Monday, November 28, 2005

Heiner Müller

Heiner Müller is regarded as a German successor to Bertolt Brecht and owes much to the influence of Samuel Beckett. While translations of Heiner Mueller are often difficult, his plays are nonetheless fascinating. What is often lost in translation of Heiner Mueller is his play on words- the German language allows Muller to build words with fragments that themself have meaning. Also, readers of Mueller should understand that his works are commonly a vivasection of another work's theme, expanded to explore and highlight the conflict. Mueller's work draws from the writings of Shakespeare, Brecht, Kafka, and others.

Mueller's writing is political and often historical, examining relationships and conflicts from East German history. Hamlet Machine is Mueller's best known work, though probably not his best. The other plays included in this volume are all great. The author's remarkable work spans political changes before, during, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and represents a pivotal time in German society and theatre. With new treatments of classical texts (like Hamlet and Medea) as well as innovative works exploring themes of devotion and sexuality (like Quartet), this collection of short plays is a great starting point for theatre enthusiasts interested in tackling Muller

Sari raga ma

Raghava Menon was asked to comment on how music may be better woven into the fabric of our existing educational system. He felt that though music has been accorded the status of a subject in schools, the teaching methodology needs to be more process-oriented in this area as well. At the end of their study, students must be able to transcend the mere technicalities of the art form and begin to truly feel it.
"...learning a raga is not only learning its scales. A raga is like a sari. No sari can be owned entirely, because any one can wear it for it is not cut and fitted. This makes it possible for any one to wear it in a way no other dress can be worn. For example, if you put on a bit of weight you have to alert a dress. But the sari is always new and even its owner cannot wear it the same way twice over. Every time a sari is worn, something new enters its fall and flow. It is the same with the raga. When Subhalakshmi sings Behag once and sings it again four hours later, it reveals new colours like a bumblebee in the sun. It is this ability to be reborn each time we utter it, which is the raga’s distinguishing characteristic." The K-10 Quarterly The Spirit of Enquiry

Pilgrim of the swara

Remembering Dr Raghava Menon
RENUKA NARAYANAN Friday, The Indian Express October 19, 2001
Dr Raghava Menon, one of India’s best-known music critics, died last Tuesday in New Delhi. We younger ones in the field of art have good reason to remember him with affection. His manner was always affable and he gave gladly of his knowledge of Indian and Western classical music to anyone who asked. At many concerts and musical gatherings, Dr Raghava Menon would always share little gems of insight and information. We often got into a little huddle and had marvelous chats about music. When I began to write on religion and spirituality, he said several kind things, especially how quirky it was that a ‘party girl’ in jeans kept finding God in music and dance. He was amused that my audio and visual did not tally.
It was he who first told me that Indian classical music was believed to be the surest pathway to God, for it compounded the Ashta Seva or Eight Services that a true devotee must perform. We reveled in the thought that Guru Nanak, a musician, founded a religion in which music is the medium of worship. Dr Menon preferred Hindustani to Carnatic music, which fact I lamented because each had such eloquent charms and we had such splendid access to both as our birthright. But we were agreed on South India’s preference for the strongly ‘mathematical’ triad of European composers, Bach Senior, Beethoven and Mozart in preference to Romantics like Debussy. As far as I know, Dr Raghava Menon wrote at least five books on his subject, including the Penguin Dictionary of Indian Classical Music. My favourite, however, was ‘Pilgrim of the Swara’, a bio of Kundan Lal Saigal.

The Red Tin Roof

Contemplative Cosmopolitan, Hindi fiction writer and essayist Nirmal Verma just received a French honour in the arts and letters. Harish Trivedi surveys the oeuvre of one of India’s leading literary figures and finds in it a unique cosmopolitanism: The French government recently made the Hindi writer Nirmal Verma a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres. This rare international honour may serve to highlight for non-Hindi readers the significance of Nirmal Verma, who has long been acclaimed as the foremost novelist and short story writer in Hindi, and has already been awarded the Sahitya Akademi prize, the Jnanpith prize and the Padma Bhushan. The Indian Express Monday, August 01, 2005
Nirmal Verma is the kind of writer who would be rare in any literature and is even rarer in Indian literature. He has his own utterly distinctive style, which strikes the Hindi reader as shockingly and deliciously new even now. It is not only highly sensitive, nuanced, tremulous and luminous, but it also adapts into Hindi many striking turns of phrase and syntax from English with natural ease. But what is more, he is a writer with a vision of his own, a world-view which embraces equally the (lower) middle-class life which is the staple of Hindi fiction, and a truly cosmopolitan sensibility such as few Indian writers possess, including those who write in English. He offers probably the profoundest blend of Indian tradition and Western modernity that any Indian writer has achieved, and in this regard, he stands with Bankim, Tagore and U.R. Ananthamurthy.
Raat ka Reporter (1989; Dark Dispatches) is a narrative of ominous, oppressive times as experienced by a man so apprehensive as to feel utterly bewildered. This artistic indirection is rather like that in Normal Mailer’s novel Why Are We in Vietnam? which offers a thoroughgoing critique of American machismo without once mentioning the word Vietnam.
Nirmal Verma’s latest novel Antim Aranya (2000; The Last Wilderness) is about old people and their sense of what they have done with their lives and what remains. This was only his fifth novel in four decades of writing, but these novels are supplemented if not a little overshadowed by the eight collections of his short stories which explore again the quintessentially Indian themes of family relationships and the degrees of engagement or disengagement with this world. One of these, Maya Darpan, was made into a National Award-winning film by Kumar Shahani, while several others have been turned into stage plays and TV adaptations.
Nirmal Verma spent three years in England, where he observed at first hand that country in its seedy postcolonial decline and the beginnings of its still deeply problematic multiracial social composition. His deeply searching experience of Europe, both Eastern (Communist) and Western (liberal), also informs his seminal essay India and Europe. The many volumes of essays by Nirmal Verma display not only well informed intellection but deep contemplation and meditation, on subjects ranging from the Kumbh Mela to a steel plant. There is no excuse even for our alienated Anglophiles not to read him, and to discover a world elsewhere. The writer is Professor of English at the University of Delhi. Email:

Third theatre

Unmasking reality: Inspired by Badal Sircar and other pioneers, Parnab Mukherjee practices a form of theatre that is meant to abolish the distance between audience and actor.
DIWAN SINGH BAJELI The Hindu Friday, Nov 25, 2005
  • Influenced by Badal Sircar, Yoshiko Fajita and Eric Bogosian, Parnab Mukherjee is one of the pioneers of a highly unconventional theatrical art called the alternative theatre. Badal Sircar names it third theatre. The aim of this new kind of theatrical expression is to remove the barrier between the performer and the spectator and to liberate it both from the Western inspired drama and the Indian tradition of folk theatre.

