Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

a poem

This moment here
beside you
as you speak
and one moment stretches out.

I taste my lips.
They feel heated.

The heat of the cigarette
we have shared
lingers on, in each of its
small folds and puckers
long after the source is gone.

I know I will feel
it tomorrow
and think of you.

The silence bends around us
and I can sense
we've snatched a time
from the world.
From routine and industry.
From habit.

I lay down on
the floor,
a pillow at my head
hypnotised by the movement
of the fan above.

The music behind us
now speaks a language
that the walls and
the humming air around
us do.

The light flickers over me
and I close my eyes
and remember to
feel with all of my
And I fall into dreams
hoping to keep
my rendezvous
with you.
As the air begins
to sing in my ear.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

420 at Masala Chai!!

All apologies for the lateness of this post. I have been caught up in work as usual, specifically two books, which I hope to talk about really soon. Till then, I wanted to let you all know that "420" has been profiled on the visual arts blog, "Masala chai."

Do check out the link here.

And also roam around the blog a bit, it is well worth the time and effort. A wonderful amalgamation of lots of ideas and people.
Kudos to pavitra!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The 420 Brand

The above are pictures from a series of postcards called "Pairs of Shoes" that I have designed and produced this year.

They are the first set of products I have made under my label "420". The idea of using shoes (which are screen-printed) juxtaposed with a background made up of a collage (with objects like bus tickets etc.), is to encourage the viewer to step into the footsteps of an Indian to take a journey around the country, in the most authentic way possible.

Using elements of kitsch, street art and funk, this set of four postcards aims to make people look at everyday objects in a new and fun way.

Currently retailing under the brand "420" at People Tree (Delhi), Either Or (Pune), NIDUS (Ahmedabad) and Om Book Shop (Ahmedabad.) Do let me know what you think. Inquiries can also be forwarded to 420ishtyle@gmail.com.

4th June

Rainy day women: Love & the Monsoon

Finding the way back to Ithaka

June: Goodbye to the travelling bag

May: in memory of The Clash

London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look to us
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
Except for the ring of that truncheon thing
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running but I have no fear
Cos London is drowning and I live by the water
London calling to the imitation zone Forget it brother, you can got it alone
London calling to the zombies of death, Quit holding out and draw another breath
London calling and I don't wanna shout,
But while we were talking I saw you noddin' out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running but I have no fear
Cos London is drowning and I live by the river

- Joe Strummer and Mick Jones

A city in a desert: Part 3

A city in a desert: Part 2

Imagine, a city
By the borders of a bay
in the midst of a desert.

A city that one cannot belong to,
a city that one can only be born into.

The sole city of a country,
where almost all its citizens live.

A city of glass skyscrapers
and humming air conditioners.
A city where few walk outside in the day.

A city still rising higher
on the backs of outsiders,
who come for but a while to stay.

And ask yourself if you would live here
amidst heat of the sand and black gold.

And listen carefully for your reply.

A city in a desert: Part 1

International airports in India are difficult to see. It is not that the government is torturing passengers (well not intentionally anyway), but it is the kind of people you see there that makes you stop and look, and wonder. And look back at yourself.

I was invited to Doha, Qatar for a film festival, where my documentary film "Words in Stone" about the poet Wali Gujarati was being screened. My flight was at 4am and as such, I was told to reach the airport by 1am, latest. This was the first time I was returning to Ahmedabad International airport since my return from France in 2004.

Age does not necessarily make you wiser, but it does change what you chose to look at and what you choose to see. Entering the waiting room of that airport, after the security check-in, I looked around to find a place to sit. My eyes were drawn to a certain corner, where there were many old people. Grandparents, perhaps great grand parents, aided by canes and wheel-chairs, waiting. At 2am. Wide awake. Ready to board a flight. Travel for many hours. To meet someone they love.

Many reasons convince people to leave their homes for other countries. Education, opportunity, lifestyle, economics, glamour, idealism, foolishness, love, murder, cowardice. But to the visitors these people receive, there is usually but one reason to travel.

And as I sat, watching these very people, I wished that money, that borders did not exist, at least for a few of us. I wished that we did not have to ask permission to meet our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. I wished that there could be no one who would refuse us this permission. I wished for idealism.

The clock ticked on. The TV continued playing at mute. And I turned to look out towards the tarmac, waiting, alone amidst a crowd of people, for my flight.

