Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On Hulugappa Kattimani, Inmates Who Perform Shakespearean Plays: In BLInk

What a fascinating story this is. Prison reforms is a great idea as it is, instead of just shutting away people for years and expecting them to always turn their lives around once they are out. Here is a story of a theatre person who wondered why jail inmates couldn't be introduced to theatre. This story was published in The Hindu BusinessLine's supplement BLInk, as part of a Shakespeare special commemorating 400 years of his demise.

Read the story here or see below. 


A chance visit to the Bellary jail led Hulugappa Kattimani to pass on his theatre acumen to prisoners, some of whom have been profoundly affected by the onstage experience

There is a phrase in Kannada that is often applied to the learning of the English language, that it is like an iron peanut — hard to bite into, impossible to digest. A large dose of Shakespeare may be a similar bagful of peanuts.

Most schools teach the bare basics: a few oft-repeated phrases here and there — a rose by any other name; thereby hangs a tale; to be or not to be... Relegated invariably to the realm of high-brow culture, it is a wonder then that there is a section of people, some illiterate, some not-so-well-educated, stagingMacbeth and other works by the Bard. They are prisoners, most serving life sentences, most falling into the stereotype of hardened, aggressive, jailbirds. And thereby, indeed, hangs a tale.

Why Shakespeare? I ask Hulugappa Kattimani, actor, theatre personality and the man behind this marvellous idea of staging plays with jail inmates through his organisation Sankalpa. “Guilt and redemption play a main role in Shakespeare’s stories,” he says, seated in his gorgeous antique rosewood furniture-filled house in one of the newer residential layouts of Mysuru. Rangayana, the government-run theatre institute and repertory where Kattimani works, is hosting its annual children’s camp, with some 400-plus seven- to 14-year-olds, and it is too noisy for a chat. “Shakespeare’s plays are relatable to the prisoners’ state of mind,” he says, adding that the desi-fication of the plays helped the inmates understand the story better. Thus, in Macbeth, the Tiber river became Tapati-nadi, Rome became Maggipattana and Macbeth became Maranayaka.

Kattimani’s pioneering attempts at prisoner reforms through theatre is nearly two decades old now, beginning as a wild experiment inspired by the teachings of his guru, the stalwart BV Karanth. “He used to tell us to merge with people, that theatre is not just reciting dialogues, you need experiences. He told us to observe people closely, in railway stations, on the road.” A chance visit to the infamous Bellary Jail, where some of the most hardened criminals are housed, made Kattimani wonder if theatre could be used to help reform at least some of them. Gopal Hosur, the then Superintendent of Police at Bellary, got all the permissions (he later retired as Director General of Police and remains the chief advisor at Sankalpa). It was as radical a thought then as it continues to be now.

“We started by teaching the prisoners yoga, clay modelling, painting, and so on,” says Kattimani, admitting that it was tougher to make the police department understand. He has several anecdotes to share, poignant stories of prisoners reformed by the power of theatre. There is the man from the Hakki Pikki tribe with the long beard, who refused to talk to anyone. Then there’s the actor who didn’t consider escaping when they were on a trip to Shravanabelagola, because as he said, if he ran away, who would play his part in the evening’s performance? And the other actor who internalised Stanislavski’s method acting (that Kattimani taught them) to such an extent, that after playing Gandhi, he turned vegetarian, mild-mannered, and gave up cussing. There are also the changes the prison and police departments have gone through, seeing the effects theatre has had on the inmates.

In the last 18 years, the troupe has had over 150 performances in several parts of the state and the country. Dwelling on prison reforms, Kattimani explains how the idea of a karagraha, a jail, is to destroy criminal intent, but when the prisoners are rarely seen as human, they lose something and the society sees them differently too, once they are released. “Through theatre, they learn life lessons,” he adds. Over the years, he has steadfastly refused to vouch for anyone and ask for their release, even though such requests keep coming his way. Neither does he ask why they have been jailed or what their past is.

Would he care to replicate the model elsewhere, I ask, given how successful it has proven. “There is so much to do here alone,” he replies. Among the things he now has planned is an idea he has long been mulling over. Several of the prisoners who made up his troupe have now been released and are back in their hometowns. “I want to start a seasonal repertory for them, where they stage plays for six months and go back home for the rest of the year. Or they can stay on a piece of land, where they can live, farm and share the produce. They should be able to farm by day and immerse themselves in theatre in the evenings,” he says.

There are plans to form a team of about 50 inmates, taken from eight to 10 different jails, and stage a four- to five-hour-long play; maybe Crime and Punishment, maybe something on 1857. Kattimani no longer asks them whether they can sing or dance when he is choosing them for plays. “I now ask merely if they are interested, because life experiences are more than enough to do theatre,” he says.

Deepa Bhasthi is a writer and the editor of ‘The Forager’ an online journal of food politics.

