Friday, January 29, 2010

“I” seemed to work well for me, and I’ve never stopped since then.

Interesting post at I Am the Blob about the use of “I” in writing:

I’m largely in agreement, and have a few thoughts…
*It’s certainly a bit jarring to begin sentences with the word “I,” and in English we have the additional problem that it’s a one-letter word and thus leads to momentary visual confusion when appearing right after the previous period. So, I try to avoid doing that too much.
*Up until the mid-1990’s or so, I always used the third-person “we” in papers rather than “I”. There are always a few people who make snotty remarks about that technique, calling it “the madman’s we” or “the royal we”, or whatever. I used to ignore those remarks. But then I read an essay that called the use of the we “phony,” and though that might be a bit much, I saw a point to it. I tried “I” from then on, and it seemed to work well for me, and I’ve never stopped since then.
*Some extremely good writers do prefer to avoid the use of “I”. Alphonso Lingis, the best stylist I’ve known personally, continues to use “we” in his academic-philosophical essays, and in his more visceral travel-philosophy stuff gets around it by using “you” (Lingis is one of the few writers I know who is able to pull off the difficult 2nd person). Did I tell the story of the funniest thing he ever read in class?
“You spend weeks preparing a grant proposal, explaining why you need to travel to Leuven to visit the Husserl Archive, or to Paris to consult with Gilles Deleuze. You get the grant. But since the Dean’s Committee is not there to show you off at the airport, you take off in the opposite direction and land in Manila.”
It’s hard to see that working very well in the first person. Let’s try it:
“I spend weeks preparing a grant proposal, explaining why I need to travel to Leuven to visit the Husserl Archive, or to Paris to consult with Gilles Deleuze. I get the grant. But since the Dean’s Committee is not there to show me off at the airport, I take off in the opposite direction and land in Manila.”
The effect is now totally different. It’s still a bit funny, but now we have a funny devious narrator rather than whatever it is that Lingis achieved in his second-person version by ascribing the illicit act to you the reader rather than to himself. I’d have to think more about why, exactly, the Lingis version works so well. (I raised the issue with him once and it clearly made him uncomfortable. He prefers to write by instinct rather than think too much about his own processes.)
*Poe’s great stories are all written in the first person. And in Lovecraft the same is true except for “The Dunwich Horror,” a story I really like, but which is somehow harder to believe in the third person. And Raymond Chandler, another of my favorite authors, is always in the first person. He started out trying to write The Long Goodbye in the third person, but it just didn’t work and he had to bring Marlowe back in as the first person narrator (which is the best thing about Chandmer anyway: the voice of Marlowe).
So I’d say it’s a personal decision, but I find a lot of flexibility and power in the first person. Increasingly I find something a bit “phony” about the disembodied, objective speaker, whether in fiction or in philosophy.
As for Circus Philosophicus, it’s all in the first person except for the ferris wheel chapter, which describes the wheel as an abstract possibility, though I think the rest of the book makes it retroactively clear that it’s I who was doing the talking there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Romana Hussain, Manjit Bawa, and Habib Tanvir

The day-long programme began with theatre presentation of two poems --- Keshav Anuragi by Manglesh Dabral and America Prem by Vishnu Nagar, by the Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti. Though the presentation of poems in this form is a difficult task, HGVS won a huge applause.
The day’s proceedings opened with the contemporary modern dancer and choreographer, Astad Deboo, presenting three short but eloquent pieces dedicated to the memory of the late Romana Hussain, Manjit Bawa and Habib Tanvir who always comprised the formidable vanguard of SAHMAT. Playing with the matric props on stage, Astad executed choreographic movements with unbelievable lightness of being. The graceful economy with which his body moved invoking a sense of a richly lived and creative time had the audience mesmerised.

