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Right to Whimsy

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment

The Gangnam style phenomenon (I only just got around to watching the video; it’s just insanely slow-loading for my ADHD-riddled brain!) is cool and funny and everything, but two things are just popping out at me. First, that it’s so Indian in so many ways. I could just change the race of the characters and have myself a contemporary Indian Bollywood/Tam-movie/Gult-movie “item-number” style video – the music, the beats, the expressions of the main character, the various other characters that come in, the flashy clothes, and yes, the transformed “loser” guy at the center of it all who represents the viewers fantasies. It just hit me yet again on watching this that the typical low-rent Indian male ishtyle, a melange of proud crassness, in-your-face political incorrectness and so-uncool-I’m-cool-now attitude – the Sallu-bhai phenomenon – that its consumers thinks is pure, distilled desiness is a copied, mass-manufactured, imported product, as cynical and plastic as the styles it mocks.

Second, the non-linear narrative of the Gangnam style video reminded me of my own childhood. We’d grown up in an India which was poor, and economic poverty, the long decades of collective self-loathing and cultural insularity and the aftermath of political monopoly somehow engendered the creation of the worst kind of unimaginative art, e.g. in 1980’s Bollywood. We were in our pre-teens when the first ‘music videos’ came out – the idea of a video of a stand-alone song, not part of a movie or a larger story just blew our minds. “What is the *point* of an album of just songs that aren’t classical or ghazal music?” we asked ourselves, quietly, lest someone know how un-with-it we were. And the videos mostly confirmed to Bollywood-style fantasy stories, but some, with their non-linear narrative and “no story”, pushed the boundaries of what we’d thought were the only way to sell music – with over-the-top personal angst or illicit romance (the only kind) or overt family melodrama. The lead singer would walk/dance by backgrounded by psychedelic, ever-changing things (not the usual 20 background dancers) in a 70s-throwback, random characters would walk in and out, snidely indicating some story that was never fully explained, and sometimes subtly a story or a “deeper meaning” would be hinted at but never fulfilled. It was just pure whimsy in a narrative disguise, and recognizing and accepting this whimsy took a leap of confidence in oneself. It required a sense of luxury, of wanton waste, of deliberate decadence that we’d never grown up with and never internalized.

Maybe it’s the whole low-rent-ness of the main character’s expressions and body language, but for some reason the Gangnam style video brought back those feelings of wistfulness, that sense of watching someone burn dollar bills (i.e. rupee notes) without needing a Purpose, and that realization that it was totally out of reach for me to even understand how anyone could get away with such whimsy without someone asking them to “finish everything on your plate first”.

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Categories: Bollywood, culture

The Rivered Earth

January 14, 2012 Leave a comment

The sad thing about my reading a great book about music or poetry is that although I love reading it I can never fully understand it, and therefore never fully appreciate it, and so no matter how much I like or hate it I can neither trust my judgement of it nor fully articulate my half-formed opinions about it.

This was my problem with Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music and is also my problem with his new book, The Rivered Earth. It’s about his collaboration with a composer and a violinist, the first part being memories and interviews, which I understood enough of to laugh/nod at the right places, the second part being the text that was set to music. I *liked* a lot of the latter; can’t honestly say I loved it or that it was particularly memorable or awe-inspiring, but then again, what do I know. I missed Seth’s usual puns and word play – there was such little of that in there. It’s a pity that I read something by such a great writer and look for gimmicks as handrails to his words, but in this case I should totally blame Seth. He’s conditioned his readers to *look* for, as he puts it, puerile puns and ciphers, acrostics and double/triple entredres.

I love his stories about his house. The fact that his house has history and character gives his work more heft – I think knowing his personal choices has given his work that extra shine, at least in my eyes. Where you live is such an incredibly effective way to communicate to the world the kind of person you are, more subtle, more powerful than the clothes you wear and somehow taken so much more seriously by ‘very important people’.

I wonder if I could do it – live in the house of, say, Virginia Woolf? Or maybe in her room. That would be such a delicious irony. But of course, it would force me to confront the madness in my head head-on – and it’s so much nicer to just have that on the fringes of my regular life, forming the fjords of my human-interactions. I like living in my very stable mainland.