Recently, theatre that belongs to this genre was presented by the Law Students Association of India (Delhi University Chapter) and Mefcom Capital Markets Limited at the LTG auditorium. The core thematic element that formed the presentation is Vijay Tendulkar's "Silence! The court (is) in Session".

In tune with the concept of alternative theatre, Parnab tries to create an intimate theatre by using different spaces both in the auditorium and on the stage. A chair is placed in the centre in the auditorium. This kind of placing of the chair is part of the strategy of the alternative theatre, which suggests that what takes place in a theatre is not equally visible to all the spectators. Director Parnab has replaced Tendulkar's realistic play with a drama that seeks to destroy the illusion of reality. Tendulkar's play is a drama-within-the-drama. Parnab has no love to create such a complicated structure. Like Luigi Pirandello's "The Pleasure of Respectability", the mask of respectability in Tendulkar's play breaks down before the stark reality of life. Tendulkar's Benare is unmarried, sexually exploited and has to abort her pregnancy to maintain the facade of honour. Benare is cast in the role of an unmarried young girl who is being accused of an abortion on legal and ethical grounds. In the course of rehearsal, Benare breaks down because the story of her character is similar to her own. The outward appearance gives way to the truth about the life of Benare.

Parnab is not concerned with the mask and the face. He concentrates on the burning issue of premarital sex and abortion. In his version there are two character-types: male and female. To portray Benare he has cast three female actors who reveal different shades or ideas of Benare. In Tendulkar's play the male characters are well defined. Parnab considers all men as manifestations of `one man'. Premarital sex and abortion are debated from the perspective of women struggling to liberate themselves from a world dominated by men. The exploration of the body and sexuality is done through fierce and bold debate. Monologues often rendered in melodramatic style echo in the hall. The heated debate, discussion and polemic offer disturbing moments. Vijay Tendulkar's own troubled vision is expressed through a character.

Although this new theatre is economic and gives freedom to the director, it is not able to explore the psychological, emotional world of dramatis personae as well as the deep philosophical content of the play with subtlety and intricacy. Despite the efforts of Badal Sircar and young and enthusiastic directors like Parnab, it remains restricted to the experimental stage.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bollywood in chains

E-mail nationalism: Does India exist only in the emigre’s imagination?
India, it was once said, was nothing but a figment of the British imagination. Watching the latest Bollywood offering Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that contemporary India is nothing but a figment of the NRI imagination.
Javed Akhtar is right. The Bombay film industry was paradoxically much freer in the days before the coming of the ‘‘free market’’ when films like Teesri Kasam or Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam delineated complex human relationships. In the contemporary free consumerism, Bollywood appears to be bound in chains to the dictates of overseas audiences.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham is a ghastly film. It’s a film made not by a film director but by a marketing executive determined to inject religion, glamour and exotic locales to recover his undoubtedly huge costs. Its characters are strictly caricatures, its sets not just outlandish but baffling (an English country house passes for a Hindu family estate). Kareena Kapoor is a mini-skirted Gayatri mantra reciting disco baby, Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan lend tragic legitimacy to retrograde backward-looking role models who when not thundering on about The Hindu Family are being tearful about consumer goods. In K3G India doesn’t exist. What exists is a strange mutant, a beautiful, savagely dumb, ritual-driven wasteland where rich people sing adrenaline-thumping bhajans and, in times of stress, the national anthem.
It is also a chilling film. Chilling because here is India, Hinduism, Jana Gana Mana made into glossy laughable commodities to be purchased for a high price. The film is designed to make NRIs thankful that the Old Country is as beautiful, as backward and as resoundingly traditional as he wants it to be. K3G is our beloved Bollywood’s final surrender to the NRI. The NRI is a sort of super Indian. He is highly talented and successful. His donations to the IITs, medical colleges and schools are impressive and many like Sabeer Bhatia have created companies that have provided employment and wealth to numbers of his fellow countrymen. But in the sphere of culture, the NRI’s vision of India is drastically and sometimes irrevocably in conflict from the vision of those who actually live here.
In the NRI cultural imagination, India must remain a vast stretch of villages, fakirs, sadhus and cool spirituality. The recognisably modern, the sensible, the commonsensical or indeed the ordinary business of life merits no attention because such features are simply not what the NRI would like to remember. Indian emigre writers like Bharati Mukherjee and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni have written perceptively about the Indian immigrant experience. In Shashi Tharoor’s latest novel Riot, India is similarly an area of darkness where the only ‘‘normal’’ characters are American. This is not to succumb to a knee-jerk opposition to Orientalism and insist that India is no different to any other country, yet a certain denial of any seriousness or any integrity to this country seems to be an unfortunate feature of the NRI imagination.
Monsoon Wedding, made by another non-resident Indian, bravely attempts to imbue Indians with some amount of individual dignity. Yet the film has been described by critics as a ‘‘shaadi home video’’ which is content to remain at the surface of a beautiful Indian wedding rather than plumb the depths of character development or social conflict. When there is a need to appeal to an emigre audience that has no patience for Indian realities other than those peddled by a sensationalist media, naturally the subject that is being tackled cannot be too complex, or locally thought-provoking. At the risk of sounding sensationalist, Indian culture itself stands in danger of being colonised by NRIs, precisely because of their power and success.
An acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer recently said that on tours abroad she is repeatedly asked to portray ‘‘angst’’ and ‘‘alienation’’ through her dance. When she responded that Bharatanatyam is not about angst or about alienation, she was told that youthful overseas Indian audiences would not sponsor her if she remained overly traditional. Benedict Anderson, historian and author of the book Imagined Communities, is critical of what he has called ‘‘long distance’’ nationalism or ‘‘email’’ nationalism of non-resident communities.