(This article was published on April 22, 2016)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lesson of the day: Taking, and being taken for granted, is ultimately what kills a relationship - be it between friends or in love. Not the differences, not the similarities, but the denial, the stubborn refusal to see as absolutely necessary the work and the mundanities that are required to keep things fresh. Day in and day out, day in and day out, relentlessly, like everyday chores sometimes, day in and day out. 

This is one lesson that never seems to get fully learnt by any of us, I realize today, even as realization dawns as to why some things happened the way they happened. I remain alternatively, a helpless bystander and an exhausted victim.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Report on the Venkatappa Art Gallery Takeover Issue: In Hyperallergic

The alleged attempt to takeover Bangalore's Venkatappa Art Gallery is constantly in news in the city, for the last several weeks now. I wrote a report on the complicated, many pronged issue for Hyperallergic, a US-based online "forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today." It was the first time I was writing a regular inverted pyramid-style report in many, many years, and I must admit, it was hard! Embarrassing too, how out of touch I am in that kind of journalism. I am hoping though that this report will be the first of many that I plan to write, as I very selectively take again to reporting.

Read the report here, or see below. 


BENGALURU, India — In July of last year an agreement was signed to turn one of the oldest public art galleries in this city of 11.5 million over to a private foundation. With the news of the secretive agreement having emerged early this year, the local artist community has come out in opposition, determined to retain the Venkatappa Art Gallery(VAG) as a cultural commons.

Nearly every weekend of this summer of unprecedented and debilitating heat, artists, writers, and other creative practitioners here have been out on the streets protesting a takeover of the government-run VAG by the privately managed Tasveer Foundation. Their protests have included a day when hundreds of the intelligentsia sat before Town Hall under black umbrellas, blowing shrill whistles; a “Hug-VAG” day; a human chain; and a day when the artists painted, drew, sculpted, and crafted at the VAG in a bid to emphasize its value as a public space. An online petition that opposes the Karnataka state government’s decision to hand over what the artists consider nearly complete control of the gallery and its collection to a private entity is making the rounds and has accrued over 1,000 signatures.

The VAG was founded in 1974 with a collection of works by the renowned painter K Venkatappa, which were donated by his family. It has remained government-run since its inception and its collection has grown to include large bodies of work by other well-known artists from the state, including C P Rajaram and K K Hebbar. The gallery sits on prime real estate in the central business district of the city, with posh neighborhoods, the expansive Cubbon Park, upscale shopping hubs, government offices, the High Court, and Vidhan Soudha, the seat of the state government, all within walking distance. It is also in the same compound that houses the popular Government Museum and the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, both popular destinations for school trips and tourists.

The gallery’s location is an important consideration in the feared takeover by the businessman, collector, and art dealer Abhishek Poddar and his Tasveer Foundation. Apart from being the owner of the local lifestyle store Cinnamon, Poddar runs theTasveer Gallery, which is “dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary photography” and represents some of India’s most famous photographers, including Raghu Rai, Prabuddha Dasgupta, and T S Satyan. The Tasveer Foundation, about which very little is known, aims to establish a Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in the VAG premises.

In July of last year, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Department of Tourism and the Department of Archeology, Museums, and Heritage of Karnataka state “with an aim to promote art and culture in the city of Bangalore, to both residents and tourists, MAP, a Division of the Tasveer Foundation will take up the course of the adoption on the Venkatappa Art Gallery tourist destination, as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, and in doing so, will redevelop of various facilities (sic).” The MoU adds that “all curatorial, exhibition, and programming decisions shall be governed by MAP, its curators, and advisory panel.” While the MoU was signed nine months ago, it was only earlier this year that the art community got wind of it.

Local artists soon formed the VAG Forum, a group that now consists of a larger creative community from all over Karnataka and supporters from around the country and across the world. Picking apart the MoU, the objections they have raised are many, foremost being that that the agreement gives Tasveer Foundation and Poddar complete control over VAG, allowing him to use it to show his collection and potentially promote his business interests. VAG has long been a space that allows art students and emerging artists to hire the gallery at nominal charges to show their works. It also emerged early on that the Department of Kannada and Culture, under whose aegis VAG falls, was neither made aware of, consulted with, nor involved in the MoU process. Nor is there a website for the Tasveer Foundation, or any mention anywhere of who its trustees are. A Wikipedia entry for Poddar says that the foundation is “a not-for-profit to manage and archive his extensive collection with a desire to use it to increase interest in the visual arts in India.”

An idea of what may be in store for the future of the VAG can be gleaned from a notePoddar published on Facebook last month. In it, he says that though the museum will be created with large private donations, funding, and expertise, “the initiative is not in the realm of privatization nor is it a takeover.” He maintains that the “existing collections will remain a key attraction,” adding that a “private collection, through exhibitions, will be visible to the public for the first time.” While the MoU remains unclear about what the proposed renovations will mean for the existing building, Poddar’s note elaborates that brand new galleries will be built, along with a new auditorium, art library, café, conservation lab, and digital interpretation zones. “These new facilities will be housed in a renovated and redesigned expanded building,” Poddar writes. The question of why Poddar wants to use a public space to house a private collection and the clause that MAP will retain full programming control have led to fears that the space will no longer be easily available to the community. Artist Pushpamala N, writing as her alter ego The Phantom Lady in an essay that details the complicated workings of this attempted privatization, says, “VAG has acted like an incubator of art for us, and we want to keep it for future generations.”

