Saturday, June 28, 2008

Art. Or is it?

I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of art. I don’t pretend to know the names of all the great masters and all of their works. I don’t even imagine that I get the nuances and details of art. But I do believe that I have some aesthetic sense and can figure out whether I like what I see or not and whether I would hang it in my living room.

This sense of mine was challenged and stretched to its maximum recently. A few weeks ago I visited the MoMA and yesterday I went to the Guggenheim Museum.
Both these places left me slightly confused (and very tired, but that’s another story).

One part of my brain knew that what I was seeing was some of the best of modern art there is. Another part couldn’t help but point out that most of what I was seeing didn’t seem art enough to be where it was.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not an art philistine. I appreciate a lot of art. I love Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’. I can spend hours looking at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I even love Pollock’s huge canvases and the supposedly erratic, albeit, hypnotic mesh of colours and lines.

But what I don’t understand are 2 circles on a blank canvas. Or even just a plain single coloured canvas. How about a single dot on a canvas? I know that the meaning of any art lies in its interpretation. But I don’t get how you can interpret a rectangular pink coloured plastic slab. Of course, there must have been one hell of an interpretation for it to get a place against a wall of the MoMA, but even so.

At the Guggenheim a famous artist was being shown. Her initial works (which made her famous) left me looking to my left and right wondering if everyone else is as confused as me. Apparently they were. I was looking at 2 huge wooden spheres and being told it’s a representation of her father!

So, I may not understand great art. I may not know how old Picasso was when he painted Woman with Guitar (any of the versions). I may not even be able to explain why I like certain paintings more than others. But I do know that pieces of paper coloured single colours using felt pens cannot be considered art. Unless they were done by a toddler.

Note: Bored Mind. Long Rant. Please spare the art interpretations.

Note 2: I love MoMA. Most of the work in there is pretty fabulous. Has to be my favourite museum (even more than dino bones!)

Friday, June 27, 2008


I was recently introduced to the world of virtual sports. Not being the biggest fan of video games and related products, and an even lesser fan of mass hysteria and cattle-like behaviour, I wasn’t sure how I would react to Wii. My reaction surprised even me. It was interesting to say the least, and unlike most other video games I suspect I got a lot more physical activity. The soreness in my arms (from several rounds of aggressive and violent boxing) is proof of that!

I was never a fan of the joystick culture. Yes, I know the arguments in favour of the excellent eye-hand coordination, mental agility blah blah blah. But in all of the several hours that people can spend bonding with the joystick and Italian carpenters and plumbers of Japanese origin, the only real activity is got by the thumbs. Of course, my knowledge about the gaming world is extremely limited and the boundaries now stretch to Wii and DDR. So anyone reading this, who gets more than a thumb workout with video games, please excuse the rant of a bored mind.

Wii has been designed keeping a larger demographic in mind. They claim to be for everyone from 8-80. My grandmother can validate this. Over the last 3 days, my granny has played tennis, gone bowling and played golf in the living room. I haven’t seen or heard her as excited and laughing with pleasure as I have when she has a Wii remote in her hand and is winning – except maybe when she is watching Mahabharat!

So at the end of 3 days of Wii-ing, I guess the one thing I have learnt (apart from the fact that I can’t play tennis even with tiny scampering computer generated teammates) is that if my granny can get a kick out of gaming, I might just be able to learn to tolerate them!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Song and Dance Routine

Everyone I know has a childhood memory involving a living room full of guests, benignly smiling parents, and a polite “beta, uncle aunty ko gaana sunao”. I don’t think many of us get through ages 3-10 without having shown off our verbal/musical skills to anybody who happened to be passing through the house. It begins with A-B-C-D, moves onto Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (complete with actions) and then to random songs taught by a music-teacher. And if you happen to be the lucky (ha ha) few with some talent at a musical instrument or possess dance prowess, then there are the performance based shows.

I wonder why parents put the apples-of-their-eye through such extreme embarrassment. Or better yet, why they, who can out of the corner of their eye catch the poor child trying to sneak a toffee, are totally oblivious to the obvious reluctance and distress that is plastered all over the afore mentioned child’s face.

