Thursday, November 24, 2011

the oxymoron paradox: hybrid monsters

in urban fantasy or paranormal fiction, the stories usually revolve around 'people' that are not really your normative next-door-neighbour 'people'... ergo, 'paranormal' or 'fantasy'... both are sub-sub-genres of a HUGE genre in fiction - 'fantasy fiction', which also goes by the name 'speculative fiction'...

so, your leads in urban fantasy and paranormal fiction - and in cases where its not necessarily leads, its the supporting characters - can vary from vampires, shifters of various kinds - so that's all the cat family, wolves, hyenas (which are considered belonging to both wolves and cat families), rats and bears even - to wyr - that's your fantasy generic term for what common folk might call dragons/ griffins or gryphons / unicorns, etc... - to magic-users, witches - or what in geek-talk are called 'wicca' (go figure!)- and sorcerers, revenants, zombies, ghouls, ghosts, erstwhile gods, and fallen angels and what not!

so here's the thing.. your first premise - the world humans live in - yes, humans and not 'people' - is very different to say the least... most books in these genres will hardly feature humans, and when they do, the takes on humans vary from ridicule and spite, to pity or nostalgia, to indifference or mockery, to anger/rage and the need to avenge the humans for the millennia of social ostracism, torture, and killings of what humans considered 'abnormal' or in other words, 'monsters'...

so all of the paranormal beings are abominations in themselves... now, i'm disregarding the fact that recent teen/young adult pop fiction would cry hoarse to prove otherwise - what with sparkling vampires and six-pack-abs-wolf-boys - or that in most fantasy/paranormal books, this 'being-seen-as-abomination' is taken to task; and its usually humans who are depicted as narrow-minded fanatics who have launched century-long crusades against these 'abnormal' beings that are neither human nor animal - in short, they're worse.. abominations..

now, your second premise - aka the oxymoron paradox - in many books i've read in these two sub-genres, the lead is usually not fully monster, nor fully human, nor fully anything... in short, they're half-breeds or hybrid monsters. if the two terms 'hybrid' and 'monsters' were earlier seen as synonymous, in these books, the half-breeds are themselves abominations... abomination within abomination, ergo the oxymoron paradox.

most world building and plots in UF/paranormal books, when not concerned with humans so much, often engage in meticulously weaving out the socio-political systems and structures of the characters... so vampires and ghouls usually function with a rather feudal 'master'-'servant' or king-subject dynamic; shifters and wyr have the pack leader, aka the alpha, and the rest of the pack, witches have covens, fallen angels are tied to the gods that rule, and so on, and so forth... and needless to say, most books, have brilliant takes on these social and political structures... so there's shifters who find the pack-lifestyle stifling, or vampire subjects who wish to be freed from their masters.. and so on..

and in books featuring half-breeds, one of the most fascinating aspects of the plots is in the severe disdain expressed by the half-breed/hybrid monster towards those 'pure-breeds' who are puritans... or in other words, if you haven't caught the drift by now, those pure-breeds who believe in the 'purity' of their blood/kind... of course, most often this sentiment is reciprocated by the pure-breeds as well... who persecute the half-breeds as abominations...

in fantasy fiction, this is most popularly recognized in the harry potter series by j.k. rowling... one of the main characters, hermione is a 'muggle' - a human-born girl who has come to wield witch powers... and the supreme villain of villains in the series - he who must not be named - is a pure-blood, born of witch and wizard parents, and believes in the purity of the witch-wizard race and sets out on the task of cleansing the world of such muggle-borns... eh.. similar, what say, to what has happened so often in human history?

so, to end, let me say that there's a way in which the half-breeds/hybrids here, often find a way out, to not just tackle the persecution and so on, but that it is in the very 'half'-ness of them that they discover their strengths... or their opponents weakness...

more on this, and what it might mean, with some examples, next time...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


so Ra.One is a movie i like.. for reasons i'd like to believe i know... and yea, this is despite its silliness, crassness, typecasting, the neither-here-nor-there-ness of it, and the many more reasons that reviews cite explaining why its a bad film...

one of the things that has been stated unequivocally about the film is that its stereotyping of the south indian is not only over-the-top as is usually the case in bollywood films, but that its been-there-done-that...

now, to my mind, the film was only too aware of the fact that such typecasting has not only run its course, but that its come under much fire... so i'm wondering, why go ahead with it then? i mean, it certainly was not mocking the 'generations of typecasting that is the history of bollywood', as was done in movies like Om Shanti Om...

