Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Songs

Yesterday I went to the Alliance Francaise, which was packed with young college students. I went there because my youngest child was singing, and there were a few other proud parents, and the students were quite calm about performing in front of family and friends. The leader was a young woman who had started an organisation called "Becoming I" and they had started some projects including one called Fiza, which had to do with rehabilitation of children sold into prostitution. All the men and women students were very integrated, washed ,brushed and clean, barely out of school, but the amazing thing was the velocity of their music, and the very good lyrics, which they had composed as college bands. I was struck both by their sorrow and accompanying sense of hope, and each one so calm and sane, ambitious, alert, unselfconscious and stage savvy. For me, college students are very real and the sense of calm they provide me is probably a professional virtue that I have carried for these 27 years, as a teacher. They are completely at ease in public, moving around as if they own the world.
At the same time, two Dalit girls got burned by a mob in Murdabad, as my garbage collector calls his native city Moradabad. How does India make sense of the different worlds, its natives inhabit?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Malinowski and Marcel Mauss

Other than Emile Durkheim, who I teach to students year after year, Malinowski and Mauss are my favourite authors: Marcel Mauss, because he is clear as a small pool in moon light, no ripples, just pure thought, and Malinowski because he is so complex that anything you read remains in your head for a long time. I spent yesterday reading a biography of him by Michael Young. Cold, sunny, the temperature is ten degrees celsius. The morning was foggy, and the day hot. A friend got an award, so I went for her lunch party, where I got toasted in the sun, on the terrace, and hurried home to read more of the Malinowski biography. My house is filled with roses and chrysanthemums which my daughter and son in law got as gifts for their wedding, and because it is winter, though their friends gave them these flowers last week, the bouquets are alive and vibrant. Most of their friends are young and radical, and a wedding is something they are delighted by.

Malinowski spent a great deal of his life travelling to obscure places with his mother searching for the sun. He went on to write his magnum opus Argonauts of the Pacific and another called The Sexual Life of Savages which are classics on the field work method, advocating "listening and seeing" as the scientific methodologies for studying societies. Oddly, he was very well trained as a mathematician and as a philosopher, with some brilliant companions who were writers and artists. Mauss comes across as lonely and tragic, all his friends died in the trenches of the first world war, and he alone went on to compound the legacy of his unce, Emile Durkheim in some slender elegant volumes. Each of his books is a world in itself, and still readable though a hundred years have passed since he presented them as lectures and essay. Being brittle by temperament myself, I am always grateful for the works of these great classical writers, one Polish and one French, who communicate to me that it is okay to be ill or eccentric or work with complex strands of thought, but when one writes,  one should be clear and simple! Malinowski took on Freud with regard to the Oedipus complex,  showing how significant the mother's brother could be as a disciplinarian, not necessarily the father!and Mauss carried the legacy of a whole school The Annales on his nervous frame!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Holidays Begin