Luckily for me, I was an obstinate, pig-headed child with no obvious talents (the little I had, I hid under tantrums) so I wasn’t pushed into unwanted limelight very often.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for my sister. She was the traumatised child standing/sitting at every family/friends gathering there happened to be and singing the latest song her teacher had taught her. She was the one who was trying to plead with her eyes, while smiling politely (for the benefit of the aunties) to be let off the hook just this once. She was the one who, before getting to any party, would be instructed by the parents that she would have to sing, and to have songs ready in her head. She is the one who will probably need therapy for all of the above.

I always figured that once we grow out of frilly frocks and multicoloured doll shaped pins (the things that mothers put us in!) we also grow out of talent showcases. I was mistaken. Recent events have proven that parents (and parent-figures around us) apparently will forever for the duration of our lives (or at least hopefully only till we become parents ourselves) have that scary power of putting us in the spot in front of a bunch of uncles and aunties. And even now, after years of suffering through it, the experience is as (if not more) directly out of a horror show as it ever was.

Freud believed that our childhood experiences shape who we become as adults. I for one know that my childhood experiences (vicarious as they may be) have ensured that my children will never grow up to hear those dreaded words – “Beta uncle aunty ko gaana sunao…”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

History Revisited

I read The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank when I was 12 yrs old, almost the same age as Anne when she started writing her diary. For me, the diary was an introduction to the truth of the Holocaust. Before then I hadn’t thought about WW II as anything more than another war. Anne Frank’s diary changed that for me.
I started reading up on anything that would tell me more about the Holocaust. I searched for testimonials from survivors, from witnesses. I looked for books devoted to the subject. I saw any movie that dealt with the topic.

So when I came to New York and saw that there was a Jewish Heritage Museum dedicated to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, I absolutely had to go visit it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The museum’s collection tries (I say try only because it is impossible to compress thousands of years of culture and tradition into one gallery) to give you a peek into the lives of Jews, their way of life, customs, values. It takes you on a journey – one that starts in peace and ends in war.
The museum’s artefacts bring to life what I’ve only read in books and seen in movies. From a yellow Star of David that was once stitched onto someone’s clothes, to a passport with the name changed by the authorities to identify the person as Jewish, to a sign saying that dogs allowed on a leash and no Jews allowed, everything spoke about the Nazi regimes attempts at crushing the morale of the Jewish people.

Photographs lining the walls tell you about life in the camps. They show you men, women and children who are mere shadows of themselves.
All along the gallery there is a time line that marks the ascend of the Nazi regime and the increasing atrocities and systematic annihilation of a race.

There are stories of people asking for help. Of being denied help. Of losing hope. Of death.
There are stories of valour. Of Rescue. Of escape. Of reunion.

At the end of it all, the image which remained with me was not the board games that the Nazis designed and which had children sending Jews to die to win the game, or the ‘Racial Biology’ classes that were introduced in schools to teach children about racial purity, or even compulsory youth camps for young boys to train them in the Nazi ideology.

What remained with me was the 20,000 photographs they had in one part of the gallery of people who were sacrificed in the Nazi ‘experiment’. These were photographs collected by one person in an attempt to keep the memory of the holocaust alive. These were photographs of people not as they died, but as they lived. Full of hope, dreams and life.

It was in memory of the people who were.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ice Cream Eating, Pepsi Guzzling Granny of Mine

So my grandmother isn’t the kind you get in Enid Blyton books or stories written by R.K. Narayan. She doesn’t sit us down and tell us stories on end (Dadaji did that). She doesn’t show us how to make birds and rugs from scraps of cloth (my great-grandmother did that) She doesn’t call us into the kitchen and sneak us hot mathris fresh from the kadhai ( both chachis do that).
What she does do is eat ice cream and drink Pepsi.
I haven’t yet come across a grandmother in the same age bracket as mine who does that (no offence to those with a better knowledge of their own grannies).

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has enjoyed ice creams more than dal-roti. I remember her licking a candy stick with such pleasure on her face that it made you want to smile. And for as long, I remember her fighting with us over the ice cream too!! She isn’t like any other adult in the house. It wouldn’t be too wrong (although a teeny bit inappropriate) to include her with the children of the house. She develops stomach aches when she has to eat healthy nutritious food. But ask her what ice cream she will want to eat and her eyes light up (the little bit they can through her cataracts!!).