and frankly speaking, i thoroughly enjoyed the typecasting, and this was not despite knowing fully well the problematic that it poses, but because of it... the noodles and curd??? it hit so close to home, i was giggling away in my seat watching that scene... is mixing curd with everything a very tamil thing? maybe not, but for me, it so is. and, the lungi-tying scene? i thought it was ridiculously cute....

did i at all have any scruples about any of it then? i did... and this is what i'm going to try and explain to myself.. it was the entry of satish shah's character that had me squirming in my seat... till then, the typecasting had not so much to do with sexual-stereotyping as it did with other everyday-routine stuff... but enter satish shah, and the jokes became lewd, the southern-male-sexuality was all over the place with the pelvic thrusting and innuendos... and this is perhaps where i thought the film took it too far...

logically, it is the everyday-routine stereotyping that is as, if not more, dangerous in terms of its implications and after-effects... and yet, i could ignore all of that precisely because the film, it seemed to me, was speaking at a time when those routines, precisely because they are so over-done in bollywood, no longer felt insulting, but rather, just downright silly... and i laughed at the silliness of it all...

but sexuality and stereotyping is once again not new in bollywood... the virile punjabi men, or the macho jat men... or for that matter the pelvic-thrusting-south-indian-men... in fact, i'm amazed that when shahrukh khan was doing the pelvic-thrusting, i found it hilarious, but when satish shah did it, it just felt gross and wrong... so what was it about an individual doing it that made it ok, but when it came to stand for a community that didn't? did i see shahrukh khan as not actually part of that community when he was blubbering away in tamil and eating noodles and curd, or is it only when the over-statedness of the community nature of the pelvic-thrusting, literally passing from one man to another, that it irked???

i'm not stupid enough to imagine that there would be a stereotype-free film at all... but stereotyping needs to be closely shadowed by an acute sensitivity... and it is in grasping fully the sensitivity of typecasting at every given moment, that we might make inroads into humor...

Friday, November 4, 2011

browsing, books and shops

there are many who proclaim that online shopping has altered consumer patterns. no doubting that. the bone of contention lies in whether people think it has done so for the better or for the worse. i don't care about either. but what i would like to dwell on, perhaps, is in what way has it changed my shopping experience.

lets take my absolute favourite exercise in shopping - online or otherwise. books.

i've always bought books. it was the one thing my parents never hesitated to spend on. in fact, going to a book shop was a major shopping experience for us. there would be weekends when before we'd go out for lunch, we'd stop at a book shop on the way, browse, and most usually, buy. most of my pocket money also went in buying books. so over the years, i bought, read, and piled.

so when i became financially independent - yea i'm saying it with such nonchalance, but wait a second! is there an undertone of bragging? hell yea! - imagine the thrill in being able to buy books...

of course, my ways of stopping by book shops had drastically changed once i moved out of home. plus, with the newer, bigger book shops, which despite their physical size contained only select books, i lost interest in buying books. mistake me not, i rarely went to a book shop with the precise intention of buying a specific book. it was the experience of browsing through rows of books that thrilled. and of course, this is precisely what criticisms of American supermarkets and hyper-malls and giant stores are all about - that the monumentality of their stores, the sheer quantity of products they house, and their display strategies all are meant to allure us into staying within the premises. yea, we can just stay and browse. and not shop. bottom line, eventually we will.

anyway, i hated their ideas of stocking only bestsellers, which by the way, i like to read. but a shop stocked only with bestsellers, no thank you! i like to know i have a choice. and this is where i think indian book shops, of the crossword and landmark variety, get it wrong.

and this is when i made the discovery of online shopping. the requirements of online shopping are pretty much the same as a good book store.
1. a large collection of books.
2. a good pattern of display.
3. a good system of payment.

and if one thinks browsing experiences have changed, i would fervently agree. but to my mind, it has changed such that a good online shopping site, induces one to buy more books than one would have bought at a book store.

allow me to explain.

the point is not that they too categorize books, or have discounts and sales. but the point is that online shopping is part of the internet. and while it is unchallenged that the internet has radically redefined the production of knowledge, it is precisely this phenomenon that shapes an online shopping experience. that you have the internet as a resource that comes to inform your purchases.

