rains, somewhere above the skies of Delhi, waiting to unleash. There are things in between, though; things that make the rains and us seem invisible to each other. So, I say much too much of dried up lives; their hearts, heavier than heat and lighter than moisture. 

 

Art: Miroslav Sasek

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The Weekend

My niece, a six year old, used to sow stones in hope of them breaking out; through

The ground, breathe,

And flower.

 

I’m writing this under the influence of sickness and the thoughts it dumps on me. This is somewhat like Kahlo’s ‘What The Water Gave Me’; much stripped down though. There are texts I’ve been replying to, calls that I’ve been answering; and making myself, sometimes. More than ever, and anything, I’ve been staring at my phone. 

Down two days of nothing, there are days to come. Days, I have nothing to know of. And somewhere between these days, there is anticipation lost in ambiguities. Like the refracted light of setting sun, there’s illumination, scattered, red, in my head. 

I was here a month ago, I’m still here, at least that; what he thinks. Should I call him ‘it’ if he’s nothing more than a thought? A desire unfulfilled, revisiting my bed like a nightmare I’ve been dreading of. Something sinks, puts a hook somewhere within, and then leaves like a soul. Where do we keep our medicines anyway?

So, this makes me, and I make this a show. A weekend still awaiting its demise like a plagued outcaste. As I am sick, and you know, I shall be forgiven if I puke my words out; they are, after all, a collective of self-destructive invisibles.

Hindi Music Then & Now: Insights from Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani

I almost bit my tongue for reaching at this public discussion at the time when chairs were being folded and conversations became private over tea. A talk on Hindi music ‘then and now’, four well-informed and passionate individuals came together at Oxford Bookstore to create a discourse on what they termed as a ‘transition period’ of lyrics in Hindi cinema. In whatever little time I had, minus the awkward hesitations, I managed to get few words from the two most interesting and diverging viewpoints – Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani. 

 

Me: As I see this distinction between ‘then’ and ‘now’, I believe it’s because of the difference in motive behind making music; what was meant to be for engagement before, is made for consumption now. What do you think about that? 

Shikha: I believe music was always made for consumption. It’s hard to imagine commercial production of music without there being a listener for it. 

Me: Let me put this distinction into perspective. By engagement I mean a certain sense of emotional or cognitive relation one develops with the music, while consumption would be a pure non-critical ‘intake’ of music. 

Shikha: That maybe true. But I believe that there’s no need of creating such distinction in the first place. I mean, the sort of music that we have today we had it back then as well, and vice versa. Even today, you have musical pieces with meaningful lyrics being incorporated in the movies. 

Me: Agreed! But don’t you think discussions such as this one require certain sampling? Maybe a little more attention to what is being ‘popularly’ produced these days. 

Shikha: You can do that but I don’t see the need of it. I’m more interested in how music is being used in films rather than what sort of music it is. Earlier, we had musical pieces that existed independent of the main plot of the film and were shown with actors lip-syncing and suddenly breaking into choreographed moves. Now, we see songs getting embedded in the narrative that no longer requires lip syncing and just stoically plays in the background. 

Me: What do you gather from this distinction?

Shikha: I think that has led to further alienation between the listener and the song. We no longer relate to the song or remember the lyrics. Songs are just reduced to a background score. 

Me: But I think I relate more to songs that are consequential to the narrative and are being played alongside the scene. It creates a more holistic and meaningful relationship with not just the song but also the context; taking it back to my point regarding engagement. 

Shikha: Well, some people do relate to the ’embedded’ style of music. But I still feel that the lack of independent space for songs in films affect our connection with not just the lyrics but the song itself. 

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Shikha Jhingann, Professor

Just after my conversation with Shikha, I managed to take Gautam out of what seemed like a lighthearted private discussion, and had a brief talk with him that centered around similar questions. 

Me: Do you see the distinction as one concerning with ‘engagement’ and ‘consumption’?

Gautam: of course there’s consumption. There’s a process in place that sees music as a product and the listener as a consumer. As attention span of public is getting shorter, producers are making music that can catch the fancy of the listener by the earliest. 

Me: So, do you think there’s  some sense of ‘research’ involved in deciding as to what sort of music would be suitable for commercial interests? For instance, psychological studies, market research, etc. 

Gautam: I don’t think so, no. 

Me: Then what is understood as ‘commercially viable’?

Gautam: One that was a major hit last week. 

