Sunday, January 27, 2013

Undercurrent of swirl fish
They suck on big gloating palaces like frogs under the gun
There are three points facing the light of the sun
Bliss, like bricks, unto the one.
Triangles and rhombuses sitting in perfect circles
All scandinavian like haircuts weighing a tonne.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Psychograph of Dara Okat

Dara Okat (°1975, Hinterland, India) makes films, photos, mixed media artworks and conceptual artworks. By merging several seemingly incompatible worlds into a new universe, Okat uses a visual vocabulary that addresses many different social and political issues. The work incorporates time as well as space – a fictional and experiential universe that only emerges bit by bit.

Okat creates situations in which everyday objects are altered or detached from their natural function. By applying specific combinations and certain manipulations, different functions and/or contexts are created. By putting the viewer on the wrong track, he wants to amplify the astonishment of the spectator by creating compositions or settings that generate tranquil poetic images that leave traces and balances on the edge of recognition and alienation.

His works doesn’t reference recognisable form. The results are deconstructed to the extent that meaning is shifted and possible interpretation becomes multifaceted. By rejecting an objective truth and global cultural narratives, he tries to create works in which the actual event still has to take place or just has ended: moments evocative of atmosphere and suspense that are not part of a narrative thread. The drama unfolds elsewhere while the build-up of tension is frozen to become the memory of an event that will never take place.

His works directly respond to the surrounding environment and uses everyday experiences from the artist as a starting point. Often these are framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context. By applying abstraction, he creates intense personal moments masterfully created by means of rules and omissions, acceptance and refusal, luring the viewer round and round in circles.
His works sometimes radiate a cold and latent violence. At times, disconcerting beauty emerges. The inherent visual seductiveness, along with the conciseness of the exhibitions, further complicates the reception of their manifold layers of meaning. With a subtle minimalistic approach, he creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art can be found. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used.

His works bear strong political references. The possibility or the dream of the annulment of a (historically or socially) fixed identity is a constant focal point. By emphasising aesthetics, he seduces the viewer into a world of ongoing equilibrium and the interval that articulates the stream of daily events. Moments are depicted that only exist to punctuate the human drama in order to clarify our existence and to find poetic meaning in everyday life.

His practice provides a useful set of allegorical tools for manoeuvring with a pseudo-minimalist approach in the world of film: these meticulously planned works resound and resonate with images culled from the fantastical realm of imagination. With a conceptual approach, he presents everyday objects as well as references to texts, painting and architecture. Pompous writings and Utopian constructivist designs are juxtaposed with trivial objects. Categories are subtly reversed.

His work urge us to renegotiate film as being part of a reactive or – at times – autistic medium, commenting on oppressing themes in our contemporary society. By applying a poetic and often metaphorical language, he creates with daily, recognizable elements, an unprecedented situation in which the viewer is confronted with the conditioning of his own perception and has to reconsider his biased position.

His works are given improper functions: significations are inversed and form and content merge. Shapes are dissociated from their original meaning, by which the system in which they normally function is exposed. Initially unambiguous meanings are shattered and disseminate endlessly. With the use of appropriated materials which are borrowed from a day-to-day context, he tries to approach a wide scale of subjects in a multi-layered way, likes to involve the viewer in a way that is sometimes physical and believes in the idea of function following form in a work.

His works appear as dreamlike images in which fiction and reality meet, well-known tropes merge, meanings shift, past and present fuse. Time and memory always play a key role.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Servile

The servile has arrived to decide his fate.
He thinks only in triangles, a three-pointed mind, one abstract venn-diagram into his heart.
He faces contemplation, he embraces interpretation as the lines blur into a sunless horizon open to thoughtlessness and timelessness... 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mount Hinterland

The construct divided, the plastered floor breaks the plastic, the folds crack under my feet into the heathen that the cat's mystery uncovers,
The fake smiles laughing, walking, through the muse's drunken five-o-clock banter,
Somewhere there is the light of the mystic river shining through all this metallic rubber, within the soul there is the moulded fountain of a forgotten yesterday,
I saw her name yesterday smeared on the beach floor, it was open to interpretation, the fur on my cap coming into a bridge-like shape,
My pear-shaped heart looks like a mirror with three faces, three kings frown somewhere in the gloomland of Mt. Hinterland...

