Thursday, July 26, 2007

Art 101

In her short film Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, Joan C. Gratz has managed to map out a century’s worth of art in seven minutes. She uses clay painting, a stop-motion animation technique that she pioneered, to morph fluidly among the works of 35 iconic, modern artists from van Gogh to Picasso to Warhol.

The film, which won the 1993 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, confounds through the ease with which one recognizable piece of art seamlessly dissolves into the next. The implausible is made to look inevitable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Stupid Memory

Ah, one phone call and I remember why I don’t want to be bounced around, why I want to go where I want to go and why it’s one worth it.

While I don’t know how it ends, I know I’m doing as much as I can

Of Thunderclouds and Old Songs

It’s a sudden disconnect and I can’t figure out why. It’s the same feeling you get when the headphone cord gets stuck on something and is rudely yanked out and the music stops with a snap, the rude shock of abruptness

It’s this feeling of wanting to stretch your arms up and hang by them, feeling every muscle get pulled.

Or maybe it’s just the weather, just this song.

I think I’m just a bit weary what with this exam in a month, the burgeoning job hunt (which albeit has been going on for three days now but on my mind for what, 7 months?)

The feeling finds manifestation in short shallow breaths, the kind where the cold air doesn’t seem to get past your throat, in restlessness as you try and sleep and wait for the next City sound to come through, when you pick at the strings, sitting on the bed, all the while waiting for the door to open and for something to happen.

It’s the same streets every day, always moving and never changing, always the same shapes and sound every single day.

It’s wanting to throw your head back and scream but not doing that because it will change the street and bring in something extraordinary.

It wanting something different but wanting it to come along without you having to rock the boat.

And then you sit on the rock, the sky gets a grey pall and you get bored of waiting but still sit and mull about it. Of course, this is all wanting to be swept away by events that you have no control over but sweep your life away. So if mistakes are made, it isn’t your fault.

When you proactively change it, you assume responsibility for the end result and in the end, can’t lift a finger against anything or anyone but yourself.

And with taking action on your own comes the weariness of making things happen.

I don’t want to coast along in life (such a delightful use of the word, of Jimmy Dean and ‘dragging Main’, past the ‘dime store’, ‘he was coasting in the Cadillac’)

But it would be nice to cut loose and shoot the moon, go with the breeze, stretch!

The sad part is, I know if I went off to “old Algiers”, the feeling of what next would return, like a slow shadow, playing catch up a few moments later, catching the next train up to me.

It’s time for change and if the wind’s don’t change on their own, well, I’ll find my own way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

As Good As It Gets

The guy in the patent white shirt of Mid-Town swaggers to the counter, carelessly tossing his hair 'product' and with a flourish pulls out the card, his iPod up so loud he can't hear the sullen faced cashier asking him to swipe it.
The blonde in the typical white summer dress fumbles with her half caff (rhyme half with caff to get it right) soy mocchachino and her pocketbook while reaching for the Trident. Of course, it wouldnt occur to her to move everything to one side while collecting her things to make way for the guy in the cheap shirt, the back damp with sweat who is in a hurry. Of course, she does notice when I side step her, a dirty look but I couldn't care less.

The other suit at the subway turnstile, unmindful of the approaching train or the people behind him who want to get on it lest the MTA in its infinite wisdom decides for a 20 minute delay before the next train gets there. Even when they walk down the stairs, it's on the wrong side and with a casual step that puts him in place in the Hamptons, never mind the lady struggling with her groceries looking fervently at the goddamn doors that slide shut leaving her to wait in the heat for another train. Of course, his pulls up soon after.

People stumble in. There's more than enough place toward the middle of the train but instead, you have shoulders pounded by the sliding doors of the fucking train, hands held up high in the Laughing Buddha, trying desperately to press against the roof of the carriage so as to not to fall over. Never mind touching the Brooks Brothers suits or pressing up against the Pierre Cardin ties (Hermes would never be in the subway), people stuck on the subway because others can't lift their heads or realize that a side step could make way for another person, someone who just may be in a tearing hurry to get home or the night shift.

Sullen faces of women with manicured hands grasping the metal pole, almost appropriate if karma had its way, sullen over the fact they can't sit, almost as though the make up on their face and the blond treated locks warrant space, air conditioning and service in the subway to use their TMobile Sidekick.

