Sunday, January 29, 2017

Art in a Pune veggie market, again

Art Mandai 2017

Last year, Gauri Gandhi called some Pune artists together to sit in Mandai, Pune’s historic vegetable market, and exhibit our wares along with the vendors there. The event went well and it was a great experience.
In January 2017, the Art Mandai Group participated in the Pune Biennale at Let Art Work Gallery, with the theme Gauri suggested: Merawala Blue. We worked on a piece each, in our particular shade of blue. I had a terrible time, and painted a series which turned out to look so unappealing that I was in despair. At the last minute I went fishing … and, repetitive but true … up came Today’s Catch. I was away, interviewing for Ability Foundation, and missed the launch of the show and a spectacular performance by the inimitable Ruve Narang who is not just a writer and painter but a dancer too. Just a few days later it was time for Art Mandai again.
Art Mandai has two main purposes:
  • to integrate with local spaces and local communities, and 
  • to bring art into the mainstream, to people who avoid museums and galleries as restrictive or intimidating. 
Ours is a diverse group, with painters, sculptors, ceramic artists, masters of large installation, graphic wizards and more. One of my most favourites is Prabhakar Singh, who works with pieces of scrap metal and turns out evocative, lifelike figures (such as the ones seen here to the left and right).

One principle the Art Mandai Group follows is low pricing, so this year one of my products was a series of limited-edition plastic placemats incorporating an image of previous work along with a poem written for it.
I realised later that this was the first time my art and my writing had come together. Until then they had been quite separate, with the process of naming the pieces as the only point of contact. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bear with me, read my vagina monologue

V Section

These days, private parts are going public in a big way. Apparently, Indian medical bodies are busy preparing workshops to teach surgical techniques that make female genitals 'aesthetically pleasing'. Apparently, hordes of women are lining up, urged on by ardent sexual partners. You can get glossy botoxed throat and cheeks, a nifty nose job, an uplifting boob job, tummy tucks, thigh trims and now fall off the assembly line with a cute ‘Barbie’ vagina.
There’s going to be some injections, medication, and chopping out and stitching up of bits. There’s going to be a period of healing during which excretion will make you screech like a tortured person in a bad movie, and (worse!) a period of sexual abstinence. But at the end of it you will have a specially enhanced vagina at which you can gaze in admiration until your neck gives way.
All the hype put me in mind of something that happened a few months ago. Getting off the Deccan Queen at CST, I walked to Churchgate, knapsack on my back, for a meeting. It was a nasty hot Mumbai day, and I took a less-used route to escape the traffic and people shoving and kicking on the streets in their usual pleasant Mumbai way. Enjoying the trees, the sea breeze and heritage buildings that lined the road, I gloated that friends with whom I once frequented this path must now be trapped in their chauffeur-driven AC cars heading to frantic schedules; a walk like this out of their reach forever.
It was satisfying but I felt strangely let down. Something was missing! Near the end of the day, long after the dear DQ had dropped me home and I’d had my dinner, I realised what it was. WHERE were all the roadside creepy crawly guys who stand and stare, whistle, make suggestive gestures and contort facial expressions to express awe and lust?
After tossing and turning all night worrying about where they’d disappeared (Slapped by feminists? Locked up by the righteous Mumbai police? Reformed by reading Twinkle Khanna?) I woke to the awful truth. They could see, from a distance, that I was an office bearer of what my friend Falguni colourfully describes as The Bye-Bye Club.
The Bye-Bye Club is not a group of women who are saying regretful bye-byes to their youth or despairing the slackening of vaginas gone disgustingly droopy. It is that brazen lot you see shouting loud bye-byes across streets and cinemas and coffee shops across the country. Shameless hussies, they are wearing ‘sleeveless’! As they swing their arms in farewell gesture, the flesh of their upper arms is swinging too, flapping back and forth as they call out, “Byeeee!”
These are women who have long made peace with the orgasm. For them, pleasurable sex is not about size or a tight fit but having a partner who understands the value of patience in working towards a shared experience. Some have crossed that hot-flush divide; they have already started snoring in their sleep and in a few years, if all goes well, they will be farting too.
What if I had walked from CST to Churchgate AFTER getting the designer vagina surgery done? Would the oglers have reappeared? Considering that I would have been mincing along with loud screams at each step, if they came it would have been to help me cross the road. So if you aren’t going to do a vagina operation for a roadside romeo, who would you do it for? I would worry. If your man wants your vagina to look like a baby’s, he’s a man you must never leave alone in a room with a little girl. Besides, a vagina is the human body part which wins the Guinness world record for having the highest capacity for expansion. (Show me a man with genitals the size of a baby’s head and I’ll show you a man with elephantiasis.)
The truth is that a man who wants his woman to get her vagina altered is a man so accustomed to the warm embrace of his own fist that he’s lost contact with what a real vagina feels like.
First appeared in Pune Mirror 8 Jan 2017

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The secular Sanghi

On this day in 1997, Vishnu Shahani died. His widow, Rita Shahani, would write:
He had not been ill. There was no warning. No intimation. There was no goodbye. When I woke up that morning, he was gone. 
Years later, I worked with Rita to bring out an English translation of the (Sindhi) book she wrote after Vishnu’s death. As we got the book ready for press, Rita died. It was a shock. Her daughter, my dear friend Madhavi Kapur, launched the book a few days later on 23 November 2013, a tribute to both her parents Rita and Vishnu.
Tragically, less than six months ago, we lost Madhavi too. For many of us, the pain of that loss will always remain.  
Madhavi resembled her father Vishnu in many ways, specifically in her strong principles and commitment to social welfare. At the core of Vishnu’s identity was his commitment to Hinduism. Today the Rashtriya Seva Sangh (RSS) is perceived as a fundamentalist organization: inflexible, chauvinistic and with a capacity for violence. Vishnu, a dedicated Sanghi, was open, caring and devoted only to truth and the betterment of humankind. 
While Madhavi’s biggest contribution is in education and she is remembered with love and gratitude by her thousands of pupils, she is also well known for her unwavering stand towards secularism in India. On one occasion, she took a Pune housing society to court because they refused to accept a Muslim neighbour. She won the case, the Muslim family moved in to the building - and very soon they were accepted by their neighbours and integrated.
Thinking about Madhavi today, I wanted to do something that would have made her happy. So I uploaded Rita's book and you can click on Tales from Yerwada Jail to read it if you want. 

