Wednesday, October 31, 2007

brideshead revisited / swann's way / the marriage of cadmus and harmony : n / evan almighty / jab we met

and now for the books and the movies of the past week

first the books. evelyn waugh's ‘brideshead revisited’ was about a young mans obsession over his schoolmate transforms his life forever. very clever writing. but so much more insight in marcel prousts ‘swann's way’- the first in a set of six novels that i intend to finish reading one day. here the reminiscing of youth and the telling of an obsessive love become vehicles to dissect human frailties into precisely defined aspects. frighteningly close analysis. roberto calasso’s ‘the marriage of cadmus and harmony’ was a meditation on greek mythology and its intersections with society. part a retelling of myth, part philosophical observations- a great book.

as for the films- the in flight movies on the way back. ‘n’- an italian piece of fluff where a young man takes on the job of being napoleons biographer only so that he might have a chance of killing him. pretty awful really. and then ‘evan almighty’ where god in the form of morgan freeman asks a us congressman to build an ark to save some animals from being washed away in a flood. a perfect in flight movie. which means brainless, silly and left me with a silly smile.

but then there is ‘jab we met’. not really either a kareena kapoor or shahid kapoor fan i was shocked to find both of them adorable and the film very good after we saw it yesterday. the first half was breezy road movie with great music and though in the second half the pace seemed like it was about to slacken it was not for long. very nice film and both shahid and kareena were charming. and the boy dances like a dream.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


berne across a bridge

‘so! how was switzerland!!!??’ everyone seems to asking me. and i wonder how i should be answering? so i say ‘great!’ being genuinely happy to get away from the traffic jams on the highway for a week; and ‘pretty!’ doing my best not to let a trace of metropolitan irony tinge my enthusiasm for a country perfect in every way. truly.

was in berne to deliver a lecture at the architecture forum berne on the landscape of the city and how it was changing. also took some time to go to basel for two days and then zurich for a day before coming back.

berne was extraordinarily picturesque. i was put up in a family run bred and breakfast in the main town which is on a narrow steep hill marked by churches on both ends and a central main street of cobbled stone where i have seen karisma kapoor and govinda shake many a hip. on the main road it has been legislated that the summer months be celebrated by placing flowers in the balcony (my room overlooked the main road and was thus decorated? this to make certain the city’s world heritage status. however, for poor juerg who is out of the city for most of the year, he has had to substitute the real for the fake flowers from a local shop- not having anyone at home to water them.

one of the short cuts in the city

although i had taken a walk down the main street the first day i was there, the next day juerg had been kind enough provide me with a local guide. claude walked me up a hill for a view that looked straight out of grimms fairy tales and then at the other end near the railway station took me to the place where the alternative seems to live. a building with barbed wire on all sides that has decided itself to be an independent state. a old horse stable that has in a typically swiss form of self discipline decided to create its own bounded sense of disorder. the architecture has been thus embroidered with graffiti and iconography.

claude told me that this place was the scene of riots a few weeks back and was gleefully picked up as headline news by american news networks that loved to watch the peaceful swiss suffer some of the tensions of the rest of the world that they seem so miraculously free of.

the alternative center

but claude also told me another story. he said that there are more guns loaded and free ins switzerland than in the use. it seems that the compulsory proscription of young men in the army leaves them with loaded firearms in possession just in case, you know, france attacks. claude himself did not have a gun because he begged out of the army claiming philosophical incompatibilities- he is a pacifist he claimed and had to answer to a panel who asked him pointed questions trying to test out his commitment to gandhi.

another one of the eccentricities of extreme order. this seemed to be the end of all possibilities for change. death. i guess. a very pretty death. but then i seem to be again donning that annoyingly superior voice of the third world cynic. claiming joy in disorder and happiness in madness. i wonder whether it is a shield or a weapon?

it came dangerously close to being the leprosy ridden arm of a beggar as he displays it for alms in the car window at the lecture. a frightening vision for myself. how do you come to terms with showing the madness of the mumbai landscape in the pristine air of berne?

the lecture was held in a refurbished grain storage in the center of town. gorgeous hall. around 60 people attended and asked curious polite questions while i seemed to take on the air of an ironic outsider. when i looked back at the entire episode i was pretty embarrassed by my shameless display of edges to upset their stability.

