Friday, February 03, 2012

One morning at an airport

The alarm rang, I pressed the snooze button. The snooze button is my best friend in the morning, but I pulled myself away from temptation and got up. I was soon off in the taxi, the taxi ride was long, and when youre alone,iy seems even longer. Upon reaching the airport and seeing the fare, discovered that the kind faced taxi driver who usually drops and picks me up from the airport was making a substantial profit compared to what the price actually was. This discovery didn't make the kindness of his face diminish in my mind. But I did wonder if I would be inclined to call him so often.

I went to the check in counter, and when my turn came, I announced that I was early, had no baggage to check in and requested to be given a seat with lots of leg room as well as a reclining chair. I was told with a smile that actually I was late, because people these days are paranoid and get to the airport really, really early. No aisle seats were available but I still managed to get a comfortable enough seat.

As I climbed the escalator, I heard the desperate voice of a young Gujarati girl asking if anyone else was going to Ahmedabad. It turned out that she had too much luggage and the flight had already closed. Moreover she had no money on her to either pay for the excess baggage or to get herself onto another flight. I felt bad for the poor girl,but my mind was quickly distracted as I reached the end of the escalator.

I saw an oldish lady struggling to walk steadily on the slippery granite floor. As I started feeling more and more irritated with the people who had designed the interiors of the airport, I watched several others slip, or miss a step and I slid a bit myself while meandering through to the x- ray machines for security check. Honestly, what a stupid thing to do! Any sensible architect or interior designer ought to know that airports are places where people are often in a rush to catch flights and are potentially at risk for a stumble or fall. And yet someone didn't use their brains enough to figure out that granite was probably the worst choice for a floor on which people are rushing around!

Anyway, trying my hardest not to slip again myself, I reached the eternally endless women's line at security check. I've always wondered why they don't have more staff for women passengers. Is it because we are less likely to be threats to security? Or do they think lesser women travel? Do lesser women travel? Doesn't seem so. It's my turn to go through the metal detector door, which says its safe for pregnant women and people with pacemakers to go through. I wonder about that.

A beaming security lady ushers me into the cubicle, does a half hearted thirty second check, stamps my boarding pass and without looking at me, waves me out of the cubicle. It's very random. Sometimes they detect even a tiny bell from an anklet, and sometimes it seems like even if I was carrying a frying pan in my hands, they wouldn't notice. Today was somewhere in between, but leaning more towards the latter.

My backpack came through clean, but I saw the face of the man behind the computer screen contort while my handbag was inside. My heart sank. His eyebrows knitted, his head tilted to one side, his nose scrunched up. He looked puzzled and disturbed. He told the security lady to take my bag aside. I felt impatience creeping up on me. When I opened my bags, and found what had caused the man to contort his face, I giggled to myself. They were my mother's hairpins. My grandmother and mother had given them to me as a wedding present. Silver hairpins that were strung together with a chain, and each had two little bells attached to them that made that sound I loved so much!

As the security lady took the pins from me, panic struck! What if they took them away? I called out, "They are just hairpins. My grandmother's", hoping to strike a chord in their hearts. Much to my alarm, the man kept poking his palms with the pointy ends of the pins, and the women eyed the hairpins with smiles that made me just a little uncomfortable. Yes, they were beautiful pins. They kept on this act for a good few minutes, and could probably see my anxiety heightening. A bystander looked at me sympathetically and said, "Beta, you should have worn them instead of keeping them in your bag. That way they don't pay much attention to pins." Another said, "It's difficult for us, women." I mumbled, crestfallen, that I had forgotten that they were there. I'd been meaning to put them away in my cupboard. Eventually though, the security lady handed them over to me, and I nervously stuttered, "Here, I'll wear them now. I'll wear them" and scurried away.

My stomach was rumbling. Time for breakfast. I looked around and ended up buying an extraordinarily expensive breakfast and filter coffee. I sat down to eat, finished eating and saw some sparrows. I decided to leave my plate and walk away with my coffee, and watched contented, as the sparrows gathered to eat what I had left. They looked so incredibly round and cute! And happy eating!

I sat at my gate,and finished my coffee while reading The Odissi Girl, a book on dance and philosophy and love, by a friend. The writer's interpretation of the Taj as a monument of despair rather than love struck me as extremely powerful and wonderful. And his thoughts about the beautiful and ugly being the only two things that surprise humans, I found very true and intriguing. But then the line for boarding was coming to an end, and I got up to board the bus that would take me to the plane.

I entered the bus, found a seat at the far end of the bus, and sat down. A cruel blast of icy wind stunned me. WHY was this bus tuned to arctic temperatures?! The air conditioner was functioning as a freezer. Why are the airport buses always so cold? Even planes for that matter..I always feel cold on planes. And fancy hotels and restaurants. It's like they are under the spell of the White Witch from Narnia!

Thankfully, the bus ride was short. I got off the bus last, and basked in the warmth of the sun for just a few seconds before I was in front of the man who would rip my boarding pass. But suddenly, another man was ahead of me. He looked at me from the corner of his eye for just a second, betraying his knowledge that he had cut the que, but continued to do so anyway with absolutely no sense of shame or remorse. I had a violent urge to say something forceful to him, but the moment had gone. I saw him drift away nonchalantly in front of me. I just huffed and rolled my eyes, and hoped that the man ripping the boarding pass didn't think all that was directed at him!