Monday, December 24, 2012


I love the name I have given you.
Through it you can see red, green and blue.
Everytime another hue. :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Surrealist Manifesto

From Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, 1924
We are still living under the reign of logic, but the logical processes of our time apply only to the solution of problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism which remains in fashion allows for the consideration of only those facts narrowly relevant to our experience. Logical conclusions, on the other hand, escape us. Needless to say, boundaries have been assigned even to ex- perience. It revolves in a cage from which release is becoming increasingly difficult. It too depends upon immediate utility and is guarded by common sense. In the guise of civilization, under the pretext of progress, we have suc- ceeded in dismissing from our minds anything that, rightly or wrongly, could be regarded as superstition or myth; and we have proscribed every way of seeking the truth which does not conform to convention. It would appear that it is by sheer chance that an aspect of intellectual life - and by far the most important in my opinion — about which no one was supposed to be concerned any longer has, recently, been brought back to light. Credit for this must go to Freud. On the evidence of his discoveries a current of opinion is at last developing which will enable the explorer of the human mind to extend his investigations, since he will be empowered to deal with more than merely summary realities. Perhaps the imagination is on the verge of recovering its rights. If the depths of our minds conceal strange forces capable of augmenting or conquering those on the surface, it is in our greatest interest to capture them; first to capture them and later to submit them, should the occasion arise, to the control of reason. The analysts themselves can only gain by this. But it is im- portant to note that there is no method fixed a priori for the execution of this enterprise, that until the new order it can be considered the province of poets as well as scholars, and that its success does not depend upon the more or less capricious routes which will be followed.
It was only fitting that Freud should appear with his critique on the dream. In fact, it is incredible that this important part of psychic activity has still attracted so little attention. (For, at least from man's birth to his death, thought presents no solution of continuity; the sum of dreaming moments - even taking into consideration pure dream alone, that of sleep - is from the point of view of time no less than the sum of moments of reality, which we shall confine to waking moments.) I have always been astounded by the extreme disproportion in the importance and seriousness assigned to events of the waking moments and to those of sleep by the ordinary observer. Man, when he ceases to sleep, is above all at the mercy of his memory, and the memory normally delights in feebly retracing the circumstance of the dream for him, depriving it of all actual consequence and obliterating the only determinant from the point at which he thinks he abandoned this constant hope, this anxiety, a few hours earlier. He has the illusion of continuing something worthwhile. The dream finds itself relegated to a parenthesis, like the night. And in general it gives no more counsel than the night. This singular state of affairs seems to invite a few reflections:
1. Within the limits to which its performance is restricted (or what passes for performance), the dream, according to all outward appearances, is continuous and bears traces of organization. Only memory claims the right to edit it, to suppress transitions and present us with a series of dreams rather than the dream. Similarly, at no given instant do we have more than a distinct representation of realities whose co-ordination is a matter of will.(1) It is important to note that nothing leads to a greater dissipation of the constituent elements of the dream. I regret discussing this according to a formula which in principle ex- cludes the dream. For how long, sleeping logicians, philosophers? I would like to sleep in order to enable myself to surrender to sleepers, as I surrender to those who read me with their eyes open, in order to stop the conscious rhythm of my thought from prevailing over this material. Perhaps my dream of last night was a continuation of the preceding night's, and will be continued tonight with an admirable precision. It could be, as they say. And as it is in no way proven that, in such a case, the 'reality' with which I am concerned even exists in the dream state, or that it does not sink into the immemorial, then why should I not concede to the dream what I sometimes refuse to reality - that weight of self-assurance which by its own terms is not exposed to my denial? Why should I not expect more of the dream sign than I do of a daily increasing degree of consciousness? Could not the dreams as well be applied to the solution of life's fundamental problems? Are these problems the same in one case as in the other, and do they already exist in the dream? Is the dream less oppressed by sanctions than the rest? I am growing old and, perhaps more than this reality to which I believe myself confined, it is the dream, and the detachment that I owe to it, which is ageing me.