She will, from a choice of fruit juices, water and soft drinks, choose the one that has gas bubbles in it and then sip it with every evidence of extreme pleasure. She can compete (if goaded into it, which isn’t too difficult) with my younger cousin brothers in drinking any caffeine loaded, sugar spiked, and definitely not healthy aerated drink. You should see her go! She drinks without stopping for breath! A seriously serious achievement for someone her age!

So my dadi may not spout wise sayings at the drop of a hat, or cook up a feast for us (not anymore atleast). But she does fight with us over the last bit of ice cream in the fridge and we love her for it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

That Heady Perfume

The first rains of the season are always something special. Apart from providing much needed respite from some seriously oppressive heat, they bring with them that heady perfume which probably features on almost everyone’s ‘My favourite things’ list!

Before the rains can bring with them damp clothes, muddy roads, slippery staircases, leaking train roofs, mud stains and well, you know the rest of it, they bring a fragrance so strong and so familiar that I feel like bottling it and selling it at exorbitant prices!

Of all the fragrances nature has to offer, never was such a perfect combination than the smell of the first rains on dry and heated land.
Never was a fragrance that was so strong and delicate at the same time. Never was a fragrance more welcomed.
A fragrance bordering on the intoxicating.
A fragrance that lingered long into the night.
A fragrance that held the promise of more.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Of Inches and Jeans

Not being of the group that can boast a 26 inch (or lesser) waist, I can confidently claim that buying a pair of jeans is like looking for a needle in a hay stack, or discovering a long lost treasure (the common feature being lots of hard work and painstaking searching)!

So yes, it can be safely assumed that I’ve recently been on such an expedition, one that left me weak and drained and yet with a feeling of achievement at having managed to get a pair of jeans that fit me!

Those who are just the right size will never now what it is to walk into a shop and look around trying to gauge where the jeans that will fit you are stacked. Then you have to deal with the over-zealous shop assistant who wants to know what you’re looking for. “Uhmmm a pair of jeans?” Then he wants to know what size. Sigh. Reluctantly you tell him, even though you wish (with all your heart and fat cells) that you could tell him something at least 2 sizes less! So then he hmms and has and looks at his shelves and pulls out a couple of pairs in your size, and as you turn away towards the trial room he says “if you need anything bigger just tell me”. Hmph.

Trial Rooms. Its time to start praying. For a miracle pair of jeans perhaps. One that fits you no matter what size or shape, and makes you look thinner and taller and fitter. I did say it was a miracle pair. Actually if one is praying for a miracle, how about the disappearance of all the excess adipose tissues in your body?!

10 mins later you’re back at the shelves wanting to kill the assistant for not being able to provide you with what you wanted and having the audacity of looking stressed! What does he know?! He has the legs of a 16yr old girl (which was probably what was stressing him)!

So my point here was (yes, there is a point to this whole rambling) that finding a pair of jeans is all about the inches (too many of them if you ask me) and possessing the strength (mentally and physically) to trawl through dozens and dozens of pairs before finding the right one. The proverbial needle if you may.

The Simple Things In Life

In this seriously twisted and constantly on the move world, the only things that keep me sane (and looking forward to another day or weekend) are the simple things in life.
Not for me the aromatherapy room of a fancy spa or the tension relieving fingers of a very expensive masseuse.

Give me my favourite book, a bowlful of munchies and I’m set for the afternoon. It gets better if its raining outside and I’m indoors warm and comfortable!
Give me an extra couple of hours of sleep in the morning knowing I don’t have to go to work and can keep hitting snooze on the phone alarm without overwhelming guilt!
An hour long gab-fest with my best friend can definitely ease up several days’ worth of teeth clenching and fist curling!
My laptop, a good pair of headphones (I dream of Bose, which is not necessarily one of the simple things in life!) and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and I’m all happy and smiling.
A tall glass of chilled iced tea on a hot day. A hot shower after a long stressful day. Fresh sheets at night on the bed. My favourite song on the radio. A long awaited mail in my inbox.

Life doesn’t get better than this.

Unless of course someone brings me Gooey chocolate torte! J