Finally onto the plane, I found my seat. An emergency exit seat, with lots of leg room and a reclining chair as well! A cheerful air hostess sheepishly came to me and explained what I had to do in case of an emergency, but a knowing look transpired between us - we both knew that this was a formality, and we both knew that if an emergency really did arise, the chances that I'd remember the complicated instructions were pretty slim. But she smiled and explained, and I smiled back and nodded awkwardly.

Then the captain spoke. I often suspect that they are drunk only because of the manner in which they drawl! This one had a particularly slurry speech, which I have to admit, I found more than slightly disconcerting. Why can they not speak clearly? I did remember reading somewhere or hearing rumours about pilots being drunk and getting suspended for it. I got even more uneasy.

But as it turns out, the flight has been smooth so far. But looking down at the semi circular boundary of the earth's horizon is slightly depressing. Its grey and blurry, and whispers of the damage done to the esrth by human beings.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

No One Killed Jessica

Wow. What a disappointment. The movie was empty. The acting was bad. The story was monotonous. The struggle was already known. The emotions didn't seem real. The tragedy of it all didn't come across. And given that it was publicised so much by the media, one hoped to see something more than what the media has already told us. Nothing.

Rani Mukherji played the stereotypical aggressive journalist (somehow that translated into being a self proclaimed 'bitch') who swore (even the overdone spurts of 'fuck', 'F.O', 'son of a bitch', 'bastards', 'fucking' sounded all too fake), smoked (but never really inhaled) and had a lot of 'meaningless sex' (a badly lit make out scene that ended with her leaving the man high and dry just as things could have gotten 'steamy'). Vidya Balan was too subdued, her character remained static through the years...but she was definitely better than some of the others in the cast.

The lesser known actors did a better job than the leading ladies. The actor that I liked the most in the film was the police officer who was investigating the case. A pock-marked, pot-bellied man who seemed like the only genuine character in the film.

The only interesting part about the film was the glimpses the audiences got to see of the relationship between Sabrina and Jessica Lall, depicted in the form of flashbacks.

But on the whole, the film failed to display any sense of injustice, loss, sadness or anything. In fact, you came out of the theatre feeling pretty...blank.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Again and again, Delhi rapes its women

Once again, its in the news. A woman in Delhi is gang-raped in a moving car even as 600 cops are on the lookout for that car. Yes, many of us feel - 'Ehhh...Nothing new about it'. It's true.

But looking at the front page of Times of India today really sent shivers down my spine. Below the chilling story were some statistics. It turns out that there have been 5 instances of rape, of which four were gang-rapes in Delhi in the last two weeks.

The media has given a lot of attention to what Chidambaram had to say about the rapes resulting due to a large number of migrants in the city. While Chidambaram claims he has been misquoted/ misunderstood, the opposition and other politicians are opportunistic as ever, trying to get one up on the Congress party.

And once again, the real issues - the deeper and more disturbing issues - are becoming secondary. I don't blame parents for being completely paranoid about their children in Delhi. In late november, a 7 year old girl was raped and a week later, a girl was gang-raped. Then again, a week or so later, another gang-rape. And another. And today, yet another. The gruesome reality of the situation is that Delhi is still not safe.

Moreover, what seems to be an extremely alarming fact is that apparently six-hundred policemen were apparently looking for the car while the girl was repeatedly raped in it. What is the Delhi police doing? Also, I admire our Chief Minister for all that she has done for Delhi. But what is the Chief Minister of Delhi doing about this?

Finally, I have to say - What are the people of Delhi doing?? 433 rapes in Delhi this year. The average statistic indicates that a woman is raped in Delhi everyday. Why are we so silent about this? Why are we so mute?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Amritsar, and Bharatanatyam in a village

Amritsar 15.11.2010– We got onto the train at 4.30 in the afternoon. I was writing an article for my other blog when my mum, who was dying to visit Amritsar as well and decided to come along, struck up a conversation with someone behind her. The lady had a cute, plump 7 year old with her -Khyati. She turned out to be my first Amritsari fan - a kathak dancer. Upon hearing that I had performed outside of India, she wanted a photograph with me. I awkwardly obliged. Anyway, on we go - the hotel was five minutes from the train station, amidst a lot of promising punjabi dhabas, one of which I was to visit the next day for lunch. Meanwhile, in the hotel, I examined the menu – Slim and Trim Breakfast, fluffy omlettes, 'macroni' and cheese, 'singapuri' chicken, and rolls and titsbits (!!) were among the amusing dishes on the menu. And to drink? Cocktails made of domestic liquor 60ml – my favourite was called ‘Slow Comfortable Screw’. Another one that caught my attention was ‘Suckers Punch’. The management had a note at the end of the menu which had sentences such as – ‘Every efforts will be made to execute your order and full course meals’, ‘Room service facilities are restricted to orders from the Room service’ and ‘Kitchen, where hygienic conditions are strictly enforced.’ Yes, the sentence ended there.

Amritsar 16.11.2010 – Breakfast in the hotel – Fluorescent green aloo tikkis and pink jam. Colourful start. Then we headed to the Golden temple – handsome sikhs all around, I couldn't help but think we are a good looking people! What amazed me even more was the hospitality and general concern for complete strangers - I was told every once in a while that my dupatta might get caught in the wheel of the rcikshaw, and I was warmed to know that the Golden Temple provided wheelchairs for elderly people. The Golden temple itself was a sight for sore eyes. It was a surprisingly solemn and moving experience for an agnostic like me. Besides, the kadha prashad was absolutely delicious.