The potential privatization of a common space is at the heart of the VAG dispute. The MAP is welcome in Bengaluru, the members of VAG Forum insist, but they are against it taking over the VAG. Calling the MoU a “sinister new precedent” in her essay, Pushpamala questions Poddar’s motivations for wanting to turn the official state gallery into museum for his private collection. While the creative community insists that only a total scrapping of the MoU would be acceptable, the state government remains reluctant to revisit the decision. It is an impasse that seems nowhere close to being resolved.

Edit: The above report was posted on the Art Forum website as well, here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Nilanjana Roy's The Girl Who Ate Books: A Review in The New Indian Express

I read Nilanjana Roy's very lovely book The Girl Who Ate Books. Here is a review I wrote for The New Indian Express. Read it here or see below.


In Moral Science classes – as they used to be called in those days – we used to be taught proverbs that we would go on to use in many clichéd ways later on in life. Things like how you should never judge a book by its cover, old is gold, and such like. Sticking to the literal meaning of the former, and not its application to humankind, I have to say that you really need to judge Nilanjana Roy’s The Girl Who Ate Books by its cover. It is a book as delightful as its cover is beautiful.

The Girl Who…is a collection of essays, interviews and reviews, most culled out from Roy’s well-known and much-read columns and freshly updated, and marks over two decades of her writing on books, readers and related adventures. Beginning with memories of growing up reading in Kolkata in homes that “were furnished in books”, one that had “a wrought-iron staircase like rusted lace…” Roy’s early memories of reading are what might well be the early memories of most ardent readers who took refuge in books and stories from a young age.

The first part of The Girl Who… extends a fascinating peek into the history and development of Indian Writing in English (IWE). The story of Dean Mahomet, “an enterprising young man” who becomes “the first Indian writer to attempt a full-fledged book in English”, founder of a coffee-house, and then an Orientalist spa in the 1800s, is interjected with the author’s first visit to London and the anecdotes that make her visit so memorable. Chapters on ‘How to Read in Indian’, pioneering English writers after the First War of Independence and the following essays are laden with references to lesser known books, their history, the country’s history and the author’s own, all well meshed together. There is an unmissable leaning towards Bengali literature, certainly not a fault, for this book is about the books this girl ate through life.

Roy eats, finding, “through a process of trial and error, that Bengali books seldom tasted good, that paperbacks are dry and crumbly, and that exercise books are watery and disappointing.” This one time, she is forced to eat an entire page, corner to corner, to ride a perceptibly ragged edge on the page she unfittingly made. Her conscience troubles her, and so does her stomach, but she says, “…this would hardly be the last time I would find the printed word difficult to digest.”

A large part of the book contains short interviews with some of the country’s most well -known writers and poets, and publishers/booksellers/booklovers, to be consumed, Roy writes, “like samosas or paapri chaat”. These are not definitive portraits, more like “old black-and-white snapshots.” Dom Moraes, Kamala Das, Jeet Thayil, Khushwant Singh, Arundhati Roy, Naipaul, Pico Iyer, Rohinton Mistry and possibly every major Indian writer in English any common reader could name, is included. In writing of the things they ate, their quirks, their eccentricities and their normal-ness, these essays introduce the person behind the big fancy writer in an easy, conversational manner.

There are meditations on the death of Kolkata’s libraries when fortunes fall and houses have to be sold and on the curious cases of some the most well-known instances of plagiarism. Finally, from neatly contextualize it all with contemporary issues, writings on the freedom of speech and expression that look at everything from the myth of Vac, the goddess of speech and the deeply personal, Roy crosses over and the reader in her becomes the writer, the author.

On account of having reworked on columns that span some twenty years, there are stray repetitions here and there that a reader does notice. But this is just nit-picking in a book that is otherwise a wonderful journey into reading in English in India. In her personal account of a lifetime of reading, The Girl Who… is representative of an entire generation’s reading habits honed, through trial and error and instinct, over long summer days, in old bungalows and with pavement booksellers. “…buying books is a ruinous habit,” Roy writes somewhere. Quite right, but her book reminds, if such a reminder were needed at all, just how good for the soul this ruinous habit can be.

My Books Read List 2016

Here are the previous ones. 