You get out of the subway and face two sets of stairs. People run down one flight because the train has pulled up and it's the one they need to be on. The rest seem to trudge up, unmindful of the fact they may be on the wrong set of stairs, a flash of irritation if someone else is coming down instead of going their way.

The sense of entitlement, to space, to their way, is stifling, it's as though there is nothing left beyond their bubble. And when you take enough of these bobble headed bubble carrying people, you are always impinging on their apparent illusion of control.

The purposeless life, the motions, the pink shirt and backward baseball cap, the stressed denim jeans and the brown sandals, the well manicured fingers gripping designer bags whose price while may be sky high, is less boggling than the sense of entitlement as those fingers wrap around the straps, the sunglasses worn in the subway, the white wedding, the picket fence, holidays in Vermont and the circle of life repeats itself, all the while the bubble remains, of an individual, of a society.

No wonder Jay Leno can walk down the street with a map and have people pin a label saying "Iraq" on Australia.

For just one moment, to take that sense of entitlement and put in perspective, the blonds down 5th Avenue, going into the Abercrombie and Fitch at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, knowing they aren't tourists from the disdain and upturned noses of faces sucking on lemons too long and too used table service, to take them and turn their world upside down.

To actually look at the person while thanking them, to smile at someone as you open the door for them instead of remembering mechanically it is what you are supposed to do, to actually offer your seat to someone, to walk a pace faster because a train has pulled up, unmindful if it is yours or not, to thank someone going out of their way for you. It's not that hard.

I suppose this vitriolic stems from a guy I saw while headed to lunch -- he had a sandwich board selling something or the other, face craggy, baseball cap pulled low, trying to get someone to take his flyers, the Blackberries and the Fendis passing him by. And I wondered where he came from, why he was where he was, where was he trying to get to. Would his answers put into perspective those of the white shirts of MidTown?

I run up the stairs to my place, two at a time. I walk in to my room, everything in it is mine, even the empty plate has the remains of a meal, but it is mine. Its and extension.
A quick phone call.
"Hmmm", replies the groggy voice.
And in that instance, all is forgotten and I slip into something I love.

Monday, July 09, 2007

55 Words to Bring Us Back to "Do"

connection intimacy laughter tears insecurity barriers secrets lies arguments fear confusion hesitation trepidation angst frustration joy disappointment a touch a flushed face a quickened breath

A yellow taxi cab. A red light. Silence in the rush hour and throngs

"Will you go out with me then?"

And he was happy. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Of cows, snake skins, laddoos and tulsi plants

it was always exciting to go back to that house. the rickety fiat would pick us up and there would always be an issue fitting the suitcase in with the 'step'nie' amidst various other gizzards of the creaking car.
there would be that dusty ride that went through the main 'chowk' with 'mithaiwallas' and of course, past the white palace where the scindias still live. and i remember the beginning of the end of the ride, what with the gigantic naala, enough to swallow minetta brook and with the fetidness of gallons of waste. but i was always fascinated by the giang pigs that seemed quite unmindful of the trash of others, the piglets, nothing like 'poo mucking about, their skin not quite covered with grey bristles (issey toothbroosh baneinge as the guy delightfully told my mother in Jaipur when she saw the local Municipal fellows taking away an unfortunate porcine)
And we would turn left and go past the kinaray waali dukan, the ubiquitous one selling Nirma, Life Buoy (hai jahaan tanduroosti hai buoy!) but of course, it was the closest supplier of aam papad, the one my grandparents mistakenly assumed was one of my favorite things from gwalior, along with the basin kay laddoo. There was the temple with the awkward pattern of multi colored bathroom tiles to the right, where the pujarin was this ancient creature, not however, as old as my great grandmother. We would turn the right and come to the gate and with a flourish the driver would kill the engine and smile at us, almost triumphant we made it alive as though we would have the temerity to question his driving skills.
The gate was this menacing black and red contraption, with a smaller one built into it with devious springs ready to snap shut on a five year olds fingers and definitely lived up unto their sole purpose.
The courtyard always felt clean even though the plot opposite never had anything built on it and dust seemed to fly over the wall, irreverant of the cleanliness my grandmother was so particular about. But she would be at the doorway, panting from the effort but a huge smile nonetheless, her dentures putting my own gap toothed smile to shame. And there would be much hugging and touching of feet as blessings went all around.
The living room was almost magical to a kid. There were porcelain plates with Buddha on them, a mantle piece with pictures of people, some of whom I recognized, faces with fewer creases, more teeth and thicker hair. But they were sepia toned, faded edges in silver frames meticulously polished. There was a dried up seahorse mounted on the wall, above the deerskin cushion covers. There were books in Hindi, some of them by my grandfather. But of course, the only thing I would look out for was the giant lion skin on the carper, the head stuffed and carefully preserved, yellow glass eyes, you could peer into reflecting make your face, the mouth open in an unspoken roar, the tongue rough and its teeth yellow. And right between the eyes, almost Kipling like was a small hole, no bigger than my little finger, a small hole that led it from the jungle to the living room floor. I never quite got familiar with it, like my sister would later sit on its head holding on to its ears or reclining her head against his. I suppose much of the Jungle Book rubbed off on me and I never wanted to accept that the King of the Jungle would end up so.