2 I return to the waking state. I am obliged to retain it as a phenomenon of interference. Not only does the mind show a strange tendency to disorientation under these conditions (this is the clue to slips of the tongue and lapses of all kinds whose secret is just beginning to be surrendered to us), but when function- ing normally the mind still seems to obey none other than those suggestions which rise from that deep night I am commending. Sound as it may be, its equilibrium is relative. The mind hardly dares express itself and, when it does, is limited to stating that this idea or that woman has an effect on it. What effect it cannot say; thus it gives the measure of its subjectivism and nothing more. The idea, the woman, disturbs it, disposes it to less severity. Their role is to isolate one second of its discappearance and remove it to the sky in that glorious acceleration that it can be, that it is. Then, as a last resort, the mind invokes chance - a more obscure divinity than the others - to whom it attributes all its aberrations. Who says that the angle from which that idea is presented which affects the mind, as well as what the mind loves in that woman's eye, is not precisely the same thing that attracts the mind to its dream and reunites it with data lost through its own error? And if things were otherwise, of what might the mind not be capable? I should like to present it with the key to that passage.
3 The mind of the dreaming man is fully satisfied with whatever happens to it. The agonizing question of possibility does not arise. Kill, plunder more quickly, love as much as you wish. And if you die, are you not sure of being roused from the dead? Let yourself be led. Events will not tolerate deferment. You have no name. Everything Is inestimably easy.
What power, I wonder, what power so much more generous than others confers this natural aspect upon the dream and makes me welcome unreservedly a throng of episodes whose strangeness would overwhelm me if they were hap- pening as I write this? And yet I can believe it with my own eyes, my own ears. That great day has come, that beast has spoken.
If man's awakening is harsher, if he breaks the spell too well, it is because he has been led to form a poor idea of expiation.
4 When the time comes when we can submit the dream to a methodical examination, when by methods yet to be determined we succeed in realizing the dream in its entirety (and that implies a memory discipline measurable in generations, but we can still begin by recording salient facts), when the dream's curve is developed with an unequalled breadth and regularity, then we can hope that mysteries which are not really mysteries will give way to the great Mystery. I believe in the future resolution of these two states -- outwardly so contradic- tory -- which are dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, a surreality, so to speak, I am aiming for its conquest, certain that I myself shall not attain it, but too indifferent to my death not to calculate the joys of such possession.
They say that not long ago, just before he went to sleep, Saint-Pol-Roux placed a placard on the door of his manor at Camaret which read: THE POET WORKS.
There is still a great deal to say, but I did want to touch lightly, in passing, upon a subject which in itself would require a very long exposition with a dif- ferent precision. I shall return to it. For the time being my intention has been to see that justice was done to that hatred of the marvellous which rages in certain men, that ridicule under which they would like to crush it. Let us resolve, therefore: the Marvellous is always beautiful, everything marvellous is beautiful. Nothing but the Marvellous is beautiful.
... One night, before falling asleep, I became aware of a most bizarre sentence, clearly articulated to the point where it was impossible to change a word of it, but still separate from the sound of any voice. It came to me bearing no trace of the events with which I was involved at that time, at least to my conscious knowledge. It seemed to me a highly insistent sentence - a sentence, I might say, which knocked at the window. I quickly took note of it and was prepared to disregard it when something about its whole character held me back. The sentence truly astounded me. Unfortunately I still cannot remember the exact words to this day, but it was something like: 'A man is cut in half by the window'; but it can only suffer from ambiguity, accompanied as it was by the feeble visual representation of a walking man cut in half by a window perpendicular to the axis of his body. ^ It was probably a simple mat- ter of a man leaning on the window and then straightening up. But the window followed the movements of the man, and I realized that I was dealing with a very rare type of image. Immediately I had the idea of incorporating it into my poetic material, but no sooner had I invested it with poetic form than it went on to give way to a scarcely intermittent succession of sentences which surprised me no less than the first and gave me the impression of such a free gift that the control which I had had over myself up to that point seemed illusory and I no longer thought of anything but how to put an end to the interminable quarrel which was taking place within me.(3)
