Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Read Seneca - Prithvi Theatre!

While in Mumbai last week, I couldn't resist checking out Prithvi Theatre. 'ART' by Poor-box productions was on in the evening. It's a play that won wide acclaim and enjoyed watching it. Followed up with Irish Coffee at Prithvi Cafe.

Buzzintown published my jottings on the play and its link is provided here:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kovalam Literary Festival

The third day of the Kovalam Literary Festival turned out to be one of those occasions when performance falls short of the promise. The organizers though are not to be blamed. Perhaps situations beyond their control caused it. Shobha De failed to turn up and the first session of reading and questions by her became a cropper. The South African writer Rozena Mart who was to speak on Apartheid Literature couldn’t make it to the festival. Amitabh Kant, a senior bureaucrat in the Tourism Ministry also didn’t turn up to make readings and presentation on tourism in India. All this was disappointing but it was partially made up by the other speakers and through the endearing presence of Nanditha and Om Puri making the discussions vibrant and humorous .

Sunny weather makes blue seas off Kovalam a feast for the eyes. The festival was blessed with clear blue skies and the view of the sky and the sea from the conference hall of Taj Green Cove was magnificent, keeping you on high. The third day’s session began with rendering of poetry by Chandrakanta Muratsingh, Korobok poet from Tripura. The poems were rendered in Korobok with translation in English. It was nice to hear a poet from the North-Eastern corner of India reciting his poems in the South-West tip of the country. It gave a glimpse of the vastness and variety India truly boasts of.

Following it were readings by young Indian writers. Ira Trivedi, pretty and smart, full of energy and vivacity that took her to the reckoning in the finals of the Miss India contest read out from her book ‘The Great Love Story’. The excerpt on the life of an Indian girl in the United States and her partying and meetings with boy friends were marked by the cultural shock that happens when two traditions encounter .. The moment when the doctor informs her of her pregnancy and her tremendous effort to comes to terms with it are portrayed by Ira in graphic detail. Passages from the book she is writing are about the experiences of an 18 year old girl dying of pancreatic cancer. Ira writes this from personal experience, having spend time with the girl and seen her come to terms with her death which is imminent. Her description of the ‘divergent cell’ that causes cancer in the body and the thousands of healthy cells that fight this wayward cell are told in the form of a battle. Ira took questions from the audience and when asked as to choose between commercial success which her books have been and critical acclaim she replied in a lighter vein that it will be nice to have them together. Becoming more serious, Ira said that in life, grass appears greener on the other side and it is normal to yearn for what you do not have.

Ira was followed by Mathew Menacherry, a Keralite born and brought up in Mumbai. Mathew who is the grandson of the eminent Malayalam
writer and critic, the late M.P.Paul read out passages from his book ‘Arrack in the Afternoon’. It is the story of life in the setting of Mumbai and Mathew surprisingly describes the bar dancers and their approach and outlook towards their customers with great scientific precision. Mathew remarked that a lot of research had gone in to the writing . His descriptions of a Malayali Christian couple and their failed attempts at copulation on the first night bordered on the hilarious. This he said, emphatically, was not autobiographical. Mathew was candid enough to admit of a hangover from bacchanalian revels of the previous night and this lead to comments on dangerously rising levels of liquor consumption in Kerala.

Anuja Chauhan, author of ‘The Zoya Factor’ is an advertising professional and she brought all the charm and fizz of her profession on stage. Dimunitive, dressed casually with a beautiful necklace, she sat cross-legged on a chair, comfortable and at ease with herself and read passages from her book as though she were reading out bedtime stories to her children. The film rights of Zoya Factor, she announced, is brought by Red Chilies Entertainment. Anuja tells the story of life in a world of glitz and glamour, of cricket, advertising, movies, of astrology and luck It’s a make believe world Anuja has seen at close quarters. Anuja narrated her efforts at writing, caught between the demands of a high profile job in JWT and her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.

Palash Mehrotra author of ‘Eunuch Park’, sub-tittled ‘Stories of Love and Destruction’ made a sober difference. Deeply read and with fine intellectual tastes he is a product of Doon School, St.Stephen’s College and Balliol College, Oxford. In Palash’s stories, the protagonist is a distant figure, reflecting on events and incidents. One of the stories he read out was of life in a small –town and its Christian missionary school. The moralistic position one is forced to assume by life in small towns is vividly described in his stories. To my question, Palash pointed out that life in small towns is claustrophobic and there is very little space to dissipate one’s energies, something available in abundance in big cities.

