Wednesday, February 28, 2007


sonal, siddharth and me were at a long meeting yesterday with the pali village residents where we were immersed for 4 hours in legalese and the complex loopholes within regulations that make for monstrous high rises in the old gaothans of the city.

as we nitpicked over fine details of set backs and height regulations, proposed roads that lead nowhere, sitting in the top floor of an old house with blue walls and a garden, we were conscious of the mutual suspicion between the christian locals and the new muslim community that seemed to be buying and building flats there. how much of the resistance of the locals was spurred by this and how much of it by the trauma of watching their childhood spaces being ripped into by the transforming city is not easy to separate. however, one thing is for certain, the new developments, if unchecked, aided by the numerous relaxations that apply is going to make these spaces unlivable, with spaces in between buildings like chasms, and the roads clogged with parked cars.

before the meeting the three of us walked with alfred around the village which is very twee. narrow streets with low rise houses, verandahs in wood and sloping roofs. a few buildings rose higher and the new developments were rather atrocious in the way that they cut off light for their neighbors and the way in which they made the street outside their own- by not allowing anyone to park there.

there was another strange but fascinating building in the village. a building for dance classes which doubled up as a stage too. on a podium with mother marys statue a railing protected a large space with huge sliding folding doors that opened out to reveal a stage. dance classes were held inside and one could imagine performances in the evening. a stainless steel railing curved along the edge of the stage with musical notes as motif. above the stage a triangular design that spanned the whole fa├žade of the building making the stage a ziggurat temple of sorts in the area. there seemed to be a few houses in the above floors.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

‘no direction home’ and three music videos

furthering my argument that well meaning politics need not mean good art i had some support from scorcese’s documentary on bob dylan’s life. the film followed his life from when he was a folk minstrel singing ‘topical’ songs to the backlash he was the target of when he ‘sold out’ by slinging an electric guitar around his neck and talking about love and his own internal struggles. refusing to become a symbol for a movement he did sympathize with, he was adamant regarding the autonomy of the artist from being bounded within the restrictive shackles of a ‘cause’ and he was determined to stay free from any preconceived appropriateness that might be thrust on him by his followers or his detractors. it was brilliant to watch how his irony and engagement with the making of music kept him constantly moving and changing, taking what’s around him and turning it into great music and words.

i think i grew up with dylan. when i was younger and i began to listen to his music at the age of 19, i only could relate to the blatantly political songs. the more abstruse ones went above my head because i constantly was looking for the ‘message’ or the ‘meaning’. as the years went by i stopped trying to decipher and instead began to enjoy the word as sound, as image. the absurd dramas, the weird characters, the brilliant couplets became something i could create in my head, became stuff that i saw in my life. ginsberg in yesterdays film said something like dylan’s words expressed a certain subjective experience that related to people as an objective truth and then became poetry. i don’t really know what that meant; but i think he might have something there. to speak of love and beauty is not easy in the words of prose. they constantly escape descriptions and narrative. like this post, they seem so inadequate.

on the other hand, one wishes that the organizers of the screening yesterday had watched the dylan film a little more closely before subjecting us to the insult of the first three ‘music videos’ that were shown. if there was anything about the film that stood out, it was dylans refusal to let him or his work become merely an instrument in a cause. but the first three films were atrocious in their blatant disrespect for the intelligence of the audience and their placard carrying self-righteousness. everything that was wrong with the left that dylan was resisting was there on full-fledged display. the first insult was by some chennai based filmmaker whose brilliant idea it was to ‘juxtapose’ rehmans awful ‘vande mataram’ with footage of dalits cleaning toilets. lots of shots of shit. irony, i guess was attempted, and a violence to the senses of the audience. emotional blackmail of the tamilian type. i know it well (half of me does it all the time- the other half protests) it doesn’t affect me at all. in fact i am angered by it.