Punjabi transnational cool

Oy, Chak de Phatte! How is it that a language and a culture that, for long, have been the butt of a national culture of jokes have suddenly attained the status of transnational cool?
The Indian Express Saturday, July 30, 2005
Over the past 10 years or so, Punjabi language and culture have increasingly become part of a global cultural traffic that includes Bollywood films, rap and dance music, and the ‘‘Bhangra beat’’ phenomenon that attracts fans from across a number of different cultural backgrounds. From Monsoon Wedding to Bride and Prejudice, and from the numerous Mahi vey (and Shava shava) songs of Hindi films to MC Punjabi numbers produced in the United Kingdom, Punjabiyat is in. Indeed, it has become almost become the dominant mode of representing India to the world, as well as to itself. The idea that ‘‘Punjabiness’’ embodies an authentic Indian-ness is an important part of its global popularity.
As is well known, from the 1950s onwards, some of the most significant actors in Hindi cinema were of Punjabi background. So, whether it was the Kapoor clan, Dev Anand, Balraj Sahni, Sunil Dutt, Jeetendra, or Rajesh Khanna, Punjabi men were major contributors to the acting pool. Yet, curiously enough, Punjabi culture and music were very rarely portrayed in a positive manner. More often than not, when Punjabi-ness was represented, it was a comical presence. Think, for example, of the Koi mein jhoot boleya number in the 1956 classic Jagte Raho. Here, a bunch of overweight Sikh gentlemen cavorting around the staircases and passageways of an apartment block provide the ‘‘humorous’’ backdrop. During the same period that Indian popular culture was skewed towards representing India as, essentially, of the Gangetic plains region (even though the purveyors of this idea in terms of, say, singers, actors, and film directors were frequently Punjabi), another important process was in train.
This was the slow but substantial movement of migrants of Punjabi origin to foreign shores, most notably the UK, Canada, and to a lesser extent, the US. However, it was their children — the UK born Asians — who sought Punjabi culture through a process of cultural assertion. The Punjabi assertion overseas was quickly recognised by Indian film-makers as an important window of opportunity for their products. In any discussion of Punjabi culture and its circulation it is impossible not to mention the global popularity of Bhangra. Of course, there is no one Punjabi-ness that finds play. Whereas Indian cinema has tended to be somewhat conservative in its depictions (the ‘‘good’’ male of Indian origin will invariably marry a ‘‘good’’ Indian woman, and respect his elders), musical production originating among diasporic youth cultures have had greater political edge. For, in the latter instance, they address the politics of ethnicity, family life, multi-culturalism, etc. in ways that are different from the Indian case.
And, at the present time, it would appear that mainstream India now considers Punjabi-ness as representative of the new go-getting, consumerist Indian identity, one that can more truly reflect the current phase of economic and cultural liberalisation. In the politics of representation, Gangetic Indian-ness appears to have given way to its perceived antithesis, a quick-witted Punjabi-ness at home in the world. And, oh yes, it helps that some of the music out there is also both innovative and full of foot-tapping rhythms. The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi


The Week, Nov 9, 2003
There is a school of Indian literary criticism called Nativism. Nativists ordain that Indian writers must write in Indian languages only, for these alone are authentic. English, according to them, is the language of our colonial masters and must be banished from the literary firmament. If an Indian writer claims that he cannot write in a language other than English, he must be told to STOP writing. Never mind if this amounts to censorship. Some bilingual Indian writers, taking their cue from the Nativists, have begun to compare themselves to bisexuals: writing in the mother tongue is their heterosexuality; writing in the other tongue (English), their homosexuality. The Nativists' advice to the Salman Rushdies and Arundhati Roys of Planet Earth, who write only in English, is simply this: stop writing.
I am reminded of the Indo-English poet Nissim Ezekiel (whose biography I happened to write) who broke his head trying to convince the Nativists that as a Bene Israel Jew, he did not have enough access to Indian languages like Marathi, and so wrote in English. We must practise the rowdyism that Salman Rushdie advocates. (R. Raj Rao is the author of The Boyfriend. He is associate professor in the department of English, University of Pune.)

Clad in glittering clothes, begging bowl in hand

THE INDIAN EXPRESS Sunday, November 20, 2005
India lost two literary luminaries in short succession recently. Punjabi poetess Amrita Pritam effortlessly traversed the road from romanticism to spiritualism in her 86 years. Nirmal Verma, a pioneer of modernism in Hindi literature, probed the angst of urban India in transition. His courageous voice frequently protested against attacks on freedom, both at home and abroad. In countries that value their native heritage of literature, the demise of writers of such eminence would have received comprehensive coverage in TV and print media. In India, predictably, Raja Bhaiyya received more media space than the two Jnanpith laureates.
I was particularly disappointed at the indifferent coverage in the English press. When it comes to covering literature and literary events in Indian languages, the English media display a mix of apathy and cultivated ignorance that borders on snobbishness. If you are a wealthy and well-educated Indian whose reading habits are confined to English, chances are that you haven’t heard of D Jayakanthan, the great Tamil writer who won the Jnanpith award last year. Or of Narayan Surve, the ailing Marathi poet whose book Mazhe Vidyapeeth (‘‘My University’’, describing how he was ‘‘educated’’ by life in the working-class street) sensitised an entire generation to the exploitation of the downtrodden in the same way that Maxim Gorky’s earlier autobiographical work of the same title has done in country after country.
Or of late Dr Shivram Karanth, the multifaceted genius of Karnataka, the intrinsic quality and versatility of whose work is unmatched by several Nobel laureates. Or of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, author of the immortal lines ‘‘khoob ladi mardani voh to Jhansiwali Rani thi’’, whose birth centenary last year almost went uncelebrated. Why? Because these, and other great names in Indian literature, rarely figure in the English media. These days glossy newspapers and magazines outdo each other in promoting celebrity journalism, and frequently package several overrated Indian writers in English as Page 3 celebrities. However, they don’t devote even a decent corner for Indian literature.
With their warped priorities, they are doing a great disservice to the nation. Why? Because literature plumbs the soul of a nation and holds a mirror to its people’s individual and collective personality, warts and all. All good literature is local in origin, though national and global in its concerns and appeal. Of course, literature that rises from good to great, as in the case of Tagore, provides a cosmic experience to the reader. Every single Indian language has produced writers and poets who have an honoured place in the good-to-great spectrum. Unfortunately, many of them are not known or read, even within India, beyond the language in which they wrote. International recognition and readership for them, though fully deserved, is far less.
Of course, the neglect of Indian languages, and the unstoppable dominance of English, is not limited to literature. It can also be seen in education, administration, judiciary, and commerce. The decline and slow decay of our native languages is one of the most worrisome socio-cultural phenomena in contemporary India. It has created a new class divide in our society — those who speak English vs. those who don’t, with the former displaying an all too visible superiority complex. Travel across rural and small-town India, and you’ll encounter persons who know only a smattering of English but rank themselves ‘‘higher’’ than a good writer in Assamee or Oriya who cannot speak English. It is this sad scenario that prompted Kusumagraj, a Jnanpith laureate Marathi poet, to bemoan in a different context: ‘‘Indian languages, through very rich in themselves, are in a pitiable condition today.
They are like a person clad in glittering clothes but standing with a begging bowl before English-speaking power-centres.’’ We must change this situation. What’s needed is an all-round awareness about what India stands to lose by not taking necessary steps for the regeneration of Indian languages. Specifically, we should popularise good literature in Indian languages through an extensive scaling-up of quality translation — from one language into another, and from an Indian language into English — and their low-cost publication with governmental support. The words of Vishwas Patil, a renowned Marathi novelist, are pertinent here.
‘‘Regional literature in India is much superior to Indian English writing. We only lack good translators.’’ Let’s not forget that Gorky, Goethe and Marquez did not write in English. They reached us through good translations. I remember here a proposal that U R Ananthmurthy, a Jnanpith award-winning Kannada writer, and Ashok Vajpeyi, noted literary critic in Hindi, had submitted to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for setting up a National Board for Translation of Indian Literature. Atalji, himself a sensitive poet with true respect of litterateurs in every language, was keen on its establishment. But the idea got lost in the labyrinth of the HRD and Culture Ministries. Dr Manmohan Singh should revive it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I can’t see my play on stage

