Celebrating The Complete Man

Shree Ram, Jay Ram, Jay Jay Ram.  Copy paste. Copy paste. Since 1992 for me.  1946 for the more devout. Even earlier for the criminally insane. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the concurrent rise in movements highlighting oppression of minorities and backward sections of the Indian society are in sync with the assertion of identity being witnessed all over the globe at this time. Whether it is Trump and China or Rakhine and Rohingya or the Islamic State and the rest of the world, the dynamics are the same.

When we were in Punjagutta, the lane we lived in was dominated by Muslims who had come into wealth in the last couple of generations, not old money with an accent, many of the older generations being clerics, while the middle generation had embraced business and professions like law, engineering, etc. The younger folk were more in tune with the times, tech savvy, sophisticated, outgoing. The Hindu population was a minority, a large part of it in the slums, and the rest old time residents of the locality, mostly moderately educated, middle class. For both the Hindu and Muslim demographic, there was a significant percentage of uneducated, underprivileged, oppressed members. During festivals like Eid, Dussehra and Diwali, both communities celebrated together. One day of the Dussehra celebration was hosted entirely by the Muslim families, and no one really had a problem.

Image by RajTilak Naik

Around 2010-2011, we began noticing a certain call and response nature to the festivities. Eid, Ramzaan and Moharrum were celebrated with a certain aggression that was garbed in the assertion of communal identity. The processions would almost always verge on challenging both law and order and the sensitivities of those not participating in it. Young men would circle around the procession on bikes with flags and sometimes weapons in an ominous manner. When I asked about it, I was told that the police and the government were out to deny them their right to self expression and religious freedom. They used these occasions to send out a message to them to stay away. In 2010, I first saw a bike rally on Ram Navami. While the Ganesh festival and the immersion procession did see a lot of flag waving and religious rhetoric, Ram Navami, especially in the south of India has always been more of a temple and home celebration. This began to change and over the next couple of years, there was a deliberate and obvious display of muscle power in the Ram Navami processions.

Delete Facebook For The Right Reasons

#DeleteFacebook is trending, and I will not miss this one for anything. Brian Acton who got part of the $16 million that Facebook paid to acquire his baby, WhatsApp, joined the movement with his own time to #DeleteFacebook tweet. Kind of ironic, and a post on WhatsApp is a real possibility, but let me share my understanding of Facebook. Those who know me (in all worlds, the real, the virtual and the other) will agree that my views are jaundiced and rabid. I like my yellow foam. 

I stepped out of Facebook nearly two years ago. Before that, I had spent six years as a social marketing consultant, advising clients on how best to build strategies that would get their message across to social media users who were most likely to respond to those messages with an expression of interest, if not a transaction itself. In the process, I gained a fair amount of insight into what Facebook does and how it does it. Given the nature of today's world, a free market, and no holds barred marketing environment, I cannot find fault with the way it works. Users give the permission to host their personal interactions on Facebook servers, and anonymized manipulation of those interactions, or data derived from those interactions is used to build a price model for advertisers. Of course, when that anonymity is violated, there is a problem. Similarly, content that is intended to extract user information needs to be regulated much more stringently. All of this is for Mr. Zuckerberg, the guy who boasted of 4000 Harvard names, emails and photos that he could get you, to figure out. The guy whose 2018 resolution is to fix Facebook. Yes, the same guy who paid $16 million to anonymously listen in on your conversations with your friends and family.

My reasons for stepping out of Facebook are quite different. I will summarize them briefly, since this is not worth dwelling on more than we have all (one sixth of the world's population is on Facebook) dwelt on already.

1. Facebook robs you of your present. Have you kept track of how much time you spend versus how much time you intended to spend on Facebook? You will be surprised at how violable your own commitment to yourself is. Facebook is designed that way. The dopamine high you get from knowing about your best friend's new dress is rivaled only by the thrill of scrolling on. You spend your time commenting and liking and sharing things that do not in any way add value to your real life. You do it because you feel you are contributing to a conversation. Life is what happens when you are busy scrolling down your newsfeed. This time could have been spent in real conversations with your loved ones, time spent with your parents and kids, time spent in self-care, or time spent learning something new.

The Six Tastes of Life

Ugadi greetings to all who frequent this madhouse. Ugadi greetings to those who have chanced upon it now. Gets me thinking why we attach so much significance to beginnings and ends. Hindu festivals, like all other religious or cultural festivals, usually commemorate the passage of time, the seasons, linking it to mythology, the cycles of life, and the movement of the planets. Ugadi is derived from Yuga (age) and Adi (beginning) and is observed on the first day of the waxing moon fortnight that falls in the month of Chaitra. For Bengalis, Chaitra is the end of the calendar year. For Telugus, it is the beginning of the year. For the missus and me, it is double the celebration.

Over the years, she has learned how to have a happy festive day, and leaves me out of pretty much everything but the partying and the homme a tout faire treatment, more a massaging of  my ego than true need. So there are mango leaves strung up on the doorway, rangolis at the entrance to the home outing the closet artist. The food prep, like the house cleaning, start days ahead and Ugadi day itself is a frenzy, everybody is bathed at unearthly hours (I work the night shift, so that makes it even more unearthly for me), the recently deep cleaned house is deep cleaned again in the span of the morning and the gods are remembered. The village takes over the kitchen, containers running out and ziplocs taking over. Junior and I get to dress up for apparently no reason, and usually with clothes just bought, sometimes with the price tags still on. Once lunch is over, and you get to think you just might be able to catch forty winks, it is time to socialize, I guess since nobody wants to dress down and then up all over again. Some do though, sometimes just to ensure that all the apparel received for the occasion get broken in. 

