Art?

I went to see the only Biennale in India yeserday, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. I’m writing this now while my memory is still fresh and my neurons are still reeling from whatever hit them. I had gone in 2012 for the same event, which was the first ever one of its kind in India. That had been more pleasing than this although I’m not sure whether that’s because we were a little exhausted from the journey yesterday to begin with. The only questions that still baffles me are: What qualifies as art? And who defines it?

Some of the exhibits were amazing. You could see the sweat, blood and tears, the sheer passion, perseverance and deliberate thought that went into making them. But those existed as only a handful. Most, frankly, were disappointing. Or maybe that’s just me. But here are a few of those that upon observation, did nothing to impress me and upon reading the description, left me more in love with whoever wrote it than the artist himself.

A giant sphere, about 3m in diameter, made of concrete and housed in a room. It tapered to a smaller area on the other side of the entrance to the room, so it looked like a giant concrete egg. The description was beautifully worded. I understood none of it, at least not in relation to the ‘sculpture’ I was staring at. The workers we hire have built several concrete structures for us. I’m sure they’d be done with a giant egg in no time. Give them a guy who’s good with words to craft an artsy essay about the egg and they’d be living as rich a life as the artist behind this. But then again, who appreciates those who make things that we can put to practical use anyway? Builders are not artists, right?

An enormous flat slab of rock placed in a hole. That was the underside of a crater. The artist wanted to show what the underside of a crater looks like. Because..someone cares?

A ‘light box’ experiment. This won the prize for most creepy artwork ever, if you can call it that. Life-size pictures of dead bodies in various garb, before they began decomposing, illuminated in light boxes, hung on the walls. At least this one made me think; what in the world made the artist want to hang pictures of dead blokes? But what  a genius. A 5-second crazy thought process leading to a disturbing idea, a few days of work and to label it art, well, it sells. He’s probably laughing it off at some beach in Mauritius with his buddies who are more alive than his subjects.

Some nude (very badly drawn) doodles. For some inexplicable reason, the art and wannabe-artsy community have always prized nudity. Ugly dicks and saggy breasts. In that case, a nude picture of my grandparents should suffice as ‘expressionism’, should it not?

Random shapes on paper made with newspaper cutouts and framed. As an ensemble, it exuded an air of antiquity. Upon closer inspection, each one looked like the work of a second grader. Another mastermind at work here. Give your girlfriend’s elementary class kids an art and craft project, a lot of glue and cheap newspapers to set their minds and little fingers loose on, and voila, you have art handed to you. Age them with coffee stains and lacquer, frame them, hang them all on a wall and make your writer-friend come up with a long, snotty description that leaves people feeling like it’s their fault for not understanding how this is a masterpiece.

A few dusty tiles on a concrete floor with some corners of the tiles painted in white or blue. It was meant to be a play on light. A white screen with a lamp shining on it. Because observing how light falls in the comfort of your house on your furniture and clean tiles is not artistic enough, obviously.

Another light experiment. This time, dozens of glass light bulbs hung in a room with a black background. At least put in some effort for crying out loud!

There were lots more in the same wavelength but I’ve named the ones that really put me off. It was, as are most modern art exhibitions, a collection of the works of eccentric and eternally high folk who, for lack of a better term and because they do not behave like madmen in social settings, society decided to label as ‘artists’. For all I know, we’re all artists in our own right. I remember reading a news article about a 4 year old somewhere in America who threw paint at a canvas and it earned her millions from an art collector.That, when there are millions of children who could actually paint much better than her, starving in various corners of the world. It left me indignant for a long time but I guess that’s when it started dawning on me that the world’s full of crazy people. And it’s they who define what ‘art’ means and it’s a definition that I disagree with.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the light bulbs. All the works I mentioned look substantially better when seen through a camera held at a specific angle and with an attempt at good photoshopping thrown in.

Issues.

I’ve been avoiding talking about this subject for as long as I could. But I can’t stop myself now. I see glimpses of the truth everywhere but never the truth. So here’s what I’ve seen and understood so far.

Demonetization wasn’t a genius plan to eradicate black money. It wasn’t a slightly miscalculated act with good intentions either. It was a clearly motivated scheme to fill the pockets of giant financial corporations, to wipe out indigenous agriculture but most of all, to gain control over the population. At this point, the BJP sympathizers are probably getting ready to burn me at the stake but I’m merely presenting facts and figures here. The conclusions can be drawn as you please.