In His Own Script: A strain of violence runs through Vijay Tendulkar’s plays. But compiling published pieces is a lazy way to introduce his life and art, says Kavita Nagpal THE INDIAN EXPRESS FLAIR November 18, 2001
Vijay Tendulkar’s emergence as a playwright on the national scene in the late sixties coincided with that of Badal Sircar, Mohan Rakesh and Girish Karnad. This quartet, writing in Marathi, Bengali, Hindi and Kannada, respectively, formed the new and modern voice of Indian theatre. No sooner performed — occasionally the text barely written — their plays were quickly translated into other Indian languages and grabbed for performance. Though he had been known in Marathi theatre for some years, it was Tendulkar’s play Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe (Silence! The Court is in Session, 1968) that thrust him into the limelight. It hit the boards almost simultaneously in Marathi (director: Arvind Deshpande) and Hindi (director: Om Shivpuri). Director Satyadev Dubey made a film in Marathi, with Sulabha Deshpande in the lead.
The Sangeet Natak Akademi award came to Tendulkar in 1971, even before his controversial plays like Sakharam Binder, Ghasiram Kotwal (both 1972), Baby (1975) or Kamala (1982) had happened. Tendulkar had 13 plays to his credit till then, of which Gidhade and Ashi Pakhde Yeti — the former dealing with family violence and the latter a light comedy written for a successful actor — had been popularly translated in several Indian languages. It is difficult to pin any specific ideological preoccupation in his dramas, except perhaps a strain of violence, both social and singular. Accused of pessimism, Tendulkar retorts, ‘‘My experience of my times, my life, has shown me that the individual is largely disempowered, made abject, reduced to the role of spectator by the logic of certain events and social groupings.’’
Plays differ widely in style and structure, but except for Ghasiram Kotwal most are cast in the realistic mould. There is however one unifying factor; each script comes with precise instructions on the scenic design both for the director and technical crew. Tendulkar’s description of characters carries vivid pointers for actors. That a good production can be managed by just following Tendulkar’s stage instructions is a truism. He learnt his theatre ‘‘by mainly watching plays, more bad plays than good ones’’, says Tendulkar in one of the chapters in the Katha ALT series The Play is the Thing, part of the Sri Ram Memorial Lecture delivered by Tendulkar in 1997. ‘‘They provoked me into mentally rewriting them my way to turn them into good plays. I found it an excellent exercise.’’ With Shanta Gokhale’s Tendulkar on his own terms (the chapter on Tendulkar’s women in particular), this is the other incisive piece on the writer’s compendium in a book which is basically a compilation of published pieces assembled as part of the 2001 Katha Chudamani Award given to Tendulkar this year.
A sickly pampered child brought up amidst books and amateur dramatics (his father was a publisher and theatre buff), Tendulkar, born in 1928, learnt his lessons in caste and communalism early when he dumped school to join the Quit India Movement. To escape parental wrath he loafed in the cinema hall, often over two or even three shows of a film, preparing perhaps for his other profession, that of a script writer (Nishant, Manthan, Akrosh, etc). He wrote and directed his first play — a version of a mythological film Mya — at eleven, in which he played Krishna in vivid blue paint! ‘‘I write for myself,’’ Tendulkar told me in an interview in 1971. ‘‘When the play is produced, it has gone out of my hands and I have severed direct relationship with it. I can’t, for instance, see my play on stage. (He attended the silver jubilee of Ghasiram Kotwal in Delhi, 1973, but did not see the show.) I become sort of insensitive to the play.’’ Though Tendulkar believes that playwriting is an individual pursuit — ‘‘you can play your tune with someone else’s instrument, but not with someone else’s hand’’ — he worked closely with the cast and crew during the first staging of Shantata in Marathi.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Unseen daffodils

Amitabh GhoshThe Hindustan Times October 15, 2001
I was in my teens when I read Naipaul's essay on how, in the Trinidad of his youth, the flowers of the Caribbean were rendered invisible by the unseen daffodils of text-book English poets. That essay sparked so powerful a jolt of recognition that the moment has stayed with me ever since. As a child, while reading 'The Mutiny on the Bounty' I'd been fascinated by the word 'frangipani' which seemed to me to be redolent of all that was mysterious, desirable and secret. Then one day I discovered that the gnarled old branches by my window belonged to none other than a 'frangipani' tree: I'd been staring at them for years. My response was neither shock nor disappointment: it was rather a sudden awareness of the anomalousness of my own place in the world. This was not an awareness I had ever seen reflected in anything I'd read - until I came across Naipaul's essay.
This was the magic of reading Naipaul in those years. His views and opinions I almost always disagreed with: some because they were founded in truths that were too painful to acknowledge; some because they were misanthropic or objectionable; and some because they came uncomfortably close to being racist or just plain ignorant (the last, particularly, in his writings on the Islamic world). Yet he was writing of matters that no one else thought worth noticing; he had found words to excavate new dimensions of experience. It was Trinidad, with its fecund cultural intersections, that gave Naipaul his literary ambitions, his distinctive voice and the setting for the novels for which he will be best remembered.
Today, decades later, that essay about language has become so intimate a part of my own experience that I cannot be certain where my own memory ends and Naipaul's narrative begins: was the frangipani mine or his, or was it instead a jacaranda that I was thinking of? From time to time other such Naipaul moments still surface in my memory, like aching wisdom teeth. It was Naipaul who first made it possible for me to think of myself as a writer, working in English... I read him with that intimate, appalled attention which one reserves for one's most skilful interlocutors. I remembered that essay because I too was not by nature a joiner: reading that account I thought I had seen, once again, an aspect of myself rendered visible in Naipaul's pitiless mirror." The word 'influence' seems inadequate for a circumstance like this: it is as though Naipaul’s work were a whetstone against which to sharpen my own awareness of the world.