The lights in the living room were anemic, yellow, heightened by the gaudy orange lamps, stylized vine leaves. But during the day, the room was dark and light streamed in from the other side, where, if you squinted, could see the main courtyard.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

There is a Secret World Concealed Within this One.

There is a Secret World Concealed Within this One.

The lives we lead, and the lives we wish we led.

This world, the so-called “real world,” is just a front. Pull back the curtain and you’ll see the libraries are all filled with runaways writing novels, the highways are humming with escapees and sympathizers, all the receptionists and sensible mothers are straining at the leash for a chance to show how alive they still are. . . and all that talk of practicality and responsibility is just threats and bluffing to keep us from reaching out our hands to find that heaven lies in reach before us.

You can taste it in the shock and roar of a first, unexpected kiss, or in the blood in your mouth that instant after an accident when you realize you’re still alive. It blows in the wind you feel on the rooftops of a really reckless night of adventure. You hear it in the magic of your favorite songs, how they lift and transport you in ways that no science or psychology could ever account for. It might be you’ve seen evidence of it scratched into bathroom walls in a code without a key, or you’ve been able to make out a pale reflection of it in the movies they make to keep us entertained. It’s in between the words when we speak of our desires and aspirations, still lurking somewhere beneath the limitations of being “practical” and “realistic.”

When poets and radicals stay up until sunrise, wracking their brains for the perfect sequence of words or deeds to fill hearts (or cities) with fire, they’re trying to find a hidden entrance to it. When children escape out the window to go wandering late at night, or freedom fighters search for a weakness in government fortifications, they’re trying to sneak into it—for they know better than us where the doors are hidden. When teenagers vandalize a billboard to provoke all-night chases with the police, or anarchists interrupt an orderly demonstration to smash the windows of a corporate chain store, they’re trying to storm its gates.

When you’re making love and you discover a new sensation or region of your lover’s body, and the two of you feel like explorers discovering a new part of the world on a par with a desert oasis or the coast of an unknown continent, as if you are the first ones to reach the north pole or the moon, you are charting its frontiers.

It’s not a safer place than this one—on the contrary, it is the sensation of danger there that brings us back to life: the feeling that for once, for one moment that seems to eclipse the past and future, there is something real at stake.

Maybe you stumbled into it by accident, once, amazed at what you found. The old world splintered behind and inside you, and no physician or metaphysician could put it back together again. Everything before became trivial, irrelevant, ridiculous as the horizons suddenly telescoped out around you and undreamt-of new paths offered themselves. And perhaps you swore that you would never return, that you would live out the rest of your life electrified by that urgency, in the thrill of discovery and transformation—but return you did.

Common sense dictates that this world can only be experienced temporarily, that it is just the shock of transition, and no more; but the myths we share around our fires tell a different story: we hear of women and men who stayed there for weeks, years, who never returned, who lived and died there as heroes. We know, because we feel it in that atavistic chamber of our hearts that holds the memory of freedom from a time before time, that this secret world is near, waiting for us. You can see it in the flash in our eyes, in the abandon of our dances and love affairs, in the protest or party that gets out of hand.

You’re not the only one trying to find it. We’re out here, too . . . some of us are even waiting there for you. And you should know that anything you’ve ever done or considered doing to get there is not crazy, but beautiful, noble, necessary.

Revolution is simply the idea we could enter that secret world and never return; or, better, that we could burn away this one, to reveal the one beneath entirely.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007