Friday, November 29, 2019

Woody Allen does Mumbai

Apparently today is Woody Allen's birthday. That reminded me of a column I used to write for Sunday Mid-day, pretending to be someone else, and here's what happened when Woody Allen did Mumbai. Since I wrote it really long ago when I was someone else, I suppose it's ok to say that when I read it after all these years I thought it was quite amusing.

Woody stalks Annie in Mumbai

Annie Tharakan limped because her shoes were too tight. “Didn’t you try them on before you bought them,” her mother barked. The truth was that Annie had not felt comfortable in the shoes but she could never bring herself to say no to a salesperson. “I want to be liked,” she admitted to Sushma-madam, the nerdy Maths teacher. “Once I gave all my pocket money away to someone who said she was collecting for the Deaf and Dumb Association. She sprinted away as soon as I put the money in a tin piggy bank which she held out to me, and I’ve never seen her again at the Solar System mall.” Annie and her school-mates did spend a lot of time at the Solar System mall. They liked it because the escalators had shiny handrails and there were large signs that said SALE 50% discount on selected items, conditions apply. But also because it was air-conditioned and the toilets had a warm-air hand dryer which occasionally worked. Sushma-madam was outwardly sympathetic but she would later mock Annie in the teachers’ common room. Annie’s mother, who taught Geography, happened to be there. She told the others about certain tribes in Borneo that do not have a word for “no” in their language and consequently turn down requests by nodding their heads and saying, “I’ll get back to you.” She too appeared warm and understanding and inviting of confidences, but later hit Annie on the head with the blunt handle of her imported rubber spatula all the same. “Why did you buy them if they’re too small?” she asked Annie, unaware that she was articulating a quintessential human paradox. The day Annie bought the shoes, she had actually gone looking for bras. A nice-looking but slim sales girl with a name tag that said Cynthia came up and said “Have a nice day”. Annie was desperate but felt shy to ask for help because there was a man watching her and she naturally didn’t want him to hear what she said when she confessed her bra size to Cynthia. For some reason, Solar System had put this pimple-faced youth in charge of Nighties. Women would approach the counter but turn around quickly once they saw him. Naturally, nobody ever bought any nighties. He was quite a pleasant-looking fellow actually, as he leaned comfortably on his counter, resting his chin on his arm, and watched while Annie crept round trying to pick up bra boxes and check the size and design without him actually seeing what was written on them. Finally she gave up and wandered towards some loud sounds near the entrance. It was the finals of a song and dance competition. Annie watched with envy as Pravina who sat next to her in class swayed and bent to the sounds with simple abandon. Even Rishi, the boy whose father ran the kirana shop just outside Annie’s building was swinging beautifully. No one could imagine that the Rishi who helped at the shop on weekends and made home deliveries on his bicycle outside school hours could have reached the semi-finals of this national show with footfalls as stylish as these! Annie sighed. She felt sad and depressed. Slowly, she walked towards the food and grocery section, and inched to the chocolate counter stealthily checking from the corner of her eyes that no one was watching. Near the dog food counter, a boy and girl called Rinku and Pinky were sailing a ball at each other, skipping around, and singing a very silly song. Annie did not even have a dog. She did not know the meaning of the expression GIMROI. But she did have enough money to buy some chocolates. There was no Zippy-mate raisin-enriched fun-bar, the chocolate that gives you more raisins, more chocolate, more iron content, more energy, more calories, more everything per cubic metre than any other chocolate. Annie did try asking two sales girls where she could find some, but they were very engrossed in whispering secrets to each other and when they detached, they would only look at the other shoppers and tell them admiringly, “Good morning, madam!” and “How can I help you, sir!” with so much charm, sincerity and enthusiasm that Annie just did not feel like getting in the way and she bought Cheepy-mate instead since it was marked down to Rs. 5 from Rs. 13.50 and also 15 for the price of 3. Their lovely green-striped aprons reminded Annie of Cynthia from the Ladies’ Underwear Department and filled with a new resolve, she went back upstairs, determined to get what she had come for. Cynthia was kind and when she understood the problem, asked the pimple-faced youth (Annie saw from his name-tag that his name was Viren) if he’d mind going on his lunch break now. He argued for a while, then before he moved off gave Annie a deeply reproachful look which Annie knew would haunt her forever. Later, she stood in line at the till with the 3 bra boxes concealed safely at the bottom of basket filled with dog food and Zippy-mate and the shoes which were too tight. But when her turn came, she was horrified to discover that there was no barcode sticker on them and the till assistant had to call out loudly to the supervisor, describing the product in great detail so it was heard by not only everyone in the store but also Viren, the pimple-faced youth, who happened to be passing by at that moment and he turned around and gave Annie a triumphant sneer. Annie was sad but it was a lesson she would never forget as long as she lived and a few years later when she became sought after as a witty dinner companion she would hold long discourses on the subject and repeat often “Location,” – and here she would briefly before driving home the punch line – “Location” (she would repeat for effect) “is everything.” 
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 26 March 2006

