Conflicts in Patronage

Featured Image -- 324

happiest in transit:

This blog post is my art project which I and a dear friend of mine undertook. We are attempting to explore the various debates that intersperse notions of art. We begin with exploring something very vital to us- Does state patronage to artists repress their freedom?
Head over to the blog and give it a read. Also, join the debate. Hoping to hear from you.

Originally posted on The Chiaroscuro Blog: Art Matters:

The first debate here, explores the diversified sources of patronage that the artists are able to reach out to, today and whether state patronage is repressive for artists. We present here only the debate. But you can also access our full newsletter and Letters to the Editor at the end of this post.

Does state funding helps artists at all? Roy’s Response
“I would rather have as my patron a host of anonymous citizens digging into their own pockets for the price of a book or a magazine than a small body of enlightened, responsible men administering it”.
-John Updike
This quote by John Updike though said for literary arts, is almost as pertinent for visual arts. Right from the time of the Church or the Medicis in Florence or even King Louis XVI in France, state funding of the arts has been for the purpose of glorifying the state. Art…

View original 895 more words

In Search of the Splendid Suns- The Street Children of Zamrudpur

Street children

I originally wrote this article in January 2014, researching for University Express, a Delhi University digital newspaper that I was a columnist for, and later for my College Magazine. I felt that the realizations of that day also need to be up on this blog especially with Bachpan Bachao Andolan and Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

The day I went to research for this article, was the day it was driven into my psyche just how privileged a position I am in. It all started when a photographer friend wanted to find out more about the street children of Zamrudpur, who play near our college like they have not a care in the world.

It was amazing how little things can delight these children. A toffee worth a rupee brought from the neighbouring shop so that they would warm up to me while I wormed out the truth about their lives. Their sheer enthusiasm for pictures, at the chance to 15 seconds (or less!) of fame when we told that we were doing this for a “newspaper”. They were ready to be captured on the lenses of two random women and attempt to burnish their faces in the memories of people they didn’t know in order to create an illusion of fame around themselves- glorify their poverty, perhaps, as countless other photographers and reporters had done before. It felt as if they were trying to use the voyeurism of our times as leverage.

In the tiny alleyways of Zamrudpur- hidden behind the glitz and glamour and an almost blindingly stellar show of wealth of the posh Greater Kailash locality are children who live their lives by fighting. Fighting the cold by wearing sheer cotton clothes of cheap quality, the kind that bruises your skin. Fighting the pimps who are trying to use them as props to gather more wealth and later sell them off in the human trafficking business. Fighting the guardians who are discouraging them from going to school which will help them escape the system. Yet these children do not find much amiss in their lives. Except perhaps missing the chance to score a photograph because they were having their daily cuppa of tea.

Before I entered the bylanes of Zamrudpur, I had put away my valuables in my bag from where things could not be picked up easily. I had had the rather disturbing thought that poverty obviously makes a victim of all in its path and drives them to do desperate things even as they lose their integrity. And in this, I had absolutely discounted the sheer innocence of children like Gayatri. Children who are not afraid to smile at strangers. Children who do not move away hurriedly and look at every approaching person with a cynic’s eye. Children who are unafraid because they are in possession of the liberating knowledge that they have nothing to lose by sharing a smile or making a stranger feel a part of their world.

In spite of staying at a place where they are unable to afford much comfort, where one is susceptible to diseases, where one lives in an environment which may guarantee an early death and one may not live to see one’s youth. A place that makes sure you have to constantly fight to rise up and nothing comes easy.  A place sullied by every kind of literal and metaphorical germs; where roads are caked in cow dung. Here, in such a place, you will find children on throes of adolescence, discovering and perceiving the world through a bubble of innocence in spite of their situation and taking everything head on, as it comes.

The complete breakdown of civil infrastructure and the complete (probable) ignorance of the civil authorities in this area does hit you hard. But what is more bothersome is that this area lies sandwiched between those that have an obscene amount of power and privilege. The innocence is heartwarming but their situation is horrifying.

It is horrifying to think that bang opposite my college is a world where people are struggling to escape this ghettoization and occupy spaces we take for granted. And we are not giving them a chance to fair competition or better lives. We are actively repressing the fact that these people can rise above that of being a part of the motley crew of our domestic helps and look into our eyes as equals.

We can all parrot and preach about social inequality but how many politicians who live in this area actually bother to find out the reality of these lives. Or are they content with just scrunching up their noses and driving past the problem? And while journalism regularly celebrates the success of such children, why then is someone not raising the issue of their desperate situation? Of the shoddy education received, the broken houses and half made roads that they are forced to call their homes?

The sheer irony perhaps lies in the fact that in spite of the best of their efforts, these people are absolutely unable to cross over. In this cosy locality of Lajpat Nagar IV in South Delhi, power and poverty are neighbours but the twain shall never meet.

