Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Understanding Kamala Das/Kamala Suraiya/Madhavikutty

She is honest. honest to the core. only the dishonest will label her honesty as sleaze!

she is brave. one has to be brave to be a Madhavikutty or Kamala Das or Kamala Suraiya in a cynical, hypocritical and censorious state like Kerala.

And she is not consistent. Inconsistency is the privilege of an utterly honest, brave person. perception of truth changes with experience of life. it's mulish to stick to a once made statement, a once taken position , simply to APPEAR consistent. Consistency is meant for the average - not for the genius.

She was honest when she said My Story is not her autobiography. every one has a story to tell. if you and I tell our stories, we will not allow ourselves to be chained down to pedestrian facts - if we are true artists. Our perceptions/creativity will modify/reinvent our true experiences. We will move freely between fact and fiction, between the ground reality and the imagined - if we are true artists, if we possess an elevated level of negative capability.

As an artist, we would owe nothing to anyone. We owe it to us, only to us, to be honest to ourselves, and our creation. The creation takes on a life of its own, dictating rules that necessitate the creator to forget her identity as a person (Madhavikutty, in this case) and respect the identity of her creation - her WORK OF ART. A true artist listens to the demands of her creation. A lesser one will be dictated by such extraneous matters as the societal sensibilities, sense of propriety - - -.

Kamala Das is an artist par excellence – a nonpareil in English literature.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reading Frankenstein after a Quarter of a Century

I do not remember how the novel Frankenstein affected me when I read it in my late teens. If I remember right, I found the book rather boring tho’ the concept fascinated me. I finished reading it two hours. I remember this ‘cos I started and finished it during the course of a short train journey. My reading speed is pathetically slow, so I must have hopped, skipped and jumped thru’ it.

My second encounter with that novel was last week. How time can change people, perspectives! Found it terribly depressing but, to use vernacularised English, a thoroughly 'unputdownable' book.

What fascinated me about the novel is the contemporaneous yet antediluvian nature of the theme. It’s about knowledge – man’s hunger for it. Not normal, natural, healthy hunger; but about gluttony.

Man is a glutton for knowledge. He has always been that. No cure for this disorder.

It caused Adam to be driven out of Paradise; Icarus to plunge headlong into disaster; Faust to a four and twenty years of utter misery before he was dragged to hell.

But it is when I read this novel last week that I saw the torture of a mind weighed down by the guilt of misusing knowledge, and letting loose on mankind a destructive superhuman monster. How beautifully Mary Shelley describes the agony of Victor Frankenstein! It’s so real. So very real. As tho’ the thoughts, feelings, fears, anxieties, depression, apprehensions, terror, the infinite sadness, the withdrawal from life and the inability to celebrate life, parade before our mind’s eye. They are all there, visible, for us to see and feel and touch!

The story of the monster’s predicament also is an infinitely touching tale. He never asked to be created. Poor creature!

Will human clones become a reality? Sends shivers down the spine!

Einstein must have felt terrible when his formula translated into bombs.

Future seems inhabited by nightmarish dehumanized monsters. Monsters or men? Confused identities.

No more millennium dreams. Goodness, truth, beauty. Lion and the lamb enjoying each others company.

Foolish to have dreamed.

Communism in Kerala - childhood images

One of the earliest quiz questions that I learnt is this:
Q. Where was the first democratically elected communist government in the world?
A. In Kerala - in 1957- with EMS as Chief Minister.

I must have been 4 or 5 when I learnt this by rote. It didn’t make any sense to me then. But it made me feel proud to be a Keralite. Even my brother who first put this question to me looked and sounded proud tho’ democracy made no sense to him too then.

But Communism did. We didn’t know who the communists were. But we knew they were bad people. They didn’t believe in God. So they had no sense of right or wrong. They were brutal people. They would kill without hesitation. They stuck terror in the hearts of people I moved and lived with.

I learnt to loathe and fear the sickle and the hammer.