This Ugadi, however, is more special than others. It marks the end and beginning of a particularly strange period of our lives. Chandrababu Naidu's withdrawal from the NDA will probably go down as the moment that Indian politics changed. Given the crowded and corrupt fundamentals of Indian politics, it is hard to say with any confidence that great tidings await us, but still. It is a declaration of righteous indignation that should send a message to the unprincipled, and encourage those who choose to live by their conscience. At home, we are going to be looking back at this time with the deepest of gratitude and respect for life, and for the people in our lives.

Three Books Outside Begumpet, Hyd

Now that the Oscar fever had subsided, the delirious movie binges are easing out as well. We are done with most, and the rest are in a tomorrow box that never gets opened, one that the missus and I never forget even when we fight about something else altogether. It also provides for a little more time for reading. It is this way for me, and if you are like me, I thought you would benefit from knowing about three books I read recently that really made an impact on me.

It is a fairly wide range of things that I have got to do with my life. I read a little, but I have never done and do not intend to start doing book reccos, and these are definitely not my desert island books, but these three books were breathtakingly fascinating, contributing to my worldview in ways that compel me to share them with you. I am a firm believer in the purposefulness of all that occurs and in the epiphanic nature of each moment. These books brought me what I needed at this point in time, mystically.  I had lived with what can best be called philosophical shame for a good part of my life, embarrassed to share what I believed.

My disagreements with organized mysticism and psychologists have landed me in more trouble than I had bargained for, inside and out. I grew averse to the entire philosophy-psychology-productivity-self help continuum after overdosing on it in the '90s. Similarly, I have been outgrowing my understanding of music and musical expression, straying uncomfortably close to noise, yet enjoying the precariousness of it. Over the last decade or so, I have been actively pursuing a line of thinking that all we know and believe about the science of music, the conventional theory that all students of music are subjected to, is possibly a very limited, censored, "state sponsored" view of things, and that the truth lies in the voices of the voiceless. This conspiracy theory was further strengthened as I watched Junior explore rhythm, melody and language. What was going on there was not what any convention could explain, and this is evident in the development of this faculty in any child, and it doesn't have anything to do with what you learn when studying music or language.

Two of these books are from the pop psychology genre. The third is a book I was advised against by a fellow music lover who had much greater engagement with the theory and history of music than I ever did and whose opinion I revered.  The likelihood of my reading these three books was close to zero. As my best friend always course corrects me, we don't know why anything turns out the way it does. Our intent is never lost on the universe, it is just that needs have to be met first. These books met a need that I was not entirely conscious of, resolving conflicts that I could not acknowledge.   

Three Bluesmen Who Shaped Rock and Rhythm N Blues

This blog has way many more followers that any of my other blogs, perhaps because most of them lie untended. It makes it a good platform to promote posts that would otherwise not get read. 

For those of you who enjoy rock and R&B or just music in any of its myriad forms, and those who do not follow my blog on music, The Operative Note, here is a close look at three blues guitarists who shaped much of modern music - The Unholy Trinity of Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It is not an introduction to these musicians or their work, but more of a critique of their contribution, both positive and negative, and a questioning of the mysticity of their lives.

I would love to know what you think of it. I know, the pictures have dates.

Salutations to the Sun

My life,
My seasoning, my reason,
My reasoning, my seasons,
My riches, my Eden,
My bearing, my North,
My courage, my learning,
My yen, my diet,
My redeemer, my comfort,
My mystery, my lotus,
My document, my script,
My morning, my noon,
My being, my bravery,
My light, my air,
My sex toy, my sanctum sanctorum,
My spring, my fall,
My melody, my counterpoint,
My hemlock, my truth,
My pulse, my heartbeat,
My onion, my universe,
My raised letter,
My inclination, my Eiger,
My beginning, my end,
My hopium, my aadhar,
And then just numbers, values, dates.
My! My!My! My!

February 14, 2018

Music For Those Who Listen

Most writers write with the purpose of being read. Therefore, nothing such writers write is personal. Pitches to publications, revisions suggested by editors, all of it serves to remove all that is personal to be replaced with market politics or universal marketability. My journey of trying to be a writer, one who considers writing his primary occupation, has thus far indicated otherwise. I am not talking about one trick pony theories that suggest that everyone has a novel in him or a story in him, his own, and after that, zilch. My limited reading of the masters, classic and contemporary, seems to indicate that what one writes about has to be personal to possess enduring value. And I feel that is true of all arts, visual, music or words.

The trouble with the personal lies in the conflicts it triggers in living. I see my life as a classic example, since no one is really qualified to comment on the life of another. If I were to make my innermost thoughts public, it would land me into a fair deal of trouble, with my friends, my neighbors, my insurance, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, and my children. Oh my, my!

Having Dad around hasn't helped much with resolving this dilemma, since he turns into a duck's back whenever I bring up the question of an artist's priorities and commitment to the truth. But this question haunts me more than ever as I grow older, move into newer territories of relationships with self, society and state, new worlds of the mind and the spirit, . I am not Prince Rama, nor was meant to be, but heck, I wouldn't mind putting a few of my conflicts to rest.
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