Let’s start with some simple math. If we circulate a 100 rupee note a million times, it will still have only the value of a 100 rupee note. Now let’s say this note is instead circulated 1 million times through electronic means, say paytm or online bank transfers etc. For each transaction, the financial corporate that you’re using to carry it out gets a commission of around 2.5%, i.e. for a million transactions of a 100 rupee note, the corporates make 25,000 rupees. Apparently, the corporates have been missing out on trillions of dollars worth of transaction commissions because of the fact that the majority of the Indian population deals with hard cash. I hope you got the math.

Next, you might be wondering what in the world demonetization has to do with agriculture. This is what happens when we never pay heed to our farmers. If you notice the date of the announcement, it was just after the crop harvesting season in most parts of the country. Farmers had reaped their hard work and had bundles upon bundles of crops to sell to traders. Do you think the average farmer walks around with a credit card swiper? When the announcement came around, the traders had no cash to pay the farmers with, leaving their crops rotting and no one to sell it to. 250,000 farmers have committed suicide across the country last year. But why would a government destroy their food source, you ask? Because giant conglomerates like Monsanto and Cargill are waiting to pounce on the abundant fertile land that our country has to offer. They want to sell their genetically modified crops to farmers, which will require the farmers to buy their pesticides and herbicides in order for those crops to grow. Ultimately, the richest of the rich want to rob the poorest of the poor. The American conglomerates aren’t happy sucking the soul out of American farming, they’re bringing their Dementor’s kiss to developing nations too. Is this just greed or is it pure evil? I don’t see the distinction anymore.

Finally, control. That should be self-explanatory. No cash forces everyone to transact online. Thus allowing THEM to track your every move. But why? Because targeted marketing. Oh look, you just bought diapers online. So now the government knows that you are a parent and suddenly you’ll see all your pop-up ads showing you baby products and diapers advertised by cute white babies. They’ll know where you live, who you pay money to and who gives you money, where you eat and when and what and how likely it is for foodpanda to make a profit off of you. They’ll know everything. They’ve covered the countries with lesser population than ours and with more technologically inclined citizens but now they’ve reared their fat ugly faces at the third world. The politicians are easy to bribe and the land is vast and bursting with resources. It’s like stealing candy from a baby.

By the time people have realized this, it will obviously be too late. We’re all going down, sink, line and hooker. Russia might just be our last hope.

Ignorance

India. We spend approximately 70 billion US dollars on our military annually. We are sixth on planet earth in terms of military expenditure, with a solid defense system for the external enemies. But what about the internal ones? All that money to keep the other countries away and yet our government will happily sell off our natural resources, our beautiful plains, hills and mountains to foreign mining companies in exchange for a few millions of dollars flowing into their personal pockets. In this country, if you’ve failed the 5th grade a few times, dropped out of school and turned into a gangster with a couple of rape, murder and extortion cases on your record then you’re fit to be a politician. You’re fit to rule. If you were the smart kid in school, you’re expected to take an engineering/medicine/law degree, maybe do a Master’s abroad and then work for some corporate, lead a comfortable upper middle class life and work for some outsourced American company because politics isn’t for you. “You wouldn’t be able to handle the corruption”, they say. So sit your smart ass down and be an armchair activist. Sit in your house and complain about the system while trying to flee the country as fast as you can. Pollution levels too high in the capital? Can’t breathe? That’s OK. The uncle in Canada just called. Try getting a transfer because there’s nothing you can do here to help the situation. The government doesn’t want to make it better because they have houses in the prime locations with no pollution, closed vehicles to take them everywhere. Pollution is the common man’s problem. And since when have we ever given two shits about “the common man”? We’re all just too busy trying to lead a picturesque American lifestyle.