the second was a blue screened one liner joke which was, again supposedly ironical, an anti iraq war video. a female dancer struck various dance poses over footage of bush or bin laden while in the background played an irritatingly smug song about america and the gulf war. a child in school would have had a more sophisticated take on that (and done it better too). the last was a film by patwardhan that took peter, paul and mary’s sickly sweet version of ‘blowing in the wind’ and played it over a slideshow of sometimes gruesome, but mostly boring pictures of the war in iraq. all three videos were conceptually (and politically) simplistic, moralistic and badly made. it seemed like the perpetual movement and search that must be part of the making of art had been abandoned in favor of the posturing of political correctness. dylan would have said, ‘ who not busy being born is busy dying’. the sentiment in all three was a holier than thou preachiness that made me ill. this kind of film making- the protest placard type, is really not my cup of tea. but the audience seemed to like it. i wonder whether it is really the fear of being ostracized from the adamantly left wing film making community that kept them clapping. were they afraid because in this tight insular world the mantra said or unsaid is (o paraphrase bush) - “if you are not with us, you are against us.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

photo post - marine drive

from the coffee shop at the new marine plaza with its imitation art deco watching early sunday evening walkers, joggers, tourists, dogs and cars as sun goes down in the sea.

symphony orchestra of india – day 3

i love the 2nd piano concerto by rachmaninoff. it was one the first pieces that drew me in to appreciate western classical music 2 years back with its gorgeous melody and crazy emotional movement. to hear it played live was fantastic, especially the slow tug of the theme of the sad second movement. it was a russian day yesterday with them playing a borodin piece in the beginning and ending with tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony- another great sad second movement with a mad thundering end. the strange thing is listening to all of them is like literally being on a roller coaster ride, from the high to the low, from the thundering to the soft. there seemed to be no limit to the passion whether it be joy or more often than not - sorrow.

the encore was yet another tchaikovsky piece from eugene onegin and then they ended with ‘the bat’ some thundering strauss.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

characters volume four - meet tabrez

it is difficult to imagine that i have known tabrez for over 8 years now. the first time i met him was a few months after i came back from the usa, when he had come home with ranjit for their final year engineering project. my father was their guide. at that time, tabrez thought i was the teenage son of my father and paid me little attention. gradually as the years went by tabrez became and integral fixture of our lives. every sunday he would find his way over from kurla where he lived with his mother and two sisters (his father was in the uae) or from malabar hill where he gave tuition to young brats in mathematics. he used to be invariably late all the time in coming home. if he said he was going to be there at 11, it was for certain that he would not be there until 5 in the evening. it was frustrating, but all frustrations were dispelled when he came home and laughed his big cackling laugh. and then he was there till some late hour talking about some thing or the other- some clever way to make money, some new deal he had struck, some new arrangement he had made. we became close very rapidly and ranjit, sonal, tabrez and me have spent a lot of time in the low light of my room listening to odd new music (tabrez actually has no ear for music at all) and having earth shattering discussions about love lives and family whom he cared for dearly having this grave sense of responsibility of being the eldest boy, or rather- the man of the family while his father was away.

i don’t think i knew anyone with as much focus and drive as him. the both of us even came up with an idea for a web site for hsc education that he went ahead and registered ‘’. nothing came of it, naturally- but it was fun while it lasted.

he seemed to have his entire life planned out for the next 15 years, every aspect of it was predetermined- professional and personal. and then step by step we saw him going through the motions of living up to his plan. first the teaching assignments at andrews, then the management program at rizvi, and then love that led into marriage. looking back, i realise that it has not been easy but has been made so by his intense energy and drive. it used to tire me a si always felt rather like a lump in his presence.

he moved to dubai a few years back and came home yesterday after his wedding for the first time yesterday. it was quite a surprise. marsha came along with him too and we got to know her a little for the first time. she is delightful and to watch them banter was a lot of fun. they seem to be enjoying themselves in dubai- mall hopping in air conditioned splendour, cooking for each other and washing vessels too. it is sad that he leaves back for dubai in a week. i would have liked to spend some more time with him, to talk a little like we used to. maybe a trip to dubai sometime…