6. The Book of Joshua by Tanya Mendonsa: I found her through one of those chain email things. The only reason it caught my fancy was because it was poetry. This is about Joshua, the cocker spaniel that Tanya adopts and follows their life as they move homes, live by the sea, move to the mountains and the myriad characters of animals and people along the way. As with all animal movies and books, I bawled my eyes out in the end. It was another of those books that came to me at the right time. Having Rudra in my life and trying to figure out each other and life together, it was hilarious, sad and necessary, all at the same time, that I read this book. A light, breezy read that you'd enjoy all the more if you have a dog. "From the time I was little, I identified people by the dogs they had."

7. The Girl Who Ate Books by Nilanjana Roy: I reviewed this book for The New Indian Express here. Absolutely loved this one. I have followed Roy's writing on and off, though I haven't read her novels yet. The Girl Who...is largely about reading in English in India and has wonderful essays on the art of reading, the histories and baggage associated with books and lovely profiles of most of the well known writers in the country, those living and those older. It almost acts as a primer for reading in India, helps you discover new writers and re-discover old favourites. A must read, if you enjoy reading about reading, and some writing.

8. The Hills of Angheri by Kavery Nambisan: Nambisan is an old favourite I keep going back to. Her stories are so evocative of home that it is sometimes difficult to read her descriptions of the hills and the valleys and all that Kodagu is. This book is set in the fictional Angheri hills where Nalli fights against convention, tradition and strict family rules to study to be a doctor, first in Madras and then in London. It follows her story as she struggles to get better at surgery, her chosen field and the different places she heads to, always seeking...something. Again, as always, Nambisan might just be writing my thoughts, this just be my story as I seek...something. Read Nambisan, especially The Scent of Pepper, for her descriptions, for the gorgeous imagery she weaves in her words. 

9. Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary, edited by Shinie Anthony: This I found to be quite a strange collection of essays. There are some really nice ones like K Satchidanandan's essay on the evolution of society and literature in Kerala, Sara Joseph and Sheila Kumar's story and essay and such like. And then there are run of the mill ones that sit jarringly in the collection. I wouldn't have read the book if it weren't for some project I have in mind.

10, 11. Salt, and Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed: I always love discovering new writers, especially poets. This poet blew my mind away and there were moments when I literally gasped and held my breathe at the beauty of her words. Read her, read her as if your life depended on it. She is magic, she is gold and I cannot stop fawning over her. Here are a couple of her poems:

the water bowl
on my thighs.
i soak the flowers.
they become
then i write.

- ritual

stay is a 
sensitive word.
we wear
who stayed
who left
in our skin

- sojourn

sometimes the
night wakes in
middle of me.
and i can do 
become the

All these are from Nayyirah Waheed's Salt.

Monday, April 04, 2016

On Selfies: Binkana Column in Kannada Prabha

The Briton Ben Innes did something foolish. He posed for a photo with the EgyptAir hijacker Saif al-din Mustafa, grinning away for having the "selfie of a lifetime". They say it was a ploy to get the hijacker's photo to send to the police. I'm not so sure about that. Anyway, I wrote about the foolishness, stupidity, vanity and everything else in Kannada Prabha this last Sunday. See below, the unedited version (will have spelling errors, please ignore - I still haven't learnt to type in Kannada).

Published April 03, 2016

ಏನೆಂದು ಹೆಸರು ಇಡಲಾಗದ ವಿಚಿತ್ರ ಸಂಗತಿಗಳ ಗುಚ್ಚವೀ ಸೆಲಫಿ

ತನ್ನ "ಬೆಸ್ಟ್ ಸೆಲಫಿ" ಅದಂತೆ. ಬೆನ್ ಇನ್ನೆಸ್ ಎಂಬುವ ಬ್ರಿಟನಿನ ಆರೋಗ್ಯ ಮತ್ತು ಸುರಕ್ಷತೆ ಆಡಿಟರ್ ಒಬ್ಬ ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಹೈಜಾಕ್ ಆದ ಈಜಿಪ್ಟ್ ಏರ್ ವಿಮಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರಯಾಣಿಕನಾಗಿದ್ದ. ಸೇಫ್ ಅಲ್-ದಿನ್ ಮುಸ್ತಫಾ, ವಿಮಾನವನ್ನು ಸೈಪ್ರಸ್ ದ್ವೀಪಕ್ಕೆ ಬಲವಂತವಾಗಿ ತಿರುಗಿಸಿಸಿದ ಹೈಜ್ಯಾಕರ್ ನ ಜೊತೆ ಬೆನ್ ಒಂದು ಫೋಟೋವನ್ನು ತೆಗೆಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಈ ಫೋಟೋದಲ್ಲಿ ಬೆನ್ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಸಂತೋಷವಾಗಿ ಕಾಣುತ್ತಾನೆ, ಈ.... ಎಂದು ನಗುತ್ತಿರುವುದು ಕಾಣುತ್ತದೆ. ಪಕ್ಕದಲ್ಲಿರುವ ಮುಸ್ತಫಾನ ಮುಖದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದು ಅತಿ ಸಣ್ಣ ಮುಗುಳ್ನಗು ಮೂಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದೆ, ನಗಲೋ ಬೇಡವೋ ಎಂದು ಇನ್ನೂ ನಿರ್ಧಾರಮಾಡದಿರುವ ಹಾಗೆ. ಸಿನಿಮಾ ಸ್ಟಾರ್ ಗಳು, ಗಾಯಕರು, ಇನ್ನ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಸೆಲೆಬ್ರಿಟಿಗಳು ತಮ್ಮ ಅಭಿಮಾನಿಗಳು ಕೇಳಿದ ಸೆಲಫಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಪೂರ್ತಿ ಮನಸಿಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೂ ಒಂದು ರೀತಿಯ ತಮ್ಮ ಹಣೆಬರಹ/ಕರ್ತವ್ಯ ಎಂಬುದನ್ನು ಮನಸ್ಸಿನಲ್ಲಿಟ್ಟುಕೊಂಡು ಪೋಸ್ ಮಾಡಿದ ಹಾಗೆ ಮುಸ್ತಫಾ ಪೋಸ್ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾನೆ.

