Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Bombay Meri Jaan
Las Meninas: I lived in Bombay for 25 years or a fourth of a century, in units of historians for whom time and space have to be encapsulated in magnitudes that allow for comprehension of change, like the slow motion capture of movement of plants by David Attenborough. My visit to Bombay after almost a period of two years is like a stop motion animation that simulates movements through the recording of frames of differences, between what was and what is, with me constantly collecting differences in the name-place-animal-thing and everything else that changed or moved. A new building along the corner, a redevelopment of a club, a new gate, new shops, lesser trees, more dust and everything as aggressive as it is supposed to be in this city exactly the way I left it. When I was away from it, I lived in its nostalgia, romanticizing the informal (which I believe is our only way to reconcile with exploitation so obviously before us and our helplessness to do anything about it), talking about The Alternative (our only sense of hope and redemption, hinged on a typology detail.... takes me back to my school days) and schemes, strategies and tactics (our means of avoiding direct confrontations and giving Guerilla warfare a bad name); but now the brackets seem to antithesis the words, like the thin layer of heat-dust that seems to bother me where ever I go, my very own, personal spores of blame.
Maybe I am in a state of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas where the mirror keeps switching the object, artist and the observer, mixing subjectivity and objectivity into a yin yang polluting every argument, rhetoric or fact that I knew. But as John Berger (Shape of Pocket) puts it, the best paintings are the ones where the artist and the object fused together into an inseparable mass of narratives, maybe these blind spots within my experience of Bombay may provide for some new method/perspective of mapping.
Mapping: While I am on the topic of mapping, the predominant nature of interventions being carried out within Bombay’s academic circles seems to be of mapping, if mapping is indeed an intervention (I have begun having my doubts about that). Like multiple individuals with different cameras with varying focal lengths, zooms, filters we continue to map the city from various vantage points, some through our professional sphere and some as a personal indulgence, but we map, tirelessly. The data gathered in the Mumbai Reader alone is more than enough to provoke all sorts of interventions, but unfortunately through fire and floods we wait with expectations and nothing happens. The maps form an archive and the archives a museum, with no repercussion within the context that we map so tirelessly.
In this city, mapping seems to be a tool to keep 'thinking' interventionists pre occupied through strategic deployment of culture capital and prevent us from getting militant! (This too is a fucking joke, when it comes to the bourgeois, holding candles, flowers and hands like a bunch of fools, appropriating Gandhi as and when possible. Like Zizek explains Gandhi's tool of Non-Violence for those times and situation was extremely violent, it WAS very much an intervention that made a DIFFERENCE. Today it has turned into a circus). If the exercise is mapping for the sake of mapping then it is a different issue, but if not then I strongly believe we need to know why? And who is the audience? Or else it is just a process of intellectual bartendering of theoretical - cocktails and circulating knowledge within restricted social circles, with mapping reduced to an exercise of creating aesthetics rather than a tool of active intervention (maps created by the Situationists). At this point in time, I believe we desperately need something new…
Mumbai Reader: Talking about new... after coming home I saw the copy of Mumbai Reader (UDRI publication), it was at least 6 times fatter than what I was expecting (which in case of books is a good thing), but I just couldn’t help but notice every article, every paper clip being a well articulated rant, furnished with excellent data and concluding with the most elaborate declarations of helplessness by Architects, Planners, Social scientists, Lawyers, Political activists etc. Makes me wonder if we are always going to be helpless within our professional spheres or is it that someday we may turn into Arvind Adiga's White Tigers, born just once per generation a rare spectacle! But all this militant revolutionary spirit aside, the Mumbai reader looks very promising. It has some clear articles with on ground conditions and concerns, written by people selected due to their expertise in a particular field and not necessarily because of their linguistic or theoretical manoeuvrability, so most articles have a ‘reporting’ flavour. This according to me is a good thing, as for everything else we always have the Delhi reader.
The paper used for the reader as well as the overall dimensions are just right, it looks good and reads well, but once in a while I wonder why is it Mumbai Reader and not Bombay Reader (stamped "read Mumbai where Bombay" just like in government documents that required to be changed).