Saturday, February 24, 2007

'music and lyrics' - the lobby at galaxy

more regular readers of this blog will know how much i love pop. have always loved it- from the time that i was 10 thinking i was michael jackson hip thrusting to ‘beat it’ to now when britneys ‘toxic’ makes my day. the songs stick in my head and refuse to get out. the silly infectious lyrics and the hook laden choruses in the now goofy looking but then oh-so-deep videos where a plot was acted out in big hair and bad choreography. in ‘music and lyrics’, the 80s, the grand era of the pop song is turned into the age of real enlightenment when a has been teen heartthrob returns to the pop charts by collaborating with his plant waterer in writing a hit song for a contemporary sex goddess diva. its fluff and fun, hugh grant is dry and wonderfully sardonic, drew barrymore adorable. besides the boy meets girl romantic fluff it’s also a film about music- with music- silly fabulous pop songs about a heart going ‘pop and music videos that recall wham!. i don’t know how the film will be for someone who knows not the exhilaration of a great pop song; but for me the years of growing up with george michael and a-ha on my walls came back in a rush. on the drive back, i had to get back some of the groove and bopped my head to culture club and berlin.

as an aside, the lobby at gaiety/galaxy/gemini/gem/glamour- the famous multiplex extraordinaire at bandra, is an amazing double heighted extravaganza of planets and stars swirling in a blue sky as rockets from star wars and other hollywood blockbusters zoom around in comic book fashion. its like being caught in an indrajal comic.

photo exhibitions / symphony orchestra of india (day 2)

the trips into town for the symphony orchestra of india concerts have to be combined with some other event or they seem to be too long a ride for a two hour concert. stupid, it may seem, to be so finicky- but that’s the way it is when it takes a 4 hour commute to get to and back from a place.

yesterday mukul and me gallery hopped as usual. first some rather tacky photographs by a south bombay/ south delhi / new york gay man whose voyeurism when looking at the cruising scene of delhi, or the cross dressing subculture seemed pointless and badly done. the men obviously were made to pose according to some predetermined ideas, and the photographs were flat and curiously sexless. the aestheticized black and whites of smoky american men and the ridiculous diptychs claiming first world/ third world binaries were juvenile. the gallery though was fabulously located in the garage of a huge south bombay mansion surrounded by high-rises an all sides. lawns with caryatids traipsing around incongruously juxtaposed with the densities of the city.

for much better photography we then walked into two separate but related exhibitions by dayanaita singh- one at chemould and the other somewhere in colaba. at chemould ‘beds and chairs’ and at colaba ‘go away closer’. images of absence and loss set in the interiors of spaces that range from bedrooms, libraries, museums, factories and theaters in the extreme formalism of pristine black and white prints.

in the evening the soi concert began with a confusing elgar violin concerto. i did not know whether the piece was just crappy or whether it was the playing. but then beethoven’s sixth was gorgeous- the pastorale with images of sunlight and rain on fields with country folk celebrating nature as seen through the eyes of a city man. the sounds of nature and folk songs play around in incredibly pretty tunes. to hear a full orchestra was great fun with the conductor jumping around in the center. they ended the show with a energetic strauss piece called ‘the bat’. good fun.

Friday, February 23, 2007

(music notes) randy newman – bad love

speaking of poses, what is one to make of the persona newman chooses to don? the over the hill aging rock star conscious of his own disintegrating body, desperate to find what he can call love by seducing gold diggers and who knows that his talent at its best lies way back in the prime of his life? and then there is the other person whose clothes newman takes on at other times- the right wing reactionary, caucasian, american, capitalist, rich male who apologizes to karl marx because the world failed his idealism.

both acts are very convincing and hilarious because newman in his 60s knows them both from personal experience. he is able to make them real because curiously he knows the shortcomings of everyday people (and himself), their racism, selfishness and stupidity. the songs are bitter and ironical, brilliant in their observations and can be very funny. his wit lies undiminished. in some of the earlier albums, sentiment tended to soften some of his innate sarcasm, but here there is no letting go. there is no denying though, that each song is in some form a story with a moral at the end of it. it is a relief though that the message is sung by the wicked witch rather than the princess in the tower, because while we can understand the wicked witch, we can merely admire the princess.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

film day

a day spent watching the films made by friends. the first being farida’s film ‘the seedkeepers’ shown in college in the encounter slot, where rural women in andhra pradesh were systematically shooting and editing footage of the work they are carrying out in ecological and sustainable farming. the film was as much about the movement and the way in which the new farming methods had affected change in the women’s lives as much as about the change that the insertion of new media has made regarding the way the women saw themselves.

farida and the q&a

mukul and me then had lunch at shanker and malatis place at 4 bungalows. it was good to meet him after a long time, and great to finally meet malati. we also sat and saw a bit of ‘frozen’ shankers carefully shot black and white film set in the himalayas- gorgeous looking; and malatis diploma film from temple university ‘the witch of agnesi’ about an actress obsessed about a part she has to play.