ಬೇರೆಯಾರೋ ತೆಗೆದ ಫೋಟೋ ಇದು, 'ಸೆಲಫಿ' ಅಲ್ಲ. ಆದರೂ ಜೀವಮಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ತೆಗೆದ ಬೆಸ್ಟ್ ಸೆಲಫಿ ಎಂದು ತನ್ನ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಿಗೆ ಕಳಿಸಿದ ಈ ಫೋಟೋ ಅಂತರ್ಜಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ 'ವೈರಲ್' ಆಗಿ ತೇಲಾಡಿ ಅಂತರರಾಷ್ಟ್ರೀಯ ಮಟ್ಟದಲ್ಲಿ ಸುದ್ದಿ ಆಯಿತು. ಮುಸ್ತಫಾನ ಫೋಟೋವನ್ನು ತೆಗೆದು ಪೊಲೀಸರಿಗೆ ಕಳಿಸಲು ಮಾಡಿದ ಪ್ಲಾನ್ ಇದು ಎಂದು ಯಾವುದೋ ಲಂಡನಿನ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂದಷ್ಟೇ ಓದಿದೆ. ಅಕಸ್ಮಾತು ಹಾಗೆಂದೇ ಇದ್ದರು ಫೋಟೋ ತೆಗೆದು ಬೆನ್ ಮೊದಲು ಕಳಿಸಿದ್ದು ತನ್ನ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಿಗೆ, ವಾಟ್ಸ್ಆಪ್ ಮೂಲಕ, ಜಂಬಕೊಚ್ಚುವ ಸಂದೇಶದ ಜೊತೆಗೆ. ಈಗಿನ ನಮ್ಮ ವರ್ಚುಅಲ್ ಜೀವನವದ, ಅದರಿಂದ ಪ್ರೇರೇಪಿತವಾಗುವ ಆಲೋಚನೆ, ನಡವಳಿಕೆಗಳ ಸೂಕ್ತ, ಸಂಕ್ಷಿಪ್ತ ಪ್ರಾತಿನಿಧ್ಯ ಈ ಒಂದು ಫೋಟೋ ಮಾಡುತ್ತದೆ.

"ಈಗಿನ ಕಾಲದ ಮಕ್ಕಳು...." ಎಂದು ತಲೆಯಾಡಿಸುವಷ್ಟು ವಯಸ್ಸು ನನಗಾಗದಿದ್ದರು ಇಂತಹಾ - ಏನೆಂದು ಹೇಳಲಿ? - ಮೂರ್ಖತನ, ಗರ್ವ, ಜೀವನದ ಪ್ರತಿ ಕ್ಷಣವನ್ನು ಹಂಚಿದರೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಆ ಗಳಿಗೆಯನ್ನು ಅನುಭವಿಸದ ತೃಪ್ತಿ ಸಿಗುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂದು ಗ್ರಹಿಸುವ ಪೀಳಿಗೆಯ ಮತ್ತು ನನ್ನ ಪರಿಚಯದವರು, ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರ, ಸಮಕಾಲೀನ ಪೀಳಿಗೆಯ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಘಾಡ ಅಂತರವಿರುವ ಹಾಗೆ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ವಾಸ್ತವದಲ್ಲಿ ಹೆಚ್ಚೆಂದರೆ ೬-೭ ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಅಂತರವಷ್ಟೇ. ಈ ಫಾಸ್ಟ್ ಯುಗದಲ್ಲಿ ಪೀಳಿಗೆಗಳ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಇರುವ ಅಂತರ ಮೊದಲಿಗಿಂತ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಫಾಸ್ಟ್ ಆಗಿ ಮೂಡುತ್ತದೆಯೋ ಏನೋ. ಬಾಲ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಪ್ಯೂಟರ್ ಶಬ್ದವೇ ಅರಿಯದೆ ಬೆಳೆದು ಈಗ ಅದಿಲ್ಲದೆ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡಲು ಅಸಾಧ್ಯವೆಂಬ ಸ್ಥಿತಿಗೆ ತಲುಪಿದ ತಲೆಮಾರು ನನ್ನದು. ಸೆಲಫಿ ತೆಗೆಯುವವರು, ಮಾಡಿದ್ದನ್ನೆಲ್ಲಾ ಫೇಸ್ ಬುಕ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಕುವವರು ನನ್ನ ಸಮಕಾಲೀನರಿಲ್ಲ, ನನಗಿಂತ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಹಿರಿಯರಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ಖಂಡಿತವಾಗಿಯೂ ನಾನು ಪ್ರಕಟಿಸುತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ. ಫೇಸ್ ಬುಕ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಪರಿಚಯವಾಗಿ, ಪ್ರೇಮವಾಗಿ ಗೃಹಿಣಿಯರು ತಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ-ಮಠ ಬಿಟ್ಟವರ ಕಥೆಗಳು ಆಗೊಮ್ಮೆ ಈಗೊಮ್ಮೆ ಗಾಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ತೇಲಿಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಆದರೆ ಈ ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ ಎಂಬುದಕ್ಕೆ ತೀವ್ರ ಬಲಿಯಾಗಿರುವವರು ಬಹುಷಃ ಅಂತರ್ಜಾಲ, ಸೋಶಿಯಲ್ ಮೀಡಿಯಾ-ರಹಿತ ಕಾಲವನ್ನೇ ನೋಡದ ಈಗಿನ್ನೂ ೨೫-ವರ್ಷದ ಕೆಳಗಿನವರು.