Every day is an ordeal

  • Eunice de Souzarenowned poet (called ‘‘stringent’’ by a literary critic), professor of English (she retired last year from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, after teaching for three decades) and now a debutante novelist, with Dangerlok recently published by Penguin India. Born in Pune in 1940 to Goan Roman Catholic parents, De Souza is known for politically incorrect views and for her epigrammatic and crusty style of writing. That Unbearable Lightness Of Being Divya Srivastava The Indian Express Flair December 9, 2001
“What are we concerned about in our daily lives?” demands Eunice de Souza. “Certainly not Afghanistan. Sometimes I really wonder how one manages to get by each day.” Why did she decide to turn to the novel, I ask her, once we have settled down and pleasantries have been exchanged. She is prompt with her response: ‘‘The ideas which I have explored in Dangerlok had been building up within me for a few years. Initially I had planned to weave these ideas in either a series of poems or short stories, but once I began working on them — some time last year — I realised they were all over the place and lacked focus. Hence, for want of more room, I decided to try my hand at a novel.’’
She continues: ‘‘Initially the novel was meant to be written in a traditional story format. But when I started writing, I felt that the whole point of the novel would be lost if I toed the old chronological line. It was getting tedious. That’s when I decided to structure it the way I finally did. In any case, the story is not the main focus in the novel. I wanted to create certain images that have day-to-day relevance in the mind of the reader. The story is told essentially when the protagonist Rina writes letters to David, who is studying in the United States. The rest of the novel deals with life on a daily basis, and how each character responds to the changing circumstances and to life’s multifarious complexities.’’
The novel, a slim book of a little over a hundred pages, has received some rather critical reviews. De Souza attempts to appear nonchalant about it and claims to be satisfied with the way the novel has shaped up. But then she adds sharply, ‘‘I wonder about the calibre of the people who review books. Someone wrote that there is no story in the novel. For God’s sake, the novel doesn’t claim to be telling a lived-happily-ever-after tale. It deals with quotidian issues, existential issues. Yes, it is existential in its approach. You say that the traffic wore you down on your way here. I mean, what are we concerned with in our daily lives? Certainly not Afghanistan. People might be dying there but our lives here are not beds of roses. Sometimes I really wonder how one manages to get by each day.’’ ‘‘I hate labouring on a point. Once a line has been said, the reader is intelligent enough to grasp the context,’’ she explains.
Continuing about her apparent obsession with existentialism, she elaborates: ‘‘I miss teaching because that’s when I could talk about issues that vastly interest me. I’m not a social person. I really do believe that every day is an ordeal, which is succinctly summed up by Eugene Inonesco’s quote (which I have used in the book as well) on the capacity of life to stultify your growth by an overpowering weariness. The same function is performed by the title of the novel. Dangerlok — a term I confess I borrowed from my bai — conveys dangers involved in everyday life exceedingly well. By the end of it, getting to college from here itself was quite an ordeal. By the time you get to work, enough fatigue has set in to upset your day. Such are the issues that I feel strongly about, including that of my parrots and dogs, and have tried to explore in Dangerlok.’’
Though the novel is strewn with autobiographical episodes, be it Rina’s childhood in Pune, her life as a lecturer, or her relationship with David across the seven seas, the writing is delectably powerful. She says, ‘‘I have set the novel in Mumbai but, through the issues that it deals with, it manages to transcend the locational barriers to appeal to a wider audience.’’ Also, there is no escape from De Souza’s own staunch belief that ‘‘I’m not any less Indian simply because I write poetry and stories in English’’, expressed in the novel as Rina’s. On my way out of Diamond Park — the novel, incidentally, refers to a locality called Queen’s Diamond — I am glad to get away from the loud twittering of her parrots, who evidently are agitated about having been neglected for so long. I wonder about the existential issues waiting to assail me during what is left of the day.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Responsibilities of a writer

