Monday, April 30, 2007

Dance macabre.

If my reading of the by now notorious Gere-Shetty video clip is correct, I think both of them are more to be pitied than hounded with court summons about taboo PDA. To my untutored eye, Gere’s weird behaviour looked like an unlikely vampire about to tear into his victim’s luscious neck. He insists he got the macabre routine from his 2004 movie, Shall We Dance. In it, his John Clark did this very thing to Jennifer Lopez’s Paulina. If what he says is true (no need to doubt him – after all, Richard Gere is an honourable man who is into lot of charity work which occasionally lands him into messes but, all credit to him, he’s quick on the draw with humble apologies for having hurt the sensibilities of folks), this is what probably transpired. As he helped Shetty up the dais and watched the dusky damsel yakking on and on, a tsunami, part nostalgia and part amnesia, hit him. He saw himself on the polished floor of the dance studio in Shall We Dance. Dusky Shetty was no more Shetty but the delectably dusky Lopez. The rest, as they say, is history. Trite but true? Who knows?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Homeless in India.

Two items caught my eye on the Edit Page of The Times of India a couple of days back. One of them was an article by a documentary film maker describing the plight of the tribals in India who are made homeless every time the governemnt decides to build a dam on a river. It seems there have been 60 million oustees ever since 1947 as a result of these river dam projects. I had written about this sorry state being a symptom of the utter heartlessness of the Indian State earlier. Sagari Chhabra’s ‘Sarkari Violence’ cites several atrocities perpetrated by forestry department’s official, police personnel and contractors on tribals. The first one of them was at Pararia in West Bengal in 1991 where the guilty went scot-free. In the second instance, a few years later in Sagbara District in Gujarat, the two policemen who raped Guntaben, a young tribal, were imprisoned for ten years thanks to the intervention of Amnesty International on her behalf. The other instance he cites happened in Nandurbar, Narmada Valley, where the tribals were displaced four times, literally hounded by the officials all the time. The motive for the horrendous treatment according to Chabbra is to demoralize the hapless victims who have nobody to turn to, nobody to fight on their behalf. The Dalit have a champion in the shape of a political party. The other instance the author mentions is the first major river valley project, Hirakud in Orissa, where the oustees living on open land were relentlessly harassed by the forestry personnel. The story repeats itself in Singrauli, also in Madhya Pradesh, where the tribal oustees were displaced at least three times in three decades. The other eye-catching item in The Times of India was cheek-by-jowl with Chhabra’s article. This little piece by PM Warrier (‘Banyan Jitters’) was about the writer’s trepidation at the likelihood of what might happen to the banyan tree right across his brother’s house in Kothakurssi (Palakkad District, Kerala), called “our” tree by the Warrier Family. The reason for worry is as follows. One of the nearby banyan trees which was supposed to be the residence of malignant spirits had been sawed down. The oustees had gone berserk and had gone on a killing rampage. The only way to placate them seemed to be to find them a new residence. The author was horrified by the possibility of that “honour” falling on “our” banyan. Ironical, isn’t it? Anything is possible in “our” country, where mangalik brides marry peepul trees in Varanasi, banana trees in Bengaluru and gold or silver idols of Lord Vishnu in Ayodhya and get slapped with a PIL for their trouble, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lie detector. (An inconvenient truth?)

I’ve always been wary – nay, downright suspicious – of the role of the so-called creative workshops much touted in magazines like Writer’s Digest and Fiction Writer and various websites for writers as the ideal way to master the art and craft of creative writing. The saga of the Blacksburg mass murderer has however given me solace by throwing up a hitherto unimagined alternative use for the panacea for wannabe writers. Join the Virginia Tech Creative Workshop this Fall to find out if you’re a killer in the making – even if you have not a chance in Hell of evolving into a potential Pulitzer Prize winner! I’m kidding, of course. Because all this talk of how Cho’s English teacher and course mates sensed that something was not quite right, if not downright wrong, by reading his workshop output is just that: so much talk. The two scripts posted at and : ape the way contemporary American writers write. Explicitly even at the risk of offending the reader. No different from what a Stephen King, a David Mamet or a Quentin Tarantino would do. And then it’s called a stroke of genius. Even granting these know-alls and see-alls knew all and saw all, why did they not insist on doing something about it? Yeah, I know, I know. Cho refused all offers of friendship and help. I guess nobody could have prevented what was meant to happen. The DVD of Destiny had already been burnt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

“You made me do it.”

The irony of the Blacksburg massacre, I reckon, is that the killer chose not only 33 victims including his 23-year-old self but also several scapegoats to pass the buck to – that is to say, to blame – excluding himself. These were: religion (rules and restrictions, dos and don’ts?), women (rejection?), “deceitful charlatans” (hate?), “debauchery” (sin and guilt?) and “rich kids” (envy?). He even wrote an 8-page rant blaming them profusely. He was majoring in English. This probably explains the verbosity of the outburst. His creative output, according to those who studied with him, was steeped in profanity and obscenity and hate and violence with chainsaws and hammers – all pointing to his psychopathic bent of mind. The themes he chose – a fight between an allegedly paedophile stepfather and his stepson and students fantasizing about stalking and killing a teacher who had sexually molested them, for instance – left no room for doubt about his mental state. He seemed to have first-hand experience of stalking. According to a Chicago Tribune report citing unspecified source, he had recently stalked some women in addition to setting fire to a dorm room. According to the Virginia Tech authorities, Cho Seung-Hui posted a warning on a school online forum: “im going to kill people at vtech today.” Both the play scripts he wrote for a creative workshop have been posted online by Ian Macfarlane who was Cho’s contemporary at Virginia Tech but who now works at AOL. The script for ‘Richard McBeef’ is here: while the ‘Mr Brownstone’ script is here: Of the two, the former bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘Hamlet’. The writing is crude and lacking in craft as well as class but the storytelling is not bad. Given time and persistence, the writer could have turned into a proficient practitioner. Fate intervened unfortunately and tragedy struck. Life once again proved its random nature.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Change, change, change.