The impact of Astad’s performance is always so strong that it is not easy for the artist immediately after him to command undivided attention of the audience. It is, therefore, to Rekha Raj’s great credit that she was able to not only do that but further extend the resonant core of things past. With her powerful voice harbouring a vintage grain, Rekha Raj was able to bring memories of the late Iqbal Bano alive with her impassioned renderings of some of the thumris and nazms for which the late maestress is so dearly remembered and missed.
Coming after Rekha Raj was the eminent Punjabi poet, Amarjit Chandan who recited three short poems from his forthcoming anthology which has been introduced to the English speaking world by the legendary cultural critic, John Berger. This was also in a manner of speaking a tribute to the late Avtar Singh Pash who would have been 60 if he had not fallen to the bullets of the fundamentalists in 1988 – coincidentally the same year that Safdar was fatally attacked. MK Raina, who worked closely with Chandan, Amitoj and Sumit Singh in the 70s, poignantly recalled the years of his association with these creatively charged young poets and cultural activists when he worked on the path breaking Punjabi adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle during the infamous Emergency. Madan Gopal Singh read out the poems in English translations.
The recitation was followed by a vigorous and energetic performance by the group Act One under the inspired guidance of NK Sharma who enjoys the status of a radical faqir and a reluctant father figure amongst many a theatre activist across India. In an unusual move, his group deviated from their conventional performative mode and chose instead to sing their newly created musical compositions in which they celebrated the radical spirit of Kabir and Faiz.
Vidya Shah - the singer, scholar, activist and a fellow traveler - designed her performance as a tribute to both Iqbal Bano and Faiz. She opened with Dasht-e-tanhai, Nasib Azmaane Ke Din, Dhaka se Vaapsi, Kab Tab Dil Ki Khair, Dua and followed it up with many of his other poems. Her evocative voice created a veil of warmth and assurance around the listeners on an otherwise a very cold day in New Delhi.
The musical part of the day was brought to a close by Madan Gopal Singh who sang his new composition reviving a tradition of secular, syncretic ‘bujharataan’ or poetic puzzles to be creatively solved by children who get to learn of their past and present through a participative role playing. This was followed by a ‘takrar’ from Baba Bulle Shah and a Simon Garfunkel canticle in Punjabi.
Those who arrived unfortunately a little late to the venue and could not perform included Rabbi Shegill and Jasbir Jassi.
Two books on this occasion were released. The book Habib Tanvir: Reminiscences and Reflections has been edited by Neeraj Malik and Javed Malik and was presented by the editors to Nagin Tanvir before the commencement of the play. Another book in Hindi D D Kosambi (1907-1966) edited by Rajender Sharma was also released. The birth centenary of D D Kosambi, pre eminent Marxist historian was observed last year. Earlier on December 6, 2009 a calendar for 2010 fore grounding the anti communal posters of SAHMAT was released.
The tour-de-force of the evening was a theatric performance of Habib Tanvir’s – the doyen of Indian theatre - Charandas Chor put together by his prodigiously talented daughter Nagin Tanvir. Charandas Chor is considered along with another of Habib Sa’ab’s production, Agra Bazaar, as a decisive moment in the history of the contemporary Indian theatre. It was, therefore, a fitting tribute to the memory of the perhaps the grandest maestros of theatre we have known in the 20th century and whom we have had the privilege of knowing and learning from at SAHMAT as the chairperson of our Trust. We salute his ever inspiring memory!
Madan Gopal Singh 1st Jan. 2010 Safdar Hashmi Memorial from SAHMAT NEWS 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Various shades of humanity and femininity