shanker/ malati

by the end of the day i was exhausted by the visual stimuli and needed to get some rest for my over agitated brain. we decided to give ‘eklavya’ at inorbit a miss; settled instead for some gelato; and found our way back home to have a bath and become couch potatoes for some good old reality tv in the form of american idol.

image post - first yr / second yr

viral, mihir, masoom, kushal, apurva

rishi, rucheet, apurva, tapan

(music notes) the magnetic fields - 69 love songs

the fact is that the entire premise of the album is itself one tongue in cheek joke (“69” anybody?) . three cds, each with 23 songs ostensibly about ‘love’ in all shapes and sizes. and in all shapes and sizes also come the genres that the tight little songs seem to reference – from pop to punk to experimental rock. besides this, are the sexuality blurring lyrics and the drawl of the disinterested singer- like he or she has sung the song a million times before – in a bar somewhere.

it is all very clever and self conscious and yet is able to walk the fine line in between campy goofiness and genuine art. and the art does not seem to lie in the greatness of the love songs in the way that they express ‘real’ emotions but rather in the act of pretending. where the pose is the real art object. as in good pop.

strangely that also seems to transform the pop songs into great folk music- music that has been sung so many times by so many people that it has become part of a cultural phenomenon; where a common emotion is expressed in songs that have been heard so many times, sung by so many different people. the fact that none of the songs are particularly difficult to perform or to remember is part of the act.

the songs become representative of archetypes in relationships- obsessive, dismal, broken hearted, joyous. it’s this that keeps them still engaging and the music never sinks into being merely a one line joke.

the romantic notion of a close relationship between the singer and the emotion expressed in the song is completely deconstructed. in fact, it is this distance all through the album, as we are never asked to believe that the songs are genuinely ‘felt’ by the singer while performing, where we insert ourselves – slightly cynical, but misty eyed with the memories of love lives we have known. nostalgia and fond memories seem to complete the songs for us- making them our own.

Monday, February 19, 2007

andrei rublyev

saw andrei rublvey again today. it is easily the best film on art i have seen. i cant think of any other that manages to touch upon so many aspects regarding the process of the creation of art- its role as a medium towards fulfillment, its problematic relationship with power and patronage, the urge of the artist to create and his self imposed penance by renouncing his art, the jealousies of peers, and the struggle to find ones responsibility to oneself and to society through the work, and so much more- all of these in allegorical episodes from the probable life of a 15th century icon painter in churches. tarkovsky probably saw his own struggle with the act of creation in soviet russia mirrored in rublyev’s difficulties in reconciling his role as a painter of religious icons in a society where the church and the state used and abused art and the artist as means to gain power.

kb nb mb

before and after the concert yesterday evening mukul and me spent time with kb, nb and mb; first with kuntal at moshes over coffee and a sandwich, then after at their new house with nandita and meha over a chinese dinner. it got real late and we decided to crash at their place and woke up to metropolitan skyscraper views on all sides.

photo post - tulsi pipe road images: north to south

symphony orchestra of india - day 1

mukul and me spent yesterday evening at the ncpa for a chamber music concert by the symphony orchestra of india, which weirdly is made up all most exclusively of players from kazhakistan. how they got here, and under whose patronage is a story that needs research. the mozart string quintet with a clarinet was pretty on the surface- but a little tedious, while the schubert trio for cello, violin and piano had some nice parts; but the music that made me happy was a piece by someone called poulenc – a sonata for piano and clarinet – that was gorgeous and moving while at the same time unpredictable.

photo post - highway building typology

Sunday, February 18, 2007


sabir is the name shyam and deepa chose for their son. today was the naming ceremony at their place. i was deputed to take photographs on shyams digital camera. i stole some in between on my cell phone. right now, the heavy mallu vegetarian food is putting me to sleep.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

photo post - assorted



me at 'the dhaba'- pujabi restaurant at lokhandwala with relief rural punjab murals, cane and timber false ceiling and drums and bangles hanging from the fake trusses

amisha and kaushik at amishas farewell lunch at harish. also on the table were paul, ateya, rupali, vidya and me