Totally involved as I was at the time with Freud, and familiar with his methods of examination which I had had some occasion to practise on the sick during the war, I resolved to obtain from myself what one seeks to obtain from a patient - a spoken monologue uttered as rapidly as possible, over which the critical faculty of the subject has no control, unencumbered by any reticence, which is spoken thought as far as such a thing is possible. It seemed to me, and still does - the manner in which the sentence about the man cut in two came to me proves it - that the speed of thought is no greater than that of words, and that it does not necessarily defy language or the moving pen. It was with this in mind that Philippe Soupault (with whom I had shared these first conclusions) and I undertook to cover some paper with writing, with a laudable contempt for what might result in terms of literature. The ease of realization did the rest. At the end of the first day we were able to read to each other around fifty pages obtained by this method, and began to compare our results. Altogether, those of Soupault and my own presented a remarkable similarity, even including the same faults in construction: in both cases there was the illusion of an extra- ordinary verve, a great deal of emotion, a considerable assortment of images of a quality such as we would never have been capable of achieving in ordinary writing, a very vivid graphic quality, and here and there an acutely comic passage. The only difference between our texts seemed to me essentially due to our respective natures (Soupault's is less static than mine) and, if I may hazard a slight criticism, due to the fact that he had made the mistake of distributing a few words in the way of titles at the head of certain pages — no doubt in the spirit of mystification. On the other hand, I must give him credit for maintaining his steadfast opposition to the slightest alteration in the course of any passage which seemed to me rather badly put. He was completely right on this point, of course.(4) In fact it is very difficult to appreciate the full value of the various elements when confronted by them. It can even be said to be impossible to appreciate them at the first reading. These elements are outwardly as strange to you who have written them as to anyone else, and you are naturally distrustful of them. Poetically speaking, they are especially endowed with a very high degree of immediate absurdity. The peculiarity of this absurdity, on closer examination, comes from their capitulation to everything — both inad- missible and legitimate - In the world, to produce a revelation of a certain number of premises and facts generally no less objective than any others.
In homage to Guillaume Apollinaire - who died recently, and who appears to have consistently obeyed a similar impulse to ours without ever really sacrificing mediocre literary means - Soupault and I used the name SURREALISM to designate the new mode of pure expression which we had at our disposal and with which we were anxious to benefit our friends. Today I do not believe anything more need be said about this word. The meaning which we have given it has generally prevailed over Apollinaire's meaning. With even more justification we could have used SUPERNATURALISM, employed by Gerard de Nerval in the dedication of Filles de Feu.(5) In fact, Nerval appears to have possessed to an admirable extent the spirit to which we refer. Apollinaire, on the other hand, possessed only the letter of surrealism (which was still imper- fect) and showed himself powerless to give it the theoretical insight that engages us. Here are two passages by Nerval which appear most significant in this regard:
'I will explain to you, my dear Dumas, the phenomenon of which you spoke above. As you know, there are certain story-tellers who cannot invent without identifying themselves with the characters from their imagination. You know with what conviction our old friend Nodier told how he had had the misfortune to be guillotined at the time of the Revolution; one became so convinced that one wondered how he had managed to stick his head back on.'
'... And since you have had the imprudence to cite one of the sonnets composed in this state of SUPERNATURALIST reverie, as the Germans v/ould say, you must hear all of them. You will find them at the end of the volume. They are hardly more obscure than Hegel's metaphysics or Swedenborg's MEMORABLES, and would lose their charm in explication, if such a thing were possible, so concede me at least the merit of their expression . . .'(6)
It would be dishonest to dispute our right to employ the word SURREALISM in the very particular sense in which we intend it, for it is clear that before we came along this word amounted to nothing. Thus I shall define it once and for all:
SURREALISM, noun, masc., Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
ENCYCL. Philos. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association heretofore neglected, in the omnipotence of the dream, and in the disinterested play of thought. It leads to the permanent destruction of all other psychic mechanisms and to its substitution for them in the solution of the principal problems of life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Excerpt: Susan Sontag "On Photography"

Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. For one thing, there are a great many more images around, claiming our attention. The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads -- as an anthology of images.

To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store. In Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963), two sluggish lumpen-peasants are lured into joining the King’s Army by the promise that they will be able to loot, rape, kill, or do whatever else they please to the enemy, and get rich. But the suitcase of booty that Michel-Ange and Ulysse triumphantly bring home, years later, to their wives turns out to contain only picture postcards, hundreds of them, of Monuments, Department Stores, Mammals, Wonders of Nature, Methods of Transport, Works of Art, and other classified treasures from around the globe. Godard’s gag vividly parodies the equivo- cal magic of the photographic image., Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain rela- tion to the world that feels like knowledge -- and, therefore, like power. A now notorious first fall into alienation, habituating people to abstract the world into printed words, is supposed to have engendered that surplus of Faustian energy and psychic damage needed to build modern, inorganic societies. But print seems a less treacherous form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images, which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present. What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or ac- quire.

Photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped, re- touched, doctored, tricked out. They age, plagued by the usual ills of paper objects; they disappear; they become valuable, and get bought and sold; they are reproduced. Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging. They are stuck in albums, framed and set on tables, tacked on walls, projected as slides. Newspapers and magazines feature them; cops alphabetize them; museums exhibit them; pub- lishers compile them.

For many decades the book has been the most influential way of arranging (and usually miniaturizing) photographs, thereby guaranteeing them longevity, if not immortality -- photographs are fragile ob- jects, easily torn or mislaid -- and a wider public. The photograph in a book is, obviously, the image of an image. But since it is, to begin with, a printed, smooth object, a photograph loses much less of its essen- tial quality when reproduced in a book than a painting does. Still, the book is not a wholly satisfactory scheme for putting groups of photographs into general circulation. The sequence in which the photo- graphs are to be looked at is proposed by the order of pages, but nothing holds readers to the recommended order or indicates the amount of time to be spent on each photograph. Chris Marker’s film, Si j’avais quatre dromadaires (1966), a brilliantly orchestrated meditation on photographs of all sorts and themes, suggests a subtler and more rigorous way of packaging (and enlarging) still photographs. Both the order and the exact time for looking at each photograph are imposed; and there is a gain in visuallegibility and emotional impact. But photographs transcribed in a film cease to be collectable objects, as they still are when served up in books.

Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it. In one version of its utility, the camera record incriminates. Starting with their use by the Paris police in the murderous roundup of Communards in June 1871, photographs became a useful tool of modern states in the surveillance and control of their increasingly mobile populations. In another version of its utility, the camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. Whatever the limitations (through amateurism) or preten- sions (through artistry) of the individual photographer, a photograph -- any photograph -- seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects. Virtuosi of the noble image like Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, composing mighty, unforgettable pho- tographs decade after decade, still want, first of all, to show something “out there,” just like the Polaroid owner for whom photographs are a handy, fast form of note-taking, or the shutterbug with a Brownie who takes snapshots as souvenirs of daily life.

While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency. But despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth. Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film -- the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photo- graphs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise. This very passivity -- and ubiquity -- of the photographic record is photography’s “message,” its aggression.