to get specific, let me give you an example. i hunt online for books on vampires. i get to know there's a genre called speculative fiction and within that, a sub-genre called paranormal fiction. i know there's a related genre of urban fantasy. within these genres and sub-genres, there's thematic categorizations. there's forums online that catalogue books, provide book excerpts and summaries, product description and information; they discuss books, compare them, have book reviews by columnists and readers and fans, and reader ratings based on multiple criteria. you have access to websites and blogs that contain articles and essays on entire genres, books and authors, raising issues in their fullest possible depths.

you don't have to rely on the blurb on the back cover of your paperback; you don't have to stumble upon the few books that your book shop avails. you can hunt out books detailed to suit your uber-specific interests. moreover, your interest in a book is no longer merely limited to your liking a single book or author or genre. it comes to be shaped by all these new forms of knowledge.

and this, is the redefinition of book buying that online shopping has made possible.

of course, this is precisely the logic of consumption that capitalist enterprises aim at fostering; and these are exactly the kind of specificities that management professionals spend their lifetimes trying to nail. and yet, you try to reconcile yourself by thinking that these are reader-forums or fan-discussion-threads; or that at the end of the day every purchase of a book is a personal decision that not even the most aggressive form of marketing can convince you of, if it weren't for your agentive decision-making ability.

i guess, at this point, all i can say is, if buying or reading books means investing yourself with/in a form of knowledge and entering a domain of imagination that you know even the most feral form of capitalism cannot capture, then, its well worth it.

another debate that interests me hugely is the surge of e-books, and e-book piracy, and its impact on reading habits and the sale of books. but, i'll leave that debate for another time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

the comparison dilemma

i recently saw two trailers of the 'hollywood adaptation' of Steig Larsson's brilliant millennium trilogy... there's much hype about the soon-to-be-released movie and i guess its more than justified.

the books are superb... the storyline is so unbelievably twisted... its tough to sum up the books in fact... at most you'll be left with mere descriptions - umm, lets see... its about... corporate capitalism, women haters, serial murder, investigative journalism... yada, yada, yada... and the world it creates - the people, the relationships, the emotions... (know what i mean?)... it's detailed to the blink of an eyelash and fast-paced in a manner that won't allow you to let out a breath until you're done reading the last page of last book, only because you know its the last.

the swedish movies were stunners with grade-a acting... noomi rapace was as solid as a rock... lisbeth salander is such a tough character to portray.... she rarely emotes... and she's ruthless, forceful and shockingly brilliant in her thoughts... and for rapace to convey the depth and sense of lisbeth through her acting was simply brilliant... she was understated, sure. but she wasn't a goth-zombie staring pupils-dilated into space either... .she packed so much attitude!!! absolutely kicked-ass!! i won't say the rest of the cast packed an equal punch, but the leads were stunning....

now, the 'hollywood' adaptation... first off, its a 'hollywood adaptation' and not the other way round, which is what hollywood's used to, i guess... so that's reason enough to get curious... i mean, why go pick a novel, a swedish one at that, which many might simply dismiss as 'airplane novel' or worse still, 'pop fiction', which has already been adapted as a movie in swedish with rave reviews... so what's the big deal...

next up... the big names... so yea, its david fincher of seven, zodiac and the much recent the social network fame... if that isn't enough, you have daniel craig (very hot!!!).. and rooney mara playing lisbeth... hmm...

so its inevitable i guess that when the hollywood adaptation is out, it at one level will be compared to the book.. but that comparison with the book will occur by means of a detour through the swedish movie.... people aren't going to watch it and simply say, 'hey this scene from the book was not there'... they'll be saying.. 'this scene which was there in the swedish movie was not there in this'.. and vice-versa....

articles online have already started taking notes on what all the swedish film missed out on which the hollywood one will capture.. and what changes from the novel this one will make.. oh and all the e-battles have already begun about 'watch the movie and then make your comparisons'... or 'don't go flaunting your world cinema knowledge here, buddy'... 'you judge a movie based on the music you hear in the one minute trailer?' etc. etc. etc..

so... yea... i guess i look forward to it... but i'm waiting and watching for rooney mara.... i have a premonition she's not going to pull through lisbeth's role... from whatever the trailers indicated, its the direction, cinematography.. and check out the camera angles on  her... she looks like she's from outer-space!! seriously! dot pupils.. blank face....

so guess i'll be making those comparisons as well... at least as far as lisbeth is concerned...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

all things inheritage

i came across a wonderful post by a friend with regard to museums, heritage and the question of repatriation here -

those interested should most certainly go through it. its one of the most careful and complex analysis of these issues i've read...

