Spatiotemporal heterogeneities

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On the Unsuni project (after the performance on the 29th of June, '07):
“The Unsuni project gives voice to the faceless, voiceless, helplessmillions…these are stories of India’s masses - of starvation deaths,suicides, women raped and stripped naked, custodial deaths, land grabbers,souless powerbrokers milking the deprived and of hatred, violence andgreed…”

That’s from the poster. Me being of an old model, I come fitted with an outdated processor - halfway down the list of those sordid adjectives,nouns, phrases and clauses, smoke starts to come out of my ears, and by the time I’m through, safety valves blow, a fail-safe system takes over,there’s a short-circuit, and I’m beyond caring.Now that being so, the obvious crass comment I made to Osho (who, by theway, is the post-Aj face of Ninaad, and hopefully more faces will join him soon) was, “Gosh, did you open a thesaurus and look up all the synonyms ofsadness (literal and spiritual)? My life already is sad enough…” etc. etc.But ultimately I did go. And hence this mail.

A pause now to trumpet the play-going credentials of your reviewer. Well,the broad details are in place – from before I remember every month or so,sister and me accompanied my parents to plays at places ranging from theAcademy of Fine Arts, and Rabindra Sadan where AJC Bose road tumultuously rushes into Jawaharlal Nehru Road, to little known places like Muktanganfrom around the vague place where Ashutosh Mukherjee Road becomes Deshapran Shashmol Road (okay, that’s in Calcutta, and not exactly Trafalgar square either, not even Chowringhee). And then I went to collegeto Presidency, which, at least in that part of the world (and we’d like tothink in a slightly bigger part of the world, but not quite), is the bestyou can do for snob-value. So that sort of licensed me to have an opinionabout and fight tooth and nail for anything to do with the broad Bengaliconcept called ‘kaalchaar’ (hey, magic of Indo-European roots I think –it’s called ‘culture’ in English). And so what all that training taught me was that the civilized thing to do was to have a wan bemused smile foranything you’re not sure about, with a minor raising of the eyebrows wherever applicable. Potent Kolkasian (/Kolkatian) formula, try it – and Ipromise you you’ll be regarded as a man/woman of kaalchaar (I didn’t takeany money from you, so I can’t promise a return of that).

So there I was – wan smile in place and ready to raise my eyebrows (ever so slightly!) at the histrionic equivalent of the drop of a hat. Westarted a reasonable twenty minutes late – which is long enough to berespectable, but not to bore your of your wits. I won’t dwell too much onthe details of the play – it was like a series of monologues depicting allin the quote with which this review started and more (street children,land-grabbing, religious riots, manure scavenging, rehabilitation of the leprosy-afflicted), with intermittent song-dance jigs (most famous bollywood tunes adapted to suitable lyrics) to keep up a certain buoyant spirit, lest it all became too overwhelming, and short-circuited you out(beyond caring kinds!). And for every story of hope and victory told,there remained a dark lingering sense of all the huge lot where justice was not served – the very vast majority!

Now comes the crux of the matter. Mallika Sarabhai said something aboutstirring people up with ‘shock and disbelief’. While that can be a statedpurpose in foreign audiences (the Royal Dutch Embassy is a major sponsor),or particularly insulated Indian chatterati, one could not see that effecton this audience today. For instance I knew that despite the burgeoningeconomy 37% of our population remains below the poverty line (the Indianstandard - which means less than Rs.10 a day, the world standard is abouta dollar a day which of course puts 75% (!!!!) of our people below it); Iknew of religious riots despite the steel giant amalgamations; and ofland-grabbing (phooey, that used to be a theme of hindi movies from 1970s) despite cars choking the roads of Bangalore. I knew this happens, and Iknew that to, I was not stirred with shock or disbelief…then came thevital question, so what I have done with all that knowledge?!

Given the nature of our nation, Indian themes are not always very muchgiven to subtlety. I’m not speaking just of the usual foreigner’s cliché of a riot of colours, and sun, and snow, and dust and heat, and elephantsand cobras, but when most of you go hungry, and you want to convey that –well, there’s room for only that much subtlety; it’s just not a subtletheme. It’s quite all right to make movies about the weird sexual habitsof subsections of the urban (if not urbane) populace, but it wouldn’t beright to assume that that’s all that there is. For instance, perhaps Sonsand Lovers couldn’t be set in the coalmines of Jharia; (of course, all ofus, rural or urban can and do have weird dispositions perhaps – but what Imean to say is that being a secondary predilection, cannot be ‘subtly’dealt with when you’re dying like a rat in a waterlogged mine). So if youthought the theme of the play naïve, it’s not the performance, but theextreme nature of the subject which had to give you that sense. It wasnever meant to be subtle.

