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Genre Fiction Comes Into Its Own

By Shashwati Talukdar

Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal is a supernatural thriller/mystery and a coming of age story. Pinky is a precocious thirteen year old orphan, who lives with her grandmother and extended family. One day, Pinky opens a forbidden door and unleashes a ghost, the vengeful spirit of a dead infant. Subsequently, a fierce haunting ensues and forces the entire family to deal with all that is corroding their souls; all the secrets and prejudices that lurk under the veneer of respectable families living on Malabar Hill.

Its an intricate and complex narrative. Ghosts lurk, grandmothers hobble around being tough matriarchs, and adults in general behave quite badly. There is a huge cast of characters in this extended household, which includes all the servants and the neighbors. And all of them get their arc and back stories. A tall order for any book. It makes for a jam packed narrative which keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next.

Haunting Bombay is smart genre fiction. It follows the imperatives of its genre, with its particular requirement of plot and character. However, it does so with a consciousness of the intellectual work that has gone into the questions that interest the author. And indeed Agarwal acknowledges sources as diverse as Ashis Nandy and Richard Burton.

The book explores, very explicitly the postcolonial condition and how class and gender inflect relationships in post-independent India. Some of this exploration is achieved through meticulous research into the materiality of the characters' lives. We find out details like how the first train service started from Bombay to Thane, and that Cherry Blossom shoe polish was the brand of choice in post-independent India. Sometimes these details are woven seamless into the narrative and sometimes they feel a little more self-conscious. But a lot of care has been taken with these details, and a lot of the pleasure of the book is in these minutiae of everyday life.

One trusts the author about things like the cake delivery man on a bicycle, with a tin trunk full of cakes made by an enterprising family in Dharavi. In a sense, a ghost story/thriller is the perfect vehicle for the author's project. It performs an archeological operation into the psyche of modern India. It may not always do so very effectively, but its exciting that it is being tried

Another reason to celebrate Haunting Bombay is that popular fiction in English, set in India is finally finding a place. There is popular fiction in Hindi and other languages, but the offerings in English have never been that plentiful. The expansion of a popular idiom means that Indian writing in English need not expire on the segregated and rarefied shores of Booker Prize winning High Art. It can finally be a multi-dimensional enterprise. We have our Rushdies and Mistrys, we need our Chandlers and Stephen Kings.



Shashwati Talukdar is a filmmaker and writer and can be contacted at http://fournineandahalf.com/

 

JULY 2009 PUNK ROCKER KAMALA DAS

kamaladas

 

Looking at her pictures it was hard to believe she was 75. There was an unmistakable, fearless child in the face. Kamala Das, the woman meant many things to many people and everyone had to have an opinion about her. Isn't she one of those woman women love to love?

Her urge to utter the notorious truth in an equally blunt manner was almost like a punk rocker's . Das spoke her mind, while the orthodox cringed their nose, the media lapped it all up in a rare interest for any poet. There was her legacy, the family she came from, and there was the individuality which Das carried without being bothered.

 

Probably one of the few of her generation who could write openly about being in an incompatible relationship in her marriage. In the poem Maggots, she uses allusion of the Radha-Krishna relationship, paralleling the woes of her own marriage. There was love-hate relationship with blurred lines where Das referred to the husband in the poem The Stone Age as,

Fond husband, ancient settler in the mind, 
Old fat spider, weaving webs of bewilderment,

Yet Das found the greatest support and respect in her husband when it came to her writing and Das was equally vocal about how she loved to revel in that glory too. And in that we realise that the relationship was beyond the realm of love or hate or marriage.

Sexuality is a recurring theme, one which a few could dare to venture on the Indian terrain, including men. Taboo subjects which were not even discussed in general or political discussions, forget art, were subjects of her poetry, like female anatomy and desires. In one poem Dance Of The Eunuchs she finds beauty and grace in eunuchs, the social outcasts. She finds unusual similes for their limbs,  half-burnt logs from/ Funeral pyres.

This was year of great loss for the Indian literature and art scene, as it lost some of its precious gems like Habib Tanveer, Dilip Chitre, Tyeb Mehta and of course Kamala Das. Now of course, even the writers seems to be a product of Publishing House gimmicks, with billon dollar cheques, added advantage of good looks or good money. Kamala is of the bygone where all that poets and writers did was weaving heartfelt words, nothing else.

By Ashwini Muley Kulkarni.

 

JULY 2009 RICH RAJASTHAN'S FOLK TRADITIONS

Rajasthani has a vast literature written in various genres starting from 1000 AD. Being an Indo-Aryan language, Rajasthani language roots in Vedic Sanskrit and Sauraseni Prakrit. Rajasthani literature is developed from the `Dingal` and virkavya (heroic poetry). Rajasthan's folk literature is rich and varied in its nature and exists in forms of the folk songs, ‘dhalas’ or ‘deshis’ (opening lines of folk-songs or titles of popular songs); ‘vatas’ (folk-tales), famous folklores, witty sayings and proverbs, ‘okhanas’ (proverbial sayings and stories based upon them), riddles and folk-plays known as 'khayals'. A.C. Nahata had appended a list of 123 dhalas.