Apologies for the Inconvenience/ Part-time Lover

I have the most inconvenient lovers. The best friend of my first lover. The brother of my best friend. That classmate who will forever be in love with another girl, but is ready to take me in his arms and make love to me while constantly calling out her name. And then there is you.

I don’t know why I allow you into the inner recesses of my body and soul. I don’t know why I allow these people to find me desirable and, still not enough to share their souls. Lovers who claim they don’t really know what love is.

I don’t know why I take lovers with whom the boundaries of love and lust will never be defined. Even though when you take me in your arms, you can’t love me back. I don’t know if I am broken and if you are as broken as I am and I allow you because I feel as if in the way you caress my fingers, you somehow are able to complete me like a piece of a puzzle. And I don’t know when you will caress my fingers next.

I wait. I wait till the marks of that night, many nights ago, die down. I wait till I no longer look like a woman who has been owned for a night. Owned and abandoned. I wait with bated breath for you to reach out, every time solitude finds in us a companion.

Reach out to feel my calloused palms. Reach out to start a new adventure. Reach out to fix me. Reach out to feel my curves. Reach out to tell me to look at you, till you become my favourite new feeling. Reach out to be unrelenting and change the contours of my body. Again and again and again.

I look at you from the corner of my eye, every time we are in the same room. I wonder if you are ever going to find me as fascinating as you once did. I wonder if you are ever going to notice how you have changed me. I wonder how I can get your attention. I wonder if you are ever going to suddenly lean in and smell my hair before approaching the outlines of my lips. I wait for a hint of recognition in you. I wait for you to challenge me again and I wait for you to tell me that you find me intellectually stimulating.

I wonder if our lust can ever transcend into something a little more stable, not solely dependent on your moods and my desires. I wonder if on some nights you will ever ask me to come over, come sleep by you, comfort you. I wonder if we will ever again be normal around each other, if you will ever stop being condescending, if you will ever stop teasing me. I wonder whether you run your hands over your body to remember our nights together, like I do for you. I am waiting to slip into an intimacy from which we will never recover.

I wonder what it will take for me to get your attention, to stop occupying my mind and to not be an inconvenient lover.

A heap of broken images.

He first came to me as a profile picture. Sepia-toned and a smile that said condescending and nice at the same time. He began to take shape in comments. Witty, nice, about writing and True Detective and the Fellowship. He began to fill up my notifications- some stray posts and then all the time because I had stalked him so much, trying to decipher him. Trying to make sense of the person that the prospect of being future classmates had thrown up in my way, who so fascinated me. But I did not quite go a long way.

He slowly climbed the top of the list of people I wanted to befriend.  As if I were ever able to accomplish any of the million lists that I made.

I wanted to find occasions to talk to him. About writing, his and mine; about books, about music, about his life and discover how it so entangles with mine that I must feel this irrational force gravitating me towards him merely by the words that he had used in an intangible space.

And I prayed to the fates to give me a legitimate reason to actually cross his path. But when have the fates actually been so kind to grant us our whimsies. They pull back and wait and judge and push us to the point of nervousness and tie our stomachs up in a knot, till we are allowed to be granted a millionth part  of what we actually wanted. We did not know well enough, it had been deemed.

And as much as I tried to make sure our paths cross, we kept getting pulled in by two different vortex just that much.

I took it as a sign. Yet my stomach would produce a hundred butterflies to play around there every time I saw him and my system would make sure that blood rushed to my face so much so, that I couldn’t look at him in the eye or speak a coherent sentence around him.

Elevators and those irrationally large number of times I ran into him in one, became the moments I cherished the most in my entire day. I became good at small talk. I loved the “What’s Up? How was your day?” routine we did. I ran into him at a party and heard him strum on a guitar. There seemed to be hope.

I’d still end up on his profile in a few clicks, every time I was on Facebook. Yet I never quite got the courage to start a covert conversation with him. I didn’t know what he would think or say or feel about it. And I didn’t want my crawlingly slow progress in the elevator to backfire.

I  started to think of him as the ideal guy, just by piecing together all that we had spoken about.

And then our habitats changed. We stopped running into each other in elevators. I kept replaying our little conversations in my head.

Now I’d just wait covertly tracking all his moves. Online. Offline.

Oh, look now. We are both late for class. Oh look, he comes and sits next to me while my heartbeat rises to a crescendo of its own and my hands become sweaty and my mind conjures up a million stories and I continue to remain tongue-tied.

The few times that we are stuck in the elevator, all possible scenarios and inappropriate hopes of stealing a kiss pop up in my head.

We talk, we do talk. This one time, accidentally, about what we like. Our dreams and hopes and what fascinates us, and that remains among my favourite conversations among the many amazing ones that I have had in this cocoon.