it was maybe the perpetual politeness that did to me. like bankers. the landscape is also bereft of any of the edges i have become accustomed to. was i then the errant child throwing a tantrum, demanding attention for being who i am? whatever.. the lecture went well. i guess i was merely entertaining them. or giving them what they did not expect- no exotic india. or was it on the other hand over-exoticizing india? damn! this is a dead end.

but india is the flavor of the month in berne too. ‘horn please’ was the name of an exhibition on contemporary indian art. and as i walked around with juerg past atul, archana, jitish, patwardhan, nalini i was thoroughly confused about what relevance these works could have for him. and true enough, he looked baffled at most of it. cant blame him. but then how come i was completely fascinated by the rothko and mondrian upstairs?

in berne the only real starchitecture i saw was the paul klee museum- renzo pianos diagram of a squiggle transformed into three metal hills rising from the ground. the diagram unfortunately ended up being the building. beautifully made but a little unaffecting. the klee drawings inside were incredible.

paul klee museum

otherwise i saw some cool reuse of old buildings- like the kornhouse in whose basement there was also a gorgrous restaurant with painted ceilings and a huge golden beer keg; and the toblerone factory that has been converted into a library for the university. also juerg took me for a tour of some atelier 5 housing projects where the type seemed more complex and where nature had begun to engulf the form finished concrete within.

the toblerone factory

atelier 5 housing

the restaurant at the kornhouse

starchitecture wise the trip to basel was far more fruitful. if the klee museum was too much of a diagram to be great building, the piano building in basel was amazing. red stone walls holding up a floating glass roof and a labyrinth of spaces with a gallery that looks out over the rolling dunes of the swiss landscape. beautiful. and ‘spatial’ unlike so much of the other famous buildings i saw.

foundation reyeler - renzo piano

a herzog and de meuron skin

architecture seems to have collapsed into building the envelope- only. shimmering glass with moiré patterns, frosted milkiness, structural ingenuity and gleaming metallic surfaces, from the filigree of herzog and de meuron to the stark neo modernism of diener and diener. nothing to complain about really. very tasteful. was on the other hand more impressed by the gehry vitra office building with its central courtyard of criss crossing bridges and twisting forms. but to be fair the herzog and de meuron signal box with metal strips turning upwards to open out the box was stunning and so was the schaulager museum where the skin transformed the box into a muscular prism born out of the earth framing a replica of an iconic home and screens projecting art. while their sports stadium reveled in a multi media skin michael adler's smaller gentler stadium was all understated elegance. just across it were hans hoffman's wonderfully monumental gates on the rhein. infrastructure as architecture. something we need to perhaps do in the fourth year design studio.


signal box - herzog and de meuron

herzog and de meuron - football stadium


my searches for all of these building took me across the whole city on foot, walking up the hill from the silk factory converted to a youth hostel where i was living, through the church square where a giant ferris wheel was waiting for some tourists, to the market square with the red brick buildings, up stairs, down stairs. stopped over in my free time at the museums. the art museum where i found on the top floor an exhibition by photographer andreas gursky. his huge prints of the new landscapes of a globalised world were stunning. the architecture museum is where i discovered pancho guedes- portuguese architect building the most expressive modernism in mozambique.

st albans church in basel- where the youth hostel was

the rhein

but now to zurich where a long walk through the lovely old town and the lovelier lake took me to what turned out to be easily the best building i saw in switzerland- corbusier's dancing heidi weber pavilion.

corbusier by the way has also been commemorated on the 10 swiss franc note along with some images of chandigarh.

having seen what i had to i spent the rest of the day wandering on a tram through the city, taking all kinds of routes, getting off at random points walking through quiet neighbourhoods and the nice and crowded city center. also went and spent some time at the feet of the churches that form the skyline of the city and spent some time staring at the marc chagall stained glass windows in one of them.

i got back on saturday night to a house full of clothes. usha maushi's annual diwali sale was on at home. now i leave again on thursday for the andamans. that is for a holiday. the good life.