Medieval virkavya and oral traditions inspired and invigorated Rajasthani prose and poetry. Epic poems and eulogistic couplets consecrated to Pabuji formed an integral part of the Dingal manuscript tradition. The Caran bards had immortalised his self-sacrifice on the battleground in verses like Pabuji ra duha, Pabuji rau chand and Pabuji ko yash varnan.

 

 

Some of the poets to verse traditional vein are Hiralal Shastri, Manikyalal Varma, and Jayanarayana Vyasa, Bakhtavara Ji, Ganeshilal Vyasa, Murlidhara Vyasa, Satyaprakasha Jodhi, Kaviraja Muraridana, Kanhaya Lal Sethiya, Manohar Sharma, Shrimanta Kumara, Naraina Singha Bhati and Megharaja Mukula.
Folk-songs may be: (a) songs used by household ladies for ceremonial and religious occasions - Songs like ‘Ghumara’ and ‘luhara’ are sung on the occasions of Gangaur and Holi festivals. Harajasas are religious and spiritual songs common among the masses, (b) songs sung by professionals in elite circles, (c) songs of street-singers, (d) religious and spiritual songs, (e) ballads and (f) tribal songs. Collections of songs under the first category form the biggest part of this literature.

The professionals, have been singing classical folk-songs, or ‘mahafali gita’ (songs for high class gatherings) to entertain feudal lords and the elite. Gadha gita (Songs of the forts) has been by G.L. Dangi is one such collection. The ballads like Bagadawata Devanarayana mahagatha by Laxmi Kumari Chundawata depicts the struggle between the Rajputas and the Gujaras during the 14th century. Another ballad Pabuji ra pawada, concerning the Rajputa, is sung by the singers of ‘Bhopa’ class. Minor compositions of folk nature concerning certain historical characters are also sung by the different classes of singers, such as Bhopas, Jogis. Batan ri phulawadi contains over 1000 folk-tales retold by Vijayadena Detha and Rajasthan ki lok gathayen is written by Ambikesha Sharma. Folk-tales are also related to religious ceremonies and fasts.

A lot of work has been done on proverbs and idioms too. Popular anecdotes have assumed the form of folk literature in prose and poetry. There are books on proverbs such as Rajasthani Kahavatan, by N.D. Swami and M.D. Vyas, Mewada ki Kahavaten, by LL Joshi, Malavi Kahavaten, by RL Metha, Bhilon ki Kahavaten,  by  KL Sahal. A number of these proverbs are based on real or imaginary stories.‘Khyalas’ are another variety which, have gained popularity as folk literature. Riddles, lullabies, dialogues, etc. are other forms of folk literature.

During the pre-Independence scenario, poets in Rajasthani literature had resurrected the Dingal virkavya to vent out and publicise their anti-British sentiments.
This Rajasthani tradition continues to influence even the writers experimenting with modern traditions of writing represented in the novels, short stories, and plays. Among the novelists are Shiva Chandra Bharatiya, Shri Lal Jodhi, Vijay Dan Detha, and Yadavendra Sharma Chandra. Short-story writers are Rani Lakshmi Kumari Chundawat, Narasingh Rajapurohit, Dinadayal Ojha, and Purushottama Lal Menariya. Vijay Dan Detha and Rani Lakshmi Kumari Chundawat are also known for their retelling of Rajasthani folktales. Vijay Dan Detha. is a progressive prose writer, who conveys a modern political, ‘reformist awareness’ through his compositions.
Rajasthani literature presents a message of bravery beyond life and death. Poets glorified medieval Rajput heroes and contemporary freedom fighters employing Dingal versifications and bardic idiom.

Some of the famous Rajasthan literature includes:
Prathviraj Raso      -        Chandbardai
Hamir Raso           -        Sarangdev
Bisaldev Raso        -       Narpati Malha
Prathviraj Vijay     -         Jayanak
Bata Ri Fulwari     -         Vijaydan Detha
Narsi ro Mayro     -         Ratun Khati
Bansa Bhaskar      -       Suryamal Mishra
Hamir Mahakavya -         Nayan Chand Suri
Patal Pithal            -       Kanhiyalal Sethi  
Padmavat              -       Malik Mohmad Jaysi

By Priyanka Mathur

 

APRIL 2009

DEROZIO, THE NOBLE JUXTAPOSITION

henryderozio

On April 10th, on the second birth centenary of Henry Derazio, we at Dhvani, are celebrating the man that he was, and the future that dreamt for us.

200 hundred years since India had found one of its rarest gems, we miss what cannot be put in words but the extraordinariness of a spirit of Henry Derozio.

Derozio, the teacher

Derozio was a wonderful amalgamation of a human being. Derozio became a teacher at the age of 17. Many of his students were older than him. As a giving and resourceful teacher, he imparted one of the most important lessons a teacher could give to his students i.e. "Never stop questioning." He put his teachings into practice. He impassioned the youth by often engaging them in a debate on any topic, but mostly on the bigotry prevalent in the Indian society. This group later formed into a movement called "Young Bengal."

