Saturday, June 26, 2010

5 Senses Saturday

I've been exploring some new blogs recently. 'Made by Mike' and 'Abby Try Again' are emerging as favorites for their stunning photography, simple writing and their weekly ritual, 'five senses friday'. I love the idea of recapturing the week through the many of us take the time to 'smell the flowers' these days? Its also a great way for me to update my blog at least once a week, apart from taking some time to reflect and contemplate the environment around me.

So here we go -

Seeing - My good friend A, who is one of the sweetest and smartest people I know.

Hearing - A literal clap of thunder last night, which seemed to have struck right outside our bedroom window. I saw this morning that it had splintered an old tree nearby.

Tasting - My first 'falling off the bone' mutton chops that I made on Thursday. Pressure cookers rock!

Smelling - Actually, this week its been about NOT smelling sweat thanks to my office AC being repaired!

Feeling - Sleepy from the gentle thrumming of raindrops outside.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Art Vs Artist

I was browsing through some Indian art blogs I hadn't seen before when I encountered this article. The article itself was quite sensible, doling out advise I often echo myself - "Art is something personal. You have to develop an interest in it, you have to do so with  a [sic] passion – not just to make money and definitely not for a [sic] short-term." Bad grammar aside, this is good advice - so many clients/collectors will spend ridiculous amounts of money for something they don't even like. I remember in particular a lady who came by the gallery I used to work in, asking if we had any pieces by a particular artist. We did, but it wasn't his best work - indeed, my respect for the artist in question had somewhat diminished when I first saw the piece this lady was shown - the work was lazily executed, lacking the intellectual depth and sensitivity of the artist's other work. It was with a heavy heart that I unwrapped the artwork we had left for our guest.

The lady, obviously a wealthy wife, was determined to 'shop' for some art before heading back to her home in Mumbai. Casting aside an initial flicker of disappointment, she set about trying to ascertain that the piece was indeed by the artist she sought. She then proceeded to bargain down the price, bashfully confiding that her husband was very particular about the way she spent her money. The next few weeks were spent authenticating the work, producing certificates to substantiate that this was an original Mr. X artwork, and negotiating the price. The work was sold. Honestly, she would've found something similar at a construction site.

Is the rush for collecting artists compromising the quality of their art? Its not an original thought or question, but its one I have been pondering over for some time now. While the boom in the contemporary art market has brought prestige and honour to those who practice art, one wonders if it makes sense to subsidize their lives quite so generously. Successful contemporary Indian artists live lavishly, building designer homes, wearing designer labels and jet setting off to 'hot' destinations all over the world. I do not resent their success (more power to them!) but wince at the hypocrisy of the situation - these are the same people who will berate consumerism and elitism in the cold, sterile light of a gallery installation.

But perhaps I speak too soon - the Modern and Contemporary "Indian Artist Survival Rating Map" may point to an altogether different story. In fact, the article citing this map never once alluded to the cruelty or even the absurdity of the existence of such a map. Despite exalted reviews in the New York Times, inspite of his/her millions, an artist's reputation can wax and wane with the tide of public opinion and spending. How very bourgeois.

I saw my parents for the first time since I left Brazil yesterday...on Skype. I am a big fan of Skype, having learnt how to use it only a few months ago. I love how the video chat function instantly brings home to me all the familiar features and gestures of the people I love - my father's quizzical eyes, my mother's alert, amused look, my sister's playful asides...

The funny thing about Sykpe though, is that we often spend more time looking at ourselves than at each other. That little box in the corner is far too fascinating to ignore. I often catch myself glancing down at the box at the end of a sentence, surprised by the way I look when I say something. While chatting with my mom yesterday, I noticed her peering down at her reflection, checking for stray crumbs from the toast she'd been having. My sister once got ready to go out for lunch during a Skype chat - the video, it seems, was even better than a mirror.

One may see these actions as narcissistic, and perhaps they an extent. It is human nature, after all, to be a little preoccupied with oneself - right from the moment when we first recognize our mirror image in childhood, the journey towards self-absorption and representation begins. After all, who doesn't look for themselves first in a group picture or blush bashfully at a compliment? 