Me: Shikha pointed out to me that there’s no need for classifying music as ‘then’ and ‘now’ for there are all sorts of music present even today. Do you agree with her?

Gautam: No, I don’t. I believe such distinction is important merely because it is happening. There’s a cultural shift in the way we produce music today and people should have a knowledge of it. Such distinction and its consequences cannot be made apparent if it is not recognised and discussed thereof in the first place. 

Me: Agreed! But as Shikha pointed out, what is the purpose we are trying to serve by creating such distinction? Is it political, cultural, or anything of value? 

Gautam: It may not be political; it may not be of value. But it is definitely significant for critically evaluating the development in musical practices or identifying the best ones of an era. There’s a big change in how Rahman produced music in the late 90s or early 2000s and the way he produces today; same applies to Gulzar and his music. And nothing of it can be understood without sampling and classifying the ‘transition period’. 

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting
Gautam Chintamani, Writer

My talk with Gautam was ended abruptly by the arrival of his cab and unfortunately he had to leave without answering my further questions. However, whatever little that we discussed, one can gather some insight into how we critically evaluate musical practices, both in terms of as they exist and in relation to their development. On the other hand, Shikha shed some light on an interesting way of looking at our engagement with music; something that is often ignored by the viewer of a film. Apart from their diverging views, I managed to find a single concurring theme – and that – is our engagement with music. Out of the many things debated, both Shikha and Gautam want us to engage with music critically and emotionally and reflect upon such engagement at levels of varying degrees.  

 

Reading Into Hunger

Hunger by Florence + The Machine is here and it’s such a visual rarity. Directed by AG Rojas, who seems to be the sole visual director for the new album High as Hope, has displayed an intelligent and intricate use of frames; a careful imagining of the space, objects and most importantly – art.

The restriction of the visuals within a square frame shows Rojas’s intentional reminder of how to acknowledge his effort. He has reflected narrative as a painting, words finding their meaning in the images, all reflected through a frame, or maybe, a canvas. A canvas where use of light, camera angle and elemental discontinuity makes every frame a work of art in itself. The recurrent use of long still shots, with the subject looking away from the viewer, is testament to the same.

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It is not just the elements of direction that has caught my fancy; there’s much to be appreciated in the narrative as well. The most apparent theme would be the use of art as a metaphor to life. The statue shown in the early frames comes across as an allegorical representation of a human body in general, and that of Florence in particular – one may trace it from the hand gesture Florence makes in the first frame which is similar to that of the statue, and in many recurrent similarities in positioning in subsequent frames.

That said, we shall now look deeper into the statue and the reason behind using it as an allegory. Walter Benjamin in his essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Production has talked about as to how the meanings and values that are associated with an artwork changes with the change in the context in which it is placed. This perceptive change has much to do with how we engage with the artwork, our own understanding, rather than the inherent meaning or value of the same. The artwork is then merely an object of our understanding, our perceptions; our unilateral desires. For instance, the way we look at an object of every day use might change if we see that object being placed in an art museum, and then change again, if we later see it in the church. This coupled with the British concept of Seeing, which describes the ways through which aesthetics incorporates or  subjects itself to the perceptive gaze, come across as a dominant theme in the narrative.

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The statue, despite remaining the same, gets associated with various meanings with the change of the place and people handling it. For instance, for that disdained surgeon, dissecting the statue became a matter of ‘his’ satisfaction and claim rather than that of the statue itself. Also, we see the statue having certain voids which are mostly ignored except by one person who curiously wanted to go deeper in his understanding of an external figure. The moment he touched the voids, we see something unsettling Florence in the next frame – another sign establishing the allegory theory. 

This is where I bring in the lyrics, or as Florence said it, the poetics. In a statement made to BBC she said: ‘

This song is about the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more”.

The constant positioning of ourselves, our bodies, to the fancies of others is what that resonates well with the statue allegory. The desire to be loved, the stretch of it to an extent that it becomes hunger, makes love a delusion. Despite being melancholic, she’s talking to herself as an other, and asking her to believe in her self and her beauty. For most importantly, sometimes it’s not about finding the answers, but about just knowing that thing; the thing that makes us feel the way we do. 