Derozio, the poet

As a poet he was in complete contrast with his fierce and passionate image as a social reformer. He has lent such beautiful metaphors that only a truly gentle soul could. These lines from Fakeer of Jungheera,

The Golden God of the day has driven
His chariot to the western gates

Although of Anglo-Indian Portuguese descent, his heart was Indian to the core. His apparent love for the country was as much visible in the way that he wanted to awaken the youth as much as it was through poetry.

For that matter his poems had post-modern elements in them. But it was not a conscious or deliberate effort but rather the Indian belief, customs was easily interspersed in the poems. These lines from Evening in August

Roll on, fair Ganges!-What a noble stream!
And on its bosom the last, lingering beam
Of the red, setting sun serenely lies,
Smiling, like Hopes last ray and then it dies!

Many such delicate observations of Indian life with no intent to ridicule, if at times to question.The genius of the man lies in such uncomplicated, unbiased point of view of life.

Derozio died of Cholera at mere age of 22 leaving behind a legacy of poetry and an urge to question. A legacy that ought to be reveved in these times. As shallow as poetry has become and as redundant as learning has, we probably need Derazio back.

Ashwini Muley-Kulkarni.

 

DECEMBER 2008: LITERATURE IN A HURRY BUT NOT WITHOUT STYLE

futurepublishing

Charles Dickens, who is considered one of the greatest English novelists, successfully captured public imagination for more than three decades, on the other hand probably taking a cue from his heydays of political reporting, noted, “When Found, make a note of…”

Literature and Journalism have not been able to escape the inevitable comparisons that have been drawn between them since the past centuries.For literature, said Max Beerbohm, he felt “reverence”, but for journalism “merely a kind regard”. Yet, irrespective of what the litterateurs may have had to say from time to time, one can not deny, that over the years journalistic style of writing has evolved into a genre of its own. Journalistic prose is explicit and precise, and tries not to rely on jargons. News writers try to avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph (sometimes called an "echo" or "word mirror"). Most often it is the use of subject-verb-object construction and vivid, active prose. Journalistic writings are replete with anecdotes, example about real people, instead of characterisation, dull generalisations, metaphors or abstract ideas.

Literature, said Ezra Pound, “is news that stays news. And dictionaries have, at least until lately, defined journalistic as a style characterized by evidences of haste, superficiality of thought, inaccuracies of detail, colloquialisms, and sensationalisms”.

In similarity with literature, news style encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but also the way in which stories present the information in terms of relative importance, tone, and intended audience. But where it varies from literature, essentially as its function, is, in its most ideal form, news writing strives to be intelligible to the vast majority of potential readers, maintaining comprehensiveness while being succinct .

But what makes both factors different is the longevity, news is for this moment, where as literature remains. Newspapers goes to old paper mart but books are for keepsake. Of course it all depends how many of us don’t have cuttings from our favourite columnists. So that is keepsake.

So when eminent Victorian poet and noted English literary critic, Matthew Arnold once said, “Journalism is literature in a hurry”, probably he had the ‘feature’ section in mind. A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event. From the particulars of a person or episode, it broadens to the general issues pertaining to the story's subject.

To wind it up, I would quote Oscar Wilde, the late Irish short story writer, poet and playwright, "What is the difference between literature and journalism? Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read. That is all..."

- Moushumi Basu.

(Moushumi Basu is a Principal Correspondent at The Pioneer, Ranchi. She has also previously worked with BBC English online edition and Hindustan Times.)

 

THE SWEET PILL AT DOCTOR'S VISIT

Our professor Rajaraman at Somaiya College was surprised at the answers, as he asked the nominal question for admission into the Diploma course in Journalism, "What do you read in a newspaper?" He told us later as the course began that 80 percent of them had said "Bombay Times!” He went on to express more about current generation's general complacency and ignorance.

In case you are wondering I wasn't in the majority. Well I don't read Bombay Times, I read the Mumbai Mirror! Which did not exist then, hence with all honesty I did read Bombay Times. But still with more honesty that was not the answer I gave, I had said, "I read the front page headlines". Now that was not very honest. But what the hell, it was an interview, you prepare for it and there's always an FAQ. On groom-hunting interview what are the odds they won't ask you if you like cooking or no. So there!

Commerce is a factor that is difficult to be ignored. Entirely man-made but it can control and bend values. Take the constant tiff between management at a media house and its editorial board. Excluding the masthead, the most visible thing on the frontpage is the advertisement on the ears or the solus space. The editor doesn't like it but the management can't do without it.

But the twain does meet. Principled as the editorial board may be, it knows it needs readers more than anything. Hence along with the news comes a good dose of entertainment. It works and how! Mostly these days news gets read along or after the entertainment section. People go through their share of the Archies, Peanuts and others, before glimpsing the headline.

The cartoons have reflected the common people and the changing (apolitical) world view. Sluggo has jealously watched Nancy adoring Rollo, the spoilt-rich-superkid, as he went from computer to laptop, and from one next generation gadget to another.