And yet, all of this, all this stray incidents here and there, scattered around in the few moments of my day, remain just that. Stray incidents that have lost all hope of being pieced together to form a larger whole.

This post is perhaps best read as spoken word poetry.

Of bureaucracy and prisons.

I had an epiphany today. I finally understood why I will always be alone.

It is not that I do not enjoy my solitude. Indeed that is the most important part of my life. While the internet is bursting with posts on how you need to love yourself and learn to enjoy your own company and wind down by yourself, etc I have been blessed with the unusual privilege of being able to do exactly that whenever I can. I have had the fortune of not being tethered to more than 2 people and that too for some months. One died, the other left. I decided after that I do not need to look for partners. That will be decided by karma.

I am 35 years old. Partner-less. Unusual by the standards of our society. I work in a library in Central Delhi, living out my life amidst one true love- books. Books of the yore, books of contemporary times. Books capturing people in their varying emotions, time in its passage, places in their varying degrees of beauties. Books whispering stories. Documents whispering secrets of the mankind. Archives like no other in the country. I have been in charge of the orientation of new members and researchers among other things.

One balmy June morning, this man barged in through the massive oak-wood doors of our library. He was a researcher at the nearby natural sciences facility. He demanded to see the director, saying that he had  not received the required assistance he needed in navigating the library and he needed to procure some research material at the earliest for an ongoing project. Seven days, he said. He had only seven days.

Tall, imposing, beautiful. Piercing dark eyes, and this lyrical enthusiastic voice- a kind of voice that I had never heard before. There was so much rage, so much enthusiasm, so much brilliance in that one figure that it was difficult for me to take my eyes off him. Such urgency to get that work done. 7 days.

Day 1, I tried to explain to him how our library actually worked. The membership procedure, the orientation and why these rules could not be broken. He beseeched me to help but his eyes were defiant. I told him I would see what I could do. Maybe I could use my employee privileges. But I was unsure. I understood the urgency, but this was a job I loved and if anything went wrong I would have put my job at stake. He sat me down and explained to me how his project would change the way we looked at human beings and society and how this information was crucial to corroborate his theories. He asked me about my job and showed an interest which not even my employers had shown before. He asked me about my background and what got me where it did. He asked me why the books mattered and he told me why the research mattered so much to him on a personal level. And there between yellowing pages and musty smell of old books I could feel a dormant passion stirring. The burning desire to go out and grab the world by its lapels.

Day 2, he convinced me to help him. He said he would even share credit with me for his work. He said that I would be like a bridge to society’s betterment if I did this. He sat me down between the stacks and talked about his life struggles, then mine. We had coffee later.

Day 3, I woke up feeling love-addled. Like I was on an edge, on the edge of falling in love. Slowly then all at once. Infatuated with his charm. Infatuated with his passion. Infatuated with that pair of dark eyes that looked at you like it knew your soul and that sun-kissed voice that spoke to you to prise out secrets. I heard my phone’s ringtone after a very long time. He called me. It was a Sunday. I took a decision.

Day 4, I decided that I had to meet him and see if I actually felt like putting in my employee privileges and job at stake, if we actually had the chemistry we imagined. I dressed immaculately for a change. A pocket mirror found its way in my bag. I fast tracked his membership application meanwhile. In the world of red tapes and cronyism, something had to give. How long could they hold up the society for so long?

He entered like a storm that pushes you to action. Hurried, urgent movements. His archives were classified. Till he could not procure those he had decided to go in for collateral research. I had him flitting around under my supervision the entire day. All at once, he was a child and a man. All at once he seemed to encompass the way my life should have worked out. All at once, he encompassed all my desires. I began to wonder about his context. His loves, his lies, his taste in music, his family. I began to wonder if he was tethered to someone or consumed by lust for someone. I began to wonder how he spent his time. I began to wonder what made him happy.  I began to wonder about his favourite colours. I feel into a deep comforting love with the idea of love.

Day 5, they said that he required proper authorization to fast track applications. That would also take time to procure. It was time to work on my passions and to achieve my desires. A clearer signal could not be received. All that had to be done, was done. I discreetly took out a form and filled it out in my name and stated the reason that I had for accessing these classified documents. I put it in and without bothering to follow up with the status of the application but then, soon after took Jenny of the classifies archives section for lunch to this restaurant she was eyeing while he got a full access to the archives section. I also decided to help him spend the night at the library against the rules.

Day 6, he found what he needed. He thanked me. He said he would leave now. He said he would meet me for coffee someday at the chic new cafes nearby.

I overcame my inhibitions only to grab hold of his hand and blurt out, “Are You Married?” He gave me a strange look. I had exposed my vulnerabilities. I had taken the leap of faith only to be consumed in the chasm. He found what he needed. I didn’t.