 

 

 

Real in the Reel: Ethics of Authentic and Accurate in Art

Art relies much on representation, or maybe not. Aesthetics, as a discipline, has incessantly posed certain debates on the purpose and meaning of art. Such debates often place art as a matter of study within the meta-disciplines of philosophy, psychology and even science. While art for art’s sake is also a prevailing perception, what resonates as a ‘virtue’ among all is the inherent ‘authenticity’ of art. In this essay, I will talk about the understanding of ‘authentic’ in art (In aesthetics, one may also call it ‘authentic art’), the different perspectives on the same and how an artist achieves such authenticity.

Dardagny Morning by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot

 

In European aesthetics, it was the period of Renaissance that spearheaded the conscience of ‘real’ in art. What is famously termed as ‘humanism’, art began to look both inwards and outwards. The outward vision was oriented towards the life outside self, and the inward, was the recognition of the alike, the body, the human. This anthropocentric development was further given a spiritual direction by the Romantics. Suddenly, the concepts of ‘genius’, ‘sublime’ and ‘imagination’ rekindled the artists and the inward vision became much more individualistic. The art was no longer only the recognition of the ‘alike’ but it went on to celebrate artist’s own perception of life; sourced from deeper spiritual understanding of the ‘living’.

Starry Night by Van Gogh

 

As the individuation of art continued, it was during the 19th century that the concept of ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ in art became a matter of serious debate. In styles such as Impressionism, Modernism and Expressionism, artists were engaging with the outward subject matter but the representation of the same was not so clearly discernible as ‘real’. The shift in focus towards elements of art, namely light, colour and texture, the representation of the ‘real’ had to filter through the creative perception of the artist. In other words, the representation of the objectivity was refracted through the subjectivity of the artist.

With the development of science and technology, the world of aesthetics was presented with a peculiar version of the aforementioned debate – Photography. The medium of photography was peculiar because unlike impressionism, there was no indiscernible relationship between the subject matter and its representation. Rather, a photograph became the most realist and reliable representation of the ‘real’, the ‘outward’, the ‘life’. This gave rise to a new word in the debate on the authentic – the accurate. Unlike art, where authenticity, in different periods and styles, was determined by the different ways of expressing artists’s original creativity, photography left little for such ‘internal’ or ‘spiritual’ expression. The representation became so real that it was hard to call it authentic. This is precisely why photography had a hard time being recognised as a work of art; and the struggle continues.

Photographer: Guy Bourdin, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

This is a right time to differentiate authentic and the accurate. Authentic, like in the case of impressionist art, is the representation of objectivity refracted through the subjectivity of the artist. On the other hand, Accurate is the representation of the objectivity with little or no refraction through the subjectivity of the photographer. This line of differentiation gave rise to two sets of parallel debates; first, whether photography only falls under the category of accurate, and second, which one between the two is ethically justifiable.

Miss Butterfly by Shadi Ghadirian

 

The first line of debate became apparent when the nature of photography saw a diversification. The rise of artistic photography dragged the medium away from its conventional understanding of a recording agent. The use of artistic expression through the medium of photography challenged the claim of it being an accurate representation of the real. The objectivity began to refract through the subjectivity of the artist, and the lines between accurate and authentic, blurred. However, not only the other forms of photography continued to flourish, the claim of artistic photography itself could not dismantle the distinction completely. The fact that the subject matter in artistic photography continued to be the most realist representation of the objectivity, the resultant accuracy continued. And so did, the debate.

Now, how do we move on to understand the ethical nature of art which is premised on this debate on Accurate and Authentic? The answer may lie on cognitive value of art. While Accurate gives us the most honest possible representation of the objective, it is the Authentic that makes us see beyond the representation. The cognitive value of Authentic digs deeper beneath the surface representation and bring out meanings that remain unseen in Accurate. The true meaning of original is what is true to an artist. If an artist considers a self-alienated and accurate representation of the objectivity as the only meaning of original, so be it; for there are also artists who believe that original cannot be produced without the refraction of objectivity through an authentic perception of self.

As Simone de Beauvoir puts it in he Ethics of Ambiguity, the true authentic self becomes meaningful only when its other-regarding. Authentic or Accurate; an original or true artistic expression requires an engagement with the outward. While, the terms of engagement might differ, the very fact that an artist consciously realises this engagement, makes her work not only meaningful but also transcendental.

First Writing Since…

As I begin to think, I see

What was that drunken, sunken, 

Love forsaken grin, and

The smiles in between, all smiles

And no meaning. 

As I begin to think, I write,

scream in the silence of words, sing

In the language of form, I begin 

To see myself, outside

Of self. 