Images which idealize (like most fashion and animal photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera. This is as evident in the 1840s and 1850s, photog- raphy’s glorious first two decades, as in all the succeeding decades, during which technology made possible an ever increasing spread of that mentality which looks at the world as a set of potential pho- tographs. Even for such early masters as David Octavius Hill and Julia Margaret Cameron who used the camera as a means of getting painterly images, the point of taking photographs was a vast departure from the aims of painters. From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technolo- gy only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experi- ences by translating them into images.

That age when taking photographs required a cumbersome and expensive contraption -- the toy of the clever, the wealthy, and the obsessed -- seems remote indeed from the era of sleek pocket cameras that invite anyone to take pictures. The first cameras, made in France and England in the early 1840s, had only inventors and buffs to operate them. Since there were then no professional photographers, there could not be amateurs either, and taking photographs had no clear social use; it was a gratuitous, that is, an artistic activity, though with few pretensions to being an art. It was only with its industrialization that photography came into its own as art. As industrialization provided social uses for the operations of the photographer, so the reaction against these uses reinforced the self-consciousness of photography-as- art.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Persistent, flowing through fallen shadows,
excavating tunnels, drilling silences,
insisting, running under my pillow,
brushing past my temples, covering my eyelids
with another, intangible skin made of air,
its wandering nations, its drowsy tribes
migrate through the provinces of my body,
it crosses, re-crosses under the bridges of my bones,
slips into my left ear, spills out from my right,
climbs the nape of my neck,
turns and turns in my skull,
wanders across the terrace of my forehead,
conjures visions, scatters them,
erases my thoughts one by one
with hands of unwetting water,
it evaporates them,
black surge, tide of pulse-beats,
murmur of water groping forward
repeating the same meaningless syllable,
I hear its sleepwalking delirium
losing itself in serpentine galleries of echoes,
it comes back, drifts off, comes back,
endlessly flings itself
off the edges of my cliffs,
and I don’t stop falling
and I fall

—Octavio Paz, from “Soliloquy.” Translated by Eliot Weinberger.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Finding Hinterland

Opening Monologue

There is a moment in your life when you look back at everything and think “is this it?”. This is the time you realise that everyday is throwing so much at you and at the end you got to remember what promises you choose to keep and what memories you choose to forget. The sun rises, the sun sets, the moon rises, the moon sets. Not always, though. Its inconsistency is disturbing sometimes. I always think if there is anything left. If so how much. And that mighty mystery we call death. Who has the answer to that? We can safely say that we are all alone. There is not much else we have. We are stuck in our consciousness for an unforeseeable period of time. Life is like Jenga and the little pieces are man that God sometimes carefully pulls out only to bring in the big bang, that crash. All fall down. We are all just pieces being moved from place to place. We are memories tiny hands, we are purpose without purpose, we are washing machines on the great highway of serendipity.



The word is out
Temporarily we hang about
Holding onto little threads
Sleeping at night in our little beds

Thinking in circles and squares
Hoping to circus about in pairs.

We are nothing
Drowning, suffering.
We are the dance
Natures only chance.

God’s lost gifts fighting in threes
Honey and lost money bees
Sulphur’s sheen
Wound up in a live machine

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dream: September

Horses in the dunes, falling to the ground, outside my window.
The python arrives, eats one of the carcasses.
I am stuck inside my room with A/A.
Batteries dying out, I look for any sign of hope.
And shout out to myself "Wake up, wake up".

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Some excerpts from "The 24-hour Dog" by Jeannette Winterson.

"He was as soft as rainwater. I made him walk on a lead and he jumped for joy, the way creatures do, and children do and adults don't do, and spend their lives wondering where the leap went.

He had the kind of legs that go round in circles. He orbited me. He was a universe of play. Why did I walk so purposefully in a straight line? Where would it take me? He went round and round and we got there all the same.

..... I looked at him, trusting, vulnerable, love without caution. He was a new beginning and every new beginning returns the world. In him, the rain forests were pristine and the sea had not been blunted. He was a map of clear outlines and unnamed hope. He was time before or time after. Time now had not spoiled him. In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.