and here's my response to it; it would be on the blog as a comment to the post as well.

hey.. it really is wonderful to see this piece. it's brought together so many complex debates around repatriation, heritage and museumization that are of such contemporary relevance. if you'll permit, i have a few bones of contention to offer.

firstly, let me get this one little itch out of the way - to my mind, the British Museum [unlike many others of similar legacy] is singularly unique and notorious both with regard to international museum laws and acts, and in relation to this, its claims to retain many collections. this is unlike many other nation-states and their museums [national museums or otherwise] which especially in the case of the Elgin marbles have been greatly forthcoming in their support towards its repatriation. while you are right in that the de-contextualized and travelling histories of cultural objects such as the marbles do offer multiple meanings, histories and contexts, i wonder if it is possible at all to attain a 'complete history' of the marbles, regardless of their location. i would think that it is in this desire for 'complete'ness in the context of discourses of museumization and heritage that one often overlooks the fact that these discourses are intrinsically tied to the question of nation, in its constitution of a public. [let us not forget that the Louvre was a private collection thrown open to the public following the French Revolution in its attempt at 'making-bourgeois' of its public].

the discourse of heritage is very much part of the project of modernity, although it often is posited as contradictory. the question of cultural heritage repatriation arises, as you pointed out, in most post-colonial and post-imperial contexts precisely because these 'universal' museums emerged under contexts of imperialism and colonialism. and let us not forget also, that the discourse of modernity is very much nationalist; nationalist of the kind that claims universal validity. in fact, the claim for 'universality' has conventionally been the rubric within which colonialism, imperialism, and discourses such as orientalism functioned.

can one put aside 'particular' claims to heritage in favour of the condition of modern nation states? this then shifts the debate to one of 'better preservation', which, needless to state, is grossly flawed. [i refer here to your example of Egypt]. and it is not a matter of reversing a dark imperial or colonial past and their wrong doings, but of recognizing multiple and particular claims of heritage. [and yes, as much as I'm against 'nationalist' claims, these nation-states, in the context of the 'universal' claims made under imperialism and colonialism do become 'particular']. the travesty of heritage discourses is that the universal rubric of heritage tends to overlook the particular demands of heritage; in short, it claims itself to be the sole bearer of heritage, denying others a similar claim. and when the British Museum today claims universality of cultural heritage, it is doing so from a nation-state perspective, not some imperial or universal one.

if the question of museums and heritage is not seen within the paradigm of nation-states, and in the context of repatriation within postcolonial and postimperial conditions, it would be very easy to make a claim for universal heritage.

anyway, let me wrap up by sharing my experiences of when i visited the British Museum. it shattered me to the very core to see how it obstinately denied its imperial and colonial past under the shroud of universal cultural heritage. i'm no big fan of nationalist demands for repatriation. but i'm equally if not more sickened by the violence of denial of histories of imperialism and colonialism, of which the British Museum stands in glorious testimony to.

this is an issue that cannot be 'resolved' through accommodations or name-changing, or even repatriation; but how long can we deny the legitimacy of particular demands, especially if the 'particularity' of those positions emerged precisely through the setting up of a 'universal'.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the exercise of freedom

Le Corbusier
Michel Foucault
Foucault on architecture in relation to ideas of liberation and the works of Corbusier in relation to this. (Excerpts from 'Space, Knowledge and Power' in The Foucault Reader)

I do not think that there is anything that is functionally – by its very nature – absolutely liberating. Liberty is a practice. So there may, in fact, always be a certain number of projects whose aim is to modify some constraints, to loosen, or even to break them, but none of these projects can, simply by its nature, assure that people will have liberty automatically, that it will be established by the project itself. The liberty of men is never assured by the institutions and laws that are intended to guarantee them.

...there is Le Corbusier, who is described today – with a sort of cruelty that I find perfectly useless – as a sort of crypto-Stalinist.

I think that it can never be inherent in the structure of things to guarantee the exercise of freedom. The guarantee of freedom is freedom.

If one were to find a place, and perhaps there are some, where liberty is effectively exercised, one would find that this is not owing to the order of objects, but, once again, owing to the practice of liberty. Which is not to say that, after all, one may as well leave people in slums, thinking that they can simply exercise their rights there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ode to procrastination

what is so brilliant about procrastination is that, not only do you NOT do what you 'procrastinate' from... instead, you end up doing a thousand other things in the process of procrastinating from something, which if you'd actually given much prior thought to getting done, you would've procrastinated from as well..