Moving on, our next stop was Jallianwala Bagh. It was disturbing, but I think they should have kept some of it the way it was then. It was too sanitized and too much like a neighbourhood park now.

People would argue that it may not have been a particularly comfortable memory to preserve. Understandable of course, but then, why preserve it at all? If it was a place where a snippet of gruesome history took place, and if that is what we want to remember that place for, then there should be a proper memorial for it, I think. None the less, it was chilling to see the bullet marks in bits of the wall. Lunch was at Kundan Dhaba – not particularly great, but I had sarson da saag and makki di roti.

The next stop was Wagah Border. The line to enter was insane. Once we got in, the madness began. The official man egging the Indians on made the 'official' statement that no derogatory slogans are to be used, but the aggression of patriotism was obvious. I felt uncomfortable that we outnumbered the Pakistani spectators, but was later told that it was perhaps because of Id that people had not showed up. The whole ceremony made me want to cry, as soldiers on both sides aggressively marched towards each other, the gates were opened almost reluctantly, and shut with gusto. Perhaps the only moment that made me smile was when the flags came together and people on both sides whistled and cheered. Bewildered foreigners looked on and mumbled 'Hindustan zindabad' every once in a while. I was looking beyond, across the gates into Pakistan - what could've easily still been where a part of me came from.

Amritsar 17.11.2010 – Headed to Preet Nagar, a village about 20 kilometres from Amritsar, where the performance was to take place. Got there, got ready, performed. The performance was an interesting experience. It was actually a intriguing change from performing for delhi audiences who know how to behave, how to sit, when to clap, what to say. The performance at Preet Nagar was a riot! Children were running around on the stage while I danced, they laughed at some movements I did, and looked with utter fascination at others. I also had a bunch of drunk spectators who were rushed out, much to the embarassment of the organisers. There was much hooting and cheering. An experience that initially frustrated me, it later made me smile. I loved dancing for an audience that didn't give a damn about what I was trying to do - there was an innocent rawness about it. Those that couldn't care less, walked out as and when they pleased, they talked loudly and roamed around, but the ones that did care - their appreciation showed with as much rawness as the disinterest did. Some of the spectators, particularly the chidlren - were trying to understand what I was trying to say, and other adults told me that I had done a wonderful thing by bringing this dance form to the people. Frustrated at first, towards the end, I was happy. All's well that ends well, eh?

The next day, we returned to Delhi. Amritsar, I'll be back soon!

Photographs - 1. Migrant share-croppers waiting to go home after the harvest, at Amritsar station; 2. Golden Temple; 3. Bullet marks at Jallianwala Bagh; 4. Wagah Border; 5. The three organisers of the Preet Nagar performance. For more photographs, click here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bake your cake and eat it too?

A spam message I received on skype (I don't think its advisable to open the link, most likely to be a virus) -

"There are thousands of unhappy married women and men in every city, but they DO NOT want to leave their spouse. They want to stay married, but they want to have an affair without ever being caught. Our dating community is extremely popular!

Having an affair can be stressful because you never know if the other person involved is going to get attached to you. You just want to have an intimate encounter and nothing else.

A great thing about this Discreet Dating Community For Married People is that there is no cost to join. You can check it out, see if you like it, and then begin contacting married people for secret intimate encounters.

Press here if you want to have an affair with a married person:"

Unbelievable. Pathetic.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"The way you make me feel" and "Bad"

Notice my sister's hairstyle, and the flick of her arm every now and then, my parents and grand parents' paranoia about me dropping her on her head, and our fancy moves!!! (specially in "Bad")

Presenting, 1 year old Vanya and 4 year old Aranyani, dancing in the living room to Michael Jackson....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

So, why Obama..

There are lots of me pseudo-liberal, call me naive, call me an idealist...but today I heard a disappointed and dejected American woman say "Upon Obama's victory, I learnt not to be cynical and depressed." I went to Columbia University in NYC to listen to an election analysis by the common people of New York, and by some of the highly respected teachers at the University, and by contributers to papers like "The Nation" and "The New Yorker".

A white american woman sat there, beaming from ear to ear. For those of you interested in politics, this would be of interest to you. For those apathetic to it, I think you will still enjoy hearing what she had to say...

She started her talk by saying "Back in April, I'd placed a bet on McCain, and each time I was challenged, I only bet higher...I didn't have faith in the american people, and I believed that Republicans are geniuses of the manipulation of stupidity." She said she feared that not enough white people would vote for Barack Obama.

"But enough white people DID vote for Obama," she said. She continued by saying that Obama was a wonderful politician and communicated being a good person. He gave her faith that he had the ability to bridge the gaps between the people he agreed with, and those who didn't agree with him.

About the expectations the world had from him, she said "We've been a rogue-elephant country for the last 8 years...I don't expect the next 4 years to be as flawless as the campaign was. I expect him to just be a good enough president. I expect that he will undo or repair the bad things that Bush did. No one can know what's going to happen in the future. But WE have a duty to steer things a certain way too. We have a duty to make ourselves be heard to him. It's not just him...if we disagree with something, we have to make a big fuss about it. "

Other panelists spoke of the republicans like Colin Powell standing up for Obama being unprecedented, spoke of how his grace and poise capture the attention of everyone and put everyone at ease. "I'm surprised that I lived to see the day a brown skinned man becomes the president of our country," said Hendrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker, "We are very lucky to have stumbled into a presidency of the highest calibre we've ever had."