Tales from Yerwada Jail
At bedtime every night, Vishnu Shahani’s two young children refuse to sleep until he tells them a story from his time in jail. Vishnu’s stories embody a spirit of adventure, and the youthful excitement of overcoming a powerful and oppressive enemy. He speaks of personal involvement in the Indian freedom struggle, without a trace of complaint against the hardship he faced.
After Vishnu’s death, his widow, Rita, interviews others to get a fuller picture. She finds that the perception of each participant in the family’s history varies slightly. She pieces the versions together, allowing the differing interpretations to coexist.
Time has moved on, and while Indian democracy has survived, memories of the movement for freedom against Imperial rule have receded. The names of Gandhi, Nehru and just a few others, are remembered. Through the story of the Shahani family, this book honours the struggle and sacrifice of thousands of ordinary families in the 1940s.
Tales from Yerwada Jail also tells of the little-known contribution of the Sindhis to Independence, and their struggle to find livelihood and new homes after Partition.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

No thank you, nothing for me

So a few days ago, I happened to be walking down New Bond Street. Posh shops with people standing outside saying, ‘Try this! Try this!’ and handing out free cosmetics. I kept going and the chant continued, ‘Try this! Try this!’ After walking a bit I started replying, ‘No thank you. No thank you. No thank you.’ One guy said, “Try it! It’s free!!” I said ‘No thank you.’ He said, ‘Are you sure? Take it!’ I said, ‘No thank you.’ He said, ‘Ok, what do you use?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ He replied, in alarm, ‘Nothing! WHY?’ So I was thinking, why do I use nothing? Why? Why? And I told him, ‘Because I’m a Buddhist!’ No sooner had the words left my lips than I was stricken with utmost guilt! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, what would my dear departed mother have felt to hear that! What a betrayal of her patriotic Hinduism!! We don’t believe in the caste system. We believe everyone is equal. But we’re Hindus! Yes, we’re Hindus! We don’t do sati. We’re fine with widow remarriage! My parents actually did ‘kanyadaan’ TWICE for me!!! And my dad’s final cremation rites were done by his daughter (me)!! But we’re Hindus. We never go to the temple – ever, ever. Actually, we do go - but only as tourists. All our worship is done at home, in private. Often in secret. But we’re Hindus! We don’t do pooja – ok, once a year, on Diwali! But we’re HINDUS. We don’t call it ‘karma’, we call it Newton’s Third Law of Motion (each and every action has an equal and opposite reaction). Still, we’re Hindus. All this was going on in my mind and the man said, ‘Ohhhh!’ and he bowed low and said, ‘have a nice day!'

Monday, September 26, 2016

Biscuits II

and now, my daughter is visiting from Kolkata.
Someone from her office just phoned:

Kya, Poona gayi?
Bataya nahin!
Kya baat hai!
Koi suspense hai, kya?
Biscuit lana, ok!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ode to a Bakery

So the other day I wanted some biscuits
Not just ordinary biscuits, mind
The biscuits I was craving
Had got to be light and crisp
Oozing with butter
Packed into square boxes
Immediately after they had cooled
Straight from the oven.
But it was morning!
What to do?
I was craving them –
And so were all my Bombay friends!
So I had to buy not one box but a dozen!
I phoned City Bakery
(Which opens for retail sale on weekday afternoons)
“Yes, you can come,” said Salamat Irani.
I rang the bell, he opened the door, I entered.
The door stayed open, just a sliver, behind me.
An elderly gentleman eased his way in,
Opening the door slightly more.
Two fat ladies entered
Chatting away animatedly
About the last dentist appointment
While they waited their turn.
A group of children came in
Then someone’s driver
Soon there was a big crowd waiting.
They had appeared mysteriously
Gravitated to the open City Bakery door
(Which stays closed all morning, every day)
Like ants when you drop a few grains of sugar.
Patient but eager,
They waited for their biscuits,

While my boxes got filled.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Happy Birthday - in Slovenian

The restaurant was noisy with a group of students. Their teachers sat together at one table. All of us were enjoying the delicious Greek food. At first I thought they must be American but soon realised they weren’t speaking English – except to the waiter, another surprise. The students finished and trickled out and the teachers stayed on, finishing their wine and enjoying their dessert. I just had to know where they were from so got up and asked them and was intrigued to learn they were from Slovenia. Never met anyone from Slovenia before. I said we were going to Meteora tomorrow and they said, “Oh that’s a long drive, nearly three hours!” When I told them that for people who live in Pune, a three-hour drive is something you’re quite used to, they said if they got in a bus in three hours they would be at the other end of their country.
Well, the baklava came in with a candle and they stood up and sang Happy Birthday Dear Ajay – in Slovenian! It was wonderful, but I pressed the wrong button so it didn’t get recorded. Everyone came to wish him, including the manager’s cute little children.
We’ve had many special moments in Greece but this was one of the most special on this very special milestone birthday … HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AJAY!