Still, going back to the book, I found a lot of the themes pedestrian and the interpretations predictable (a collaboration across time and with influences from different parts of the world is called ‘Confluences’!! It’s as bad as when they named the theater group at our business school ‘Expressions’). The poetry was too often way, way literal even for me, the lover of all things direct. So much so that there was no fun in any of it. This is no Golden Gate.

But you know – the problem is likely with me. Indian classical music has a very different aesthetic from Western music. What is ‘kewl’ and admirable here is very different from what works there. And all my hours spent absorbing dhrupads isn’t going to get me anywhere with understanding this or Philip Glass’s Satyagraha. Too bad, because there’s only so much I can glean from a cursory reading of my favorite author’s quickly jotted-off interpretations.

So yes, if you know anything about music, you should totally read this. And maybe explain it to me.

Categories: culture, literature, music, rw Tags:

If Steve Jobs were a woman…

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

…he’d be treated as a CEOILF.

…there’d be incessant carping about his sense of fashion (rather, the lack thereof).

…he could either be hard-working and unlikable, or incompetent and likable. Pick one.

…the over-pricing of his products would be evidence of his narcissism and be seen as a personal failing, not as evidence of his good/bad business sense.

…TV commentators would complain about his boring presentations, and wonder if he was *pimping* out his products a bit too vulgarly.

…late night comics would make jokes about raping his kids. Only the girls, of course.

…people would say ‘why doesn’t he just GO AWAY already?!’ while simultaneously clicking on every news link about him.

…people would make videos about punching him in the face, strangling him, and sexually assaulting him. In humor, of course.

…people would complain for years about how he was selfish in not having kids.

…people would be horrified that there were rumors of a kid he didn’t acknowledge.

…people would complain about how selfish he was in having kids and not staying home and taking care of them himself.

…people would complain about how selfish he was that he stayed home and took care of his kids for a few years, thereby *abandoning his company*.

…battle-lines would be drawn around his parenting choices – whether he chose to breastfeed or not would indicate how good a parent he was.

…his falling out with John Sculley, Gates and others would be seen as evidence of his b*tchiness, and he would NEVER get past it.

…sleazy pseudo-journalists would camp outside his house and write tell-all books about his family.

…sleazy journalists would say *good lord, isn’t it horrifying* about the brown and black (wo)men he slept with in India and elsewhere.

…his ideas would always be ignored. Even when they were good.

…his ideas, if un-ignorably fabulous, would be appropriated sans acknowledgement.

…his product names would be treated as evidence of narcissism rather than personalization (iDevice)

…there would always be deep insinuations about how much influence, exactly, Laurene (who? his spouse!) had on his work and the firm.

..he would never, ever, EVER be seen as a visionary. No matter what he did or said.

French maid fantasies, Om?

November 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Via Indiequill, apparently Om Puri slept with two of his maids a while ago. I’ve seen this in Hindi movies from the 80’s and in books about pre-Civil War America when slave owners raped their slaves, but never realized this was such a wide-ranging phenomenon. Who knew an essential rite of passage for so many of our ‘gritty, realistic’ Indian male actors was to have sex with – or rape – a woman from a different economic class who was clearly their dependent? Who’s next, now – Nana Patekar?

In Om Puri’s case, of course, it’s a little more complicated. In the first incident, apparently he was only 14, and they haven’t spoken about the age of the maid then. Does that count as statutory rape on the part of the maid? Was she exploiting her adult privilege, or was he cruelly leveraging his economic and male privileges? In cases such as these, if the sex is consensual, is it still ‘improper yet natural’, like workplace sex, or exploitative, like boss-subordinate sex, or is it a whole different class altogether?

After watching Vanaja’s nuanced portrayal last year, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic to men who make out with maids/servants/nannies. And especially in the Indian context, where class and caste and English language privilege are still often insurmountable barriers, how can these people not see that what they’re doing or did – or had – was not clear consensual sex but murky coercion, often based on economic dependency? These are the very same people who’ll rant and rail against the Catholic Church donating money to poor untouchables to convert them.

