A new virus!
It is considered impolite to begin a sentence with I, me, myself and thereby hangs a tale. The tale of two cities, two cultures. India and Bharat. Modern and ancient. Yesterday and today.
I, me, myself is a new malaise effecting us Indians. A new virus. Another virus is calling anyone up anytime just because one has the phone number from somewhere. Known family and friends calling is still okay though nonetheless invasive but new numbers calling up when one is driving, thinking, eating or just in the loo? And it is mostly about I, me, myself! ‘Sir, I want to perform at the Neem tree or under the Peepul. Sir, how to get this SNA (Shiv Nath… Award)? Or when can I go abroad? (Ask the Visa section of Pakistan or Syrian Embassy if you are so desperate or wherever else you wish to go, I’m not a travel agent.) Anyone who calls me like this and anytime is definitely off my list. It is invasive and plain bad manners, besides. SMS first, if you got the number. Today, there’s desperation. Each one trying to outdo the other. As if there is no tomorrow. Maybe many feel so, after facing two years of Covid.
City culture on auto pilot!
I, me, myself is a major one. It was plain bad manners just a decade ago. Writers, critics, thinkers, editors and historians never brought themselves in the picture or discourse. Only the subject was focused on. The I in me was silent. Only the most insecure and the mediocre did that and we had one megalomaniac in dance field doing that all the time. No one heard him really or cared for his PR-driven pieces. He, if he can be called, HE! (or it) started doing this to impress, while dropping names. For a chawl-dweller those days, to go even to nice homes of jewelled sisters or abroad meant going to the moon, so he – it – described how – A puppet hosted him in New York or New Delhi and fed him (till they got fed up) and looked after him. He (it) made eating and living off people his lifetime mission and whole life did PR writings for anyone who gave him a ticket to fly. He (it) was also called a fly: It could mean makhi, a pest-of-an-insect polluting all and spreading sickness. Some also said because he was interested in others’ fly! Especially boy toys. So, this it-started the I, me, myself writing school or style. Khushwant Singh, the renowned editor and writer of repute, once wrote a para on him/ it in his column WITH MALICE TOWARDS ALL. He wrote: Woe betide if this pesky fellow sits next to you in any dance show, for he will chew your ear with self-promotion and talk non- stop and spread rumours like a fly spreads sickness… Today the virus has spread to so many thanks to the Internet. Blog, flog and fakebook! Add Insta-nt gratification. I was here, there, everywhere; I did this that and that. Who cares?
In all this, where is the integrity and who talks of what’s correct information? Who sieves fake news from factual? Who gives credibility score and how? Who even wants to waste time on this when so much junk or drivel, abounds?
Pixstory: A new platform to decipher good from bad; fake from true; red from blue. Pixstory is a platform that helps filter culture news too. How to make only the real count. What’s REAL anymore in age of AI? Think.
Not wanting to think, last Sunday – the only day one can drive somewhat peacefully in any metro – we (not I, told you that’s bad manners) went to a happening city culture centre for fun. No serious culture function (where name gets printed as a guest of honour or chief, so one has to attend fully and suffer silently) just Culture in the wider sense, not just dance and music. So, we saw a mela-like atmosphere in the foyer: Full of colourful textiles, nice smells of exotic Indian perfumes and even cheese and eats. After such a palette to eyes, nose and mouth one sat in the auditorium just for past time and didn’t know what was coming. Belles doing belle dance! Not one had the stomach for it and yet these kids and young ones danced with alloo parantha and curd rice inside. It showed. All bounced. Happy they were as though no one cared. When, their parents sitting there didn’t care then why should society? कोन-Fusion dance, bad ballet and worst Kathak ever seen, followed. What was amazing was the joy with which all participated. A classical dance show rarely gets such an enthusiastic, full hall. When we left the hall one enthu asked: HOW was it? We said, we survived the world wars, holocaust, earthquakes, tsunami and partition of India, so what’s this?
Partition next, that was the lecture in the other hall in the same venue. Partition of India in 1947. As a grandchild of Partition, we have heard much and seen many proofs and photos taken by my father. We have known and grown with value for food, clothes and shelter. We gave up havelis to live in hovels of Delhi and Punjab, Bengal and elsewhere.
Millions of Hindus and Sikhs fled Pakistan aboard overcrowded trains when India was Partitioned in 1947
Rest of India, especially Central and South India hardly knows of the suffering Punjab and Bengal have faced. Bombay saw influx from Sindh, Karachi. Mysore was enjoying bonda and Bharatanatyam; the Malabar Coast was busy trading spice and Tamils were making temples in faraway lands, not just at home. Most in South or Central India have no idea how many millions died and suffered the Partition of India in 1947. Over 10 million. Read my lips. 10000000. More than the Holocaust. While each life is important and numbers don’t sanctify, still, as a context it is important to note. Ten million suffered and have the British or anyone responsible even apologised? Have we made them? What has India done for this? Is there a good book, or film? Yes, a few good tele-serials like Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas or chalo even a Gadar. We need a hundred more.