April: Distant shores

Are some of us eternal travelers?
Forever in transit,
hoping to reach an unknown destination?

Or are we all ceaselessly moving,
even as we think we are content to stand still?

Content as we stand still.

As we grow older, in one of the rare instances
of circumstance reflecting reality,
Family gives way to the self,
and we find ourselves making journeys in the silence of solitude.

Do we even then, really wish for moments past,
in a time when it was common
to encounter a magician on a train
with your parents and your sister by your side?

Onto Mumbai, Khandala and Pune

I set off to help my friends Aneeth and Chinar, as they showed a fall/winter collection under their label "Gaba" at Lakme fashion week. If you see my previous post 'Under the Mahua Tree' you will realise that these are the same two friends with which I made the trip to Chanderi with. Do check out their collection online, as well as on http://masalachaionline.blogspot.com.

It is called 'Kala-safed' (black and white) and is quite beautiful. Wearing their clothes is like wearing a drawing, the lines and checks of the Chanderi and Maheshwari silk are combined in various sizes and thicknesses on a single garment. As the wearer walks, the checks seem to shimmmer and come to life. Really.

On my way, by a stroke of luck, I travelled to Mumbai via a sleeper berth on a bus for the first time. The rains had come early, and as I stretched out on my birth to look outside, I found that I could really see a panorama, since the window was almost as tall (or long) as me. At night, as the lights in the bus switched off, and the rains feel, everything became enveloped in a dreamy mist. I noticed the shadow of the sticker on my window falling across my body, labeling me as 'Mumbai' and drawing a line across my leg. It seems incongruous to describe, but I watched that line and read those mirrored letters till I fell asleep.

And early in the morning, just before dawn, I woke up to see sap green trees dancing in and out of the cloudy air.

At that moment, I wished that the morning would never come.

Snapshots of March

It has been a very long time, since this blog was updated. This is not to say that my life came to a standstill, rather it became too busy. I travelled on and off, non stop for almost three months, touching base in Ahmedabad for a few days between trips, to catch my breath, and assure my room-mate that I was still alive. Over the next few posts, I will try to bring things up to date. Please do stay around for the ride.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beneath the Mahua Tree

2008 has been very good, because at last I am beginning to do some of the traveling I have wanted to do for so long. So while New Year was ushered in amid the scent of coffee at Coorg, this past week while on a trip to Delhi for work, Aneeth, Chinar and I set off to Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh for a day. Fittingly enough, our trip was on the 8th of March (Women's day).

We left Delhi at around 10.30pm, taking a cycle rickshaw to Nizamuddin Station, that lies just behind their house. That is something I really love about Delhi, how despite the addition of Noida and Gurgan to its area, in some pockets this old fashioned and charming mode of transport remains. Of course, as the traveller it's easy for me to say this, I don't have to pull overweight, fussing people behind me to earn money, but at least these drivers are living with dignity, both for themselves and for the environment.

We got on the train, earnestly setting our alarms for 5am, since that was when we expected to arrive at Lalithpur station. We were travelling by the Gondwana Express that finally stops at Hyderabad, so missing our stop was a very real fear, for after all in between bigger stations like Jhansi and Gwalior, where does Lalithpur stand? The train would at the most stop there for 5 minutes or less. Of course one can disembark from a train in 20 seconds if need be, especially if all they are carrying is one backpack, but anyway, we did not relish the prospect of renacting any scenes from the film "Jab we met".

Through the night, people came and went. We heard that Jhansi itself had not come, which meant that Lalithpur was far away. Finally we decided to get upright at 6am, and sit, wrapped in our shawls, waiting, as the sun poured into our coach.

At around 8am, we arrived. Chinar had arranged for a car to meet us, since Chanderi itself was an hour's ride away. Not wanting to waste anytime, since our trip was only for a day, we bundled into our taxi (a huge hulking Sumo) and set off, stopping once to pick up chai and breakfast.

The ride was lovely, amid fields where Mahua trees would suddenly rise up to stand solitary and defiant. On our left, all along the road, we could see the dam in the distance. Aneeth spent sometime speculating on several disaster theories regarding that wall, all of which could have been made into a blockbuster summer movie.

It was especially nice to make this trip with them. Chanderi is a town of weavers, and so visiting it with two textile designers gave me a unique perspective on it. In addition, Chinar had also lived in Chanderi for almost 8 months, completing her diploma project there.

