Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Acquired Indifference

When 'Slumdog Millionaire' swept up a fleet of Oscar nominations,a lot of Indians sat back and wondered whether all the attention was well deserved. There was restrained and unrestrained wrath from various quarters that included Amitabh Bachchan who wrote something in his blog about India not being a slum and Indians not being dogs.The success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' is attributed to its dismal depiction of life in India,the kind that fits the stereotypical notion of the 'Indian way of life' the western media likes to convey.(The same has also been said about 'The White Tiger', this year's Booker Prize winner).

I am not here to list the merits or the pitfalls of this seemingly one sided portrayal.I was struck by the workings of my own psyche as I watched the film.I walked out from it untouched,unchanged and without a whine or a word.I admit that it doesn't epitomize the pinnacle of cinematic brilliance but there were moments in the film that were as real as life on the streets of India. One can easily recognize the blinded child who begs for his living,the shrewd,smooth talking urchin who wants to pocket a quick buck, the lethargic,pot bellied police constable who beats up a convict to get answers,the little girl whose future is in the brothels and many of the others.I realized that I wasn't watching the film as an outsider with the objectivity of a curious novice,I watched the film with all the studied nonchalance of a veteran who has seen and heard too much to flinch. I suppose this sentiment is shared by many others who felt that the film was 'watchable with nothing new to show'.

The Indian press never fails to use the words 'lest we forget' after every national disaster or tragedy.It is a wonder that Indians forget nearly everything but they always remember to smile;something that has confounded multitudes of expatriates.Perhaps it is due to the indifference acquired from years of observation; like an heirloom making its way from one generation to the next,hardening with the passage of time. 'Slumdog Millionaire' is definitely not the most moving ode to the Indian slum. On the other hand; if Bollywood can churn out films that make us feel fulfilled, and the Indian art scene can wrench our tear glands dry, then maybe transnational productions that make us confront our indifference aren't as scheming as we think.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Technology Aids the Artist

Making self portraits is one thing and making a sketch of an animal is quite another.Eleven and a half odd years ago, I had accomplished the feat of making my dog Jojo sit absolutely still while I made a likeness of her in pencil.The picture was well appreciated by members of the family and got a B+ from my art teacher who said that I hadn't planned the layout of the picture well.Some five odd years ago we moved to a new house and all of the old artwork was banished to the loft along with an overflowing book collection.A few weeks ago,around the time I made a self portrait, I attempted to sketch a much older and wiser Jojo.She wouldn't sit still, she kept rolling over like a Diva(I acknowledge that she gets her Diva-like tendencies from me while I get my dislike for Bryan Adams from her).I decided to cheat by taking a little help from technology.What good are camera phones if they don't allow you to take snapshots of animals at their spontaneous best? This time I chose my 'photogenic and always pleased to pose pet' Toffee.Animals,unlike humans, have the charm of not being able to fake their facial expressions.Truant artists like me love to exploit this bestial trait to the fullest extent.Besides, it is much easier to replicate something from a camera phone than to use a live model.I give you 'Toffee in Black and White'.

The Red Carpet

'The Red Carpet' by Lavanya Sankaran was highly recommended by a friend of mine.It is a collection of 'Bangalore stories' as the cover suggests.This is the author's first book and for a maiden venture her attempt is decent yet fleeting as far as long term memory is concerned.

'The Red Carpet' is the kind of book you may want to read if you're waiting at an airport and don't want to gulp down yet another predictable bestseller.It can be particularly nostalgic for those who have seen Bangalore transform from the city known as 'the pensioners paradise' to 'India's silicon valley'.The characters include all the usual suspects and urban legends starting from the dapper chauffeur who wants to give his family a good life, to the scheming domestic maid who steals money from her employer's handbag to the U.S. returned yuppies who are caught in a clash of two cultures.The author herself is a U.S. returned, former investment banker educated in one of the 'hippest' schools in the city.Although her stories are quite authentic,they do not span the panorama of all that is 'life in Bangalore'. Her style is lucid,witty and entertaining. Had 'The Bangalore Times' been a tad more well written and observant of the pulse of Bangalore it would have sounded a lot like 'The Red Carpet'.

Nevertheless, I still see a hint of promise in this investment banker turned writer.She may not be Bangalore's answer to Jhumpa Lahiri but a little light reading shouldn't hurt.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Receding into Oblivion

A lot is said about the evils of recession and its cascading effects on sectors like IT,Finance and Real Estate.Very little is said about book lovers with an entrepreneurial spirit;the kind who open tiny bookshops round street corners.This is an ode of some sort to that spirit which sometimes wanes with the weight of the effort required to brace oneself in tough times.During the course of the past month I have become aware of the almost systematic demise of the minimalistic bookstore.I use the word 'systematic' as there seems to be a conspiratorial prophecy lurking behind the end of the proverbial 'shop around the corner'.

Tiny bookstores were dark and asphyxiating.They had books stacked haphazardly and precariously from floor to ceiling;as though the shop owner intended to replicate the leaning tower of Pisa by using nothing but books.One would,with intense apprehension,approach the shop owner and whisper the desired book title into his ears,lest the leaning towers crumble.One had to know what he or she wanted to read.Quite unlike shops of larger chains where readers flop down on bean bags and spend hours pouring over manuscripts before they even decide to buy something.The wizened owner of the shop around the corner always knew what to recommend.He knew every detail of the last book of even the most obscure genre.He didn't need a computer to find out whether a certain title was in stock, he merely glided over to the next decrepit shelf/stack and retrieved it as though he were Houdini.

The gigantic book chain is something like the cannibal that swallowed the tiny bookstore for lunch.I have no intention of sounding politically inclined but my lamentation is well justified.I lament the fact that I now need to go to some impersonal and impeccable store with sprawling interiors and sturdy shelves.It no longer seems blasphemous that such stores keep books by Sidney Sheldon and Archer under a section titled 'Indian fiction', or that I need to spell out the title of a book so that the salesperson may look it up in the database.I am now on a hunt for the last survivors of the endangered species of book entrepreneurs.Recession is too lame a reason to compromise on well recommended reading.