Literature is nothing if it is not a joyful act in itself. Yet, writers clearly have responsibilities towards the language and the communities that sustain them. U.R. ANANTHA MURTHY explores the meaningful possibilities and the spaces available for a writer in our troubled times. The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, November 03, 2002
I am not happy with the word "responsibility". It sounds a little pompous, and burdensome, like filling income-tax forms. If reading/ writing of creative literature is not a joyful act in itself, it is nothing of much consequence. Bad literature can't be good politics. This is a truism that state promoters of literature, like the former rulers of Soviet Union, often forget, or deliberately ignore.
Yet, there is a need for a notion like responsibility. For, no writer lives and creates in a vacuum. The moment one uses language, one gets related to the community that keeps the language alive. It is the vibrancy of the English language of the renaissance that made Shakespeare possible. The language was alive and vibrant because the people were alive and vibrant and responsive to the times. Therefore, all good writers are aware that they owe something to their people and the language that sustains them. Language always helps its people to have a sense of continuity with their own past, the dreams and achievements of a people through history that have been preserved as memory. All our memories of the past in our countries are preserved in our folk-tales, songs, performances, and myths.
As writers we owe an obligation to our past as well as to the present to continue what is best in our literary traditions, not by imitating the past but creatively interacting with it. We make poetry out of our quarrels with ourselves, said Yeats. And, politics, out of our quarrel with others. Both these quarrels, so necessary in our times of instability and change, could be with our own traditions as well. We should take care that these quarrels should be dialogues, too, among the literary fraternity.
Why else do we meet like this, and you should invite a fellow writer like me from India, so near to you and yet so far! This mutual unfamiliarity is unfortunate as many of us are brought up by our education to feel we are nearer to Europe than to each other. The truth is we have so much more to share with each other than with the modernised Europe. For instance, our common heritage, and the anxieties resulting from our need to modernise and yet preserve what is best in tradition could result in significant dialogues. The same kind of artificial distance is there, paradoxically, more after our "Independence" than before, among us, Indian Language writers, as well. If only we learn from one another in Asia, then it may result in our becoming better partners in the literary endeavour with our great contemporary writers in Europe. I hope this question will engage some of you in this conference.
As writers, particularly as Asian writers, we need to be "critical insiders" to our own traditions. Being mere insiders, uncritically, may often result in the production of mindless celebratory writing, rhetorical flourishes, and populist clichés — so easy to imbibe and so banal. Because of our sthotra tradition, and the inherited courtly behaviour of our classical past, reinforced by colonial rule, many of us mindlessly slip into this mode in our writing. Some of us, "modernists" have been critical of that kind of pompously celebratory writing.
Being blindly critical of our traditions, on the other hand, may result in blindly imitative westernisation, leading to amnesia of whatever is good in our past. In India, the great 12th-century poet-mystic Basava, who rebelled against ritualistic and superstitious temple worship and caste system, was a critical insider. And so was the Marathi poet Tukaram and the Hindi poet Kabir. The great medieval saint poets were all critical insiders. Mahatma Gandhi comes in that tradition. You will surely have plenty of such examples in Tamil and Singhalese of "critical insiders".
Mahatma Gandhi as well as Tagore had therefore rejected the European idea of Nation-state and opted for a different notion of Nationalism, appropriate for a pluralistic civilisation like India. World literature has to respond to these challenges of our times. This needs compassion, and vision and profound self-reflection. We, as writers, will have to be conscientious witnesses to the terrible events of our times, as well as act as citizens to restore sanity and compassion. If literature has a great contribution to make it is this: it makes you suspect abstractions. It makes a Hamlet hesitate to kill his own father's murderer. We don't just represent something; we have living bodies and living histories — as individuals and, at the same time, as members of a community. That is the great lesson of all great literatures. (A speech delivered at the Annual Writers' Conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on September 30, 2002.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Textures of Silence

Does abstracting the classical make it contemporary?
Dancer Aditi Mangaldas talks to ADITI DE about her experiments with Kathak. The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Mar 07, 2004 About Us
Kumudini Lakhia, my guru, taught us to keep an open mind. By 1986, I had travelled all over the world with Birju Maharajji's company. Yet, there was something in me that wasn't dancing. That's when I left my gurus to find my own footsteps. My rebellion was against the satellite role of women in traditional Kathak. (Passionately) You cried or were happy because of a man, you were afraid or changed because of a man. That's beautiful, but it had nothing to do with my identity as a person. So, the initial moving out started by looking at literature. I read a Hindi poem by Agyeya that made me feel claustrophobic. Yet, nothing in the traditional Kathak repertoire, with its underlying sringara rasa, could help me to convey that dry emotion. How could I show it? We made a tabla beat of one theka, played over 15 minutes. It was so monotonous that it created a cone around you.
I began working with music, costumes, lights, but especially on the attitude. (Thoughtfully) I felt the need to abstract the word to express it. It's a comma that the audience interprets on their own journey. I've only learnt Kathak, so I have to draw my strength from the classical style. But does abstracting the classical render it contemporary? Not really. Kathak is the form that my body knows, but my mind knows much more, right? Since childhood, I've learnt yoga. (Intensely) My dance is the dynamism and spirit of Kathak with a yoga spine. I want to explore space using our bodies, but changing the dynamics of the spine. I do not like a blank face on stage. I dance with my heart. I don't care how contemporary or not contemporary that is. Because, in Kathak, the main element is emotion. I want to retain its instantaneous communication with the audience.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Because there is no conclusion

I realise now that my own writing was born out of my confused angry feelings about the roles that my gender identity seemed to have locked me into, roles which I chafed against. I often have the sense of being an instrument, of a finger in my back prodding me, telling me "now write!" Writers also speak of finding meanings, of learning things in the course of writing; the word "discovery" resonates in most accounts. Writing is a process of discoveries, often serendipitous ones, a groping in the dark, during which unexpected gifts fall into your hands. And since, most often, you write to make things clear to yourself, it is mainly a process of self-learning. The third commonality is a love of words — inextricably linked to the urge to say something. In fact, ideas and words are yoked together; it is a symbiotic relationship. When you look for the right word, you are examining the soul of the word itself. It is like creating and hearing music; a single false note is immediately discernible.
Writing seems an entirely self-contained activity, work pursued for its own sake. However, writers have written to express their anguish about social problems and their work is often intimately connected to these feelings. But in the course of the writing, the characters take over the story, bringing in complexities which have no place in an ideology-driven narrative. Human truths emerge and artificial constructs fall by the wayside. The focus is always the human being; it is the interaction between society and the individual that the writer is concerned with. People are both complex and complicated, and therefore writing, good writing that is, ultimately provides a complex picture, not the simple picture that writing as a social or political crusade would. But as I see it, the reader enters the picture only after the writing is complete. Until then, I am my own reader. In fact, when writing, I am telling myself things.
No creative writer is interested in conveying a message, whether political or social. In truth, it is not only difficult, but almost impossible to control the flow of creative writing within the narrow banks of a message, of political and/or social reform. In any case, I doubt whether writing can change anything. For example, even after so much has been written about feminism, people still equate it with hating men, abandoning families, lesbianism, etc. The idea that feminism wants women to be accepted as responsible human beings has still not got across.
To me, the writer's integrity is far more important than any avowed purpose. The creative writer, unlike the historian or the social/political analyst, explores the gaps, the silences, the ambiguities, the complexities, the contradictions — and this, not to get to any kind of a conclusion, because often there is no conclusion. What matters is understanding and, possibly, reconciliation. Articulating this is a kind of activism. In fact, writing is the writer's form of activism.
By making the writer a celebrity, the media has actually weakened the writer's role. The media has also taken away, to some extent, the writer's freedom: to want to be known and to be known — both these erode the writer's freedom. Sadly, to be known, to become a celebrity and be constantly in the public eye, seems to have become a much-desired role for writers. SHASHI DESHPANDE The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, Jul 06, 2003

Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

In euphemistic language we refer to those artists who tread the line between genius and madness, as people living "ahead of their time." I believe otherwise. I believe Rimbaud was a person from an earlier time, a poet akin to our original seers, the kavis of the Vedas, those prophets who expressed hidden truths through the perceptions of their senses and the movements of the world. Whose modes of seeing were associated with the experience of light, who connected the worlds of the Gods and the humans, and whose words had the power to enlighten because they were timeless and infinite. In Rimbaud's case, it was not merely the possession of an almost divine dhi, or "insight", which he might have spuriously spurred on with the abuse of absinthe, hashish, opium, or some other mind-altering soma. His was a case of questioning the ready-made code of morals that were handed down to him by society, questioning the definitions of obscenity, scraping away the pretensions and restoring purity.
The idea here is that the distinctions of the things that are pure/ polluting, sacred/ profane, clean/ unclean are artificial human constructs, and that to break bondage with this kind of world, one must confront their fears and release themselves from the inhibitions they create. And so the drunken boat weaves its way through the seas of the world seeing "what men have imagined they saw ... archipelagos of stars!/ and islands whose delirious skies are open to sailors."
Rimbaud remains in my mind as that mystical "thief of fire", crossing physical landscapes of surreal proportions in times fraught with danger. I see him striving to detach his mind from the "mud of memory", oscillating between a touching sense of optimism and a general despair for the human condition. I see him on his pursuit to the "great unmasking of modernity", penning grown-up thoughts on the future of poetry to his friend. The future of poetry remains the same: perceiving the world, speaking the truth. The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, Dec 07, 2003
Tishani Doshi is a poet and dancer

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Art is always anti-establishment'

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Sep 26, 2004
That comes from my conviction that the moment you say things out clearly and produce answers your audience says thank you, nice evening, goes home, has dinner and sleeps. Also there is no single answer to a question. If you incite them with a disturbing question, there may be more answers than you thought of. In street theatre you take immediate problems and produce answers, because there are answers. Once the problem is solved, you can throw away the play. But even street theatre can be artistic.
Sometimes the worst society produces the best of art. After the revolution the socialist society produced nothing but muck in terms of painting. Art is always anti-establishment. You can never have an ideal society. Art flourishes in the loopholes of the best society. It is like the hilsa of Dacca. They are proud of it. They say it is better than the Hooghly hilsa. I ask them why, it is the same hilsa. They say no. The Hooghly hilsa goes with the current. Ours goes against the current so it is tougher and sweeter. Art goes against the current to flourish. You can almost wish for a bad society if you want art to flourish!
Art never changes society. It cannot be the vehicle of change. But art, particularly theatre, does something very precious. It paves the way for change, it affects opinions, it opens up minds. I think my work has had its effect in the sense that there were some dying arts. Government had a scheme for the dying arts. I noticed an old man with a lantern performing. I asked him what are you performing? He said "Chandaini". It takes 18 evenings of three or four hours each day to complete the story of "Lorik and Chanda", an ancient folk tale.
My dilemma was this — that democracy is desirable despite its propensity to turn into fascism and .... And yet democracy is more acceptable than dictatorship. But feudalism, no matter how condemnable and exploitative, has its own silver lining. It has supported the arts, not just classical but the folk arts. It can teach us something even about administration. So there is a dilemma, and I have left it at that in "Hirma".

Dance Like a Man

Unmasking our worlds; Mahesh Dattani's is a voice unafraid to joust with a bleak today. ADITI DE The Hindu Literary Review: Sunday, Aug 07, 2005
What sets Mahesh Dattani apart from other contemporary Indian playwrights in English today? Ever since he first penned "Where There's A Will" in 1986, Dattani has treated each subject with a deep-seated identification rooted in everyday angst. Such charged emotions spare no one — neither the players and the director, nor the audience. Deep within platitude-ridden Indian society, his characters seethe and reveal, probe and discern, scathing their families and neighbours, leaving each reader or watcher with a storm within as the aftermath. An essential storm for our evolution as socially sensitive individuals.
Dattani's plays deal with real scenarios that are tough to turn away from. They are couched in Indian urbanspeak. They shy away from myth and make-believe to tackle reality head-on, no matter what the impact of the collision. They have worked on stage when directed sensitively, or read over BBC, or — somewhat less powerfully — when rendered as cinema. They prove indisputably that Dattani is in sync with millions of urbanites, to whom English is an Indian language. We are his audience, his characters, his source of sustained feedback.

Through the emphasis on adaptations in these 10 plays, we realise why director Pamela Rooks' 2004 screen variant of Dattani's acclaimed stage play, "Dance Like a Man" requires a different ending to work cinematically. This celebration of the Dattani dynamic is worth engaging with as a companion volume to the first collection. His is a voice unafraid to joust with a bleak today. May its integrity remain unimpaired.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

My Name Is Red

By Orhan Pamuk
Anyone who's visited Turkey has probably been drawn to the charm of Turkish miniature paintings. These delicate, stylized images of battles and bathhouses, with their fine lines and flat colors, are exquisite examples of Eastern artistry. Looking at them is like peering into an exotic and radiant dollhouse.
In Orhan Pamuk's "My Name Is Red," a 16th century Turkish illuminated manuscript is at the center of a historical murder mystery. Pamuk, a best- selling author in Turkey, uses the history of his country's art to examine intersections between religion, creativity and human desire. The result is a huge and ambitious novel that is by turns charming and pedantic. Like Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose," "My Name Is Red" combines down-and-dirty intrigue with scholarship and a postmodern sensibility. Written from multiple perspectives, it includes chapters narrated by recently murdered people, a dog, a tree and even the color red.
"I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well," begins the compelling first chapter. The body belongs to Elegant Effendi, one of four master artists who has been commissioned, at the end of the 16th century, to illustrate a secret and controversial manuscript for Ottoman Sultan Murat III. Unlike other Turkish illustrations, this one will incorporate the newest techniques from "Frankish," or Venetian painting, using perspective, shadows and -- most daring of all -- recognizable portraits of individuals.
All of this allows Pamuk to explore the aesthetics of representation in great and sometimes exhausting detail. We learn about the significance of gilded borders, prescribed ways for drawing eyes and nostrils and the tension between innovation and imitation. "If the picture is to be perfect," says one illustrator, "it ought to have been drawn at least a thousand times before I attempt it." Others in the novel refuse to embrace such dictates. Enishte ("Uncle"), who is coordinating the secret manuscript, thinks that Western portraiture is the way of the future, though he acknowledges the danger of an art that glorifies individual humans.
Like Calvino, Borges, Kafka and Eco (to all of whom he's been previously compared) Pamuk is a writer who is able to combine avant-garde literary techniques with stories that capture the popular imagination. Here, the ingredients are potent, but the balance is off. Like an overenthusiastic master illustrator, Pamuk paints a vivid picture, but loads it with so many details and symbols that the eye has nowhere calm to rest. Sarah Coleman is a New York writer and reviewer. San Francisco Chronicle Sunday, December 9, 2001