For it is important to state the obvious. Quite fortuitously I found a bitof a labmeet invitation mail which I had sent out to my labmates whenrotating in Shona’s lab, probably around the time of the Bolshevikrevolution: “….you people are eons ahead of me in terms of knowledge ofneurobiology, and so perhaps it won't be anything new that you'll heartomorrow, but think of it as helping a guy realize his exact situation andhow much more he has got to improve - raise the consciousness from adrowsy irking to the brazen light of public embarrassment.” Apologies toShona for declassifying such material from the lab-archives, but it’srather apt – many things are there eating away the wood in oursubconscious, sometimes it’s good to bring it out in the sun, and try getrid of the smell and the vermin (okay, fine, it’s my subconscious which iswood, not yours! ;-)).

India, of course, has things on too massive a scale – you think you’llgrapple with it, but the sunwashed, vermin-free days of Presidency pass,and all the while it all seems mind-numbingly big. The raving of youth,and then the usual cynicism, and disillusionment, or if not that – atleast, the short-circuiting it all out…India can and will take care ofitself. Things will continue this way, and then maybe miraculously getbetter. It’s getting better…isn’t it? Actually why should one concernoneself with such narrow bounds of geography? I work for human knowledge,right? Wherever it’s served best. And we contribute by doing our littlebit. Human knowledge. And life becomes a blur of Zeiss bookings, and AWS-sand antibody stainings, and… then maybe one day in Mandara you come downto fill water, and there’s Shilpa and Kirti talking in their balcony,across clothes-stands – like neighbours would across the crowded rooftopsof Benares, and it’s a parable of that India you lost out on sometime downthe line, and there’s a little twinge of nostalgia. (Okay ladies, I wasn’twatching, but the analogy did come to mind!;-)) What happened to Horlicks(I always drank Bournvita though!)? What of the tram tracks on Howrahbridge? A monstrous flyover now runs the length of AJC Bose road, hidingthe noble facades of the building and screening the sky…it has eased thetraffic, I guess, but…

And then who are these people I tell you about? Sometimes they seem suchsimple nice folk, a relief from the - worse than complex - complicated‘urbane’ people I hobnob with, and yet that too perhaps is romanticism -sometimes they almost seem another species – the scared, dark, ignoranteyes, the very scary amounts of ignorance and different ideals. So if youbelieve in their goodness, it’s worth a shot, and if you covertly believein an essential difference, for whatever weird reason, then too it’s onyou to dispel the ignorance – and afford human dignity to humans. Sarabhaisaid something about self-preservation – it just is not right so manypeople are unhappy at one time. Apologising for that simplicity worth ofperhaps a certain American (old clichés though are usually true), I willmake it more complicated by quoting Rabindranath and not translating it(go find a Bong!): “He mor durbhaga desh jader korechho opomaan/ opomaanehote hobe aaj tahader shobar soman.” Do at least follow these links andsee what makes sense:

I stood up the chance of a Mallu-mess dinner (apologies to Anagh) to tellyou this – for, of course as we all know, inspiration can be notoriouslyshort-lived, and is violently inhibited by loads of meaty food, andexcited by tea, and differentially acted upon by alcohol. I thought theleast I could do was tell you! As Candide said, “All that is very well,but let us cultivate our garden.” I have to go cultivate my garden now(which means, add primary antibody to cells, in this case). Ultimately,that’s what I do…and sometime when you’re tired of cultivation spare thoselinks a bit of your leisure. And that too would be good - for while we'renever perfect, strive is what we do. As I said in the beginning, myprocessor’s getting outdated. With my immense faith in and awe of allthings geeky, I sincerely do believe that with the benefit of theevolution of technology (or the technology of evolution, if you will), allpeople born after the year 1984 are necessarily smarter, if not cleverer.(For the people born before, read Tennyson's Ulysses...;-))

Perhaps someone will think of something. Perhaps I…


Blogger i149 said...

dear roghus,
amongst the mixed metaphors flying fast and loose, there is a very nice essay here.

4:39 PM  

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