First writing since, First 

Love after life got done with all that called itself love

First words since that morning, of

Waking up to the death of 

Those who lived till yesterday, Unlike myself,

When was the last time I lived

Till yesterday?

Words be words, since

Since it began in curiosity, now all

All, of it, all, 

Just languishing, I’m dragging, it’s unmoving;

 Unloving, maybe?

First matters Since, the

First fights and reconciliations, of first

Everything but love. 

I see you in pain, I can see

You looking at me in want, in desire, in 

Everything but love. 

First writing since I saw you looking at me

With someone else, in smiles, in warmth, in 

Everything but love. 

Words, upon words, upon verse, I build,

I build every day like a house of cards,

You say you see me but you don’t, you never did, I

Though, am aware of your

Honesty,

Am aware, of

Your presence, your calls, your texts, your words, your drives, your stares, your

Everything but love. 

 

 

 

Art: Fotini Tikkou

 

The Nile Hilton Incident: The Struggle for the Land and the Soul

Indeed, no cruel man is so cruel as he whom he has misused believes; the idea of pain is not the same thing as the suffering of it.

– Nietzsche

In The Nile Hilton Incident, I see characters exist outside the debate on moral settlement. What I also see, is space, I see Cairo, in both its making and unmaking; in its residue and revival. 

A police officer (Faris) who discovers a murder of a pop singer in Cairo’s Nile Hilton Hotel soon finds himself in a position where he has been asked, and later threatened, to not to pursue the same by the social and political elites of the land. In between this equation lies a helpless Sudanese maid (Malik), a daily wage worker at the Hotel who is also the only witness to the incident. The plot is set in the Cairo of 2011, just days before the breaking out of the Arab Spring. 

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The characters are unapologetically non-dichotomous, so much so, that they are very much living. The very fact that they have survived in such a milieu, and continues to do so, is because of the certain flaws that they both internalise and resist. Noredin (Fariz) is committed to bring down the man who is backed by a system which has corruption and nepotism seeping through its every possible branch. However, at the same time, he demands bribe from the local sellers, and pockets confiscated money. Salwa (Malik) is aware, to some extent,  of the gravity of what she has witnessed, but still proposes to enter into a financial compromise to stay quite; perhaps forced by her unprivileged socio-economic status. Even in the most insignificant of characters, we see the same characterization being reflected.

The plot seems to be resting on an unsettled bedrock; of many upheavals happened, and waiting to happen. There also exist turning points; moments that changed the pattern of how characters went on to exist and function. ‘Dignity cannot be bought, son’, as said Noredin’s father while aimlessly glaring at the television screen. 

The political revolution of Cairo runs parallel to that of Noredin’s; having a synonymous evolution. What started as a mere sub-narrative, the revolution grows into a climax and finally ends with the only thing left standing. The two narratives, of the revolution and of Noredin, are unaware of each other until  they both find each other engulfed in the agony directed against a common enemy. The development of this relation is slow yet apparent and cathartic. 

Image result for The Nile Hilton Incident review

And amidst all this, there is Salwa. Just like the plight of Sudanese refugees in Egypt, she lives in silence and denial until she decides to remain silent no more. She is made aware of both the triviality of her life and the significance of her death. She continues to live under the bridge, both literally and figuratively, until she decides to finally surface and speak up. After an illegal arrest, attempted deportation and an attempted murder, all directed against her, we see her running hysterically in an open field. Noredin asks her to go away and set herself free, but just like the plight of her community and her gender, we see an inconclusive end to her story; or maybe, just the continuation of how it ever was. 

The Nile Hilton Incident is a story of both the people and the land; told in isolation but very much shared and lived together. The multi-layering of  these elements sets up  chaos and uncertainty that gives meaning to life that existed during the Arab Spring; both of the land and the people. As the main character fails and collapses, there is victory of some virtue within;  a virtue that also marked and led the revolution to finally bring down the system in the days to come. 

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On ‘Capturing’ Bombay

When it comes to photography, especially today, what is it that we capture and, what, is it that we imagine. Once understood as a refracted reality, a photograph has been reduced to a word, a letter, just consumption.

In the age of Instagram and Snapchat where billions of pictures are shared every day, it has become difficult for photography, and more so for a photograph, to exist independent of a voyeur, to breathe its own little universe within that well constructed frame.