And Archie and his gang who seem to have drunk on the fountain of youth, (why Nancy has gone from stuff toys to acne but Veronica's never complained of a wrinkle ever!) have evolved technologically, Archie has gone from the phone to the pager to the mobile! I said apolitical because they do not and cannot talk anything about the hardhitting issues. All-American in everyway, they do talk about July 4th and Thanksgiving but they do not talk about the 9/11. Riverdale seems to be somewhere far away from that reality. But in essence they cannot do so because they will fail to entertain.

You might think this entertainment section is a product of the consumerist culture but no long before that entertainment has been part of the newspapers. In the 19th century someone, who was going to be one of the greatest novelists, was writing captions for artist Robert Seymour's illustrations. What was to be later compiled as Pickwick Papers was written by Charles Dickens whose loveable character Pickwick and his gang were to entertain people in series more like soap operas but only less tedious and domestic.

If we find the hard-hitting reality of the headlines too hard to digest we slip into the shell of the entertainment section. The Page 3 "news", its denizens who continue to party come hail, come rain, come bomb, make us believe everything's not wrong with the world. Look at these people so well-dressed and they look happy.

A worldly-wise broadsheet editor might give in to the tabloid fever and report as Amitabh sneezes then sneezes again as the world reads on and the circulation rises. But somewhere a principled editor might fume at news being sidelined the answer is, as put by the management, "entertainment will be preferred, do not complain Mr Editor of the nightmare of 30 blank pages staring at you waiting to be greyed, we are only making your job easy, and colourful!"

-Ashwini Muley Kulkarni.

 

 

NOVEMBER 2008: LOCATING EPICS IN LITERARY TRADITION

mahabharata

Literary traditions from past till date have changed so much that comparing an epic with a novel is not easy. Novel is a contemporary and new  genre that is fit to reflect the changes of the complex modern world. In contrast, epic is an ancient and traditional genre. It is antiquated and already finished in its development. The content of an epic is of “absolute past”.

Any genre has to be studied in its historical context. Therefore one can find the emergence of epic as a genre in preliterate societies and oral traditions. These societies had a significant and peculiar epic style to narrate their culture or nation. Moreover, in the ‘world folk-epic’ – these societies sometimes inform the worldview of the social pact which is similar to what Mikhail Bakhtin, a leading structuralist thinker of twentieth century rightly refers to as ‘the national epic’. To name a few examples of epic in Western tradition are the Beowulf, the Iliad, the Odyssey and Paradise Lost, whereas in the Eastern tradition we have the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The interesting fact is that in every single corner of the earth where human beings have lives, east, west, north or south, there has been one or several such epics.

Epic is part of cultural practice of a particular tradition and hence it cannot be considered as a form of author-centered literature per se. Unlike modern literature, in ancient literature it is memory and not knowledge that serves as the source and power for the creative impulse. Epic discourse is a discourse handed down by tradition and that is why it does not warrant an individual, personal point of view or evaluation. The events, which have certain grandeur and importance and come from a life of action, become a kind of material to outline the epic. It has heroic characters which have life in mythology. These heroic characters embody the values of the civilization. The epic hero illustrates traits, performs deeds and exemplifies certain morals that are valued by the society from which the epic originates.

Let us move to a few distinct characteristics of an epic. Structurally, an epic is along narrative verse. It opens in midst of the action. It starts with a statement of theme, i.e. the subject of the epic is announced in the opening lines in which the poet calls for divine assistance to tell his tale. For instance, in invocation of Paradise Lost, Milton states the purpose of his epic as to ‘justify the ways of God to man’.

Epic has a very archaic, elevated and ornate language that reflects the national tradition which serves as the source of the epic. Epic is also based on a world of beliefs. The events in the epic percolates through the national consciousness i.e. everyone in the audience already knows most of the details of the story.

According to Bakhtin then, epic is a completely finished, congealed and half-moribund genre. What makes an epic ancient is purely its place in the formative phase of any literary history. Epic lacks an individual self and personal point of view, which are the defining features of modern period. Rather epic, is a narrative of collective consciousness. Moreover, epic has become a dead genre since it had no scope for self-expansion that is its inability to expand its structural limits to encompass the growing or changing literary sensibility. Today it can be considered as an archetype.

Significantly, there is a need to discuss the genre of novel in understanding the epic genre better. Novel is dynamic narrative which has in its form the inherent flexibility and ability to change with the literary interests of the time. Its open-ended form has a peculiar ability to incorporate the close-ended genres like the epic or tragedy within it.

Epic is passé in the contemporary literary world as it is neither a part of popular interest and nor a literary product that meets the readers demand. Discussions on epic, unlike those on fiction are confined to literature classrooms.

- Sarika Deshpande.

(Sarika Deshpande teaches Films to BMM students at Wilson College, (Mumbai), and she has just submitted her M Phil dissertation.)

 

GREY SHADES OF DIVINITY

Although it’s tough to find someone who watches Doordarshan these days of satellite TV, one could easily find many getting nostalgic over the golden olden days of Doordarshan. Mentioning which it is impossible to forget the grand depiction of the epics of India with the action-packed dramas depicting the victory of good over evil.

