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’. 

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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.  

 

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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.

The Politics of Material in Art

Nosing through my favourite daily, I came across, hidden right in the corner and described in not even 30 words, a ‘news’ on art. Famous and quite ‘unpopular’ (of course) Ukrainian artist Daria Marchenko, along with a fellow artist Daniel Green, has created a portrait of Donald Trump by using one cent and five cent pieces as primary materials. It is nearly eight foot by six foot in structure but goes on to scale much further heights in symbolic commentary. 

Titled ‘Face of Money‘, this work which represents a political figure as the only subject of the artwork, succeeds similar work by the duo titled Face of War, a portrait of Vladimir Putin made up of bullets derived from Ukrainian soil. 

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Marchenko & Green : Face of War

Despite its apparent representational meaning, and something that has been musing artworks across genres and mediums, the politics is essential here. This is because it’s not just the politics of the subject matter that we are dealing with here; it’s also the politics that underline the use of the material, or should I say, the ‘play’ with it. The politics of the figure represented in the artwork is closely intertwined with the politics of the material used for the creation of the artwork. Is this Bolshevik Constructionsim? No. 

The politics of the material is evident in the representational meaning that is ‘constructed’ through the artwork. I call it ‘constructed’ meaning because the intended understanding of the material is not just divorced from the existent meaning of the same, but there is imposition of a new meaning on the material, which sums up to further construct a meta-meaning. Marchenko and Green are not just making portraits of the most despised political leasers of today, they are making them with bullets and currency coins. And, in doing so, they become the author of a process which itself is immensely political in nature – construction of knowledge. 

What is this ‘meta-meaning’? How does the artist becomes the author of a constructed meaning? Well, if ‘looked at’, both the portraits use the incongruous marriage of art and mundane objects in order to create a meaning which is above and significantly different from both the material used and the art practiced. In terms of the practiced art, the creation of the meta-meaning divorces the art from its representational, muted and aesthetic meaning, and uses it as a mere tool to signify the meta-meaning – a protest, a commentary, an engagement. However, in terms of the material, this process of alienation and subsequent imposition of meaning becomes much more apparent and fascinating. 

In Face of War, we do not see a much ‘radical’ alienation of meaning when it comes to the material; even though it was quite radical in itself to ever imagine an object of destruction as a subject matter of an object of creation. However, in Face of Money, we see a much more rigorous re-imagination of material meaning, leading to a much furthered alienation and a much ‘constructed’ representation of the meta-meaning. The currency coins, material used in Face of Money, is a mode of exchange, prosperity to some, destitute to other. Even though much has been written about the role played by money in our lives, and the same has contributed to the ‘extended’ meaning of the same, it was quite novel of Marchenko and Green to understand currency (different from just ‘money’ because there is a deliberate use of US currency only) as a mode of political exchange. According to the daily  wherein I came to know about this new work, this was conceived last summer when Mr. Putin ordered the US to reduce its diplomatic footprint in Russia by 755 employees and Trump thanked Mr Putin saying it would allow the US to ‘save a lot of money’. Hence, we can see how the artists have re-imagined the US currency and created a meta-meaning where the currency becomes a tool of political exchange of ‘convenience’, neglecting the social, emotional and economic repercussions of the same. 

Material is not the only object re-imagined in this meta-meaning of Face of Money. One can also see this as a process of toying with Neoclassicism, wherein royals embraced the subject matter of the art for the same was ‘commissioned’ by them for their own grandiosity. Here, we can see Marchenko and Green ‘bringing back’ the style and altering the intended meaning in order to create a deeper and much more profound understanding of the artwork. We can see the same process being used by many contemporary artists across the mediums, for instance, Shadi Gahdirian, an Iranian art photographer who in her collection Qajar re-imagined the traditional Qajar style of Iranian photographer and used the same style to construct a novel meaning. 

Just as the ‘commission’ of art gets democratic, decentralized, disobeyed, we see the protest surfacing. The Speech becomes satire; the Character, caricaturing; and the meaning of what is power and the powerful, well, looking down at the Powerful from eight feet high. 