I went to the Anish Kapur exhibition yesterday. The National Gallery of Moodern Art is an old haunt. When I have a free day, and it's sunny or rainy, I set out and spend an hour or two there. I used to like the old arrangement at the gallery, where in the 1970s and 1980s you first saw company art in the corridors, and then went into the Amrita Shergill collection, and upstairs all in a confusion, paintings through the 50s and 60s of the last century. Now the Gallery is much more organised, and the paintings arranged in a neat and very fabulous new arrangement, where you can actually climb several floors and not notice it. There are sofas to rest on, and the paintings are absorbing, but I still miss the old sequence of large rooms leading into one another.  
The Anish Kapoor exhibition was of miniatures of his work, which is huge absolutely, so the tiny replicas looked a little bedraggled, like school boy projects in cardboard and stainless steel. The BBC film which was on, explaining his work, produced the right kind of effect on the viewer, that of awe. And there was a mirror, too, like at last year's art exhibition in Pragati Maidan, which was a huge success with the middle class viewers  (none of us buyers!)who crowded the galley ways excitedly. This mirror also told the story of the world, rather of oneself, many times over. Small triangles of mirrors were joined faultlessly together, very simply with white cellotape at the back, but the effect was spectacular, it could have been a snowflake, or a chrysanthemum, or a star shining in the sky.
He also had something which he called St Thomas' Meditation, so completely abstract as to be a cut in the white domed wall, with a pelt of red blood. One could imagine the rest.
The young people in the halls understood his work completely. They sang  exultantly around and about the odd miniatures, imagining them as real buildings in real time. They could see the future in a way I could not, they could imagine amphitheatres sunk into the ground, and museums with glass tunnels which allowed people to circulate freely as visible to the eye as the art works. It filled them with a euphoria that was about running and leaping and hiding. And I imagined Rudolf Nureyev for a moment, muscular, still and consumed. There is a great tragedy about miniaturisation which only the imagination can free. It is true for bonsai, it is true for   artists who draw on a grain of rice. Anish Kapoor has the same skill, a meditative moment, and then the metal casters and painters and rope swingers come and execute the moment in a great arch or mirror which reflects the sky or people's sense of their interior self. He gives up something so that others can share in it, and the reflection of this moment may cost 23 million dollars to execute, as in Chicago, but no one cares: neither artist, nor urban muncipal committee nor the anonymous traveller. So that's the magic mirror in Ray Bradbury stories.

Monday, December 13, 2010


 I was in Kerala, in November, for ten days to observe the Pallakad Kalpathy rituals, called the Ter Festival. It was so hot and bright, that I was startled. In Chennai it is raining, as the Retreating Monsoon makes its force felt, and in Delhi it is cold and clear and the gardens have a still mortuary look, and the birds are silent even though it is 7 a.m. Delhi winters are amazing, the world starts slowly, but the days are so irridescent by afternoon, that people see this as the best season of all. We are free of the horrible summer dust, which sets a haze of motes and pollen in our living rooms from March to October.
For us in JNU the exams are over, and for a fortnight the teachers will be on holiday. This basically means we will be meeting our research students, who have looked for our attention all semester while we were busy with M.A teaching,  we will bepreparing for our new lectures next semester, finishing our reviews for journals who have been hounding us, and bliss, sleeping late!
I have planted poppy seeds and jowar seeds in the garden. I spend a lot of money on  poppy seeds, which never sprout,  a few fragile flowers will appear in April,but the jowar which I get for peacocks, sprout very well. Within four months, the jowar ( a millet) will be towering over our heads in sharp swathes of green and corn. The peacocks visit then, with their tiny little chicks, scruffy little birds which forage. The pea chicks show no signs of becoming what they will in due course be, flamboyant birds with leathery feet and a cacophony of screeches as they gather in the trees, roosting separately, calling out to one another when evening falls. The dogs circle in my garden, threatening the peacocks and the cat hides from them, but she too lusts for the peachicks. I call on Francis of Assisi to mind them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Beginning New

I like writing, and though it's a sunny morning in Delhi, I'm glad to be typing inside my house, for no particular reason. I went to Shankar Barua's conference on Music and the Arts, which he has been having for several years in different places. this time it begins in Delhi, at the Alliance Francais in Lodi Road, Delhi, but will continue in February 2011 at Sat Tal, near Bhim Tal. the short films they showed in the morning today were interesting, and one is always happy to know how many eccentric and creative people there are in the world. Barua's conference can be found under CEC 2011. He basically tries to connect performers and art practitioners with the internet as a venue for learning and interaction.
Two years ago, Ratna Raman and I collaborated on a paper on Medieval Music and Technology. I wrote on the possibilities of Shakespeare's sonnets being put to music, and Ratna on Medieval Chorale Music. While writing the paper I learnt how obscure sites of the imagination are worked with on the internet, and how what one imagines theoretically actually has practitioners who work out things in concrete ways. jsguitargeek was one such blog I chanced upon, and yes, a friendship followed with a profoundly interesting musician. I guess Shankar's conference works on the idea that the virtual world can immediately transpose itself into creative spaces for intellectuals, musician, artists and lay people. I know nothing about music, but I love to listen, so the CEC conferences are a great place to listen to practioners and fusion artists.