more photographs here

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

censoring the phallus - no 321

the prudishness of the museum art gallery did not allow these particular naked men to display their wares at jehangirs show. this photograph was placed in the exhibition instead with the proud disclaimer that it had violated the code of decency of the museum gallery authorities and other organisations.while the aggressor's offending exposed organ has been hidden in this image by a strategically placed thigh the victim has to suffer the double indignity of having his penis removed by photoshop pixellation. the rest of the exhibition consisted of more golden, neon lit mythical references that i did not get and paintings of black figures on a spray painted kaleidoscopic background with scientific instruments and organs free floating within. hmm.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

notes from the back benches

for all that the possibilities are for a seminar on architectural education this one happened to be one which met up to all my expectations.

we were put up at the neeri guest houses and the conference was in a large university campus. it was like being caught in the middle of two islands with only the single bridge of the transportation being arranged by the students as a bridge. like prisoners we were. prisoners in a rather green prison. that’s all i got to know of nagpur. the rest of the time i spent in the interiors of auditoriums listening to the self congratulatory, back slapping, sycophantic speeches made in honor of each other.

“i would like to welcome…, i would like to thank… i would like to felicitate.. i would like to call upon stage.. i would like to extend… i would like to..” it was a strategic meeting, a meeting to consolidate power and gather the forces against a common ‘enemy’. it was a flippant little aside from me that created a lot of drama in a post lunch session. but none of that here.

instead i shall talk about the odd situations that turn most intelligent sarcastic cynical men into such obsequious people when they get on stage or the fact that no matter how aware i am of the poses that i am putting on or that are put on for me i have to assume them to be true merely to keep the charade running. it was appropriate that i was reading the monologue from the mind of a disgruntled civil servant of dosteovsky’s ‘notes from the undergound’ at the same time. fact mirrored fiction. i could look into the minds of the checked terrycot shirted, overcombing, pleated trouser wearing men over 50.

one of them was being felicitated and at the function the handing out of flower bouquets to one another, constant praise heaped on those in power (not that the object of the praise seemed to even cringe) went on for 4 hours. the speeches and even an amateur film about tending students like flowers were interrupted by inspirational quotations from english poets or dead american architects and mellifluous music sung in the high pitched falsetto that is mistaken for a beautiful voice.

but the next day was worse when everyone at the scene had to choose sides. ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’ was the mantra. every move we made was carefully strategized. like a high wire trapeze act with spikes 15 floors below waiting for us to make a misstep. naturally, every word had to be chosen carefully and one had to keep a constant watch around to make sure that you are not seen by a certain someone fraternizing with another certain someone. the only way to manage i decided was by being as much of a harmless idiot i could. so i stared blankly, pretended incomprehension, and laughed lightly at nasty digs. academics is a vicious world. meanwhile the issues being discussed largely covered methods of expanding the architectural fraternity. how to make more- no matter what the quality of them might be.

nagpur itself i hardly saw being marooned on the islands of the university an the guest houses. in between all i got to see was wide docile roads with copperpods, the tacky rcc structures of the growing city and street lights with lower lips. deeksha bhoomi where ambedkar converted many to buddhism with a stupa was also somewhere along the way.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

pavement school

on a pavement on the juhu versova link road at 8.30 in the morning i saw a school on a pavement complete with blackboards and school uniforms. i wonder what they do in the rains..

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'concrete island' . 'in america' . 'ka'. 'the garden'

in j. g. ballards ‘concrete island’ an architect finds himself stranded in a wasteland forgotten in the middle of a maze of highways. i love the way he is able ot look at the world around and be able to extrapolate it to its logical dystopic conclusion. moral tales all of them can be seen as- cautionary tales about humanity at the ends of civilization. on the island the only company maitland the architect has is a drunk half mad trapeze artist and a runaway young prostitute living in the basement of an abandoned theater.

‘in america’ is susan sontag’s vast epic drama about a stage actress in the 1800s immigrating to america from poland to set up a commune inspired by fourier. her troupe of admirers and acolytes follows her there. the journey is from a country where identity is inextricably linked with collective suffering to the promised land where the possibilities for freedom are boundless.