From Numbers to Recipes: Ankit Grover of Slice of Soul Walks Us Through his Inspiring Journey

We all carry stories that need to be told or at least reflected upon. This story is of a man who not only travelled three cities in pursuit of his dream but also three professions; and what diametrically opposite these professions have been. From Jabalpur to Pune via Bombay, this is a tale of Ankit Grover, founder of town’s most intriguing pizzeria called Slice of Soul, and all the ‘in-betweens’ of having nothing to having what contents.

A man, who is now an authoritative source of any knowledge regarding beer or pizzas, was once in a profession where he didn’t even have time to cherish them in his meals. A Chartered Accountant working in one of the leading companies in Bombay, Ankit found himself engrossed in numbers and data analysis. ‘I always had the dream of having my own setup but something had to be done before that’, he said. A stint as a CA was a result of not coming from an entrepreneurial background and a prospective foundation for taking a step closer to the dream. When his job became too small to contain his knack for new technologies and inventiveness, he bade adieu to a generously paying job and embraced a life where he had nothing to do.

The environment, the culture, and everything about that corporate life had become too one-dimensional for me. I anyway had to break away from that monotony today or tomorrow. I knew this job was not what I actually wanted to do’.

Months after leaving his job, Ankit started private practice and simultaneously began to think about opening up a cafe. Back at home in Jabalpur and away from the hush of a metro life, his mind was better placed and creatively more motivated. So, when he found himself at the cusp of taking a step forward and moving from numbers to recipes, he packed his bag and his mom’s faith in him and flew off to Pune.

I had absolutely no knowledge about how the entire process will actually take shape. All I had, was an idea, a concept; and yes, a name which I wanted to give to my café.’ Ankit’s background in a corporate field came handy during the establishing days of his café. Every morning, he would head out and meet different people and hunt for a perfect place that would house his dreams. ‘Field Research was of utmost importance in the establishing phase of this journey. I knew I was taking a big risk, I knew I wasn’t a seasoned rookie, so I had to equip myself with the in-depth understanding of market and the trends.’ Pune is famous for the short lived journeys of food joints. They say, every day 10 cafés open up here and 12 shut down. However for Ankit, faith in the uniqueness of his concept motivated him to survive the competition.

Despite the well guided research and trustworthy connections, there were fall outs. Failures that shatter building faith in oneself and take one back to square one. ‘I would lie if I say that these failures didn’t shake me up from inside. I was terribly disheartened. I even started questioning my methods. However, this was the time when I gathered inspiration from my past. The transition from being academically below average to becoming a CA helped me in collating my strength back and refocusing my efforts.’ There were failures and then there were opinions that discredited his ideas; but his drive to fulfil his passions did succeed and led to the creation of Slice of Soul.

I not just wanted a pizzeria; I wanted one which is authentic. My idea of wood-fired oven seemed unattractive to many and now it is my USP.’ Many features of Slice of Soul are drawn from Ankit’s personal experiences and family outings.

My mom loved pizzas; so having pizzas for lunch was quite common. However, every time we used to go out for pizzas, there used to be quarrels and disagreements over toppings and the kind of bread. In the end we all had to make small sacrifices over desired contents. This was a driving force behind the idea of coming up with Make Your Own Pizza. At SOS, I wanted a food democracy and freedom for customers to not only choose their toppings but participate in every step of making their own pizza. And then, it was followed by Make Your Own Pasta and Make Your Own Salad.’

Many people dare to follow their dreams; but often there comes an interval called ‘backup option’. For many dreamers, this backup option becomes so consuming that it translates into the sad demise of what they actually wanted. Making that shift from a backup option to the process of actualising the dream is a small but the most difficult one and Ankit was glad that he made it without much hassles. However, taking this new step and new profession didn’t mean a total forgetting of the previous one. There were many takeaways from his stint as a CA and the most important of them being his Articleship and Strategic Financial Management that he studied therein. Although to Ankit, there’s a different takeaway which is much closer to heart – ‘After becoming CA, it was easier for me to convince my fiancé’s parents to agree upon our marriage. And it was a delight to have them at the café and prove my mettle in front of them.’