Day 7, I had an epiphany today. After Jenny gossiped about our lunch, my shenanigans were discovered. It reached the Director and I was immediately suspended for unauthorized use of the archives. For 2 months- without pay- while my case was reviewed for further action by a disciplinary committee. I was not sure what lay ahead next. I was not sure what would happen if I lost my job. I was not sure if there was another place willing to accept a person like me for a position that I truly enjoyed.

I show my insecurities too soon and passion consumed me too soon. And for this reason, I will forever have to enjoy my prison of solitude with all comforts taken care of but not in a position to escape.

Unrequited Love

“Because what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”
James Patterson, The Angel Experiment

I know not if you have experienced the pain and the joys of unrequited but all consuming love but I have. It’s a temptation to which you cannot capitulate. It’s a desire best left buried. Amazingly so, its a voyeur’s delight. It’s fodder for literature. I may not be able to reach out to the person I love but I can articulate the pain and joys and fancies, perhaps?

This post is meant to be a preface to  a series of posts on unrequited love. I hope you will delight in the little pleasures that I derive and perhaps empathize in the sense of loss and longing.

Do I dare, do I dare?

” Do I dare disturb the Universe?”

I don’t know why all thoughts desert me when I try putting down pen on paper and crafting my own Shakespearesque novel.

There are dreams, you know. Dreams in which I am confronted by words. Words arising out of a smoke and nestling in my mind when I am in the throes of awake and asleep. Words transitioning through my mind along with my own transition. Words leaving me with hope.

Hope. Hope that there will one day be a time when the newspapers proclaim me as one of the “exciting young novelists” to emerge out of the continent. When the lit fests and young intellectuals are excited to have me at a session. Even one session. And perhaps I shall become a general knowledge/ current affairs question. “This is the tie breaker of the Great India Quiz and your question is: which author is the Pulitzer Prize winner for the year 2020, also the youngest author to win this prize?” That one day, there will be a time when my name in the Civil Services General Studies paper could be the deal breaker for an aspirant. However sadistic it may sound, that is me, articulating the depths of fame that I hope to achieve.

But I worry. I worry because every great author has had their tragedy. And I am told that artistes are tragic people. And that unless they have had their tragedy they don’t find the inspiration to write. Inspiration that makes for that beautiful heart-breaking prose that changes lives and moves the universe. The prose that makes people realize what was lacking in their lives. The prose that makes you wish that the author was your best friend so that you could perhaps ring up the author and tell him that oh look, I loved your new book. It is the most earth shatteringly amazing piece that I have read. I worry. I worry because I have been told that I can be a good writer and I worry because I really want to be the best at something. Like the words that are supposed to make me a good writer, all other talents have deserted me as well. Yes, I can break a move and sing a tune and doodle a caricature to amuse myself. But will they amuse the world? Hardly.  I have had a life that has been privileged. Happy. Cocooned. Away from what harsh realities look like.

And I fear. Fear that this is the great tragedy of our times. That there is no tragedy. No great wars. No insight. No conflicts. No stimulants.

That we shall continue in our placid, cocooned lives, perhaps paying the 30 percent tax to the government and uncaring about how policies affect the poor. Even as the wage gaps and gender gaps continue to increase and even as the rich becoming richer and the poor, poorer and the oppressed more oppressed and capitalism brings alive all the demons that we feared a socialistic model would give birth to. And the leaders of the world shall continue to be uncaring and the bourgeoisie that has been the moving force in ushering revolutions in history, continues to not look beyond what fulfills their own means. And artistes shall continue to sing and write about  love and all things frothy, ignoring all that actually moves us to a happier time. And artistes who gain some insight shall remain unhappy creatures deprived of inspiration.

But I fear that this placid state will finally move us into a place that shall make frothy contraptions talking of the heartbreak of inconsequential people best-sellers while like Van Gogh, the genius of many artistes shall go unrecognized in their lifetimes.

But what grips my heart and snatches away the words and clears away the smoke is the fear that people will know who I really am. Am I a fraud, a genius, a woman waddling in mediocrity but imagining that she can win the Pulitzer Prize? All I know that I am vulnerable and writing exposes the vulnerability that I have nurtured for so long. It is too personal, , like a raw festering wound, that which exposed to world shall burn and bruise the body further if it is not cared for and die like a song unsung.

So, do I dare, do I dare, disturb the Universe?

This is a piece that I wrote in the summer of 2014. This piece tries to articulate all the love and hopes and fears I harbour about writer’s block and about being a writer. It tries to capture the transformations and insecurities that I face in the process of writing. I hope some day to break the barrier and write professionally. To be read, to make an impact and to be taken seriously, is the dream. If I am able to flutter a few feathers in the process, that’ll be extremely wonderful! I have liberally picked up a favourite phrase from a favourite poem of mine, “The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot for the title.