We arrived, and checked into our hotel to wash and leave our shawls and bags behind. Its name was "Hotel Tana Bana", and its name and decor really belied its true nature. At that very moment there were individual designers, representatives from the company Fab India all staying there, while they conducted business in the town itself, which was a 10 minute walk away.

Above is the hotel's switch board, and though there is an electricity cut twice a day, just the shape and the design of this board itself is potent enough to tell you what the hotel is like. I would have to say that given a choice, I would like to try and stay in the village as Chinar had. Set just outside the town, and seemingly offering certain "creature comforts", the hotel still made me feel a bit awkward. It seemed to draw a line between us and them, the weavers that lived just over the hill.

Hitching a ride from a friend, we reached the main street of Chanderi. At that point,to tell you the truth, I was a little disappointed. I just saw a main road, with buildings that could have been out of Ahmedabad or even Delhi. It had no character as such, and was just uniform. Of course, I was to later find that this road was just a facade, behind it lay the 'real' town, with the homes of the weavers itself.

From what I now understand, the town gives its name to a special type of silk produced there. Like Mashroo from Gujarat, Chanderi silk is also a combination of silk and cotton (one is in the warp and the other in the weft.) Unlike Mashroo, where silk can be only be felt on one side with cotton on the other ( which was borne out of the fact that the Muslim Shahs of Gujarat could not wear any material derived from an animal on their skin), in Chanderi, cotton and silk are combined seamlessly. In fact, when held upto the sun, the material gives a beautiful shimmering effect, looking like water almost.

After our first stop-over at the Bunkar Vikas Sanstha, the organisation that Chinar worked with during her Diploma project, the three of us set off with a weaver who was working on a design of theirs. It was then that we walked into the old town of Chanderi.

The little alleys and painted walls were more than picturesque, as they twisted and rounded on themselves. Our guide was walking ahead with Aneeth, and each time I stopped to take a picture, Chinar and I found ourselves hurrying ahead to make sure we wouldn't lose sight of him. She had told me about the town earlier, talking about the sound of the wooden shuttle clacking back and forth. Follow the sound and you will find a weaver and his loom, she said. As I write this here, the fact sounds obvious and logical. But as you walk through that town, around corners and into bylanes, that sound drifts out to you on the wind, drawing close only to pull away. It is like the call of a siren, and it seemed that only our guide understood what it had to say.

We reached his house, a little compound set off from the others by an outer wall. Inside were around 4 houses, a joint family living and working together. In fact, the week before we arrived the whole town had celebrated 14 days of nikaahs and marriage ceremonies. Most of the youngsters had married into other families within the own itself. They didn't want to leave Chanderi.The house we were visiting was no different. At its entrance was painted a message to a newly wed couple of the family inside.

The architecture was beautiful with everything washed in white. The staircase leading up to the first floor emerged from the building itself, part of it and not added to it. We walked up, into a room where three looms stood, almost seeming to grow out of the roof itself through vines of silk thread in various colours.

We spent a long time there. I would say for myself, that I was glad to only be able to watch and not understand the technical aspects of the work itself. The movement of the shuttle and the sound itself were more than enough for me. The weaving work is so very fine, requiring immense patience, effort and care. The repetition of the design and the movement are hypnotic to all of one's senses. As I sat there, I felt and heard time slipping away.

In the silence, I found I had many questions to ask of myself, borne out of my firsthand view of their life and work. Can we apply our standards to their lives? Should we? The fact remains that they are now getting paid almost twice of what they used to receive, because of organisations like the Bunkar Vikas Sanstha. But what kind of life is it where a weaver gets Rs. 50 or so per metre of cloth that he weaves? In the world today where we are rediscovering the 'hand-made' are we forgetting that it is their hands that actually make ?

As designers/artists we continually question how sometimes our idea can be valued much more than that which helps it became a reality. I am not saying that the idea itself is not important, but the question I am asking is how much more important. In the west, such 'hand-work' is either dead or extremely exclusive. We must not head that way. The day when Chanderi silk is worn only by the rich who can afford to buy it at exclusive boutiques, is the day when the craft dies. So where do we draw the line?

I don't know.

That night, as we sat eating dinner on Bacchubhai's terrace, I looked up and found some portion of my answer. You see, the skies above Chanderi are dusted with silver stardust. Against the inky black night, they glow so brightly that they seem close enough to be touched. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply. There is silence all around. It is 8pm, and the town is at peace.