Striking a balance between taking risks and committing oneself to foolproof planning is a lesson that Ankit likes to impart to dreaming entrepreneurs. As a man who believes more in hard work than destiny, quite often uses a phrase ‘Kismat Buland Hai Apni’ as a sarcastic commentary on those who solely relies on destiny.

So if you ever wish to meet this dreamer and achiever in person, you can find him at 101, Fortaleza Complex, East Avenue, Kalyani Nagar, waiting there with his mouth watering offerings and a heart warming smile.

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From Have-Nots to Havelock: Understanding the Alternative ‘Now’ of Life

Between ‘one pint down’ and ‘thinking about another’, a conversation happened. Like most of my social outings, I didn’t exactly plan to meet the other party to that conversation, but I guess it happened for good; or, it could not have happened any other way.

Sitting on a jute mat at a quiet Naga café, the guy across the table carried a life story that was very fascinating. In a capsule, he got drunk one night, booked a ticket to Andaman Islands with his friends and then never came back home. As much horrific it sounds at this juncture, the follow-up is just so dreamlike. He fell in love with the scenic nature of the Islands and decided to settle down there. To his good fortunes, he immediately got a job at a tourism agency with a humble pay for which he bade goodbye to his job in the States. Five years fast forward, he’s now a diving coach at Havelock Island (Andaman), has a girlfriend and is still dwelling in a small studio apartment where he comes back to sleep after his enchanting tryst with nature.

Now, with this sort of a lifestyle set as a premise, there wasn’t much left for me to boast about my life – a law student surviving on optimism and slugging through competition. However, I did feel a little hit in my wits (maybe because of that second pint that I finally decided to take) that made me think the other way; to see through the romantic construction of his life. It may have been anything else, but as of now, I think it was that one thing that he said during that conversation that caused the hit – how it feels like to live in the ‘now’.

A remote island 1220 km away from south-east Indian coast, Havelock Island is a much neglected, strategically significant and naturally gifted Indian territory in the Andaman Sea. This faraway land is much closer to nature’s bounty; devoid of accessible mobile or internet connections. It is in this environment that this friend of mine found a home like nowhere. He said that it is like living in the ‘now’; detached from the strings of past and future. The only access to the news about the ‘parallel universe’ comes from a newspaper brought to him once a month by foreigners working in his organisations who get a permit for only 30 days and need to return to their respective countries once in every month. So, it is the music of the winds and the vistas of the stretched out sea that entraps his conscience for the longest duration of time – a form of liberation, as he puts it.

Does that mean that the life I lead or is led by some of the people that I know is not lived in this idea of ‘now’? And, is it even worth harping about? Well, to each its own, can be a possible answer. However, to me, it looks more like an excuse than an explanation. So I thought more closely about it and did come across with certain explanations.

There are two ways one might feel like living a life of this diving coach from Havelock. First, it is a natural calling motivated by one’s deepest understanding of self or coming to know of the same. Second, the romantic construction of such a life in one’s head, more like a reference group, without understanding the correlation of the same with one’s understanding of self. I think for my friend, it was the first case that motivated his decision; even though I don’t know much about him. However, to a lot of people, it may be a motivation falling under the second category.

The information we receive about these referential lifestyles is mostly asymmetrical. We often tend to focus on the broader bright side of such stories to feed the voids existing in the understanding of our own life. This is how we create some sort of a mental equilibrium (or at least try to do so) by feeding hope and aspirations to an apathetic conscience. ‘Grass is always greener on the other side’ is a phrase generating from the similar mental construction. There are many philosophers and movies that have vividly romanticised this idea of ultimate liberation – a detachment from all possible human connections that take us away from nature. But is it the only form of liberation available or is it just a form of resignation disguised as one? I would say, it’s neither.