Map: On one of these days, while surfing through the net, I came across a Mumbai train map like the London tube network diagram. This seems to be a clear indication of the expansion of Bombay city as imagined by the government and the global-powers that are facilitating it. Clearly Bombay is going to be 'under construction' for atleast a decade. I don’t know how inserting so much infrastructure is ever going to be possible?
Cable TV: After a really long time of not having any access to TV, I was relishing the idea of surfing through thousand cable channels and watching TV, lying immobile for hours with my retina basking in the light of the tube. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case, I just couldn’t relate to TV any more, not even information and News channels. I feel never before has Bombay been more in need of thousand cable channels than right now. The TV is a machine in itself that compensates for everything that the working class here needs/desires.
It is Space: Lush gardens, foreign locations, bungalows and constantly renewed extensions to the private homes that watch it, like a small shack in a slum, an apartment house in Bhayander, a terrace flat on the 21st floor in Bandra. Like a small window aligned along a wall or splayed along the corner, it creates new spaces within homes of families mesmerized by the electronic light that is deployed to entertain illusions of life. It is the classic virtual Recreational Ground, much required in a city that has lost most of its open spaces. This space is the Garden, the Theatre, and the Circus - heterotopias balancing the city of discontent.
It is Surveillance: If London has its CCTVs, Bombay's Panopticon turned inside out -the TV belittles all forms of social control through a fantastic inter-pixilation of entertainment and self surveillance. Here all narratives across channels have the capacity of assimilating the flickers within society and plot against anyone trying to break away from this Rooster's coop. Here the Law brings every murderer to justice (and with a commentary by a really scary voice), Companies promise gifts of chance (and you may just be the lucky one!), Sports turn into Gladiator matches (opened just to distract people from fall of the Senate/Democracy) and women, children and men from good families suffer from guilt due to their wrong doings.
It is Religion: Like Nietzsche's Master-Slave morality, every character is ascertained as being heroic or villainous based on the difference of morality. Master (the villain) morality weighs actions on a scale of good or bad consequences while slave (hero) morality which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions. This good slave morality preached by every religion- ‘opium of the masses’ now has a new Adhan and Altar- the TV.
Elections: The only thing that I did or rather could watch on TV was the election politics that had reached its final frenzy as the day of counting approaches. With electronic voting machines, a budget of over Rs. 1,120 Crores (election expenditure) and a massive population, this election was a spectacle in itself. Advertised as the opportunity to make a difference (15th opportunity mind you!) by celebrities, believers and non-believers alike practiced their right to Indian Democracy. Meanwhile the 'wooing' and 'mud slinging' by the future representatives of our country had the strength to completely nullify the pro active campaigns by the media like Bleed India and Jaago Re and encourage a few thousand more to dwell in apathy over the state of affairs. But the overwhelming majority which the UPA received was quite surprising and to some extent a positive development.
House on a Hill: One of the highlights of the trip was a long drive to outskirts of the city a trip to my father's utopia- his farm house, an orchard and lot of sun. The drive was very nice with me noticing the new 'interesting' things, photographing trucks, rickshaws and trees as they had never existed before. After the aggression, heat and dust inflicted by the city, this was a good space of refuge, where I could wander around aimlessly, photograph farm-flora & fauna and laze around reading, while my father played out Charles Darwin to every shrub, tree, plant and bee that had evolved in his path. He was happy here, making it a point to personally introduce me to every member of the plant kingdom with its characteristics, growth and sometimes even spiritual classifications. I duly photographed each specimen and asked inquisitive questions.
Meeting my family after a long time was like recharging my sense of hope and belonging. But sometimes I do feel a certain sense of urgency with regards to making it big and getting things right. Meeting up with friends was good. Met up with Prajna, Rupali, Prasad, Ranjit, Mukul, Rohan, Kiran, Vishal and Siddharth...all of them having been there for me through good and bad times in my life. I have realized there are no real choices in life, but only an illusion of having choices, all roads lead to the same place, a place where free will is a farce. With sophistication, most deviants have been institutionalized and the city sterilized. Probably this is the time that we from collective turn into individuals struggling separately in our individual “Pursuit of happiness”...or maybe all of this is not true, its just the heat-dust...my personal spores of blame...
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.