ಬಾವಿಯೊಳಗಿನ ಕಪ್ಪೆಯೆಂದೇ ನನ್ನನ್ನು ಕರೆಯಿರಿ, ಈ ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಯ ನಿಜವಾದ ವ್ಯಾಪಕತೆ ನನಗೆ ಅರಿವಾದುದ್ದು ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಕಳೆದ ಜನವರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ. ಯಾವುದೊ ಒಂದು ಪ್ರಾಜೆಕ್ಟ್ ಗೆ ಸಂಬಂಧಪಟ್ಟ ಸಂಶೋಧನೆಗೆಂದು ಕೊಡಗಿನ ದುಬಾರೆ ಆನೆ ಕ್ಯಾಂಪ್ ಗೆ ನಾನು, ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರು ಹೋಗಿದ್ದೆವು. ದುಬಾರೆ ಪ್ರಸಿದ್ಧ ಪ್ರವಾಸಿ ತಾಣವಾಗಿದೆ ಈಗ. ನಾವು ಹೋದದ್ದು ವೀಕ್-ಎಂಡ್ ಆಗದಿದ್ದರೂ ಡಜನ್ ಗಟ್ಟಲೆ ಜನ ಬೆಳಗ್ಗೆ ಹತ್ತು ಗಂಟೆಯಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ಸೇರಿದ್ದರು. ಲೆಕ್ಕ ಮಾಡಿ, ಐದು ಗುಂಪಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮೂರರ ಕೈಯಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದು ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸ್ಟಿಕ್. ಅದನ್ನು ಹೀಗೆ-ಹಾಗೆ ಎಂಬಂತೆ ತಿರುಗಿಸಿ-ಮುರುಗಿಸಿ ಬೆಸ್ಟ್ ಆಂಗಲ್ ಹುಡುಕುತ್ತಾ, ಮೀನಿನ ಹಾಗೆ ಮುಖ ಮಾಡಿ ಸೆಲಫಿ ತೆಗೆಯುವವರ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ನಾವು ಅದ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಬೇರೆ ಶತಮಾನದಿಂದ ದಾರಿ ತಪ್ಪಿ ಬಂದವರಂತೆ ಕಾಣುತ್ತಿದ್ದಿರಬೇಕು. ಕೆಲವರಂತೂ ದೋಣಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹೋಗುವಾಗಲೇ, ಆನೆಗಳ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಇರುವಾಗಲೇ ವಾಟ್ಸ್ ಆಪ್ ಮೂಲಕ ಫೋಟೋ ಕಳಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದರು, ಫೇಸ್ ಬುಕ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರೊಫೈಲ್ ಫೋಟೋ ಬದಲಿಸಿಯೂ ಆಯಿತು.

ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ರಾಜ ಭವನದ ಹತ್ತಿರ ಟ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ ಸಿಗ್ನಲ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಯುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಒಂದೊಂದು ಸೀಸನ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದೊಂದು ವಸ್ತು ಮಾರುವ ಹುಡುಗರು ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸ್ಟಿಕ್ ಮಾರುತ್ತಿರುವುದನ್ನು ನೊಡಿ ಕುತೂಹಲ ತಡೆಯಲಾಗದೆ ನನ್ನೊಟ್ಟಿಗಿದ್ದ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತ ಬೆಲೆ ಎಷ್ಟು ಎಂದು ಕೇಳಿದ. ಪ್ಲಾಸ್ಟಿಕ್ ನಿಂದ ಮಾಡಿದ ಚೀನಾ-ಮೇಡ್ ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸ್ಟಿಕ್ ಅದು. ನಾನೂರು ರೂಪಾಯಿ ಎಂದು ಹೇಳಿದ ಹುಡುಗ ಹತ್ತು ಸೆಕೆಂಡಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮುನ್ನೂರಕ್ಕೆ ಇಳಿದ. ಕೊಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ಸುತಾರಾಂ ನಮಗಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ನಮ್ಮ ಬೆಲೆ ಅದೆಷ್ಟು ಎಂದು ಒಂದೆರಡು ಸಲ ಕೇಳಿ ಆ ಹುಡುಗ ಪಕ್ಕದ ಕಾರಿನ ಕಿಟಕಿಯೊಳಗೆ ತಲೆ ಒಡ್ಡಿದ. ಸೆಲಫಿ ಸ್ಟಿಕ್ ಒಂದಕ್ಕೆ ಅದಷ್ಟೇ ಬೆಲೆ ಎಂದು ನನಗೆ ಗೊತ್ತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಸೆಂಡ್ ಆಫ್ ಪಾರ್ಟಿ ಮುಗಿಸಿ ಮಾಲುಗಳಿಗೆ ನುಗ್ಗುವ ಶಾಲೆ ಕಾಲೇಜು ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಕೈಯಲ್ಲೆಲ್ಲ ಇರುವ ಈ ವಿಚಿತ್ರದ ಯಂತ್ರ ನೆನಪಿಗೆ ಬಂತು. ಒಂದು ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಪ್ಯೂಟರ್, ಕಾರು, ಫೋನ್ ಅದೆಲ್ಲವೂ ವಿಚಿತ್ರವೆಂದೆನಿಸಿದ ಯಂತ್ರಗಳೇ...

ಒಂದಾನೊಂದು ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರವಾಸ ಹೋದಾಗ ಅಕ್ಕ-ಪಕ್ಕದಲ್ಲಿ 'ಒಂದು ಫೋಟೋ ತೆಗಿತೀರ ಪ್ಲೀಸ್' ಎಂದು ಕೇಳಲು ಇಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದಾಗ ಕಷ್ಟ ಪಟ್ಟು ಕ್ಯಾಮೆರಾವನ್ನು ಸೊಟ್ಟ ಹಿಡಿದು ನೆನಪಿಗೆಂದಿರಲಿ ಎಂದು ಫೋಟೋ ತೆಗೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆವು. ಅದನ್ನು ಸೆಲಫಿ ಎಂದು ಹೆಸರಿಟ್ಟು, ಅದರ ಅದ್ವಾನವಾದಮೇಲೆ ಅಗತ್ಯವೆಂದೆನಿಸಿದರೂ ಈಗ ಹಾಗೆ ಫೋಟೋ ತೆಗೆಯುವ ಮನಸ್ಸು ಬರುವುದಿಲ್ಲ.

ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಹಲವೆಡೆ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿರುವ ಭಯೋತ್ಪಾದನೆಯ ಘಟನೆಗಳ ನಂತರ ಹಲವರು ತಮ್ಮ ಸೆಲಫಿಗಳನ್ನು ಆ ಜಾಗಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಂತು ತೆಗೆದು, ಫೇಸ್ ಬುಕ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಕುವುದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಅದೆಲ್ಲೋ ಓದುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ಒಂದು ರೀತಿಯ 'ಟ್ರಾಜಿಡಿ ಟೂರಿಸಂ', ದುರ್ಘಟನೆ ನಡೆದ ಜಾಗಗಳನ್ನು ವ್ಯಭವೀಕರಿಸುವ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸ. ಅವಿವೇಕವೋ, ಸಂವೇದಿತನವೊ ಅಥವಾ ಈಗಿನ ಸಮಾಜವನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿಬಿಂಬಿಸುವ ಒಂದು ಹೊಸ 'ನಾರ್ಮಲ್' ನಡವಳಿಕೆಯೋ, ಅಥವಾ ಇದೆಲ್ಲವೂ ಮಿಶ್ರಿತವಾದ ಕರ್ಮ ಕಾಂಡವೋ, ಏನೆಂದು ನಾ ಹೆಸರಿಸಲಾರೆ.

On Body Positivity: In Filter Coffee Column, Kindle Magazine

Read it on the Kindle website here or see below.