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

simply, what????

wikipedia has separate entries for hindustan and india.

hindustan, is just hindustan... it is self-referential; india is the 'republic of india'. india is in hindi is apparently known as bharat, and is described as a 'country in south asia'. but hindustan, the wiki entry says, 'is one of the popular names of south asia'. just what the hell does that mean?

in what seems to be an attempt at clarifying this absurd description, the wiki entry says that the term hindustan used to refer to the 'land of the river sindhu'; it could also mean the 'land of the hindus'; but, the wiki-entry description concludes, that post-partition, hindustan refers to the republic of india.

yea? well then why didn't they say so in the first place, you wonder? it obviously doesn't refer to the 'republic of india', duh!

now, i would've wondered some years back as to why then the nationalists wouldn't be pleased to call india 'HINDUstan'... but of course, its all too corrupt... what with it being named by the eternal invaders...

but, wait! what is this? is it possible that some ancient or perhaps not-so ancient 'hindu' text mentions the word 'Hindustan'??

hmm... the plot gets thicker..

the wiki entry cites some 'bhaarhaspatyua samhita' [god alone knows how many 20th century ancient texts have been invented] which mentions among other things, the words 'hindusthanam prachakshate'... this citation has a footnoted reference to a vishwa hindu parishad document dated 2003 titled 'voice of hindus in north america'.


a vhp document as a reference footnote in wikipedia... the mind is truly boggled!

anyway, back to hindustan... 

so perhaps, what they're saying is, that they could call it 'hindusthan' if they wanted to... since obviously its cited in some text... but then, why bother with all the explanations and citations, when you can just dismiss it as being named from 'outside'... not just by the muslim 'invaders' but conveniently the colonial ones as well... [who can forget the hilarious 'hindoostan']..

and mind you, notice the extra 'h' in the hindu text version of 'hindustHan'. it becomes Hindu Sthan... sthan or place in sanskrit. not the -stan of persian which means place where one stays/ homeland.

who was the idiot that said 'whats in a name?' a fucking alphabet has changed many worlds.

do we dare add a third name to this mix? yes, lets... 


the wiki entry for bharat cautiously begins by mentioning: Bharat, Bharata, Bhārat, or Bhārata may be a transliteration of either Bharata (Sanskrit: भरत, lit. "to be maintained") or Bhārata (Sanskrit: भारत, lit. "descended from Bharata")...

and then the entry mentions... that it may also refer to: 

India (Bhārata)

  • Bhārata, the self-ascribed Sanskrit name for the Indian subcontinent
  • Bhārat Gaṇarājya or simply "Bharat", the alternative name for the Republic of India - per Article 1(1) of the Constitution of India
  • Bharata Mata (Mother India), the national personification of India as a mother goddess
now i'm dumbfounded....

the final solution

the Times of India reports that in the last decade alone, the depth of the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad has come down to 40 ft from 60 ft... worse still, in some areas, the depth of the lake is only about 20-30 ft.

this is attributed to the immersion of approximately 30,000 - 40,000 ganesha idols in the lake each year.

in fact, the size of the lake as it exists today is itself supposed to be only 40% of what it used to be...

is this a dilemma any different from what we see happening in rapid proliferation to 'natural resources' in other parts of the nation? i'm willing to think that it is different... but i may not be able to articulate why... as yet.

in most cities, water bodies, small and large, have been filled with sand to reclaim the land for establishing settlements. the city of Bangalore as we know it (of course we no longer know it as Bangalore), for instance, stands on what used to be a minimum of 400 water bodies including ponds and tanks. 

but few cities have water bodies (other than rivers or beaches) that are constitutive of the 'image of the city'. for example, in Chennai, who would want the smelly 'Cooum river' to represent the city??? in fact the history of the Cooum might tell a different tale of the city altogether... 

but no, in Chennai, the long strip of the Marina beach is such a source of attraction - apart from all the elites who drive down to the beach to then walk on the 'jogging track', - even the flights that take off from the Kamaraj airport will do a little jig and take you a few thousand meters through the beach into the Bay of Bengal and return to its normal course... 

just as the flights that take off at Bombay will do the same into the Arabian Sea via the Juhu beach... 

of course the beaches that are the edges of seas which tie up with oceans are mainstay for the fisherman communities in these regions... 