I vaguely remember the VIMOCHANA SAMARAM ie the freedom struggle. To a Keralite, Vimochana Samaram meant the efforts to overthrow the democratically elected communist government of Kerala. My house was a coordinating centre for the activities in that part of the town. Priests and nuns were frequent visitors. So it felt like a sacred activity. It was like a crusade.

It was in those days that I first heard the term 'lathi charge'. I still remember the day when my peace loving sibling got caught in one of those lathi charges and came running into the house breathless. There was a lot of commotion in the house. Mother was anxious. We children were afraid. I was angry too and told the old helper lady who used to sleep in my room how exactly I would chop the communist policemen into pieces. Yes, you should do that. she said. I’ll help you to pickle them. Later we will serve them to their wives, she concluded. Much later, when I was much older, I learnt that she always cast her vote in favour of the communists!

I vaguely remember a large demonstration during the Vimochana Samaram. I was four or so. We children –siblings, cousins – were packed into a car which moved with the demonstration. All of us had small congress flags with us which we waved and waved. That is when I picked up the slogan-angamaliyil kalleriyil etc

It took me many many years to get out of those early notions about communism. I have my own independent views of it now. I now understand the undercurrents and politics of Vimochana samaram.

And I also understand the significance of that quiz I mentioned at the outset. For I have seen that Communism and Democracy make strange bedfellows.
No wonder it took more than a century after the birth of Marxism for this marriage to take place.
And when it did, it happened in that the state of Kerala, a state which has always remained an enigma to social scientists.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mediawatch: Cutthroat Competition driving Channels to Harikiri

Arun Nayar who? Liz hurley Who? Who cares, anyway? So what if no one cares? The media wants us to care. And so it thrusts Arun Nayar-Liz Hurley on the poor helpless reader/viewer day after day, hour after hour!

But the viewer and reader will not choose to remain helpless and hapless forever.

Take me, for example. I used to be a regular with the English Channels. Of late I've begun to find them irritating; and progressively more irritating. Now I find them thoroughly disgusting.

CNN IBN, TIMES NOW, NDTV and HEADLINES TODAY – in the order of disgust.

I have always felt ashamed of my taste for trivialities, my weakness for sensational reporting. Guess that’s why I jumped with joy when HEADLINES TOAY was launched, and then CNN IBN and then TIMES NOW.

But I didn’t bargain for the levels to which these channels were prepared to stoop to conquer. I can never forgive Rajdeep Sardesiai for his inability to conceal his glee when Promod Mahajan was shot by his brother, or his provocative statements on the reservation issue, inviting/(coercing ?) students take the matter violently to the streets, brashly reminding them of the Goswami immolation attempt.
I cannot forgive any of the channels for drooling over the Bachchans and Khans, for wasting time space on them when more burning issues needed to be presented to the anxious viewers.
Yesterday, amidst all the hullabaloo about the Arun Nayar-Liz Hurly business, HEADLINES TODAY flashed the news of high intensity earthquake that had hit Indonesia. No More news was forthcoming. I switched channels but found none of the other channels had anything on it. And then, hold your breath!! HEADLINES TODAY withdrew the flash news!!! Possibly because it realisd that other channels were not sufficiently interested in it, or ‘cos it didn’t want to cast a cloud of gloom over the Arun-Liz wedding!!!

But today, the TOI Hyderabad took the cake. The Indonesian earthquake claiming an official number of 82 deaths and trapping many under the rubble, and a possible Tsunami, were shunted to International page(page 19).

The channels need to realize that viewers are not idiots.
The channels need to get their priorities right.
They need to realize that there are a large number of viewers for whom socialites and actors are only of passing interest. The average viewer’s concers are different.

I have rearranged the channels on my TV. For a long time it was 1. NDTV 2. HEADLINES TODAY. 3. CNN IBM 4. TIMES NOW. My new order is 1. Regional News Channels 2. DOORDARSHAN(!!!!!) 3.BBC and then the other English News Channels. The order does not matter. Not any more. It’s a case of one worse than the other.

And I’m not the only one who has rearranged the channels.