Assuming the freedom of expression or rather risking it, I would like to try to explore a new dimension of the victorious "Gods", in accordance with the televised epics. Gods for good and demons for evil, presumed. But how could the Gods remain good and why did the demons end up being evil.

I find it a little funny but also a bit demeaning when the run-of-the-mill mythology shows make the Devas run helter skelter with the Asuras  behind them. Take samudra manthan for instance, to save the devas from the demon-bashing Lord Vishnu suggested churning the ocean for the nectar of immortality in a joint alliance with the Asuras. The nectar did come out and was grabbed by the  Asuras. The usual SOS was sent to Lord Vishnu, who foxed the Asuras with his charming incarnation of Mohini. Yet again the incompetent Devas were saved and Asuras shown the door. Was that fair?

And imagine living the sensational and glamorous life of Krishna. The gopikas he charmed and played  "Raas-Leela"with. Radha could be Krishna's true love and Rukmani his wife, his philandering ways adored and infidelity justified by some divine logic. After all  morality and ethics are for us mere mortals don’t get Gods into this for God’s sake.

Talking of Mahabharata, there lies the genius of the writer Vyas who with this little incident conveys so well that life can be unfair. Behind the sharp archery skills of Arjun there cries a story of an unfortunate disciple, Eklavya, who had to sacrifice his thumb just because his Guru Dronacharya wanted Arjun to remain the best on earth. The Pandavas also were at their shameless best when Yudhishtira put Draupadi on stake in a gamble with Kauruvas. You bet on your wife and the God saves you from the blushes.

They are Gods right, surely they are here as an incarnation to give a message to the humanity but what mature way is that of handling things!
 It is a different matter if we choose to believe the versions of the epics as depicted by the TV channels or our grandmoms . But if we go by this popular version, then everything’s not fair in the Godly affair.

- Viplove Sharma

EVERYONE LOVES A SCANDAL

I watch with awe as I see my aunts and even my young teenaged cousins get overwhelmed everyday during primetime television. The melodrama that K-series and its apes dish out sensationalise millions of people whose lives otherwise clearly lacks adventure.

I wonder how different are the husk-sifting rural women who entertain themselves with who-ran-away-with-whom and who-is-pregnant-with-whose-child gossip from the urban women who cannot miss the primetime scandal even for a day and have to get the update on the phone or at the kitty parties where the gossip runs on a very similar line. Probably what is different is the ambience, the language or the attire. At heart we all (mere mortals) love a scandal!

But if we all love scandals so much I will tell you which is the place to go. Ever tried the ancient epics?

No really what is popularly discarded as the high-brow stuff is the Centre for All Things Outrageous. They have gone where a seasoned K-Series scriptwriter fears to tread. Consider the Mahabharata for instance, where on any soap on earth will you find a woman with five husbands. Or which serial can depict the infamous vastraharanor where can a hero flirt around and have such a swell time with thousands of gopis. The epics have lost the punch because of having heard or seen them so often.

On the Westside story, there is Oedipus who is the victim of (terribly unfortunate) circumstances. And so is Electra. The epic-plays challenge our ideas of morality our archetypal model of mother-son relationship. That is the reason they are timeless. They will never cease to question us, scare us.

But did the writers intend to just scandalise us? Did they want to make us face our own demons? Some explain it as catharsis. The other explanation is that we feel we are secure and normal when we see characters enacting such roles.

Probably writers in the past had more courage to be, what we now call, politically incorrect. But then that is the essence of good art, to shake you gently to your guts.

- Ashwini Muley Kulkarni.

OCTOBER 2008: REINTRODUCING GANDHI

gandhiji

In a country where deification is a compulsive habit, why even a disease, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a man who was called ‘Mahatma’ would be spared in any way from the pedestal. Deservedly though.

But as a candy floss, tear-jerkers -loving nation we often miss out on humour. The politics of our living is being politically correct. You belong to certain opinion. In effect, you either love a person like Gandhi or hate him. And if you say you like Savarkar, then it means you don’t like Gandhi. Parallel popular history, (which in my opinion has a tremendous impact on the course of history,) is full of such radical, rigid discourses.

Do I have a point? Because I just seem to be making claims. Yes I do. Gandhi was the man who gave all the peace-loving people in the world a weapon to fight with. Truth, Non-Violence, quintessential Gandhism is great. But this preachy tone is something that probably stops endearing Gandhi to the younger generation. (The one exception however I would make here is that of the film Lage Raho Munnabhai.) Gandhi as a legacy should be carried forward for all the right reasons.

For someone who has only recently been through adolescence I could say the quick appeal to the young mind lies in a persona which is go-getter, witty and charming, probably someone like Che Guevera. But it is wholly false that youth has false pride, less compassion and a casual rudeness. Ideas like Communism, Peace, True Friendship or Love appeal the most to the young, whose naiveté has not yt been robbed by the Big Bad World. Beneath the cold complacent exterior, lies both passion and compassion.

We have ignored a very beautiful dimension which is also Gandhi. That is of Gandhi, the strategist. As soon as I mention the word, I am eyed with suspicion. By strategist, I do not mean a conniving, scheming person who had an agenda.