‘ka’ was italian roberto calassos poetic dream like narrative of stories from hindu mythology. i would have been indignant about the book if it were not so beautifully written.

and what can i say about ‘the garden’. a black house that stands in a barren landscape where the sky seems endless and the rhythms of the sea like the beat of drum, memories of a childhood as an outcast, parallels drawn hesitatingly and boldly between biblical images and the persecution of homosexual love. i cant say i understood the film. i cant say that i did not. incredibly beautiful to watch and listen to, the movie was like a hallucinatory dream of a dying man (mukul tells me he fell very ill due to complications resulting from aids while making the film). and yet the beauty was never one of treated sunsets and soft focus prettiness. even as clouds move in slow motion across the screen they suddenly turn into mere projections on a screen, the insufferable torture sequence of a loving couple is played out as parody- as if to mock himself for feeling the need to portray in such a crass fashion the victimization of love (such a trite idea!?) by a dogmatic society. brilliant, strange and incredibly moving.

Friday, October 05, 2007

raymond chandler ‘the big sleep’, ‘the last goodbye’ ‘farewell, my lovely’ - johnny gaddar - bollywood music recap

raymond chandler writes the best crime novels i have read in a long time. he has the noir voice down so damn pat that i can almost hear humphrey bogart rasp out the lines as i read. i read three back to back in a compilations – ‘the big sleep’, ‘the last goodbye’ and ‘farewell, my lovely’. misogynistic, homophobic, racist- they cant get any more politically incorrect than this. still, all is forgiven when the blonde women exhale cigarette smoke standing in a hollywood balcony sunset.

'johnny gaddar' was twisted and a riot of fun. a plot that kept you guessing every two minutes and just when you settled in it hit you with another twisted development. lead man neil nitin mukesh is all right, the bit players being far more effective. a total must see masti. the 70s referencing music is far more inventive than vishal shekhars faithful recreation of bollywood songs in om shanti om whose music irritates me. but i said that of dard e disco earlier and now i cant stop humming it. so, i will just have to wait and let the inevitable happen and grow into the songs once i have some srk images to go with the sound.

on the other hand i fell hard in spite of myself for the annoyingly coy and pretty songs from saawariya. granted its all rather icky cute with ranbir kapoor makes doe eyes at everything, but some of the complex song structures melodies that seem too lounge /ghazal boredom grow on you until you are humming them in spite of yourself. the verses that twist in all kids of directions before the chorus brings them back home have me hooked. the title track and its rising soaring way into the chorus and especially ‘jab se tere naina’ where a dhol and a male chorus sharpen soft background noise into a great song.


birthday for the masters programme too. sonal was all tense because of it. two students only- one of whom is ainsley. i guess it was to be expected in the first year. admissions were not controlled by us.
and mine?
celebrations could only begin after college and mukul arriving from borivili. blueberry cheesecake from brio, 'johnny gaddar' at pvr and an exotic gorgeous dinner at don giovanni. dipti, sonal, mukul and me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

cities: random acts of violence and bad art

my cousin was killed two days back; stabbed five times, by a bunch of men on a street in bangalore after he and his friends got into a brawl with them. my cousin and his friends had run out of gas on the street and were asking for help when these men started harassing the girls in the group. this is the story we have.

one of the last places on earth i expected to be the scene of a brutal random killing was bangalore. i don’t know why, but i always think of that city as this tree lines safe though boring little town. people insist the place has changed but our last visit merely gave me the impresionof more of the same middle class domesticity that lived in its own islands while somewhere on the other side the older part still managed to survive aggrieved to some extent about being left behind in the surge forward fo the great tech-city. perhaps the only things that were not aggravating the possible violence (a clockwork orange’ scenario perhaps was the opium haze that the pride of belonging to the high tech city of the country created.

yesterday aparna, siddharth, ruapli, kausik and me took a trip to the project 88 gallery where they were showing some work made by film makers, architects and artists to represent bombay at the venice biennale. it was another shallow and completely meaningless mining of the current trend of interest in this city in all of the world. and these were tackily made, completely laughable projections and installations whose observations were not even as profound as those from students of the 9th standard- and made with the kind of gloss that substitutes for finish.

the space is superb though.

maanasi bhats mattress factory photographs at the mirchandani gallery were far more interesting. especially since it was just yesterday morning that sonal and me were discussing women musicians and were talking about the subject matter that they seem to engage with.