He's right. Obama is a Harvard Law Graduate. He learnt the law, as opposed to George Bush who only broke the law.

There are many reasons why I think Obama becoming the 44th president of the United States of America is a historical moment.

First, he is an inspirational figure to many. He's intelligent, he writes beautifully, intelligently and compassionately, he listens to what people have to say, he communicates well, and his oratory skills are remarkable (as opposed to their last president who said things like "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we" and "I promise you that I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here" and "I am here to make an annoucement that this thursday, tickets and airplane counters will fly out of Ronald Reagen Airport").

Secondly, he has changed the face of racial america. It's not that he is the first african-american president of America. It's the fact that he got the votes of a large percentage of the "race conscious" population of America. In other words, he forced the average mellow 'racist' to look beyond racial lines. He transcended race.

And yes, there will be 'black pride' in America. But why not. He earned the respect of the white people, despite the still existing racial undertones in the country. He had to watch every move of his to appear to be the perfect black man. Had he had Palin's family history, things wouldn't have gone down too well for him. (It was said that if Obama had a pregnant teenage daughter, it wouldn't have been met with the same understanding as Palin's situation was given. "That's not how they react to a black teenage mother", she said, "We don't say - Oh, its understandable. We say - You're the reason our country's going to the dogs!") Moreover, Obama becoming president has broadened the chances of other black presidents or a woman president, because we thought this was unthinkable and its happened!

His name - Barack Hussein Obama is also important. This sort of name, "which was a political liability will now become a diplomatic asset". He's not a 'secret muslim' as some Americans think, but even if he was, they elected him despite that. And that is also something!

Moreover, these elections were historic for America also because the youth proved to not be apathetic, the proved that their vote counts.

I know that many of us in India have been made wary of this man by certain remarks he made about Kashmir and Pakistan. For those still in doubt, you should read this - "Militants, not India, are the biggest threat to Pakistan" Either way, only time will tell how he shapes Indo-US relations, but everything about him points to the fact that he will listen, and won't unilaterally make a hasty decision. As Indians, we shouldn't fall into the trap of looking things from a narrow-minded perspective. EVEN if we don't like his policies about India and Pakistan, we can't withdraw support on that sole cause. That's being really selfish. This is the reason why Modi gets into power again and again. Because people are not looking at the greater picture, and are looking only at their own immediate gain (or what they perceive to be their immediate gain). We need to look at the greater picture here too. Obama is better for the world and better for America than anyone else in power in that country.

In the end, I have to say, being in the midst of all the apprehension, all the tension, the anticipation, the excitement, I see a new energy in America since yesterday. A happier and more hopeful America. For the first time, I've seen America as a victim. A victim of its own state, that is finally liberated from a reputation it has worn like a noose around its neck. A reputation of being a "rogue-elephant". Many of them hated themselves for 8 years, felt responsible for war crimes and felt disgusted and hapless and powerless. And today, I saw the hope of a new beginning in every American's eye that I met, on the streets of Manhattan.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You've been selected!

I don't know what it is with America wanting to encase me in glass boxes.

My performance in Washington was the first time I was almost encased into a glass room, asked to perform in there while people watched from outside. That was just ignorance about Bharatanatyam, I guess. I politely refused and they obliged.

I had a choice there though. As I was leaving from Washington to come to Ottawa, I faced the glass box again.

After a lot of confusion at the check-in counter with tickets on account of their failing systems, my father and I, the last remaining passengers for the flight to Ottawa, rushed towards security. The last call for boarding had been made, and our luggage, which could've only just reached the plane, would be offloaded within minutes if we didn't arrive at the gate of boarding.

When we reached the security inspector, she was playfully joking with one of the elderly ladies infront of me in line, saying "let's let this little girl go through first". The elderly lady being the little girl. How endearing.

Then the inspection officer asked for our "passports and boarding pass please". She took one quick look at us and looked away, and said "You've been selected.. (for an upgrade? a free ticket to vegas?)...for additional security..please pass through that way." A fat red marker slashed two huge red lines on the boarding pass diagonally, slicing through my name and my seat number. I'd been marked.

"But we're in a rush, we..."
"Go and stand in that line, please" The nasal voice of the officer stung my ears.

Initially confused but getting increasingly infuriated, I walked to the 'terrorist' line and started taking off my shoes, my bangles, my earrings. I hurriedly put everything into the trays and started walking through the metal detector.

Another African-American female officer held her hand out, motioning for me to wait.
"Where's your boarding pass?"
"It's in the tray with my passport"
She looked irritated. I became even more irritated.
They fished through my things and eventually produced the boarding pass. Upon seeing the big red lines, they exchanged a look, and asked me to step forward.
I came through the metal detector. Nothing beeped. I started walking towards my things.

" can't go there. Please step into the enclosure, ma'am."

I hadn't even noticed the glass enclosure that stood slightly ahead of me. I saw my father already in there. I went inside and they closed the glass door.

I looked at abba and we saw realisation dawn in each other's eyes. This wasn't a simple random selection. We were in here for some other reason. We gave each other a sympathetic look as my father whispered, "They're going to do this once we get off at Ottawa too, aren't they.."