take the Hooghly river... popular visual imagery is so crucial for the ways in which it shapes our 'images' of the places we inhabit and imagine. even before i'd seen the Hooghly river, the utterance of its name would bring to the fore an image of sunset, and silhouetted boats with fishermen.... this is the river that annually sees the immersion of hundreds of thousands of durga idols... this is also the river that is source of livelihood for fishermen...

but then again, these are big rivers and beaches... lets get back to smaller water bodies that exist... a place like Baroda has the Sursagar lake which like the Hussainsagar is a dumping/immersion ground for the ganesha idols... of course no one fishes here...

or take Nainital for instance... tourism and the lake.... tourism which has generated new forms of employment, but is slowly killing the lake...

same shit, different place? perhaps... but something needs to be said for such inanity that goes by the name of 'cultural practice'!

can the existing vocabulary of water bodies as a source of livelihood translate legibly into concerns for ecology?... from where things stand today, no.

so is it for this 'image' of the city that heritage conservationists clamour for the preservation of water bodies?... or is it for the ways in which water bodies are so constitutive of our built environments?... how does ecology itself become the cause/ name by which we attempt its preservation?

added to this dilemma is that the heritage conservationists have to contend with socio-cultural and religious practices of people, which they cannot disregard... so what do they say, then? they say two things - one, turn to more eco-friendly idols that use organic clay instead of plaster of paris and eco-friendly paints... of course they don't know how cheap the PoP and chemical paints are.. and how many people would afford this eco-friendly material? and perhaps some might even say, why the hell should we give a damn about eco-friendliness; its the government's job! following this, the second thing that the heritage people say - government authorities should 'wake up' and clean these water bodies. if they claim that they do clean, then they should clean better.

is this the best we can do? go the 'eco' way or the 'management' way?

surely 'management' is an issue... but clearly the dangers of the 'management' argument are apparent - in its inevitable conclusion, it speaks of the privatization of the lake... who knows ten years down the line we see a TATA/Birla board all around tank bund... perhaps we'll be ticketed to pass by the lake... perhaps there'll be a statue of aforementioned TATA/Birla among the esteemed few that find place in tank bund... 

and forget what to do with the lake.... what can be done with the practice? why have the number of idols been increasing at an alarming rate over the years? should immersion be banned? should there be a limit imposed on number of idols per society/ neighbourhood? but that's all anti-democratic... so how does ecology work with democracy? can ecology work only through capitalism - a la the new eco-friendly and organic exotic - or through state control - which despite its seeming horrors is in fact only a miserable ideal...

and finally... what of 'the people'... is this what 'popular culture' is? this maddening, inane practice that seems to be championed in the name of some 'diversity', 'ephemerality', and 'vibrancy'... or worse still, in the name of 'democracy' and 'secularism'...

what would the city or town or village be without its rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, tanks? nothing.

perhaps the biggest myth we rely on, apart from the superiority of man over nature, is that of the eternality of water...or air...

why hark over the 'image of the city' when there won't be one any more...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

hunger games

for the life of me i CANNOT understand how when one man threatens to remain hungry till 'death does him apart' for a cause that he believes to be paramount, and retain a moral high ground while doing so at the same time, people feel not just empathetic towards that cause, but a sense of shared high moral ground towards realizing that cause.

in other words, being 'hungry-till-i-die' seems to be in some rare cases, a means of generating not merely a shared empathy for a cause, but a high moral ground.

when it is said that one makes a decision to "remain hungry", it is not involuntary... it is a matter of choice. and of course this is no 'aam admi' (ordinary man)... he most certainly must be very very special, since quite obviously his 'choice' to 'remain hungry' seems to have garnered much 'national' attention (at least as far as what the media seems to be projecting), as opposed to some others in a similar situation of 'remaining hungry' for more than a decade without notice; and millions of others who die hungry, or kill themselves due to utterly helpless situations of inability to feed even one's family..

of course, he's a special 'citizen' while the others are mere populations, animals, terrorists or separatists..

but none of this matters... this one man is threatening to die, while thousands have already died, thousands are being killed, people who have been forced to death sentences.... all of whose deaths do not matter...

one man.. and his hunger... apparently the force of the nation cannot satisfy this one man's hunger... what a large appetite... indeed he must be very special...