It is 8pm and I can hear myself exhale and breathe.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Capturing Light

For the last few months of 2007, I was working on a new project, a video installation, which was something I had never attempted before. In addition, the project was for the Alliance Francaise, the language and cultural centre of the French Embassy in India and the theme/concept for the piece was also to be left to me. It really was a dream opportunity.

To say that I was not at all nervous would be blatant lying. Which is not to imply that I was having a case of 'stage-fright' but well, it was important to me that this project go well. After going through a range of subjects, from a visual exploration into 'shadows', to a piece on women and their bodies, I finally ended up with idea of light and the memory of a photograph.

In addition to the range of his artworks in varied mediums such as painting, collage and sculpture, Pablo Picasso also worked with photography. He teamed up with an Albanian photographer called Gjon Mili, and created a series of drawings with light. From some depths of my unconscious, I remembered seeing one of these photos. So I went and looked for it, which means that after drawing a blank in my library, I googled it.

I realised that I wanted to work with light, and try to create an experience where light seemed to be captured and collected. This experience would work at the level of the film itself, that would be used in the installation and in the installation space itself.

As I had done while I was working on "Sartori" in Paris, I roamed around for awhile, looking at things around me, at light with a greater attention than before. I guess my friends can testify as to how I was always spacing out in the middle of a conversation. Perhaps they welcomed this, because otherwise I was a bundle of nerves.

For the first time, I took photos of the diya dance, the final day of Garba at NID, where all the light are switched off as the students, holding a small lamp in their hands, do the traditional steps of the garba in a circle. Just watching them from my camera's eye helped me clarify in my own mind, how I envisioned this installation.
In that sense, the timing of this installation, though delayed from July-August to October-November, really worked out in my favour, since both Garba and Diwali- the Indian Festival of Lights occurred at around this time.

It was also important to me to create a story for the film that I was going to use in the installation, even if its meaning could not be grasped in full by a viewer. This was because I see light as something essential but ephemeral, we can never understand it or see it completely. In that sense I see a correlation between light and life, especially since all life on Earth began with the influence of (sun)light. So I created a film that explored this relationship, using various mediums of light from a candle flame, to a torch light, to fire-works (sparklers) as well as light from a mobile phone to tell my story. Shooting took place mostly at night, and we worked with both stills as well as video.

After that, while compositing took place, we also began to collect the materials for the installation space, sourcing glass bottles and containers from everyone ranging from my neighbour, to the local junk seller to shopkeepers (from whom we had to buy the pieces of course.) We also conducted experiments with the projector, exploring the use of silver paper and stickers, as well as understanding whether we had to use any liquids in the containers to maximise the effect of 'capturing'. We also tried to figure out how we would place the projector and the bottles in the space.

In retrospect, I guess it's good that it sounds like we did a lot of work, because we did. Installations in their multi-disciplinary nature itself are difficult to conceive and carry out. But it is this quality in them that makes them rich pieces of art. I especially like the fact that their interpretation is greatly dependent on the viewer, each of whom is free to see the piece in their own way. So here you go, below is the video of installation "Capturing Light". Do let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A late New Year, complete with (2) hangovers

I guess I have finally caught up with the rest of the world. As the saying goes better late than never. A certain project has been taking up my time, since October of last year. But the mystery alas, will be revealed in the next post.

For now, a glimpse of RGB, NID's first design fest organised, hosted and carried out by the students. With attendance from other design and fine arts colleges from all over India, I really think it was a great step in uniting the growing design community in India. Of course this vein of thought leads one to the eternal question:" Is film art or design ?" And from there, it is but a small step to the next great question: "Are Art and Design the same? If not, can they ever be the same ?"

I guess the RGB effect has still not left me. So here, a photo from my eye at the said event. The protagonist, Mr. Mouli Marur, who kindly came by to be a part of the fest. :)

Then after RGB, Chitrakatha took place. NID's first animation film festival, it not only showcased a range of films from all over the world, but also conducted many seminars and discussions on various issues related to animation. For me in particular, two talks by the artist Jose Belmonte (from Spain) and Prakash Moorthy stood out.

It seems fitting then, that adopting Mr. Belmonte's philosophy of complete hand crafted/ drawn works I present Mr. Moorthy's lecture.. (Y)Enjoy..