I looked around for about a minute while we waited. I was in a glass cage, and everyone outside of it was looking inside. I felt naked, humiliated and outraged. Other passengers with toy guns and lighters passed through, escaping the glass cage, looking at US as though WE had something we shouldn't be carrying. The lighter was left behind, but the passenger carried on to his destination. We were selected for additional security for carrying books on philosophy and political thought, and a dance costume with bells. Because we were brown. And my dad had a beard.

A white middle-aged officer walked up to me and frisked me. I had no problem with that, but maybe I should've. Yes, frisking passengers was airport regulation. But wasn't that neccesary only if the metal detector beeped? I believe that is the protocol in the rest of the world. I'm well travelled enough to know that. I started to walk out of the enclosure..I'd been in there long enough.

"No ma'am..please stay in there. I need you to point to your things"
"From in here?!?!"
"Yes ma'am."

I looked at her for a while, searching her face for some sort of discomfort or awkwardness. There was none. I stoically pointed to my things.

Then she moved aside and seizing the opportunity, I got out of the "enclosure". My dad was already somewhere else. I didn't know where. She walked to my things.

"Is this yours?"
I walked towards my laptop bag and reached for it.
"No, please don't touch anything...just point to your things"

Don't touch anything??!? Those were MY things! What the hell...I felt the urge to adopt the method of civil disobedience. I stopped talking. When they asked questions, I angrily pointed or nodded or shook my head, not making eye contact and without saying a word. Not that they cared, but I felt the satisfaction of fighting for my dignity in my own little way.

They carried my things to another enclosure. My dad was there, his hand luggage open and all its contents upturned. A fourth officer took my small suitcase and put it on the table and reached for the zip. It had a number lock on it. I smiled to myself.

"I need you to open this ma'am."
"I was told not to touch anything by that lady over there."

She wasn't too pleased by the defiance. But what could she do? Arrest me for obeying her senior? Hah.

"I need to look inside your suitcase ma'am. You have some bells in there?"
"Yes, I have some BELLS." She knew what was in there, but she still wanted it opened.
I opened the suitcase. She started rummaging through my things. I saw my toothbrush and one lone sanitary pad being tossed around. I saw curious by-standers peeping into my bag as well. A pang of hatred for the woman shot through my spine.

I turned to my father, "On what basis do these people decide who to select for additional security?" I said this loud enough for them all to hear. And they heard. I saw them averting their gaze from mine.

My dad told me to keep quiet, or we'd miss the plane. He did have a point. They had the power to make us miss our flight. And we had no authority to question theirs.

Once they were satisfied, they handed me back my boarding pass...a thick black line had exterminated the two red ones. My boarding pass now looked like a battlefield.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We don't see things as they are, but as we are.

The world is built in a particular way. But the way we see it is different.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who is considered to be the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment, talked a lot about things in themselves, and things based on experience. He called his theory “Transcendental Idealism”.

“Everything intuited or perceived in space and time, and therefore all objects of a possible experience , are nothing but phenomenal appearances, that is, mere representations, which in the way in which they are represented to us, as extended beings, or as series of changes, have no independent, self-subsistent existence apart from our thoughts.”

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant was a philosopher who mediated between Empiricism and Rationalism. Rationalists say that all knowledge is without experience. They call this a priori knowledge. It is a theory in which the knowledge is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. They believed that reason is the unique path to knowledge.

The Empiricist view, on the other hand, says that all ideas come to us through experience, either through our five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, or through inner sensations such as pain and pleasure, and therefore that essentially, knowledge is based on and derived from experience. Empiricists therefore say that all knowledge is a posteriori i.e. it is based entirely on experience.

Kant said it was both. Kant said that things in themselves are not knowable. And he said that everything that you experience is partly created by you. He acknowledges that something comes from the outside through our sensory experience, but we cannot know anything with that alone. We receive senses from outside, but not passively. We modify them and therefore they are partly our own creation. If you see a table, according to Kant, when described as “a table for us” rather than “a table in itself” then you aren’t really talking about the world the way it is, but the kind of creatures you are, for who the world appears to be a certain way.

Another example – If a person is born with pink glasses, the entire world appears to him or her to be pink. That, for this person, is knowledge. He or she absorbs what the outside world gives him or her, through the senses, and because of the pink glasses, he or she modifies the world to make it seem a certain way. i.e. Everything appears to be pink. But just because he or she sees the world as pink does not mean the world is really pink.

What I’m trying to say is that we see the world through our own eyes and our experience. Therefore, as Kant says, absolute knowledge must include internal reason as well as external experience.

Also, “we” is never constant. There is no permanent state of “we”. We constantly change with the times, due to the changing external conditions. Hugely revered in many parts of South-east Asia and India, and now even in many parts of the west, the great thinker and philosopher Gautham Buddha said, “The only thing that is permanent is change.”

Furthermore, there is also no uniform “we”. So when we say we see things as we are, that is still a generalization. A classical musician might think of ‘hard rock’ as pure noise. But does that tell more about the object i.e. Hard rock, or the person i.e. the classical musician? Rock remains Rock, and each individual sees it differently, according to their own experience, upbringing, choices, preferences and social conditioning. Another example of this is the ancient erotic temples of Khajuraho in India. They portray sexually explicit but extremely graceful sculptures all over the temple walls. Victorian Englishmen saw and conservative Indians still see the sculptures as vulgar and crude. But today, most of us see them as objects of beauty. Again, the sculptures have remained the same since the time they were built between 950 A.D and 1050 A.D. It is our perception of these objects that has changed and our perceptions are different because we are all different. The way we see them changes because ‘we’ are neither constant nor uniform. This is another proof that we see things, not the way they are, but as we are. Our character, dispositions, influences, upbringing, social surroundings, and political beliefs - all affect our experience of knowledge of the world. We make a judgment about the world, and that says more about us, and how we are, who we are, and “as we are.”