Anita Jain breezed on stage brimming with confidence that literary success and fame brought her. Dressed in black top and skirt she seemed business-like in an American sense and proceeded to read out from her book ‘Marrying Anita’ which describes her and her parent’s search for a groom in India. Anita said it was a confessional book though her confessions were timid by American standards but shocking in India. Anita did her schooling and college in the United States and lives in India while her parents continue to reside in the United States. She read out passages describing her visit along with her parents to her maternal aunt’s house in Meerut and meeting her married first cousins after a gap of 18 years and exchanging notes . She also read out another passage where she invites a Sikh friend to her apartment and their first kiss. .Anita stated that her intention was to portray the fast changes in metropolitan India in the course of her search for a husband. Anita was told from the audience that parts of her book could be exaggerated as in urban and semi-urban India, women are free to go out, search for partners, find them and enter in to matrimony with the consent of parents and the larger family.

The post-lunch session was a talk by Prof. Sanjay Srivastava on ‘Streets, Footpaths, Gated Communities – The Cultures of Indian Pornography’. Prof. Srivastava teaches Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi. The well-researched talk was aided by slide presentations. Sanjay pointed out that pornography creates in the mind of millions of Indian males, images of the sensual woman they like to aspire for but is unattainable and unavailable. There are also ideas of a true sexuality which has to be found and failing which a man’s life remains unfulfilled. The sensual woman is white, upper class and represents in their minds, modernity. Sanjay dwelt on the explicit sexual discussions held in the columns of women’s magazines, both English and Hindi. He also referred to the badly printed magazines with pornographic tales sold on streets by small time vendors along with other magazines which exhort readers to lead ideal lives. He also spoke of gated communities where women could swing between modernity and tradition. He narrated how Karva Chauth would be observed along with drinking and dancing for Diwali parties. Prof. Srivastava has done a lot of research in his topic from a sociological viewpoint and his findings and conclusions need to be discussed more seriously.

Suresh Kohli the veteran documentary film maker was present to show his documentary on Kamala Das, the eminent writer who died recently. The women writers who read their works in the morning session stayed away from viewing it. I would say it was disrespect on their part. Kamala was an endearing person and I still cherish the moments spend in her company. Though Kamala was a bi-lingual writer, the film was restricted to her writing in English. The film was shot in the last years of her life, when she embraced Islam and started wearing Muslim dress. The frail Kamala had stopped moving out of her apartment and the entire shooting had to be done indoors. It was a poignant moment when Kamala says that she made a dinner of her past and invited all to come and share in its food and wine . It was perhaps an understatement of the anguish and suffocation she had gone through. Kamala ‘s literary life beginning with her first collection ‘Summer in Calcutta’ and comments of othe r poets like Keki Daruwalla are included in the documentary. Suresh Kohli has done a wonderful job and his work deserves a far wider audience.

With this curtains fell on the second Kovalam Literary Festival and a word of appreciation is due to Binoo John and his wife Rebecca who worked untiringly to make it a success. They did a wonderful job and in my view they should continue to organize the Third Festival in similar manner and in the same venue that the first two were held..

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kovalam Literary Festival

The Second Kovalam Literary Festival was held at the Taj Green Cove, Kovalam from Oct 7 to Oct 9. The organisers aim to make it a very prestigious event in the years to come. Taj Green Cove where the festival was held provides an ideal ambience to the whole event. The inaugural session of Oct 7th was a brief meeting in the evening while a splendid sun set against the backdrop of the Arabian Sea! published my account of it and here's the link :

My write up of day two of the litfest also got published on the same site and the link is being provided:

Friday, August 07, 2009

'Bharat' Murali and the aesthetic experience!