.....He circled along in his warm skin, happy again because he was free and because he belonged. All of one's life is a struggle towards that; the narrow path between freedom and belonging. I have sometimes sacrificed freedom in order to belong, but more often I have given up all hope of belonging.

It is no use trying to assume again the state of innocence and acceptance of the animal or the child. This time it has to be conscious. To circle about in such gladness as his, is the effort of a whole lifetime."

From 'The World and Other Places', Jeannette Winterson

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A lovely poem on trees :)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

- Joyce Kilmer

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Contoured within the walls of my mind is a tree with a tilt,
Facing the water of my eyes is a branch that got built,
I faced the thousand suns,
I weighed a million tonnes,
And I found another feather dressed in a kilt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


And then there came the time when drama was born. Hiding shy of the village, there is a culture 8000 years old, working with tribals and finding the metaphysics of the forest, a magic reborn, a system of assymetry, a new wave formed from the deepest parts of the psyche, an exploration of the senses sans drama, the new wave hit us and brought back fear, a thing lost from time.

And then 2000 years back we created the manifestation of God, we brought money into a systemless society, we prayed in groups, in sadness, in silence, we waited in queues and let the village disappear into the thick of forests, replaced them with concrete and lost all light, making darkness dramatise its appearance and form.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


The full stops, the mind unveils a triangle, the moment is caught, then lost, the past comes back in circles, the deer stops to look, the face changes another time, the cigarette smoke is lost in the pendulums movement, the time has come to fight another disease, the moment is caught, then lost. Again...

Monday, September 19, 2011


Just as the second needle hits the number 5, time changes. But time is always changing, why should we stay the same, why should the world stay the same? Everything is undergoing a constant process of decay, everything is dying slowly, there is a moment in time when there is nothing but the thought of death. That moment can be now. Time's insignificance is the circumference of the present moment, it builds blocks of sanity into the everchanging insane mind, there are moments when death converts itself to life and a fresh new energy revitalises everything just like the sun did a few hours back. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Ashes turned pink
to let the heartache sink.
And in just a blink
what a world it is, I think...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hugs, kisses, cuddles,
Sun, moon, stars,
Walking into puddles,
Away from all the cars...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Its time the stars started aligning, its time the sun started showing signs of crossing the horizon, its time the moment appeared omnipresent, its time the world tilted 45 degrees east, its time for time to show its concern over the little playboys of our derelict mansions...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The synapse frightens
the temple of my highs
the blood making shapes in my sky

The rope tightens
the neck of my eyes
the blood drawing colours on my skin

The bridge brightens
the faults of my cries
the blood destroying the time on my hands

Monday, August 15, 2011

One day...

One day we will look into a light
And stop blinking
One day we will set sail into the night
And stop thinking...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Surface of my face

There is a silent sun waiting in the raptures of the moon. The phases of the fog are moving in perpendicular to the surface of my face. All this time I waited patiently for the sheep on the hill to disappear into the clouds. The moment is here, the diminishing effect recesses back into the tides. Closing out our worst possible nightmares and bringing the silent sun back into focus.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What am I looking into?
The surface has changed its shapes and created myriad landscapes waiting to be seen. The moment has brought with it the realism and the surrealism. There is nothing for me here, there is nothing for me there. Everything has to be within this one composite whole, the whole we call man. Inside there are shrines, inside I am holding a candle and waiting for it to stay true to itself and just be a giver of light. Providence meaning nothing at all. What gives? I ask. The three little circles in my heart have names, they are complete within themselves, they are spiraling downwards into the abyss. The horseman comes with news of another life. News from another world beyond ours. Ethereal in its illumination, I stay visceral and sensorial at all times. Open to hear the water smile…

Thursday, June 30, 2011

To leave...