Nature itself asks to move away from structural and linear interpretations of life. The constant movement and mutations of smallest of cells is a reflection of the degree of diversity we are capable of. So, in this particular understanding of nature, the liberation and the lifestyle as fashioned by my diver friend becomes ‘one’ of the many choices available. Something which is neither smaller nor larger than the life we naturally desire to live and not romanticises about. It requires a much deeper and honest understanding of self to differentiate between the one wanted and the one fancied. So, the diving coach doesn’t live in the ‘only now’; rather, he lives in the ‘alternative now’ and so do we.

If I’m a person who seeks to outgrow his space and predictabilities associated with his identity, I’m a person of movement and not resignation. For me, liberation lies not in finding solace in a static life closer to nature but optimising my potential and energies in understanding the diversity this nature offers. This doesn’t put the orientation opposite to mine in a less important pedestal. It just gives me space and authority to respect and love the alternatives that I wish to choose for myself. There’s no pitting one ‘now’ against the other. It is about recognising self and nurturing it within the various alternatives of ‘now’.

So, as we bade goodbye to each other and I headed for an eagerly awaited family function, I settled my bill and scribbled a little note for my diver friend that read –

“I would love to walk your land, or the only land you know. I would love to wrap my head around the liberation that you understand. But I will soon grow different and might want to sail away. For the island that brought me liberation once, might also bring rising waves within that hit the rocks hard and then retreat back to the sea, defeated.’

 

A Philosophy Called Vidhisha

As I vaguely remember it, like most of my conversations with her, it kind of happened after a college party at her house. She was slightly under the bliss and I was as sober as one can be. Of course, by choice. There’s always something very distinct about the conversations I have with her; whether contextualised or not. She’s not like any other talker. She’s different; she’s her.

Just like her genealogy, words coming out of Vidhisha’s mouth are anything but predictable. She still holds the award for the funniest conversation of 2017 and I don’t see anyone coming even an inch closer to that. However, that night, and maybe during that conversation, I quite unconsciously pierced through the obvious. I did not see or measure Vidhisha by the words she spoke or the moves she displayed. I looked through all of that and found myself staring straight into her super-consciousness. That night, I could see a remorse so unapologetically surfacing on her being that no gesture could disguise it as anything else. Through the eyes that were watering and the smile that was widening, I saw a Vidhisha that I’ve never seen before – a calming disposition.  

So what was it that made that face so unrecognisable and yet so relatable? Well, it was Jay Chou. This might seem like an abrupt disconnection of sorts but I find it imperative to mention that Vidhisha is a huge K-Pop buff, and if you ever get to know her, you’ll know she doesn’t just stop there. So, it was Jay Chou and his songs that set the tone for that conversation and everything that ran parallel to it; wait, maybe tangent.

With an almost empty pint of Budweiser in her hand, we went on to sit on what I suppose was some sort of a couch right under a string of small yellow lights. After a sip or two and her smile beginning to widen, she said – ‘You know what, I hate listening to Jay Chou, this K-Pop Singer.’ ‘Then why do you listen to him’ I asked what I thought could be the most logical follow up question. ‘Because I love his songs’, she replied. ‘Hold on a second. Didn’t you just say you hate him?’ ‘I didn’t say that. I said I hate listening to his songs’. I was so baffled by this glaring contradiction in her statements, and as sober as I was, I couldn’t help but let my shallowness take control of my tongue – ‘I think you’re tired and you need to take rest Vid.’ ‘Why would you say that’ she replied with that smile still gleaming on her face. ‘Wait, let me explain it to you’ – and that’s where I got to know what layers of complexities lie in that one statement that she made so unintentionally.

Whatever she said that night, didn’t register much with the rationalising process of my mind. However, it took me almost 12 months to understand not only that conversation but the context in which it was made. Finally, I got to get hold of an idea that is so close to Vidhisha that it just silently made its presence that night and I could not help but just restrict my reaction to mere admiration.