This train of thought also got me thinking about the question about the distinction between high art and low art. That is also a question of who we are, rather than what the art is. Though the difference is not redundant, the distinction between high and low art is constantly changing as we change. Something which was considered low art earlier becomes high art. e.g. Isadora Duncan’s dance was very unpopular and criticized when she first started to dance, but over time and especially by the time she died, she was one of the most revered dancers in the world. Today she is referred to as the pioneer of Contemporary dance, an inspiration to legends of contemporary dance like Martha Graham, for whom she paved the way to survival, great appreciation and fame.

Since I am on the subject of high and low art, the other thing I feel is necessary to point out is that the culture of the masses has never been perceived to be high art. This is wrong. Very often, what is elite has been derived from the masses. A prime example of that is the form of dance that I do. Bharatanatyam is an ancient south Indian dance form that was danced by devadasis (servants of the gods) in temples. It wasn’t respected. And over time, it was brought out of the temples and became a staged art, watched and understood mostly by the elite who changed their perception of it. Now it is considered a high art. The object which we call art in this context has remained constant and unchanging. Yes, it has evolved and developed, but its nature has remained the same. It is our experience of the art, and our personal opinions and inclinations that have changed it’s perception as a high or low art.

The very concept of High art was brought about by the constant changing of people i.e.“we”. It came about in the Renaissance and the romantic period. Before this period, Michelangelo was just a painter who painted buildings and ceilings. In India, importance was given to Brahmans (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors), rather than Vaishyas (artists). It was during the romantic period that the distinction came about, because of our changing perception of the object. i.e. art.

High art became a skill that required imagination and an internal standard of excellence whereas low art was not considered to be that skillful. Of course, if the world considers high art to be elite and low art to be associated with the masses, then I disagree with the above definitions that I have put forth. In that case, I don’t believe in high art and low art, but rather good and bad art, which exist both in the elite and the masses. Here itself, I have redefined the meanings of High and Low art based on my own points of view, my own social, political and personal understanding of the world. The nature of the art remains unchanged. It is my perception of it that changes. It does not change as an object in itself, it changes because of the way I see it. So metaphorically, I could say that I see it differently because I am wearing a certain coloured glasses.

Jean Paul Sartre, a well known author, philosopher and existentialist, is another revered man who talks about objects as seen by the mind. In his article “The Work of Art”, he says there are two kinds of objects – the real object and the aesthetic object. He says that in a picture, the ‘real object’ is the object that appears to us in physical space. But he says that it also occurs in imaginative space as an ‘aesthetic object’. And though when we observe the real objects of the picture, the aesthetic object will not appear - we must realize that the aesthetic object has not hidden itself. Sartre says that it’s just that it cannot present itself to a ‘realizing consciousness’. The aesthetic object will appear at the moment when our consciousness undergoes a radical change and becomes imaginative.

He goes on to say that the ‘real object’ constitutes the result of the brush strokes, the stickiness of the canvas, the polish over the colours and so on. But all this does not constitute the object of aesthetic appreciation. So when we see a painting, we ordinarily see paint, colours, and the canvas. It is when our consciousness undergoes a radical change into the imaginary from time to time, do we see the aesthetic object of beauty in art.

He, too believes that the real object itself is just an object that can be seen as beautiful or not beautiful by the person who perceives it after undergoing a change in his mind that makes him imaginative. Depending on the person’s imaginative conditioning, he or she will see the object as either beautiful or unappealing. This imaginative conditioning that determines the final verdict of the quality and appreciation of the art is nothing but who we are, and “as we are”.

To conclude - by applying the philosophical theories and ideas of great philosophers such as Kant and Sartre, and by giving several examples, “We see things not as they are, but as we are” appears to be true. Perhaps if we were all one big unit of identical individuals with the same upbringing, conditioning and the same points of view on everything, we would really see the world as it is – objectively and uniformly the same for everyone. But because we are all different and unique, and changing all the time, we all see things differently and see things based on our own personal experience of them.

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

This is an article I wrote to send to universities where i'm applying to do an MA in Art History.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Terror, Chaos and Confusion

Here I am, sitting in Delhi after the nth bomb blast, and I'm numb. For some inane reason, I think I have bigger problems to solve.

I wish I could be 5 again..everything was so simple. No complicated lifestyle, no complicated habits, no complicated relatives, friends and relationships. No complicated plans. It was all so simple.

I've been spewing for the last four days. You're thinking - Gross.
I know.
I haven't the faintest idea why. I've ruled out some possibilities, thanks to modern medicine, but I still haven't the foggiest. Looking it up on the internet is NOT a good idea. Its better to go to a doctor (stating the obvious).

The internet says I could have ulcers, or kidney stones, or cancer! Hahaha. The doc will probably tell me its a stomach bug.

Got an email from my Guru today. Guru....I don't know what that means anymore..


Mental note - Get a life.

p.s. oh, and i know i've done that whole pretentious blog writing thing right now,by the way...i'm not quite sure what i'm doing back on my blog, today of all days.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

What is Dance?