In the context of Skype, I actually find this 'checking out' of oneself endearing and intimate - it makes me feel, even more, that I am there with the people I love. But maybe I'll try closing the little box next time.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Home away from home
I just returned from a long holiday on the other side of the world - Brazil. I didn't know what to expect and it didn't matter - I would be safely ensconced in my parents' home there, catching up with the family I hadn't seen in over a year. Indeed, this trip was more about family than anything else - traveling across the world from far flung destinations to congregate in South America for one month of bliss.

I have made this journey often - not necessarily to Brazil but to wherever my parents have called 'home' in the past five years. We made these journeys together when I was younger. The first of them was to Vienna, Austria, when I had just turned nine. I remember my sister attempting to explain the circumstances of the Second World War to me while improvising gory stories on the Neo Nazis [to addle my overactive imagination]. Three years later, we found ourselves bursting into tears as our plane heaved itself off the runway in Vienna, wondering what the future held for us in Sri Lanka. 

Being the daughter of a diplomat, I have become accustomed to these arrivals and departures. I find myself growing restless at the prospect of a long holiday - the wanderlust is still there. I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to fully 'settle down' in one place - there are so many places to see, so many possibilities to choose from. 

But perhaps the truth lies in the moment I see my dad waiting outside the sliding doors of an airport.     

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Spirits - reviewing A Christmas Carol

The winter holidays begin in 3 days. In this frame of mind (where I am already halfway to Brazil), I am naturally at my lethargic and lazy best - hence the posting of this review, which I wrote around last year for our School newsletter. In the spirit of Eco-friendly recycling and the impending holidays, I reproduce below my little write-up on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
More than 150 years have gone by since Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Story of Christmas was first published, yet the story continues to be told and re-told from generation to generation. It is a story so familiar to us that it is almost easy to forget that few of us have actually ever read it. Our imaginations can conjure at will its most famous characters; even without having read Dickens' cutting indictment of him, Scrooge is always pictured in our mind's eye as a hunched old man with a drooping, pointed nose. His name is as synonymous to us with miserliness as Romeo and Juliet's are with Love; as Arjuna's is with Bravery and as heart-shaped sun-glasses are with Lolita.

I thus approached 'A Christmas Carol' with a mixture of curiosity as well as presumption. Would the story read any differently than it is told? Would it be a typically Victorian moralistic tale or would it reveal greater depth? Are some classics better left…unread?

Happily for me, the answer to the last question is a resounding 'No'. Only a few pages into the novella I realized that spoken summaries can never do justice to the vividness of Dickens' writing. I found myself utterly engrossed in long passages devoted to, for example, a quality of light or even a table setting! Even more surprising were the dark and disturbing images contained within what I always thought to be somewhat of a 'fairy', feel-good story. It is truly a testament to strong writing and narratorial ability when a story you know well can still keep you in suspense and, occasionally, terrify you.

The greatest revelation, however, was that Dickens created in Scrooge, not a black-and-white caricature, but a complex, intelligent man who is, indeed, not as morally different from us as we would like to believe. As we accompany Scrooge and his ghost-guides on their journey through time, Dickens uses gentle humour and rhetorical stratagems to gradually bring us to a surprising understanding - namely, that Scrooge ultimately represents you and I, stripped of our pretenses and justifications. The moral message of the story hinges upon this crucial realization, for it is in identifying ourselves in Scrooge that we can truly attempt to change ourselves.

As the evenings get chillier and we approach the 25th of December, it would serve us well, in today's cynical world, to (re)visit this timeless tale and travel along with Scrooge on a journey that is as much about the spirit of Christmas as it is about discovering who we are.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Movie Review:
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas 

It would never have occurred to me to see, let alone buy a movie called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas if I hadn't accidentally encountered it while channel surfing one day. I caught it at a particularly cute scene, in which Dolly Parton (who plays the Madame of the brothel in question, Miss Mona) and Burt Reynolds (Sheriff Ed Earl) sing 'Sneakin' Around', a cheerful little duet about their clandestine rendezvous.  I didn't watch it properly after that but bought it, years later, when it was on sale at my local DVD place.