For past few weeks I’ve been digging a lot of ancient Japanese history; Heian period to be précised. While reading The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, I came across this heart warming philosophy of mono no aware. Having its roots in the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto tradition, mono no aware is one term that cannot be exactly translated into any other language. It’s more like an inexpressible emotion captured in the uttering of ensemble of words. After much deliberation, historians and linguists have loosely translated it as ‘realisation of pathos’. It is when one gets a realisation of the beauty associated with fleeting nature of life that the feeling of mono no aware surfaces. It peculiarly homes two contrasting ideas, beauty and loss, under a singular bracket of emotion. One must feel the loss when one sees something beautiful in order to experience mono no aware.  This pathos of beauty concept traces itself from the Buddhist idea of impermanence; the fleeting nature of life that Murasaki Shikibu so unapologetically described in her legendary piece of literature.

There’s one thread  that is missing from associating Vidhisha’s hatred for Jay Chou with the Japanese philosophy of mono no aware – and that is – the reason why? What can be the reason that Vidhisha hates the idea of Jay Chou in her life even while not hating him as an artist or a person? She answers to this dilemma by saying that she hates listening to him because every time she does, she loses something close in her life. No matter if it’s a boyfriend or her favourite dress, something gets ruined every time she listens to Jay Chou’s music. ‘Then why do you listen to him?’I asked, ‘Isn’t holding on to things you love more important than feeding on to your hobbies’? After hearing my questions, that smile starts to resurface on her face and without any contemplation she said – ‘But there’s nothing more beautiful than Jay Chou’s music; even if it’s worth a loss. For things that are bound to go will go, but the beauty that I discover in his music, will always remain forever. For that particular moment when I’m listening to his music, there’s nothing more beautiful that I can think of.’

So, there you go, the Vidhisha I so proudly claim to know for almost 3 years, is someone way more than the words that she usually finds herself being measured by. This Vidhisha is a philosophy. She is a depth of feelings that understands inherent truths of life more than anyone I have ever met in this college.

 

 

Trump-NATO Mismatch on Paris Agreement

Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change comes just two months after the publication of NATO Report on Food and Water Security in the MENA region. Taking into consideration the amount of control US enjoys over collective decision making of NATO, Trump’s decision has made a mockery out of the Science and Technology Committee of NATO.

The report which was published in March 2017 heavily emphasises upon the interconnection between scarcity of natural resources and the rising civil conflict in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA). According to the report, this interconnection manifests itself in the form of humanitarian crisis, migratory pressures, and intra-state and inter-state conflicts.

It is not just NATO but even US Department of Defense considers climate change to be a threat multiplier. Former US Secretary of State Chuck Hagel said that climate change will lead to disputes over refugees and resources. In addition to this, a research paper submitted to the US National Academy of Sciences claimed climate change as one of the major reasons behind the civil war in Africa. Assenting to the choir, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the war in Darfur as the first climate conflict. Many scholars in US universities have conducted comprehensive studies to demonstrate the impact of global climate change on armed conflict.

As the scientific and academic community, both in US and UN, is constantly focusing on understanding the impact of climate change on rising conflicts, the current decision of President Trump doesn’t shy away from disregarding the entire body of literature on the matter. As the clamour for greater environment protection grows louder, and leaders such as Modi, Macron and Merkel explicitly declaring their stance on the Paris Agreement, this move further isolates America from Europe and provides a gateway to China to muscle up its diplomatic relations with the region.

Spain’s Infamous “Sun Tax” – Would it stand the Test of Legality ?

Spain has imposed a support levy on the producers of solar energy in order to deflate the looming deficit in the energy sector of the country. The tax is supposed to help the government in cashing upon the growing demand for solar energy in order to run the government operated grid.

Spain’s energy sector has hit by two pronged attack

  1. The decline in the investments in renewable energy sector
  2. The rising rate of import of energy

In 2014, the government of Spain had withdrawn the subsidies from the renewable energy sector, a move which was a shift from the “Feed-In Scheme” followed by most of the European countries. Under this scheme, the producers of renewable energy are given subsidies in the form of technology cost cuts and minimum support revenue. The withdrawal was later backed by the Supreme Court which upheld the constitutionality of the same and left the renewable energy producers knocking the doors of EU and other arbitrations.