Bharat Murali, the gifted Malaylam cine actor and stage personality died last night. He left us at his prime , 55 years, and rightly had many more years to live . He was Chairman of Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi at the time of his death. In 2002, his acting in the film 'Neyythukaran' won him the National Award for the best actor in India. My last meeting with Murali was in the Senate Hall in Trivandrum when we were there to pay our last respects to the writer Kamala Das. Little did I imagine that my next visit to Senate Hall will be to pay my last respects to him. Some months ago, while chatting on a cosy evening ,he made me recite Macbeth:
To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale,
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
The theatre actor in him loved Shakespeare and these lines moved him. Murali was deeply touched when I told him of my mother's remarks about an article he had written. On every occassion we met after that, he would inquire of her and ask me what she was reading .
Murali was not merely an actor who gave his best performance. He went beyond the performance to unveil the basics of the aesthetic experience that makes art so appealing to the human mind. This led him to the Kashmiri thinkers who lived and thought over this many centuries ago. He was astounded at how they could reach such solid conclusions and was always inquiring about the processes that enabled them. Abhinavagupta was, according to him, the most prominent of the lot. He read them seriously and often would ask me to spend time to read and understand their works.
The recent advances in neurosciences which led to path-breaking research on the neural basis of aesthetics attracted his attention. Murali would affirm this research was only a confirmation of what these great Kashmiri thinkers on aesthetics intuited centuries ago. 'Phantoms in the Brain' the wonderful book by Dr.Vilayannur Ramachandran, the famous Indian neuroscientst who lives and works in the United States influenced him deeply. He was confident that neuroscience would soon read out to us the workings of the human mind as it appreciated all forms of art. Murali drew parallels between the writings of the great Kashmiri thinkers on aesthetics and Dr.Ramachandran. He felt it was the continuance of a great Indian tradition. This led him to invite Dr.Ramachandran to visit Trivandrum and deliver a talk on the subject. The picture of Murali, on the podium, welcoming the great neuroscientist and explaining to a rapt audience on how and why the human mind gets drawn to all forms of art is deeply etched in my memory. Not even his greatest characters on stage or screen can surpass that image!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on a Suicide!

A colleague commited suicide last Tuesday, the 21st of July. He hanged himself in his office late that evening. It was a holiday for in our part of the world Hindus perform rituals by the sea and rivers to honour their ancestors. He did all the rituals for his ancestors in the morning and returned to his office where he remained all alone through out the day. In a note he has mentioned that he's taking his life and no one else is responsible for it.

A lawyer known for his integrity he was the District Government Pleader and Public Prosecutor at the time of his death. Under India's Civil and Criminal Procedure Code's it is a vital position in the administration of justice at the district level.

Though my senior in age and experience we enjoyed a comfortable relationship as a host of incidents and circumstances brought us close, personally and professionally. From that vantage point, I can see no reason why he should commit suicide. Yet, he did! Why? One can only speculate!

Is a person's decision to take his life an act on the spur of the moment, done abruptly and without forethought? Or is it done after deep thought and reflection? Does the situation, more important than the disposition of the person , trigger it?

I would link this incident to what happiness researchers like Martin Seligman and his colleagues say about the mental health of lawyers. Though their research was done in an American context, its findings can be applied in all countries. The study found that lawyers were the most highly paid professionals in the United States but the rates of depressive disorders, illegal drug abuse, alcoholism and divorce (even in women) were disproportionately higher than in any other profession or occupation. Lawyers are trained to foresee what might go wrong for their clients in every situation and defend them from it. This pessimistic outlook is a great professional asset but the danger is it seeps in to personal life and wreaks havoc. Along with it, the shift in emphasis on legal practice from good counsel about justice and fairness being the primary good to making it a big business turns lawyers more and more unhappy.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

An Evening at Prithvi Theatre!

Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, Mumbai, is a place of pilgrimage to drama lovers the world over. A love of theatre makes me check out Prithvi whenever I am in Mumbai. Prithivi Cafe and Samovar are my favourite haunts as it is to many. Last week, while in Mumbai, I took time off to watch the late evening show of 'Grey Elephants in Denmark' at Prithvi. The play in English on the lfe of Vinay Iyengar, the youngest of the Palangad Iyengars, a traditonal family of magicians is well scripted and acted out. It depicts the transformation of young Vinay at different stages of life and as he travels the world and encounters others of his tribe. His monologues, his discussions, his cousin Anita, herself a magician, describing him, are all quite fascinating to keep the audience spell bound. Vinay is frustrated when he discovers the 'willing suspension of disbelief' of the audience that enables a magician's stage performances to be successful. From 'sleight of hand to sleight of mind' is how he describes his transformation and growth. Vinay's realisation of his limits as a magician and the attempts to overcome them are the 'mis-theme' of this play and they are depicted through him and through people close to him. Whether they are futile or successful is left to the the viewer. Leaving the final question unanswered and to the viewer to interpret is ultimate achievement in art and the playwright has 'mis-directed' it with great skill.
After the play I went backstage and congragulated the actors.Without their tremendous effort and hardwork the play could not have been acted out so well. They even had to master some magic. May 'Out of Context' present us with more such gems.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trivandrum Golf Club and an encounter with Shashi Tharoor!