This was a spin-off on another issue entirely. Something that made me feel so helpless and frustrated. My friend had called. He lives in a bachelor pad with 2 other guys, all engineering grads working for giant corporates in Bangalore. They have a maid who comes and cleans the house everyday and cooks breakfast and lunch for them. A nice, quiet lady, a migrant from West Bengal. She called him last day to say she won’t be able to come for work as her husband had beaten her up pretty badly. I was shocked. He was shocked. We’d heard so much about abuse but we’d never actually seen or heard the victims from our comfortable little lives. We searched the web for helpline numbers and that’s when the anger kicked in. There’s one hotline for women run by the Bangalore city police. I read the forums and they told me what I’d expected but didn’t want to hear: that the police are of no use. Not that that was a surprise. We found a few other numbers, most of them independent organisations that are already trying to take care of way more victims than they have the facilities to handle. But what frustrated me the most was the fact that all these organisations help the women lodge a case and nothing else. Few have shelters. For a financially weak woman to have to stay in the same house as her husband while filing a case against him (which will most probably amount to nothing and drag on for decades since it’s India), is next to suicide. If the guy beats her up without her doing anything then if he knew that she was filing a case against him, isn’t it common sense that he’d probably try to kill her? This is a country of 1 billion people. Almost half are women. It’s been more than 60 years since independence. There’s not a single properly functioning support network for abuse victims. There’s no one who’d go and just beat the husband up. That’s what we need. We need someone whom these men will fear because the police are their friends. They’d more likely help abuse the victim than side with them. We need more groups like the Gulabi gang. The group of women in Uttar Pradesh who decided that enough was enough and decided to beat up every man in and around their village who was reported of being a rapist or an abuser. They are a group of poor women, working as daily wage laborers who decided to take matters into their own hands. And they’ve become so good at it that even the police and the politicians of that area fear them now. But that’s one small movement in a country where abuse is as common as pollution, where child rape is something you’ve become numb to because you read about it everyday. If those women can do it, why can’t people in cities? Why not just beat the guy up? If the police can’t be bothered to arrest one man, I’m pretty sure they’d be too lazy to round up a group of people. And for what crime? For serving justice to someone? I don’t know if this is preaching violence but tell me a peaceful way to solve this while making sure that the perpetrator pays for his crime dearly. I’m befuddled if that’s even the right word for this.

This is a message to all nations and all governments everywhere: Please take a fraction of your military budget and try to solve the internal evils of your country.

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Apologies first, Congratulations later

Stand outside my college gate for a day and watch the traffic. In a few hours you would have spotted a few Audis, maybe a couple of Range Rovers, definitely a dozen or so BMWs and Mercedes Benz luxury sedans. You’d think in a country like this, there should at least be some who can afford to spare a few bottles of water. O.P. Jaisha fainted after the Women’s 42km marathon in the Rio Olympics. Why? Because a country that sent a couple dozen officials in Business Class flights to display their ugly faces at the Olympics couldn’t afford to put a few water bottles at their stands every 2km. How much would that cost? Let’s say she needs a can of Red Bull (I honestly don’t know what they drink, but I’m taking a random overpriced energy drink here) and a bottle of water at each pit stop; that’d amount to around 140 INR. Let’s say there are 20 pit stops she could take refreshments from, that’ll amount to 2800 INR. I have seen ladies here spending 10,000 INR on something they wear once and throw away. 2800 INR is what a middle class Indian would pay for a watch from Flipkart, a pair of Vincent Chase frames from Lenskart or a pair of sneakers from Amazon. Excuse us for thinking that India can afford to buy their athletes water. WATER! It’s not as if they treat them with any dignity or respect once the atheletes are back on home turf. It’s common knowledge that all the major league teams in India, be it of any sport, are all made up of half-assed players who are there only because their uncle/second cousin/brother-in-law/some distant relative has political connections and wants them to get a sports scholarship to go and study abroad; “Beta INGLAAND mein padte hein” (He studies in England). Me and my friends personally know exceptionally talented sportsmen who were rejected by government sports organisations because they lacked the necessary political connections, the money or the corrupt mindset expected of any Indian in any government position. Dipa Karmakar trained on a vault assembled from parts of an old scooter. But c’mon, if we can’t even afford water for one person then forget gym equipment, that’s just asking for too much isn’t it? *Looks around at all the loaded businessmen and millionaire politicians*; yup, we’re just too poor.

Dipa’s coach has told us of the conspiracies, so have thousands of Indian athletes and their coaches, all of which only come to surface every four years at this time of year; for 15 days, people care, or at least talk about the issue. Then it’s back to forgetting that sports exist, back to googling the best entrance coaching class for your kid who’s obviously meant to sit on his ass and code all day, working for a pittance for some American corporation that’ll suck his soul out but he’ll be too busy to notice because he’ll be living the American Dream in Silicon Valley. Let’s face it, sports? Seriously? Why that when you can live a comfortable life, have a 9 to 5 job, a gold digging wife and 5 brats (because obviously 1.3 billion Indians aren’t enough). We have people with brains to work out highly complex algorithms and build technologies for other nations but when it comes to putting a bottle of water on a table so that our fellow countryman won’t have to finish the race on the verge of death, we’re stumped.
I’m sorry O.P. Jaisha, about the water. I’m as much a part of the problem as are the other 1 billion or so people who claim to support you but have never actually done anything about it. I’m sorry Dipa, for not having thought of crowdfunding quality gym equipment for talented people like you, because we all know the government would never bother. I’m sorry to all the athletes and sportsmen who go through so much, get hurt and beaten to the ground by their own country and yet still brave everything to represent it. I would never have the strength to do what you do. Thank you for teaching us a poignant lesson. Seeing how we treat you, even 2 medals are more than enough.