What I mean is a cerebral being who had the charisma and wit to hold his own in the ego-centric British regime. Someone who could, when asked, “What do you think about Western Civilisation?” get away by saying, “I think that would be a good idea.”

He had a body language that was charged and ready. You would need actual physical energy to keep pace with him if you were walking along. He probably seems like a good Gujarati business brain who knew how to hardsell without being obvious. He had a product which was also a campaign, Non-Violence, and slogans like ‘Do Or Die’ delivered in his convincing speech and Viola! He had created a mass movement. Just as he put his own idea in his words, “In your own gentle way, you can shake the world.”

But due to various reasons, academic, political, this side of Gandhi is never in focus. If we really wish to see Gandhian principles in function in the modern world, we should bring out the thinking man in Gandhi and give the Mahatma a break for a while. Simply because then it would seem more possible, more human.

- Ashwini Muley Kulkarni.

SEPTEMBER 2008: THE OTHER SIDE OF HUMOUR

dramafaces
“Smile is the second best thing you can do with your lips”, goes a famous saying. To a skilled person it isn't need an effort to make someone smile. All it needs is a tickling moment and a good sense of humour to recognise the tickle. Sense of humour could be some kind of a seventh sense. It’s this sense that turns the ripples of the tickling moment into waves of laughter. Whether it’s just a smile or a burst of laughter, the world becomes brighter and happier.

The sense of humour, just like common sense, is not so common. The same joke elicits two extreme responses. Where one falls off the chair the other might assume a grim funeral countenance. And that doesn't really imply that tumbling at any joke means a good sense of humour. Making simple things funnier in a simple way and appreciating the fun in  mundane things  is what makes one the most admirable anywhere. Some call it talent, some call it art, but in a grumpy life humour is the happiest part.

Everyone likes to laugh. But in the middle of all the giggles and chuckles we forget something, something we never pay attention to. Whatever be the type, whichever be the level, good or bad, humour always has two sides. One, which delivers the humour, and the other, which receives it. One, who cracks a joke, and the other, at whom the joke is aimed.
 “A comedy is a public face of a private tragedy’” said VS Naipaul.  Most of us have felt the sting of being laughed at but when the joke is not on us we laugh. We like to laugh at the prank without even bothering to think once about the person. Nothing wrong with that. After all it’s the tickle that ignites the reaction and there is only one reaction. Breathing in the air of fun, one is not supposed to bother about something serious. And there is only one face left to suffocate in the air of embarrassment - the other side.

Stereotypes have only helped people crack such jokes. The prime time laughter challenges, farcical sitcoms are full of such low-brow humour. The whole world loves to crack jokes at communities like Sardars and blondes. Imagine how a young Sikh boy, aspiring to become a scientist, might feel when his friends rib at his capabilities. Or for that matter, how a blonde seeking a job to support her family faces the bias for the color of her hair.

All the smiles start appearing to be swords and the giggles seem to ooze out blood the moment one steps onto the other side. The humour is no more what it used to be and the world becomes the worst place to be in. Just by a switch of side. How cheerful is one side of humour, and how dark is the other. How familiar is one, how undesirable is the other.

But the sad truth is that a good joke always has to be aimed at someone, may be at times yourself. Making the axiom true, “life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy  to those who think,” are the Sardars. At a Santa-Banta joke often it is the Sardarjis who laugh the most. Khushwant Singh took it a step ahead by coming up with a book of Sardar jokes. And who could forget the inimitable Charlie Chaplin who preferred to mask his pathos by letting others laugh at him.
And us mere mortals are probably happy being on the safer side of the joke.

-Viplove Sharma.

 

AUGUST 2008 SIMPLY AIN'T FUNNY

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Some things are simply not funny. Like the urge to laugh out aloud when at a funeral. You feel bad too and there’s nothing even remotely funny about the situation.

But some things are supposed to be funny. Like a cartoon. Play a little Freudian slip with anyone; it is most likely people will say something similar to ‘funny’ or ‘kids’. So a word like ‘offensive’ is not an obvious association.

Cartoons entertain. Mickey, Donald, Tom and Jerry, each evokes nostalgia of giving us a childhood lesson, besides making us laugh, that we are different than each other but life is for endearing and enjoying each other. Tom and Jerry fight more than love or help each other, but they are inseparable. Best friends do not just sing praise songs of eternal friendship but real best friends have the right to make your life miserable. At their creative best, cartoons can be Chuck Jones’ Blue Danube.

Great works of art have always been called blasphemous before they became classics. There is no end to accounting how many artists and writers have faced wrath of public ignorance and intolerance in their quest and desire for artistic liberty. Apparently, the poetic or artistic licence is of no value when it reaches the public domain.

Like any art, commercial art cartooning has been on the criticism radar much too often. Cartoonists vary in their style and themes. Almost all newspapers and magazines have cartoonists. We have our legendary R K Laxman who always seems to capture the zeitgeist of India with his Common Man. In his subtle way, he always seems to hit the nail on its head.