Pic - An emergency ambulance at the trivandrum golf club - signs of troubled times?
I wrote in this blog, two years ago, ( , of my introduction, to the lovely game of golf. In May 2007, I became a Member Elect of the Trivandrum Golf Club. In 2008 December, I was made a Member. The guidance of expert coaches helped me grasp the fundamentals of the game. I am regular in my golf and enjoy it.
The Trivandrum Golf Club found itself in the eye of a storm in 2008, when on May 30th, the Government of Kerala decided to resume ownership of the 25 acres of land and buildings in its possession. . The obvious reason cited was that the 25 acres of prime land and facilities within it were being enjoyed by a handful of people for their private pleasure and the public at large are denied access. The incidents connected with this action of the Government became subject of a legal and political controversy, the ripples of which are yet to die down . The High Court of Kerala quashed the orders of the Government on procedural infirmities but permitted appropriate action to be taken in compliance with the rules. Government is going ahead with taking over the land of the golf club and a protracted litigation is in place. Unfortunately, the public perception of clubs as places of exclusivity where the elite rub shoulders is yet to change and the Trivandrum Golf Club found very little support even when the government’s actions were arbitrary and heavy handed.
The above narration is only to give the reader a better understanding of the events of 22nd March 2009. The Extraordinary General Meting of the golf club was held at the club house that evening to consider two alterations to be made to the bye-laws and approve of the budget for 2009-10. The President, Mr.P..M. Abraham, was in the chair and the items on the agenda unanimously approved by the 36 members in attendance. Pity that in a club with 600 members, hardly a handful turn up .
Immediately after the meting was adjourned, a gentleman took the stage and mentioned that members of the Club should exercise their franchise in the Parliament Elections of 2009 to register their protest at the state government’s action towards the golf club. A second person ,in more explicit terms, said that members should use their clout to defeat the candidate of a particular political party bent on taking over the lands of the club The President of the Club was a voice of sanity when he stated that voting should be left to the individual choice and Club should seek recourse to legal remedies. . Unfortunately, many members refused to tow this line. I was in a minority when I said that though the actions of government were arbitrary and illegal, it is improper to use the club, even informally, to plan and discuss political action or retaliation. As responsible citizens of this country, club members ought to focus on graver issues facing the nation and not be myopic.. My comments invited a harsh reaction from the Secretary who categorised me a ‘new comer’. I still don’t get its implications.. Is a new comer not supposed to dissent.? Or is he not allowed to express his views in a meeting? Over the last two years, I went through the metamorphosis of being a Member-Elect, a Candidate member and finally a Member. Karl Marx's insights on the bourgeois patterns of thought are relevant in many contexts.
In the midst of all this it was announced that Shashi Tharoor, the Congress candidate from the Trivandrum Parliamentary Consitutency will be reaching the Club. The Congress Party is in the Opposition in Kerala where the Communists are at the helm of government. Mr Tharoor, who is a Honorary Member of the Golf Club, . arrived and spoke of the need for Trivandrum to grow in to a global city and secure recognition internationally. Some listeners were impatient and couldn’t wait to hear him out. They interrupted to ask his views on the Government’s resumption of ownership of the lands of the Club. Dampening their enthusiasm, Mr.Tharoor stated that the Club is regarded in the surrounding community as a exclusive zone with facilites being monopolized by a few hundred members. There must be a attitude change on the part of the members too, he said.. Mr. Tharoor agreed that in a city, facilities for leisure and recreation, like golf courses are necessary and what exists should be preserved. . Mr. Tharoor minced no words when he said ‘there is an egalitarian streak in Kerala society and you are on the wrong side of it’. Thanks, Mr. Tharoor for a sober response.
It’s often said ‘a politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation.’ Mr.Tharoor displayed statesmanship during the few minutes he spend at the golf club. Sorry, Mr.Tharoor, that I can’t help you in this election.. The ‘egalitarian streak’ you mentioned in passing, is a contribution of the Left movement in Kerala, built through heroic struggles spanning many decades of the last century and I trace my roots to it.
But my respect for you as an individual has been built by our first encounter in the golf club and it will always be there. If the people of Trivandrum, elect you, I will only be happy to welcome you as our Member of Parliament .
Wish you all Success!