The more I think about it, the more amazing I find it. I must have been born under a forward-looking star that ordained that I would see so much change and so much history in the making in a single lifetime. For instance, as a child, I saw MK Gandhi at fairly close quarters at one of his prayer meetings in Mahabaleshwar. I wrote about it in my still unpublished novel on Gandhi and Hollywood, The Last Gandhi Movie. A few years later, I listened to Nehru’s famous eulogy at his funeral (“the light has gone out of our lives”) on our 5-valvr Bush radio. So even if I rank among the lesser mortals who do not make history, I have been a mute witness to history in the making. Some of the late 20th landmarks I watched at more than six degrees of separation were Nehru’s death, the infamous Emergency interlude, Operation Bluestar and its aftermath, to mention the most noteworthy. I witnessed India’s progression from a colony to a state capitalist economy to a free economy. I saw at least one hack Victoria driver being butchered from my third floor terrace at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in the 1946-47 riots as well as Muslim houses behind as well from across my present residence in old Thakurdwar being put to flame in the 1992-93 massacre following Babri Masjid’s demolition. Apart from these, I saw my own family graduate from the coal choolah and the kerosene stove to bottled cooking gas and from the coal-fired water heater to electric heater. I saw the valve radio making way for the transistor powered one. I saw my portable typewriter making way for the PC in a span of forty years. And, I also saw myself graduating from the milk in a bottle and later in a plastic bag that needs boiling every morning to the milk in a carton that needs no boiling at all. The Internet, e-mail, IM. SMS, Wen 2.0, cellular phones, CDs, DVDs, the likelihood of the end of the civilisation as we know it and of the institution of marriage … good grief, Charlie Brown, where are we headed?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pain and suffering.

Is Art always and without exception a child of pain and suffering and deprivation? Can an artist never be someone who has had a normal – even a “boring” – childhood as Alan Bennett has repeatedly pointed out? An artist as a tortured soul suffering in the Nether World is the fashionable take and a much touted figment of popular imagination as well as a conscious and deliberate media spin. A deprived background adds a dramatic edge to the story no doubt but need not be the fact of the case. Sunil and Nargis Dutt surely did their best to give Sanjay a happy childhood. He turned out the way he did despite it. Now there is a media conspiracy to whip up sympathy for him by projecting him as a tortured but noble soul loved by one and all. His recent Gandhigiri-spouting Munnabhai screen avatar is put forward as an additional proof of his being a good but misunderstood human being. Even if all this is taken at face value, does it condone his role in the Mumbai blast case? I no longer belong to the eye for an eye school. But the Indian State surely cannot afford to take a lenient view of the digression and make an exception for an individual citizen for the sake of its very existence. That’s the way the cookie crumbles as the saying goes. However, the point I’m making is that the art born out of suffering seems to be a false premise. Just as much as the rosy-hued portrayal of an artist as a rootless person, a born expat or √©migr√©, an outsider – the other trendy self-delusion much favoured by Salman Rushdie – happens to be. Art can be a way of earning money like anything else people do for the same purpose. If you happen to be good at what you do, it may even turn out to be a fairly lucrative and comfortable way of doing so. And who knows Time may decide to forgive you all your trespasses and faults as it did Yeats in Auden’s view:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

Truth to tell, there was a time in my life when I too flirted with the artist-as-a-tortured-soul and artist-as-an-outsider self-delusion. I even affected what I thought of as an arty mode of dress, khadi kurta over denim jeans. (I was no stranger to jeans of course as I had adapted them as my favourite garment of comfort in my early youth. I also started frequenting art shows and craft stores regularly. I used to visit Contemporary Arts & Crafts when it was a first-floor walk up – with a wooden floor and down-to-earth prices – opposite the Bombay University near Kala Ghoda as well as the old Bombay Store on Phirozshah Mehta Road. I was a regular at Wayside Inn, another Kala Ghoda landmark that disappeared quite recently. Arun Kolhatkar and George Fernandes too used to frequent the moderately priced eatery. More truth to tell, I was attracted to copywriting because I thought it was a creative field. Along the way, I dabbled in writing for children and was successful at the very first try. The ditty book I did with Sanat Surti (I See, I Think, I Sing) published by Thomson Press as a Sunflower Books paperback in 1972 won the National Book Trust Award. The second book (The Cloud & the Kite) – we tried selling it to a Japanese publisher – never made it. I lost the comprehensive dummy of the book soon and along with it the children’s writing yen. I continued to do well at copywriting and won a few awards as well, though, fortunately having shed the copywriting = art notion. It’s just business writing – a fairly comfortable way of earning good money if you’re good at it. Experience shows that the Auden hypothesis applies to good copywriting too. Amen to that.