Partha Mansukhani’s untitled work displayed at Iridescence Exhibition at Symbiosis Law School unravels itself in no shyness. One may begin to understand the work from the life that moves within the frame, or more so, a movement of such life captured but alive. Theorists of Photography such as Cartier-Bresson have written extensively on how the process of photography captures the movement of reality in its own movement of split second. The idea of motion being captured in stillness might sound quite peculiar to some, but well, that’s what distinguishes photography from other forms of expression and honours it with the status of art.

In this work, we can see the capturing of dual movements which do not only co-exist but also overlap. One movement is of the reality we see within the frame, that is, the movement of the walking man, the flight of pigeons and the flowing surface of the sea. The other movement, something which on the surface can be termed as ‘beyond the frame’, but at a connotative understanding, exists very much within it; overlapping yet contextualizing the movement so seen; the movement of Bombay.  It is this connotative understanding of the movement, as Barthes would have put it, fascinates my understanding of the photograph.

Partha comes from a family of mixed ethnicity; paternally Sindhi, maternally Tuluva, and spent all his life in Bombay. It was only in the past year that he began to make himself learn the history of the Sindhi community, their travels and travails, sourced from both academic literature and his grandma’s personal narrations. All this while, he found himself moving deeper into the cityscape of Bombay, a city which not only boasts of considerable Sindhi diaspora but also of its seamless assimilation.

The constant of Bombay is its spontaneity; the ever moving life drawn from the patterns of people who live it; every single day.

It is in this unconscious movement of madness, that there lies stillness which often goes unnoticed; the stillness of the space. The constructions may come and go but the space remains forever; maybe not enough sometimes. Just like the sea, the surface rises and lowers, but the sea, and its self, remains.

It is this complex relationship that Bombay shares with itself that we see being refracted in the picture. And what is being reflected is how Partha ‘chose’ to perceive Bombay. Upon the stillness that Bombay provides him, he constructed a movement that, to him, sums up this complexity. A still space maneuvering the movement to create an identity of itself; oh so Bombay, and oh so, Partha.

Coming back to the surface movement, the denotative meaning, we can see all that is, as it is. Amidst a man so unknowingly walking away from one end to reach somewhere unknown to the viewer; amidst the pigeons aimlessly flying and being perched, and through the entire length of city displayed on the far end, we see disorder and chaos wrapped so lovingly and unapologetically in nostalgia. In all of this, we see Bombay, Partha’s Bombay.

For the Postcards and Beyond

She presented me with a choice, a banking lecture or a ride to the post office. Even if I would have thought of contemplating a bit, there she said, ‘we will have such a good time together’; So, not much of a choice left, you see.

We barged out of the college gate, withdrew some cash from the ATM, and chose to walk to the post office, which quite incidentally, was located within the airport premises. During that walk, we witnessed both the cherry blossom trees and a pile of garbage at the corner of the pavement, but, we chose to talk about the philosophy of mono no aware, a 5 minute journey packed with a lifelong belief in the pathos of beautiful things. Maybe, that explains the cherry blossom trees too.

At the airport, we were received by a post office which had no human within it. We thought ‘they’ must have gone for lunch, so we decided to hang around, take a time, here and there, see it all tick by. ‘I always find airports fascinating‘, I told her, ‘would love to stop someone from going away someday‘, ‘that’s so cheaky’, she said, ‘even if it is, it feels good‘, I replied, ‘but it’s so unfair for a person who has spent so much time in packing and preparing food for the journey‘, she shot back, ‘well, we can unpack in my house while having food in the car en route‘, I concluded.

It is here, during this time, post this conversation and at this place, that she introduced me to her postcards. The picturesque collection of photographs ornamented with messages so personal, and oh so warming. From the ones depicting prancing tigers to the ones having wine savouring old ladies on them, every piece felt so different and so uniquely special. It is not the picture itself that differentiated one from the other; most of the uniqueness came from the handwriting of the person, the address noted, and most importantly, the feeling expressed.

Sitting there on the side bench and going through this stack of her postcards surfaced a smile that was hidden for a long time; one reflecting not only the sense of understanding, but also the sheer joy of being a participator in someone else’s. All these years, how silently you have moved, within and beyond. How much you have come to learn and unlearn. And in all of this, I finally see you. I see you risen, awaken and most importantly, loved. It was maybe during your suffering that I felt so connected to you, but it was this, this unexplained happiness of sharing, that I felt peaceful; it was here, amidst all the strangers coming and going, that I felt the silence of contentment, and MAN I’m so glad, I felt it with you.