But what truly sent chills running down my spine were not the incidents, but Om Puri’s furious-ness at his wife:

“I don’t care if she’s my wife. I won’t let her get away with it

When Nandita expressed a desire to write about me I couldn’t stop her because she’s my wife but she has forgotten who she is,” added Om.

She has forgotten who she is? Erm, dude, I’m guessing you don’t mean the journalism part of her. She’s forgotten she’s your WIFE, you mean. Or rather, YOUR wife. Who shouldn’t be doing things without your permission. Maybe you should meet Mr. and Mrs. Sanjay Dutt sometime soon – I have a feeling you’ll like them.

And seriously, ‘I won’t let her get away with it‘?!!????@##@$#$%

Class superiority much? Male privilege much? Of, maybe that will turn you on, knowing now what we do about you – you get off on that superiority thing, don’t you, you sick ba****d.

*breathing deeply to calm myself down*

Hrumph. I wonder if French maid costumes are really disproportionately popular in Indian role plays. Maid (truly desi, subordinate, available) + white woman (loose, unattainable but ‘available’). Business idea # 562, indeedy.

A many-colored jackass

November 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Yeah, something was always definitely off with this guy:

“He wanted a woman who prayed five times a day and wears a hijab, and maybe the women he met were not complying with those things,” the former imam said.

Mr. Hasan, 40, a lawyer in Virginia, described his cousin as a respectful, hard-working man who had devoted himself to his parents and his career.

Well, he was surely not ‘respectful’ of the women he met – but of course, that’s such a minor detail that no one would even care about.

Apparently this guy was such an enormous patriot that he would go “against his parent’s wishes to join the army” to demonstrate his patriotism, the same parents that he was devoted to – but this same uber-patriot had expectations from his wife that she behave in accord with a totally different culture, a different country’s social norms.
And add to that, the mandatory inflexible hijab requirement should’ve set off major alarm bells that this man needed an eerie amount of control over his dependents, and would not compromise such control. Obviously it didn’t set off those alarm bells, because who cares – women are meant to be controlled any way, whether you’re Muslim or Christian, brown or white or black.

Ugly girls must rightfully be abandoned

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment

The story is, in itself, sickening – who was this orange-sareed-woman who could so callously drop off a new born infant the middle of a busy Indian road with cauliflowers on top of her head? What was the system around her that compelled such action? And what are the bets that there’s no police searching for this woman or her family, even though she’s attempted to murder a human being in cold blood?

But the last line in the article should get a prize.

Newborn girl found abandoned in vegetable bag
AHMEDABAD: The cries of an infant from a bag kept in the middle of a road confounded passersby in Amraiwadi area on Friday night. Some curious people ventured to probe and found a newborn girl, wrapped in a white cloth, kept under vegetables.

According to residents of Amraiwadi, a woman in her 30s, clad in orange saree, was spotted by a few handcart vegetable vendors placing the bag on the divider around 9.30pm. They thought she would come back for the bag. However, she did not return.

When Ramesh Gadhavi, a local resident, was passing by Hatkeshwar Circle at 10.30pm, he heard the baby’s cries. He opened the bag with the help of others and found the infant.

“Vegetables such as cauliflower, eggplants and potatoes had been placed atop the baby. We then rushed her to Civil Hospital where she was examined by doctors who found her healthy. She weighs 2.55 kg,” said Harshad Patel, a social worker from Amraiwadi.

According to local residents, the circle, bustling with activity, has been used very often for abandoning unwanted children. “The girl is very pretty. One cannot understand why such a child has been abandoned by her parents,” said BR Patel, inspector of Amraiwadi police station.

Selective editing

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Funny how both these news reports are from the same source research report:

The Hindu

Contrary to popular perception by historians that the caste system seen today is an invention of colonialism, the study found scientific evidence to show that “many current distinctions among groups are ancient.”

“The caste system is not recent,” said Dr. Thangaraj. “The social stratification existed right from early human divergence, some 50,000-60,000 years ago when initial settlement happened in India.”

versus:

Reuters

While the genes clearly show that the caste system has existed for hundreds of generations, the genes do not line up by caste.

“It is impossible to distinguish castes from tribes using the data,” Kumarasamy Thangaraj of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

“This supports the view that castes grew directly out of tribal-like organizations during the formation of Indian society.”