Art and girth

There is a direct connection of rhythm and body. An artist practices to vibrate the instrument of nritya –body - on the sounds of drums and the music of the vocal chords. This unusual but graceful flow of the body requires a lot of riyaaz which builds up the stamina of an artist. Through this aspect of nritya, we are able to appreciate the masterpiece (body) created by the Almighty. Nritya has never been just a physical aspect. Especially, in our classical art-form, there is a continuous interaction between the body and mind. Without the mind, the body would be like a tree without roots, hence the perfection of dance would disappear. The mind guides an artist towards perfection, hence the mind and body work together to create the magic of nritya. Emotion plays an integral part in transforming a physical and mental exertion into a art. When the heart (mann) gets along with body and mind, an art evolves and the artist glows from within and transits the audience to a different world. Alaknanda Noida, July 8, 2005
In a very profound way, the dancer's tools are not just the grammar and the syntax of, say, Bharatanatyam, but more fundamentally her body and the energy that suffuses it. It means that personality in a dancer, or any actor for that matter, is of two kinds.
  • The first relates to what may be called social personality such as the kind we notice when we say "That's a pretty girl" or That's a funny fellow."
  • The second kind of personality has to do with the dancer as an instrument. When he or she is a person of fluent emotional nature, quick sensory reaction, mobility of inner constitution, a person with an expressive, may be even melodious voice, natural grace, commanding, proportionate figure, imagination, impressionability and temperament and if such a person has also a command over the material of a dance form, the resulting material would most likely be authentic.

By themselves technical neatness and fluency, the mere mechanics of dance can't create that authenticity that we are talking about. Shanta Serbjeet Singh APPAN International written in the mid-eighties for "The Hindustan Times"

It has been said with some justification that the oversized dancer in Indian classical dance does not evoke the kind of waspish comments he or she would in the West, where ballet is less accommodating of the fat dancer. We quote verses from the Natya Shastra or the Abhinaya Darpana upholding comments made on the dance, but keep silent when it comes to a dancer whose girth negates the physical attributes prescribed for a dancer in the shastras. In fact, some performers would seem to sport those very qualities mentioned as disqualification. Leela Venkataraman, 'A question of weight,' Hindu, Delhi, June 10, 2005

What was pointed out was the deviation in Odissi costume, its 'áuchitya' as Shanta Serbjeet Singh would say and the changes in original choreography. Dancers dancing in tight, low cut blouses with navel rings dangling from bare midriff, was found a 'violation' of what Odissi costume is/should be; it was in bad taste too. If some people found it to be of good taste they are entitled to their opinions. Bibhuti Mishra October 14, 2005

It is hugely important to confront this kind of moral policing with logic and specially with factual information on cultural history. Our culture needs no lessons from anyone and stands solidly on its own sophistication. And it has always been dynamic and adapting. If these people are so concerned about 'tradition,' let them take the dance back into the temples, make sure it is not performed anywhere else, removed from television, under only oil lamps. Ram Rahman, New York City, October 4, 2005

We should celebrate variety and diversity, as our culture holds this principle as essence. Dr. Soubhagya Pathy, Rahul Acharya, Chittaranjan Bairisal and Harsa Kumar Satapathy September 28, 2005

Only for that moment

We have to lament that in today’s world of marketing and commerce, we have reached a nadir where the dancer has almost no space, either physical or metaphorical. The dancer simply has no product to market (no CDs and cassettes like the musician or instrumentalist, no painting or sculpture like the artist, no buildings or plans like the architect, no books like the authors and poets) except the ability to create an intangible art form which springs alive only for that moment, and then, evanescent, fades from all existence, except in memory. And memory cannot be marketed. Hence it is that all the related industries that have cropped up to market the other arts, like galleries, publishing houses, ad agencies, music companies with sales planets and even galaxies, have no equivalents for dance simply because the dancer and the dance have no commercial value. Geeta Chandran, ‘World Dance Day’ The Asian Age, Kolkata, April 29, 2005

Scripting with a landscape

Glamorgan, May 22, 2005
Landscapes assume differing significances and interactions in keeping with sensibilities. They may evoke legend, sanctity, history, political intrigue, environmental insight, aesthetic appeal… and occasionally even a transcendental bond for those with mystical leanings. Landscapes also translate into varying forms of expression. From the mimetic and realistic to the esoteric and abstract - smattered with myriad physical formation, and layered with an intricate web of meanings and associations, it lends itself to film posing an uneasy concern before documentary representation, which feels rather innocuous in view of the landscape’s enormous and consuming spread.
Navigating through this conceptual landscape, I, as a filmmaker, was repeatedly confronted with the dilemma of the territory’s numerous and contrary pulls. On the one hand, its colossal and overpowering spread, supplemented by its near primal resonances, mesmeric earthly hues and serpentinean rustic trails, each unfurling an alternative human habitat. On the other hand, the noises of a familiar ‘civilization’, with its temples of a malignant ‘global’ creed, rigidly linear highways, smitten with an unending habit to restrain and hog. Its natural appeal is in the simultaneity of its past and present, struggle and surrender, music and silence.
How does one reconcile the conflicting sounds so arising in a film document? In fact, before that question I ask myself: does a documenting text need to assimilate these sounds, most of which make for no more than noise robbing the landscape of its majestic quietude? Much discussion in contemporary visual anthropology and documentary filmmaking is pregnant, seeking for expression and poetry, without compromising the factual or the found. During the stated field study, the digital video equipment that was utilized met familiar ends, i.e. recording, drafting the interactions and findings of the field study group. But moments were also occasioned when the digital camera and I performed, responding to the sites and materials encountered.
In this performance the camera spilled from serving as a means of seeing, to a medium for positions of viewing inaccessible to the lay, human eye. A medium for hearing the commonplace and for picking the distant sounds that often remain inaudible. To an extent, the performance echoed the same sentiment as Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s kino eye1 , back in the 1920s. But it was distinct, as it comprised curvaceous movements for nearness and unity with the subject/s of the image.
Camera movement arose, in a sense, corporeally. The camera was hand-held throughout filming. Its movements extended from my body that was mobilised in a kind of dionysian choreographic intercourse with locations and materials. This choreography was rather intimate.