Dance...what is dance? In a philosophy class that was conducted at Attakkalari, this question was raised. And the end result was an assignment we had to submit. We were given a week or so to complete the assignment and hand it in. I spent most of that time wondering how the hell I would ever manage to answer this question - What is dance? How was I going to define something so large? Why was it so difficult to define something that meant so much to me?

Artists are sometimes so aware of their creativity and so confident about their creative potential that they disregard the need to address things from an intellectual perspective. I think it's very easy to say - Dance is life. Dance is energy. Dance is birth and death. Dance is everything and in everyone.

But really...what is dance? What have the wise ones who dedicated their lives to making sense of so much in the world that we take for granted? What have they said about dance over the centuries of methodical, logical and philosophical thought?

Can you imagine...Dance as a topic of aesthetic concern first appeared in philosophical literature in Plato’s Laws, where it figured as an educational device – a way in which public dance festivals are to celebrate and enhance civic order. Plato’s idea was that dance was that sort of body movement which should be expected to confer an improvement of physique, manners or morals.

Writing a little later than Plato, Aristotle observed that dance steps can be used to imitate emotion and character as well as action, and the question how this can be so became a part of the resources of aesthetics through the repeated revivals of his work.

In the early 18th century, the system of fine arts found little room for dance. In the pure aesthetic that Emmanuel Kant developed in his third Critique, dance hardly appears, perhaps for the same reason that he denied true beauty to the face tattooings of the Maori, saying that one cannot separate the patterning from the human reality of the face, so that the aesthetic judgment becomes confused with sentiment. Kant clearly did not think much of dance!

A quite different way of looking at art developed in late 18thcentury romanticism. Art and language, according to this train of thought, could have only arisen among humans through the development of significance in undifferentiated body movements – in effect, in dance. A Cartesian thought, at some level. This leads to something else that I have doubts about. Are other beings, e.g. animals like monkeys, sea mammals like dolphins, insects like butterflies - incapable of dance? But this calls for another whole different blog entry!

In the 19th century, dance was seen as exploiting the movement potential of bodies whose beauty comes from health and efficiency, as opposed to an enhancement and celebration of social graces. By the end of the century, athletics, gymnastics, movement education, and dance went hand in hand. This convergence gave rise to an alternative tradition in artistic dance, and the rival claims of ballet and of this alternative were vigorously debated under many ideological guises.

The central figure of this alternative tradition was Rudoplf Laban. In terms of immediate artistic impact, the key figure was Isadora Duncan(one of my idols...for those of you interested in dance, read her autobiography!!! One of the most inspiring reads ever!), whose practice and writing combined a body liberating aesthetic with a powerful ideology of democracy, nature and feminism(and by feminism, i don't mean the pseudo/hyper feminism we associate some forms of feminism with, today).

The next transformation in dance in the West came about when dance achieved a recognizable identity under the figure of Martha Graham. Graham had a method and theory that were dance and nothing but dance, radically opposed to the whole theory of human movement and motivation of which ballet rested.

In the years since 1940, the shifting relations between ballet and modern dance in America have continued to be a many sided topic for profound aesthetic reflection.

In the 1960s, Merce Cunnigham emerged as an important figure, who was reacting specifically against the way Graham’s technique could become as constraining as ballet. Cunningham’s work explored questions such as whether a movement is a dance movement because of its character, its context, the attitude of its performer or spectator, or all or none of the above.

The testing of the limits of the arts in the 1960s tended to dissolve the distinction among the arts, and what emerged and survived could not contribute in any special way to the aesthetics of any one particular art, such as dance. Meanwhile, teachers, students, performers and spectators still continue to concern themselves with what is distinctively dance.

Having spoken about the west, I’d like to talk a little about the history and evolution of Indian dance too, briefly. Being a Bharatanatyam dancer, I will confine my exploration of the history of Indian dance to this particular Indian classical art form very briefly.

Just as the west made an evolution from Ballet to Contemporary, from Isadora Duncan to Martha Graham, Bharatanatyam too, evolved greatly over the ages. The earliest accounts of Bharatanatyam seem to point towards the fact that it was first performed in temples by men and boys dressed up as women.

In the 16th century, the Tanjore Quartet edited the Bharatanatyam format into its present form. By this time, Bharatanatyam was performed by women in temples. These women were called Devadasis or the servants of god. It was in the medieval times that devadasis came to be known also as courtesans but not before that. Prior to that, they were dancers who performed in temples sometimes as a sort of offering to the gods.

E.Krishna Iyer was one of those who raised the social status of Bharatanatyam and greatly popularized it. Rukmini Devi Arundale was also instrumental in modifying mainly the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam and bringing it to the attention of the West. Rukmini Devi raised Bharatanatyam to a puritan art form, divorced from its recently controversial past by "removing objectionable elements" from the Pandanallur style. This was publicly criticized by Balasaraswati, one of the last devadasis and other representatives of the traditional devadasi culture.

In any case, Rukmini Devi brought the dance form out of the temples and onto the stage. Rukmini Devi founded Kalakshetra in 1936, a school in Madras for Dance and Music. Out of this institution emerged many great dancers, including such as Leela Samson, my guru. :)

Today, Bharatanatyam is performed by people of all genders and cultures, after rigorous training. There are dancers who used Bharatanatyam and explored it differently, like my own Guru Leela Samson. Others fused it with contemporary styles to create vocabularies of their own. Chandralekha and Shobana Jeyasingh are amongst them. Chandralekha used Kalakshetra trained dancers to create her own vocabulary that used elements of Bharatanatyam, Kalaripayettu and Yoga. Shobana Jeyasingh fuses Bharatanatyam with western Contemporary Dance.