Monday, August 22, 2011

UK riots: in pictures

i came across a bunch of photographs on the Guardian website of the UK riots.. was wondering what to do about the photographs.. or what to think about them... so i thought i'd share them here, and scribble some of my thoughts in the form of captions... this is a first in the series... i hope to do more...

this, along with many other similar images of the destruction just seemed straight out of the apocalyptic genre of movies that as we all know, are usually situated in cities (of course others in endless stretched of deserted farms or villages, but let's not think of that now). but unlike those movies, it didn't take an alien force or an enemy nation to invade (and the normative imaginary cause for such destruction has to be either air-attacks or super slick bombs made by scientist geniuses gone wrong). i keep thinking, what would this look like on large screen.. and my conscience doesn't prick.. hmmm...
such graceful horses.. and such a magnificent fire.. where do humans stand in comparison to either..
like a fairy tale gone wrong.. how do imageries of destruction manage to be so captivating.. enchanting even! how does a journalist stand in front of this scene and take a photograph as arresting as this.. was he 'just doing his job'? or was he 'hoping to capture the immensity of destruction'?.. running after authorial intentions may never get us anywhere.. but as i see this photo again and again, i'm struck by the street lamp on the top-left corner that's still burning.. it doesn't hold a candle to the blazing fire, but it seems to hold its own... it interrupts the otherwise-natural duo-tone silhouette of the photograph... wonder what that says about the life of objects...
this is the Sony Centre warehouse.. massive industry.. massive fire.. massive water.. massive state power.. quite a 'powerful' image, all in all..
explosive, to say the least... we rarely think of buildings containing the possibility to erupt.. they collapse, they burn, they crumble, they decay... but for a building to spew a lava-like fire.. crackling and sizzling.. and to melt.. for all the wrong reasons, it reminds me of Marx's famous "all that is solid melts into air".. it doesn't evaporate, doesn't vanish, doesn't erode... it melts.. and there's nothing quite furious as a monument melting...
the clouds seem to have left their shadows forever imprinted on the building...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

ways of inhabiting the world

the world i inhabit is decidedly for me, divided into those who follow vegetarianism and those who follow non-vegetarianism. this has nothing to do with the simple practice of eating vegetarian food or eating non-vegetarian food. people are free to eat what they wish as a matter of choice and taste. but i believe that fundamentally, there can be no way of practicing vegetarianism and being in this world at the same time.

and to my mind, those who devoutly abide by the ideology of vegetarianism can lead their lives only through a most decrepit form of hypocrisy. there is an astronomical difference between eating vegetarian food and professing and propagating vegetarianism.

vegetarianism is puritanism in its most 'primitive', and feral form.

it boggles my mind the extent to which a belief in one's eating habits can extend to an absolutist belief in the superiority of that self and the consequent inferiority of others. vegetarianism is also product of the philosophies of the soul/mind-body divide; the kind that believes the body is the prison of the soul, as a result of which the least 'humans' can do is to preserve the purity of the body.

Foucault's brilliance can be invoked here. given the similar soul/mind-body binary with which European enlightenment worked (is it mere coincidence that most Brahmanical texts spoke the same tongue many centuries before? nah.. I am a firm believer in Said's Travelling Ideas), he wrote: the soul is the prison of the body.

i've never seen a reversal work quite so brilliantly!

imagine the horror of those who beat/ throw stones at animals, birds, why, even their wives (for aren't they beasts of reproduction for those men?); those who don't eat meat but don't mind fur coats and cosmetics laden with animal fat; those who kill rats, roaches, plants, dogs, humans... - and then proclaim vegetarianism to be clean, purifying, and superior!

is there a way of being in this world such that one does no harm to anyone/anything? yes, its called being dead.

if there's a way of coping with the horrors of humanity and life itself, non-vegetarianism is crucial and basic for survival.

non-vegetarianism for me, is a deeply honest, a deeply coeval way of inhabiting this world. it is the only way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the cruelty of heritage

the usual clamour made by 'indians' about 'we indians' is that 'we' do not know how to respect and preserve our heritage, blah blah. look west, look east, its all so well kept, well showcased.. how much more pride in 'our culture and tradition' would 'we' be able to accumulate had 'we' shown even an iota of the same commitment that other, even smaller nations are able to...