Famous American cartoonist, Robert Crumb, founder of the underground comics movement was loved and loathed by many for his content. He (had also famously denied illustrating an album cover for the Rolling Stones; reason: he hated their music,) drew frequently satirical, sexual and politically outrageous comic books.

Trouble begins when cartoons defy the entertainment and experimental purpose and take the crude way. Cartoons are definitely an easy way to take a dig at someone.

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been packaged as the Post-Bush-Breeze of fresh air,  Modern, Young,  Secular, Global, face of America.Yet it is difficult to understand the logic behind New Yorker’s cartoonist Barry Blitt's satirical magazine cover showing a Muslim-robed Barack Obama and a gun-toting Michelle Obama. Why in such an offensive manner? There’s absolutely nothing funny about it. Of course, while the intention is clear in the given circumstances, the debates will be on full blaze but there’ll be no end to what people will do in the name of freedom of expression and artistic licence.

-Ashwini Muley Kulkarni

 

MARCH 2008 WOMEN IN LITERATURE

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For art, woman has always been a subject of great interest. But most of Popular Art, and even to a large extent, the Classic (the Romantic Ages,) art has been happy portraying woman as an object of beauty. Sometimes she was demure, submissive and sometimes the nurturing image of Madonna. Putting her on a pedestal ensured she did nothing on the negative side of human, meaning she couldn’t show she had brains. If she was ever free-spirited, humorous and conniving, religion and literature gave her a name, ‘witch’. Today, ‘bitch’.

Looking at our Eastern examples, only few ancient texts can make it to the ‘fair is fair’ league. Kalidasa’s heroine in Shakuntala is a complete picture of (chauvinistic) male fantasies, so are Rembrandt’s paintings in the West. ‘Nudes’ have essentially been female. There might be a few exceptions here and there, but only a few might have found reverence like the ‘David’. But calling it (not him) ‘nude’ rather than ‘Art’ sounds almost perverted.

More than a couple of millennia BC, Ramayana’s Sita was one important example among many. In fact, Ramayana was an epic of Platonic perfections. So if Rama was a ‘Purushottam, Sita was his female counterpart, sacrifice here was equal, except that it was voluntary on Rama’s part and forced on Sita’s

 

This is the reason why my favourite heroine among the ancient texts is Draupadi, (the other such bold Draupadi is Mahashwetadevi’s fierce heroine in Dopadi,) probably the oldest feminist. She did all things that might sound scandalous even today. She was much-married, free-spirited and not even in the moment of their empirical downfall was she scared of her voicing her opinions. In fact, her tongue-in-cheek comments on Duryodhana lead to the Great War of Mahabharata. So she had a sense of humour, although disastrous.

In the less politically conscious, folk literature of India, portrayal of woman varies from a nurturing mother to being a daughter who is a burden upon her family. There is a rustic longing in the songs simply stating that the girl should leave her parents’ home which is not really her home and go to serve at her husband’s home.

In the West, the Mills and Boons, the heroines are happy being the ‘object of desires’ to their men even today, she could be coy or she could be a femme fatale, she still has to survive the ‘punishing kiss’ if she shows even hints of a revolt. This world of stereotypical fantasy is yet to meet the real world, which has gotten an awareness of the sexual politics.

Our beloved bard, Shakespeare was a much smart man. Although his source play of shrew genre might have been different, Shakespeare’s Katherine, The Taming of the Shrew, critics say, was not a shrew at all and that her seeming shrewishness is only a defence mechanism against the hurt inflicted on her by a misogynistic world. He also had his defence ready by making his women wise protagonists. Portia, The Merchant of Venice, is the solution-finding, smart woman, albeit dressed as a man.

Portrayal of woman in the post-modern, politically conscious world has become a more complex task. There are many layers yet to be shed before we reach the core and find the essence of the character. Hard task, as they say, all men are same and every woman is different!

Although today when the equations finally seem balanced, there is still a hint of slight tipping here and there. Unequal payments for women, share of domestic responsibilities, just to name a few. Literature to a great extent reflects what happens in the real world, and for the woman in the book to change, the real woman has to change herself.

The good thing is questions are being asked, and there is a lot of self reflection happening. It is being asked whether being a feminist means not being feminine. What’s wrong with being a woman, why strive to be a man (and now the men want to wear skirts to their office!)? Is nurturing and taking care that bad a thing even if it’s personal choice. What’s wrong with being an object of desire? And why not, it’s not just women on the posters that are good-looking, it’s the men too. And eye candy is a unisexual term!

- Ashwini Muley-Kulkarni.

MARCH 2006: STORIES ARE US

Without any scientific evidence at hand I would like to believe that the act of storytelling is as primitive as the discovery of fire or cultivation. People complain that the reading habit is dying. But stories have not seized to exist, in the form of a movie, a soap opera, stories have continued to fascinate popular imagination and in some or the other form, through next next next generation of technology, from sublime to crass, stories will continue to live as long as people will.

People who love to read come across various stories from various cultures. They also get introduced to the culture’s ethos, rituals and idiosyncrasies. My favourite myth ritual is the Native American ‘dream catcher’, just a net that will catch your feather-light dreams, so that they wont fly away. It is a ritual, a story, and a symbol of a civilisation still relatively unpolitisised, so innocent, and so close to fantasies.