Being a philosophy student, I would love to share Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances with you. He provies a philosophical mechanism - the theory of family resemblences - that I would like to apply to this discussion about the definition of dance. Wittgenstein did not believe in essences. He opposed Plato's theory of forms, because Plato's ideal form and in his theory of forms, form refers to essence. The form is an ideal essence of the natural object. Wittgenstein belonged to the tradition of "Antiessentialism". He didn't believe that patterns, forms and resemblances cannot be found amongst different things labeled as say "dance". The problems arises when we try to see one of these patterns or common features to define dance. A single commonality is impossible to find.

At the same time, we cannot deny certain resemblances. So we can apply this theory of family resemblances. Taking the example of my own family. My mother and father gave birth to me and my sister. Other than the genetic resemblance, people say I look like my father and have the mannerisms of my mother. Some people say that my sister looks like neither my dad or my mum. But the same people say that my sister and i look almost identical. My sister and I do not have a single feature that is common between us. Our hair is different, our skin is different, our noses are different, her lips are fuller, my eyes are bigger etc etc. But we call this a family resemblance. So some characteristics, but not all, serve the ground for my relationship with her. I cannot point out one single characteristic and expect to find a commonality there.

Its much the same with dance. To define dance is very hard for me. But using Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances, I can understand a little bit about how to answer this question - what is dance. While I may not find a resemblance between a contemporary dance performance I saw in Israel where four naked women stood on stage and moved, and Bharatanatyam. I may find a link between the Israeli performance and Martha Graham, for instance. In turn, i may see a resemblance between balletic movements in Martha Graham's style, and the aramandi (plie) in Bharatanatyam. So through the theory of famiyl resemblances, I could put them all under the same roof, although through the naked eye, i would see no resemblence between that contemporary performance and a bharatanatyam performance.

Having said all of the above, I must end with this - From a non-philosophical/non-intellectual perspective, I still find it extremely hard to define Dance.

You see, at the end of the day, from a personal perspective (we all know about the common notion that artists are so sensitive and they take things so personally!), I have to say that dance means different things to different people. A contemporary dancer might have broken away from Ballet for the very reason that he/she did not consider ballet to be dance anymore, after having explored contemporary dance. Similarly, a Bharatanatyam dancer may find the Israeli dance performance to be 'making a statement' rather than dancing, and a contemporary dancer may say making a statement is dancing. A ballet dancer, in turn, may say making a statement has its limits as far as dance is concerned..and so on. The argument could go on forever. And it's because we all, as individuals, are different. And as dancers, we are different.

Moreover, there are so many different forms of dance in so many different parts of the world, I think it might be difficult to find one common characteristic amongst them that can be the essence or defining factor that makes something one calls dance, DANCE. To really define what dance is, might mean exploring ALL of these millions of classical, tribal, folk, contemporary, creative, commercial and other forms thoroughly, and I can safely say this is not possible to do.

Also, Dance is not a static entity. How are we to DEFINE something that is never static? It's definition, significance and meaning are forever changing and evolving. Its beauty lies therein.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I wonder what it is that has driven away my motivation to write on my's something I used to do religiously!

I hope to tackle this problem and get back here soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Troubled today

"You can only love others once you learn to love yourself"

How do you help someone who is clearly on a pathway to self destruction? I don't really want practical answers to this question..I'm just here to vent. I know that what people will say to me are things I've already heard.

I'm so frustrated! I've met a lot of people in my short life, and I'm happy to to able to say that I was able to help a fair amount of them selflessly whenever they needed my help..but today - I'm absolutely flummoxed. I don't have a clue!

How do you help people who i'll admit have had it tough (but haven't others..many of us!?) but are drowning themselves in the catastrophic whirlpool of alcohol consumption, blaming others for the fuck ups in their lives, giving up things that are good for them, replacing those things with things that are the yellow brick road to absolute disaster?

Isn't it the height of irony? We say we drink to get high and happy, but alcohol is a medically certified depressant, we say drugs help us escape from gruesome realities but they actually make you paranoid and open doors to your life that you might've dealt with and closed years ago, and we say smoking relieves stress, but actually it increases your blood pressure?

How do you try to tell someone that they're ruining their one chance of getting back on track? And how do you prepare for an answer to the question they might ask you 5 years later - why didn't you stop me?

How do you stop someone from ruining their own life? do you just say - hey its his/her life/choice? Or do you go out there and do something drastic? Do you wait for a tragedy to occur that might alter that self destructive lifestyle and force a change? Or do you try to avert that disaster before it happens?

How do you sit back and just watch them getting consumed by negativity and consuming intoxicants incessantly? Do you sit back and watch? Do you take action? Is it your business to do so? Or do you walk away? How do you walk away without looking back? How do you know with absolute certainty that you couldn't have done ANYTHING to help?

I've never been one to give up on people, even when in retrospect perhaps I should've given up on some before they pulled me into their world of ugliness. Is that what I should be doing? Should I just give up knowing that I now have the strength I didn't have 7 years ago to stand my ground without getting sucked into the bullshit? I just don't know what to do.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Absurdity or Advancement?

Is this outrageous or a stroke of genius? Ridiculous or a great vision by mankind?

Hotel opening in space in 2012