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

In case you haven't noticed my ar...

I met Mitalee Joshi for the first time at Pune Biennale in January 2017 and was not just entranced by the installation she was setting up, but inspired too. Since then I have been following Studio 7’s work, and over the last weekend was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop with them. I’ve always wanted to learn mosaic-making and was thrilled to have this opportunity. The workshop was well conducted in a lovely environment with all material provided – and chai and thoughtful snacky meals served too. With the notes circulated after the workshop, I found it an excellent overview and am happy to have taken home the basics of the craft and can’t wait to start using what I learnt. 

The theme of this mosaic workshop was ‘Balinese mask’, and we were provided with boards cut into the shape of a Balinese mask on which to fill in our mosaics. However, I could not resist using a theme not necessarily native to Bali, something that continuously informs my work: “who I really am and who you see me as” or “the real me” or “in case you haven’t noticed my artistic temperament, take a closer look, please”. I won’t say I’m happy with my work, which looks like a school craft project, but I’m so very happy to have learnt the basics of mosaic.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mandai 26 Jan 2019 – Between spaces

There are spaces that intersperse pieces of music – and those spaces are silence, so essential for a musical piece to breathe and reverberate.

Then there are spaces that intersperse periods of music media – and those spaces are overlaid with melancholic uncertainty; the regretful passing of an era. I chose one of those spaces to work with for this edition of Art Mandai 2019, dismembering audio cassettes and using their elements to create a fun nostalgia RIP series. Along with the cassette elements, discarded fabric and related items have been used to create mini statements about our life and times.
For eons, a musical performance could be heard only once. From the cave people singing in their mud pools to the classical performers of yore, the moment could never be recaptured. Even in the recent past, people would walk all day to reach the site where Bhimsen Joshi was expected to sing ragas and abhangas all night long! Today, music surrounds us, and often – as in the case of advertising jingles or car reverse horns – we are hardly even aware of it. During this magical journey, a few small spaces stand out. The era of the audio cassette is a significant one, being the first time that recorded music was becoming available to everyone; the first time that people could even make their own recordings. The generation which lived through this period experienced it as one of intense, disbelieving joy and gratitude for the music. My collection for Art Mandai 2019 is a tribute to those who clung on to their precious audio cassettes, a means to commemorate precious belongings for which their homes no longer have the space.

The Velvet Underground and Warhol’s banana

The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album had a controversial cover by Andy Warhol: the image of a banana with a “Peel Slowly And See” instruction. The banana peel was a sticker that revealed a flesh-coloured fruit beneath. This art work presents a pale imitation of Andy Warhol’s banana, embellished with crotchet flowers created from audio cassette tape.
This annual show will be held, as always, at Pune's iconic Mahatma Phule Mandai from 8.30am to 2.30pm on 26 January 2019.
Do visit!