Stories have been with us forever. May be from the first time a person pondered, “Why am I here?” From the simple folklore describing our relationship with the nature, to the fairy tales that interlaced magic into the young minds, or the grand epics after the realisation of our collective egos of the glorious heights of our civilisation and our heroes, stories have been us, growing with us.

But all through that (successful) journey and here now, what are the stories we want our children to hear when they are growing up. And what part of ‘his-story’ will we be hiding from them?

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After the Beckettian era, we realised that we are already beyond saturation point. There is no inspiration, no events that surprise us, and no words – that’s the complaint. That can’t be true? We’re all alive and trying to make our lives meaningful, trying to find a purpose. Let’s not think about the world, let’s talk India first. Why? Because that is still us. Globalisation is fine. But there are still ‘boundaries’. We still need visas. And countries are still attacking each other. So let’s just talk India.

How real are our stories? What do they say about us?

African American writer Ben Okri wrote in one of his essays, “Happy countries tell themselves sad stories and sad countries tell themselves happy stories.”

So, considering that the biggest and most popular story-telling machine of India, Bollywood, churns out tons of candy floss, how happy or sad are we? It is as much true as the depiction of India as the land of snake charmers and poor starving people. How can anyone typecast a whole nation? We could easily put the blame on the media by talking about its complacency and cashing-on-our-woes tendency but the truth is, we have chosen to hear these stories. The real stories are being told. And they are stories of courage, of perseverance and of hope.

Like this story that this man Narendra Jadhav has to tell, that of his father’s, a man from the previously segregated section of the society, whose spirit and hope inspired this writer to attempt and succeed in flying to higher altitudes and keep soaring. I love this story as much as I love the Rosa Parks story or even more because it is our story and such a story has come after a long while. And it did find a voice among all the chicklit chaos.

So, such stories are being told. Within the candy floss they stick out like bitter gourds, (like Page 3, Hazaaron Khwaahishe Aisi and Bawandar.) Such inspirations, true ones should be told, not just of human beings, but of creatures as well. Most Americans know the Seabiscuit story. It is proudly a part of the American dream. But how many of us know the story of Chetak, the fiercely loyal martyr of Prithviraj Chauhan’s kingdom, his horse.

But when telling these stories let us face our conscience and be honest enough to admit that we are the ones responsible for the mess the next generation is seeing around. That we are the people who chose the meaning of progress as chopping off trees and creating a concrete jungle and filling pure air with poison. We are the ones who are running the risk of putting tigers and dinosaurs in one category:extinct . We are the ones murder our kith and kin in the name of religion, race, and gender.

But while telling the story let's also tell them that we have begun the attempts to fix it. This to avoid the shock when their wakefulness comes they do not feel they woke up into a nightmare.

- Ashwini Muley Kulkarni

March 20 is the World Storytelling Day

.JANUARY 2006 : NEW AGE READING

sonykindle
If there are people getting worried that the reading habit is dying, there are some who are finding solutions as they hunt for alternative verbs for reading like “seeing” or “listening,” so as long as it remains literature.

For true-blue booklovers nothing matches the pleasure of curling up on the couch with your favourite book. But the audio-visual and Internet phenomenon took over the world and today such a creed is a dwindling minority. The newspaper turned to News Channel and the reading time turned into Prime Time and later into WebPages. But publishing houses, however, are not complaining as manuscripts keep pouring in and they anyways gain their revenue. So, are there still ways to keep the rest of the minority on this side?

Keeping in mind that in this era people read their News not by holding the papers in their hands, on their desktops, giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon are already wrestling to put the War and Peace online, literary!

Whether this war will lead to peace is yet to be seen, but there are few who have gone ahead the ahimsa way and done some service to all those who complain of lack of time for reading. They have introduced “Audio Books”. And one such book available in India is the audio book of Gandhiji’s autobiography. The book features the voices of famous director, Shekhar Kapur as Gandhiji and actress Nandita Das as the narrator.

But the work of The Poetry Archive can truly be said to be a treat for poetry lovers. This archive is the brainchild of British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and Richard Carrington, a recording engineer specialising in the spoken word. The archive aims at preserving and collecting records of poets reciting their poetry in their own voice.

The earliest recording on the site is Browning reciting part of a poem at a dinner in 1889, the year of his death. The site also features Tennyson reciting his The Charge of Light Brigade in 1890. The later recordings include Rudyard Kipling and W B Yeats. The more modern ones include voices of Harold Pinter, Seamus Heaney and Margaret Atwood.

But there are some who are willing to give-in to the audio-visual-multimedia-animation trend. Sarnath Banerjee’s
Corridor is India’s first graphic novel. Granting value to the medium itself there are characters in the novel called Digital Dutta and DVD Murthy. It has also been “translated” into French. And the success has been encouraging enough for the “author” to come up with a second novel Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers and a “book” of short of stories called City of Gates.

- Ashwini Muley Kulkarni

 

 

 

 


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