Chanda Mama Door Ke [Hindi] 75 minutes
Director: M.K. Raina, On Stage: Neeta Mohindra
Playwright: Based on Oriana Fallaci’s 'Letters to an Unborn Child'    
Chanda Mama Door Ke is a play based on an Italian play Letters to an Unborn Child written by Oriana Fallaci. It is a dialogue between a mother and her unborn child. A modern, educated and liberal woman of today, the protagonist of the play raises questions about the rights of an unborn child. She starts talking to the child the day she conceives and she continues to do so, treating her unborn chills as an intelligent, equal, individual being who can both comprehend as well as respond to the range of social, political and personal issues that are being discussed with it. As the play progresses so too does the  dialogue, gradually moving beyond the mother-child paradigm onto a new level of human understanding and communication.           
Darjiparar Marjinara [Bengali] 100 minutes
Direction: Koushik Sen, Playwright: Bratya Basu
Moving through the narrow lanes of Sonagachi, one of the largest red-light areas of Asia, the play looks at the diversity of people : brokers, policemen, clients and prostitutes : whose lives lie encapsulated and touched by the socio-political and personal dynamics of the place. As the history of Sonagachi is revealed through them, we realize that the play is not about prostitution and physical desire but rather about a form of globalization in which everything is commodified.  Revealing the dark side of the so-called free world, the plot explores how everything can be bought in today’s world - Creativity, Ethics, Trust, Love, Faith - and how there is a certain darkness that is spreading through all barriers of time and space.
Mahim Junction [Hindi] English, Hindi & Punjabi, 95 minutes
Playwright & Director: Sohaila Kapur      
Mahim Junction is a spoof on the Bollywood of the 70s with a contemporary sensibility. The story is set in a slum that has encroached upon a disused local train platform in suburban Mumbai. The colourful characters  - Radha and Rahim, the lovers; Johnny the drunk, in love with Ayesha the cross dresser; Kaladhandha, the villainous film producer, and others -  eke out their living in the midst of poverty, exploitation, corruption and communalism, with the typical joie de vivre style of Bollywood characters. The musical sings and dances its way through two stories, a love tale between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, and that of Kaladhandha, who provides the political subtext and brings the two together for a happy ending in true Bollywood fashion.
Tumi Daak Diyecho Kon Sakaale [Bengali] 90 minutes
Design & Direction: Adrija Dasgupta
Playwrights: Adrija Dasgupta & Anirban Bhattacharya
A play about Keya Chakrabarti, a brilliant writer and actress who died an untimely death in relative oblivion, the play brings together fragments of her life, her writings, her favorite songs, poems, thoughts and philosophies as  expressed by her and  the characters she created. In the course of the play Keya is painted on several canvasses in a fragmented form, and all these different images of her as an actress, a storyteller, an essayist, a  gifted but lonely human being, combine together to create a persona that encapsulates various shades of humanity and femininity.
S*x, M*rality & Cens*rship [Hindi & Marathi] 150 minutes
Director: Sunil Shanbag, Playwright: Shanta Gokhale  
S*x, M*rality & Cens*rship is a seduction of ideas exploring one of the most controversial issues of our time – morality and censorship. The play flashes back to the early ‘70s when Vijay Tendulkar’s classic, Sakharam Binder, set off a storm of controversy in the theatre scene. The stage censor board came down heavily on the script, and the play was attacked by sections of society. The unusual story of Sakharam Binder, the parallel world of tamasha, and the amazing spirit of the '70s  all make up an exciting mix of theatre, memory, live music, dance, and video. The show provokes, challenges, entertains, and asks the question – who says ‘No’ and ‘Why’?
The evening programme of 7 January will focus on the music composed by and used in the plays directed by Mohan Upreti, including his compositions influenced by folk music on the one hand and classical forms on the other, for plays such as Ali Baba, Mother, Amir Khusro and Lo Basant Aya amongst others. Cast & Credits: Bhagwat Upreti (Music Coordinator), Govind Pandey (Script & Production), Naima Upreti (Adviser) 
The performers of the Academy Theatre, on 11 January, traverse a journey of the music of Bengal, particularly its songs, that co-ordinate different elements of scenic presentation. Bengal's entertainers explored many routes - historical, political and social with scenic investiture, to entail melodious and mellifluous songs and in the process the genre of Manchagaan or theatre-song came into being to express emotions, reconcile conflict and afford a climax on the stage through language and music. It highlights the work of Rabindranath Tagore, Madhusudan Dutt, Dinabandhu Mitra, Sambhu Mitra and Utpal Dutt amongst others from the Bengali theatre music tradition. The programme featuring Devajit and Riddhi Bandyopadhyay will portray the trends of Manchagaan of the 19th and 20th century entertainers. Drawing upon research in recordings, notations, prompt-books, and clippings this documentation offers an exciting and altogether original view of artistic translation between life and stage. The programme presents a retrospective of the songs of different genres tracing the evolution of the performing art as well as popular culture of Bengal in a mix of the indigenous and the alien approaches in theatre, accessible to all class of people -- artistes and artisans. Cast & Credits: Dr. Devajit Bandyopadhyay (Script and Direction), Singers- Riddhi Bandyopadhyay and Devajit Bandyopadhyay