This body, lumpy and dimpled and creased and unsmooth and scarred, this body is beautiful. Any body, all bodies. In all colours and shapes and sizes and measurements. But look at us, us fools, dwelling in the hope for Utopia where every body would be seen as beautiful, secondly by everyone, firstly by the owner of the body. They won’t give us that, will they? A woman being happy with her body is the most dangerous thing for a whole breed of marketers and brand strategists now. Who do you sell creams and lotions and diet pills and makeup and Botox to, if a woman wasn’t constantly told she needed all that and more? #ThisBody

Recently, Lane Bryant, a US-based chain that focuses on plus-size clothing, released a lovely advertisement that features gorgeous plus sized women. The ad opens with close up shots of folded skin over large thighs, a love handle here, and a love handle there. The women look happy, unlike their skinny counterparts who are forbidden to smile on the catwalk or in ads, lest the focus shift from what they wear to who they are – another subtle manner in which women are told how they look is more important than themselves. The women in the Lane Bryant ad laugh and dance and tell you what #thisbody is made for. It is made to break the mold, it is made for love, it is made to rock denim, it is made for being bold, powerful and sexy, it is made for living, insists one model, her upper arms jiggling a little bit when she spreads her arms wide, embracing life. It features the gorgeous Ashley Graham and a host of others, all sexy, beautiful women exuding confidence and owning their bodies.

The story here is that several television networks refused to show this ad, terming it “indecent”. Naturally it led to severe outrage from some stray quarters – it wouldn’t do for mainstream media to waste airtime or column space on anything that gave women more confidence and believe in themselves. The question raised by the feminist, body-positive band was why this ad was termed indecent when those of skinnier bodies, Victoria’s Secret models were splashed across TV, on public hoardings and in print, irrespective of the fact that the latter not only objectified such bodies, but also reiterated, yet again, the age old narrative that only thin bodies are beautiful bodies. The Victoria’s Secret ads are where the models don’t talk but writhe around on high heels as the camera zooms into their come-hither pouts and to their cleavages. The banned ad shows women having a say, breastfeeding, dancing, boxing and being normal – something rather detrimental to the plan make up companies have for this half of the species.

Women have, for decades, been told that unless they are a certain size and a particular colour, they cannot be worthy of being called beautiful. The popular narrative in the English speaking media is Euro-centric, white and usually straight blond hair, though there is some leniency in the colour of hair these days. Even at times when fashion magazines and runways show models who don’t fit into this narrative, models who are Asian or African, not so thin, have afros or are golden skinned, it comes across as a tad condescending. More so when there is a big deal being made about that magazine cover or the ramp walk having featured models who did not stick to the strict requirements of the fashion industry. It cannot not be condescending until larger models, models who are “different” are included in the regular shows and ads and not be restricted to a separate segment for them. Until the bodies are mix and matched, not segment-ised like they don’t deserve to be in the same roll call, until the different body types are so much a part of the mainstream that you no longer stop to write columns that exalt the inclusivity policy of a fashion house, until you stop pointing out that there was inclusivity, these bodies – so normal a mix in the real world – will always be seen in separate compartments, most as “not beautiful”.

I often wonder if we live in a hyper politically correct age, where everything is a case for outrage. I grew up playing with Barbie dolls, just as much as with the more Indian ones, that, now that I think about them, still had blond curls and blue eyes that opened when you stood them straight and closed when you laid them down. When I read of the debate around Barbie dolls and how they promote a negative body image in young girls, I often catch myself wondering whether back then, we girls were so naïve or so dumb that we never thought about these things. Sure, once we got to high school, weight was on everyone’s mind but for the life of me, I can’t claim to have been influenced by the impossible proportions of a Barbie doll. A doll was just a doll and we never expected it to look like us or be relatable. It didn’t matter that Barbie had Ken, even when we were at an age when what a boyfriend was, was not something we too clearly knew. Or that she had breasts and wore swimsuits, when we were in small towns that never saw anyone in public wearing swimsuits. It didn’t matter that she mostly wore pink and high heels and had a lifestyle that was not like anything we were familiar with. It didn’t matter because we knew well that she was a doll. We still went on to become successful women in different professions.

When the new range of Barbie dolls that had various body types were introduced, I wondered whether the world was taking the idea of body image a little too seriously. I would want to believe that young girls would be smart enough to distinguish between a doll and the natural world around them. Or perhaps they cannot. Apparently, there are cases of eating disorders being discovered in girls as young as seven and eight.

I have long given up hope of the mainstream media cleaning up its act and starting to behave a little more responsibly. Maybe it is the responsibility of parents to bring up girls to be women who are happy to be “indecent” as above. Maybe it is up to them to tell girls there are dolls, and that there are real people, sometimes one might look like the other, but they are still very different. Maybe it is up to the girls themselves to fight back the negativity of this brazen fashion world and take up their bodies for themselves. Thin, fat, skinny, curvy, dimpled, cellulite-d, jiggly, wiggly, scarred, white, black, golden, brown, whatever the descriptions, every single body is beautiful.

Maybe one day we will learn that. It is very hard. There are big businesses that are hoping you never realize these things. But try, try we must. Nothing can be any less a pain to take to take back #thisbody.