The second problem arose for the fact that Spain imports 80% of its energy supply, expending 40.5 billion Euros annually which is 4.5% of its GDP. This trend became even more unfortunate by the growing rate of renewable energy consumption in the country. People who installed solar panels not only consumed energy by themselves but also saw it as a commercial opportunity to sell the surplus electricity produced from such panels. This further concentrated the fiscal burden on the government and the tariff deficit soared to 34 billion Euros; even when 95% people still receive electricity at Tariff of Last Resort (TLR) rate which is governed by the government.

It is in this backdrop, that the Spanish government came up with a tax on Photovoltaic System (PV) owners. The key features of this policy are:

  1. PV systems up to 100 kW are prohibited from selling electricity. Instead, their owners are required to donate the extra electricity to the grid for free
  2. For PV systems up to 100 kW, the owner of the installation must be the owner of the contract with the electricity company. Moreover, before installation, permission must be sought from the electricity supplier and the Spanish government
  3. Community ownership is prohibited altogether for all sizes of self-consumption systems

 

After establishing the law, what comes next is the test of legality where the piece of legislation is made to stand the principles of rule of law, non-arbitrariness and fairness. Likewise, the sun tax needs to pass the legality test vis-à-vis Spanish Constitution and EU Directive on Renewable Energy.

The constitutionality test of sun tax attracts two provisions of the Spanish Constitution – Article 9.3 that establishes principle of legal certainty and non retroactivity of punitive provisions and Article 106.2 that puts an obligation on government to compensate individuals for losses suffered by them due to administrative action. Even though the retroactive application of PV Systems tax does violate Article 9.3 by setting a punitive provision even for those persons who had already established the PV systems, the Supreme Court’s multiple rulings denying the unconstitutionality of cut in feed-in tariff (subsidy to renewable energy sector) makes it near impossible for the Constitutional Court to have a different interpretation of Article 9.3 vis-à-vis retroactive taxation. Moreover, proving legal uncertainty in this matter would be difficult as the Electricity Sector Law 54/1997 authorizes the government to modify its energy policies as long as the modifications are objective and non-discriminatory. So the only way to move ahead with Article 9.3 is to show how the aforementioned tax does not pass the test of objectivity and non-discrimination as laid down in the Electricity Sector Law for it does not give any reasonable explanation for differentiating between the class of PV Systems Operators and other electricity suppliers.

The major bottleneck in moving Constitutional Court to strike down PV Systems tax as unconstitutional is Article 162 of the Constitution. Since the sun tax is a Royal Decree-Law (as it was ratified by the Parliament), as per Article 162, the appeal for unconstitutionality of such law can only be moved by the Prime Minister, President, Ombudsman, 50 members of Parliament or 50 members of senate. It disenfranchises the Union of PV Systems owners, people who are most severely hit by this law, to move the Constitutional court for the ultimate remedy. The only way through which they can approach the court is when the actual application of the law, for instance deciding the rate of tariff, causes some discrimination for which an appeal can be filed only to an ordinary court asking it move an appeal of unconstitutionality in the Constitutionality. This indirect procedure is highly uncertain and depends on the mercy of the ordinary court to endorse an appeal to the Constitutional court.

Since it is very difficult to strike down the PV Systems tax as unconstitutional, an effective remedy can be to approach court under a liability suit asking for compensation for the loss caused by an administrative function. However, even in that case the loss has to be real, concrete and of economic value.

Other legality test for the policy is the one posed by EU Directive 2009/28/EC. Clause 8 envisages a mandatory target of 20% contribution from renewable energy in the total energy production by member states by the year 2020. In addition to this, Clause 19 asks the member states to constantly evaluate energy policies and ensure that they are aligned to meet the aforementioned target. The sun tax policy is anything but the compliance of both of these clauses. Therefore, as of present, there are 6 petitions pending in the EU court challenging the cut in feed-in tariff and 9 petitions challenging the sun tax.