(dangerously, some might go so far as to say: look at sri lanka! a nation hit by war, and yet they preserve and showcase their monuments so well. no matter that scores of people were brutally murdered, and scores of lives and forms of livelihood destroyed in a war that was fundamentally racist, and instituted through the agency of the government. oh  no, lets not talk of bygones.. their monuments are so well kept; tourism is flourishing.. such hospitality!)

the problem with india (and india has so many problems) is that, worse still, apparently the gatekeepers of 'our' heritage are steeped in politics.. so, damn the 'corrupt' politicians and the BIG BAD POLITICS! 

some might say: why, we don't even have our kohinoor... its sitting in the tower of london crested into the crown jewels.. what would we say to this? would we be able to say then that, at least its well kept there. the moment it reaches india, it'll be infested in a prism of POLITICS.. 

is heritage anywhere really not inflected through politics? indeed can there be a discourse on heritage that is not necessarily imbricated in a politics of heritage? why, what would the the British Museum be without all its Indian/Egyptian/ Mesopotamian/ Persian collections... oh those were acquired as gifts to the Raj. shall we start talking politics finally? they say gift, some would say loot. loot, you say? why, the erstwhile colonial masters could never 'loot'! (and mind you, some American scholar recently mentioned in the form of an anecdote [and most anecdotes suffer from a pathology of xenophobism i think] that the word loot supposedly originates from the word lootna in hindi - to steal. imagine the levels to which typecasting had reached in colonial times... to attribute a word, which is not just a word, its a state-of-mind, to an entire people.. )

it was the generous Indians who gifted it to the needless-to-state superior Raj. but they're no longer colonial masters. what might've been gift then, can just as well be considered loot now. and in any case, how can one 'gift' anything to a king? any such attempt, under circumstances of servitude (partial it may be) must necessarily be seen as an act of surrender. what do 'we' say?: so what if we cannot keep it safe and locked up in a tower? so what if it gets stolen? at least it gets stolen from here!

what happens next?

we come full circle to chant the usual clamour.. 'we have no respect...." blah..

and where do we go from here?


there's this song which has become a very popular rhyme..

london bridge is falling down...
falling down, falling down..
london bridge is falling down..
my fair lady..

one can only speculate why and how or whether it fell at all, and who 'my fair lady' that this song is adressed to, might be... also, there are varying versions of the next few stanzas, each with differing meanings and so on.. be it of rebuilding the bridge [build it up with wood and clay], or the repeated failures in being able to do so.. [wood and clay will wash away].. so the 'material' cannot replace or rebuild the structure; what was destroyed was not merely the bridge as material form.. it stood for something else...

in any case, in rhyme form, it is sung with much glee.. singing with joy about watching a building fall seems rather bizarre... a descriptive, narrative, visual account of fall...

and yet, if at all one wishes to historicize it, the rhyme-song seems to suggest a couple of things: the bridge stood as paramount symbol of oppression - signalling the destruction of a bastion of power - it is important to watch it falling... and to sing with joy of its fall... the other way of looking at it would be that, in its fall was engendered a collective will to rebuild, no matter the failures.. and so on..

the rhyme has been leeched of all other connotations, as is the case with most rhymes, but it is immensely popular..

but today, would it be possible to even speak - not sing - about destruction in any manner except with gravity? we are seeing images of london burning in riots over the last week or so.. of buildings being set to fire.. of shops being looted.. immediate thoughts are usually of mindless destruction; mob fury; re-construction and restoration; policing; stock market; and so on.

setting fire to, or pulling down architecture, public statuary and objects of cultural production that epitomize a dominant power structure has historically been a practice of many movements world over.. it especially made sense to destroy a building/ statue/ object precisely because it had been invested with a value of heritage. what sense would it make to destroy any ordinary building? none, if one considers the symbolic value of destruction as well, apart from pragmatic. the power to acquire such heritage was made possible in/through the subordination and oppression of many others.

however, nothing today it seems justifies the destruction of buildings of monumental value, those that are symbolic of a power that is simmering with a potential to unleash its oppressive nature..

and yet, it might still be possible to destroy with perfect ease minor structures.. for these are not structures of power.. they are structures of solidarity, of community..

in that sense, i do believe in marking a difference between major and minor architecture.. they both contain and signify immensely different meanings, contexts, and significances.. laughing over the destruction of a major object of cultural production, and a minor one, are entirely different things...

world over, would it be possible today, to laugh with glee, and jump with joy at the destruction of minor architecture, as it was possible with tremendous ease a decade or two back? and yet, how far is babri masjid demolition away from today? not very. how many statues of ambedkar have been repeatedly destroyed over the last many decades? scores.

maybe for the west it might not be possible to openly laugh and celebrate the defeat of 'enemy' figures/ territories/ lives/ objects.. but as far as india is concerned, i really don't have the courage to imagine that such cruel laughter belongs to a time bygone..