Based on a true-life story and adapted from a musical stage production by the same name, the movie follows the trials and tribulations of 'the Chicken Ranch', a century-old brothel in small-town Texas. The existence of this beloved institution is threatened when Melvin P. Thorpe, a self-styled moral crusader and television reporter, targets the illegal operations of the brothel for a tell-all expose. Matters come to a head when the Sheriff confronts Thorpe on-air and inadvertently compromises the reputation of his town and his paramour, Miss Mona. The plot is played out through these two central characters, although the movie features lively supporting roles, most notably by Charles Durning in his role as the 'sidestepping' Governor. The casting is superb and the actors live and breathe their roles, especially Dolly Parton, who shines as the Madame. As one reviewer said, "You can't help liking Miss Mona - she's not like any prostitute or madam the 1982 movie-going public had ever seen. She's a ray of sunshine, totally forthright, honest, optimistic, generous, open-hearted and sweet."

I watched this movie with my husband who, like me, was thoroughly charmed by it. We both were struck by how natural the relationship between Mona and the Sheriff is - like any happy couple, they are not just lovers but good friends. And, might I add, good people.

Apparently the movie didn't do very well at the box office, possibly because of its controversial title. Family viewing it is not, but neither is it vulgar or inappropriate. As Mona says in her song 'A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place', "there's nothin' dirty goin' on!"

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Morning Assembly

Morning Assembly is a ritual that most Indian Public School students are familiar with. It takes place almost every day and follows a prescribed format – the hymn of the day, a prayer, a ‘thought provoking’ service and the daily announcements. It lasts anywhere between 15 minutes to half an hour. Every once in a while (usually before the holidays), there is a Special Assembly, which can last up to 3 hours long.

I have always been somewhat wary of attending Assembly. I would much rather spend the time sipping a nice cup of tea, reading the morning papers or even just going back to work in my office. These activities provoke much more thought and reflection, in my experience, than an institutionalized prayer or thought-of-the-day.

Retrospection, contemplation, knowing right from wrong…I feel they don't come from attending Assemblies. Indeed, we hardly ever had Assembly at the schools I went to (perhaps the concept isn’t as ingrained in International schools), and I turned out ok. Besides, I am uncomfortable with the idea of structuring ‘philosophical’ musings into 15-minute capsules. To me it replicates the kind of formulaic and empty thinking that has spawned so many self-help books. Is it even possible to have a new ‘truth’ or ‘life lesson’ to talk about every day? How much wisdom can anyone impart or ingest on a daily basis?

The value of Assembly, amongst many other features of the Indian education system, needs to be re-thought, especially for senior school students (as H.S. Singha argues in his book School Education in India). Fewer Assemblies focusing on specific content (as opposed to concepts) would probably make more sense for today's world-weary youth.  

Monday, December 07, 2009


My sister and fellow blogger, lightlight wrote a whole post on my return to blogging yesterday. It chronicles my movements over the past couple of years and heaps totally undeserved praise on my capabilities as a blogger. I'm not just fishing for compliments. I actually grimaced a little when I read "She always has thoughtful, if mildly intimidating, things to say."

In the span of my two days' return to blogging, I have deleted an entire post (which no one had commented on, justly) and edited most of the other posts I wrote. I kept the ones I wrote during my Masters untouched, as a testament to college juvenilia, but had a difficult time reading some of the out-of-India posts. I was a different person then - lovelorn, frustrated, deeply cynical and directionless. A lot of my posts exposed my insecurities more than I am now comfortable with, hence the editing.

After reading my sister's comments, however, I have to wonder whether it was right to change my posts. And by returning to blogging, am I committing myself to a cycle of erasing, editing and rewriting?

Musing upon this, I remembered Vikram Seth's Forward to 'Mappings' in The Collected Poems, an anthology of all of his poems to date. I had always enjoyed reading this Forward because of its remarkable candour and conversational style. This part, in particular, resonated with me:

"When Penguin India...asked me for permission to republish Mappings, I hesitated. ...I wondered about the poems...some of which now struck me as embarrassingly callow. I did not wish to make my readers cringe by offering them a second helping of my juvenilia. But a friend...told me that she much preferred my voice in Mappings to that of my later book of poems. Whether I agreed with that slightly alarming judgment or not, I felt I ought not to withdraw a book that had elicited it."

Some of the poems in Mappings are among my favourites of all time. Perhaps I will switch my internal editor off for a while.