How have we dealt with the trauma? Talked about it enough? Hollywood makes films every now and then, so no one forgets what the Jews suffered and in India we make fun of the Punjabis or Bengalis. It’s cultural. Please understand all Punjabis are not Sikhs (though most Sikhs are Punjabis) and most don’t eat chicken three times a day! Or drink whisky and dance the Bhangra. South Indians do eat rice in one form or the other, three times a day! As (fermented) rice for breakfast in idli, dosa or normal rice in main meals and even in the end, rice in desserts like the payasam. Also, Punjabis don’t drink whisky instead of water. They often add water to lessen the risky whisky. All Bongs don’t swim in waters to eat Hilsa. They eat other things that grow on ground too. Get real.
Idli-Chutney is a delightful dish for breakfast
The hall was full of unreal people, sweet and simple and rather clueless. So were the speakers! One gentleman invited to speak, rambled on and on for a good half hour (denying many a chance in end to raise issues and ask questions. In that the host/ organisers were novices with no practical knowledge or experience how to conduct such an important topic) the good times, read good times his family and that he didn’t recall any suffering. Wow! What a nice thing to say to this hall full of people looking for a hearing or healing. He alone destroyed the gains of the pain that whole evening built up, where catharsis was in evidence and emotions were high. To add insult to injury, the two ladies on dais further invited him to sit on stage with them and inflict some more of his painful ho hum drivel on all for next one hour. His was a slow crawl. No race to use time, efficiently and productively. He helped assuage the Ravana in us, perhaps.
As a race where are we today? Self-sufficient or self-serving? As most of our dancers are. Seniors, over the hill, want to act like 20-year-olds and the 20-year-olds are waiting for a chance to dance. Many ask privately “when will these aunties stop dancing?” Aunties say: Never! Why should we? Swaraj is my birth right, has a new meaning altogether nowadays. Musicians and painters live in their own world and actually have a product to sell. They have an art piece at end of the day – a recording or artefact. Theatre? Whole country is in a drama mode. What’s the need to see real theatre? Textile designers never had it so good, with a booming economy to help sell. Film makers are having fun hyping their substandard wares and marketing any and every release with much gusto. OTT platforms are booming with business. Only dancers are left off badly, with no market or audience, really. Each one reinventing to survive and get that award that doesn’t even come with a medical insurance. Dancers need most support as all depends on their bodies. A singer can sing without one lung even, as Kumar Gandharva did. Or a painter paint with one eye, as Bendre did.
Dance unto death!
So, what’s good in this climate? Young India with energy but they need direction and role models. They have none. Film stars and cricketers make for very flimsy ones. The other issue is, at home, no one has time for them. No grandparents, as nuclear families have broken up long long ago and their parents are busy making more money for them and these youngsters feel neglected, so seek solace in social media. Most are mistaken that 2000 friends that follow them with emoticons will rarely, if ever, actually follow them in times of distress. It also did not have four at it’s cremation, when it had thousands of followers on Facebook then. Not too long ago, a very popular and fine young actor who had a host of followers on Twitter, Insta and millions of ‘Likes’ had a tragic death and not a follower cried hoarse. He was forgotten in a matter of months and is now a closed chapter – these are ground realities. Iti Kaliyuga, iti Gita Gyan!
So, let’s serve society selflessly and sincerely. Universe sees all and has a plan.
Ashish Khokar uses humour to describe Indian culture in its wider context, thereby mixing anthropology with arts and civilization with comment. 45 books, 5000 printed articles, 85 UGC modules for M.A. e-pathshala, 10 heritage film compilation make him India’s top art historian, author, archivist and critic. He also edits and publishes attenDance, the yearbook, now in its 23rd year. India Today hailed him as the gold standard of art writing and critiquing.
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Ashish Khokar is new version of Khushwant Singh
Ashish, love your style of writing…. Witty, sharp, observant, analogies abound, diverse topics merging within a single context…
Continue your musings…make people aware of what’s buried by history… written by the victors or the ones who have the ability to communicate and create a narrative with their point of view ….
In this world of ChatGpt, AI, ML, frivolous world with short attention time …. Your stories is like an oasis….😊
So well written Ashishji.
Love the voice of frankness and openness in the article
Ashish has an interesting style of putting matters across to the readers.
One may or may not agree with the style,but no one can deny that his writings are based on facts .
Ground reality of art, artist and art enthusiast pictured accurately. What a witty, whimsical read. Not an inch far from reflecting our environment. Lovely read.
This is outstanding Ashish Bhai! आपने इस युग का सारा निचोड़ डाल दिया. The facts of life, you’ve covered it all – Art, Culture, History, Anthropology, Politics, Physical Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and Zoology.