Another challenge under International Law comes from the Energy Charter Treaty to which both Spain and the EU are signatories. Article 10 of the Treaty obliges the signatories to provide fair and equitable treatment to the investors of the other contracting states, to respect the obligations entered into vis-à-vis contractors, and not have a differential treatment between foreign and domestic investors. Moreover, International Arbitration Tribunals have upheld the protection of legitimate expectation of investors to have a stable and predictable legal and administrative framework. This Article is largely in line with general protection guaranteed under Article 9.3 of Spanish Constitution. Since, this policy is already shown to be violative of Article 9.3 of Constitution; it would be safe to call it violative of Article 10 of the Treaty also. Now that the discrimination has been established, the investors can move either domestic courts or international arbitrations to challenge the discriminatory policy under Article 26 of the Treaty. Pending arbitrations such as EDF v Hungary and Vattenfall AB, and Vattenfall Europe Generation AG & Co KG v Germany, show that Article 26 can be applied in EU member states also.

 

It is quite obvious that the tax on PV Systems will have an adverse effect on the cause of environment protection. At the post COP 21 era, where commitments have been made to move towards greener and alternative sources of energy, this move comes across as a move backwards.

Instead of taxing renewable energy to support conventional energy market, the government of Spain should have accepted the voluntary or obligatory quota scheme as followed in Sweden. Under this system, producers of renewable energy are given certificates for every unit of electricity they produce. Moreover, in some areas the electricity supply chains are obligated to take a quota of electricity from renewable energy producers. Therefore, the producers of solar energy are able to sell electricity in energy market at equal price and have full access to the demand. This system ensures balancing of electricity consumption and production on the basis of market forces of demand and supply and either way the energy sector market is benefitted with revenue. This scheme will also reduce tariff deficit for the system ensures reduction of support cost as it is operated through competition.

Since there is abundance of sunlight in Spain and people are also choosing renewable sources of energy, the abovementioned scheme is a much better choice than the sun tax for the former will encourage growing foreign as well as domestic investments in the energy sector, hence reducing the deficit. On the contrary, the sun tax will repel the investors; increase the burden on government to provide support cost for conventional grid energy.

With abovementioned arguments in context, the people of Spain shouldn’t be charged for sunlight, a public resource so central to their cultural and folk practices. I hope the sun would set on the tax and the jubilation would again sing – Sale el sol.

 

Of Lovers Once Here

Just sit back and stare at

What your eyes show you of this world

Of this lagoon,

Of the sky that is on the edge of being delusional.

Just sit back and stare

With your leather satchel by your side

This is not a divided world, This is

What you left for what you have

The time is running, the rain is on its way

Just sit back and stare,

There won’t be much left to see

Art as Emotional Equilibrium

Divorce in Moscow, 1966 by Eve Arnold
A Divorce in Moscow by Eve Arnold (1966) 

 

This picture is one of the most celebrated examples of how art takes the position of a moral canon to teach us about emotional equilibrium in life. Surfacing in Alan de Botton and John Armstrong’s “Art as Therapy”, this picture shows a couple unconsciously becoming a language of grief in public while being perched on a court bench. While man’s face is lost in obscurity, something that may flow from his complete loss of understanding of this relationship, the woman finds herself under the light and hence becomes the focal point of the artwork. The scarf adorning woman is silently staring at a space within the picture showing signs of being lost in contemplation. The ‘would have been(s)’ of life are coming back to haunt her as she prepares to embrace a so called ‘immoral’ act of taking divorce. This idea of contemplating the choices is the central argument of the artwork; for the representation of oblivion through the figures in the background show the smallness of one’s tragedy in others’ eyes. 
 
Alan de Botton argues that art can be an attempt to encourage our better selves through coded messages of exhortation and admonition, i.e., art can help us in balancing our emotional life by exposing us to emotions that stops us from fulfillment or equilibrium. For instance, a fighting couple may not be able to evaluate the level of grief they might face at the day of divorce and this artwork might make them aware of that. Therefore, art for de Button is important in creating equilibrium in ourselves. 
Moreover, the very fact that the picture lacks normative attitude and shows the scene as it is shows that art doesn’t claim the space of moral canon as understood by the society. Rather, it shows the consequent side of not abiding to a particular moral standard and leaves the choice to the spectator.