...everything behind
To touch
...everything blind
To know
...the mind's unkind
To hear
...the moment unwind

Monday, June 27, 2011

Image of black

Tethered to the fabric of my soul is the image of black
From what I imagined it struck me as the fibre of a sack
The flourishes are the finishes of the monumental soundtrack
Of me riding into the endless on horseback

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Reverse

The reverse is happening, all that I thought was happiness has been turned on its head, now I can see only disarray, a sort of incomplete person, I have been handed the short straw, the time for the big comedown is here and I am spiralling downwards into that mammoth corporate machine, I cannot feel my hands anymore, its funny I thought I had hundreds of them. Its all over. Almost...

There is only seeing

The seers look at the trapeze-shaped diagram of a heart
Its countoured edges revealing very little colour
Finding countless ways of shaping the start
Of a new beginning, a revolution, a power

They see the light as the world winds its way into their eyes
Sore as the culture's beacon lets movement in
The only way to walk is forwards negating any possible cries
Ribcages torn apart bringing in the end of their kin

The landscape making funny shapes in their plate
Countenance and perseverance all things of the past now
The faces play the number game, one to zero, a finite fate
The machinery's inner system blown to a terminal vow

Friday, April 15, 2011

Idea for a book

Benaras Phantasmagorik - A book of sketches and notes.
The book documents my visits to Benaras. The first one was in February 2009. Just four days. I lost both my cameras on that trip and met Viswanath, the boatman, someone I would encounter on all forthcoming visits. Then I went back in September when the monsoon rain washed my Sculpting in Time book, when I stayed in that old Haveli where monkeys hung out in my balcony, one of them even smashed my Ray Ban's, that Alpha Male walking in through my room to the balcony while Prakash and me sat there, Prax's birthday when we went to the other side to do pooja and take a dip in the Ganges, that walk in Ramnagar, king on elephant back, the parrots, the parakeets, so many wonderful instances in one day, it was all too much for Prakash to assimilate. Then those meetings with Gabriel, the Belgian who was writing his film in Benaras, living in Assi, playing the violin, the music of Sufjan Stevens, my Sarod, the introduction to Isaac Niemand, someone I hated at first, then the meeting with the Mexican violinist and the Korean sitar player, two wonderful girls living in the cosmos of Benaras, pizzas and apple pie at Vaatika's, humus and wifi at Aum Cafe, Shivani Ma in Red, introduction to peaceful Frenchman Gael Brajeul and how I finally moved into Assi in November when I returned to take Gabriel's wonderful room and its positive energy. All along spliced with moments on the cycle rickshaw with Viswanath, moments in the gulleys on Gabriel's cycle that I got fixed. So many wonderful things happening all too quickly for me to take in. I knew I would miss these days one day in the future. And that day is now...carefree days, probably the best times of my life and better times yet to come when I visited back in 2010 first in November, then in December when I broke up with Katy after she travelled hundreds of miles to see me, finding an old Sarod in Chowk, then buying an Esraj, a Dilruba, a pair of tablas, a German harmonium, that time I stayed till February until those fateful 15 days when I apparently lost it, marking a full circle, Benaras standard time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pointers & Adjustments

Everything seems to be going as per plan. Not my plan. Adjustments are being made every second. I arrive ten minutes late and something has changed. My eyes see what is meant to be seen, only ten minutes later. So many things are missed. So many opportunities lost, so many people slip under the rug never to be seen again. Everything goes according to this grandiose plan, a place that exists like a dream, a thought that exists always throwing garbage into your mind. The birds sing. Inconsequential as they are, they still sing. We ignore everything, we see nothing, we touch nothing, we feel nothing. All the pointers are there for a reason, I wonder which ones to choose and which ones to ignore. The time says 3:33 sometimes, and sometimes it says 11:11. I wait for the moon and that curious cosmic time in Benaras. When will Benaras invite me again with a freshly cleansed face, a face touched by Ganga, hands rising to Suryanamaskar six am in the morning just after Banerjee's Sohini echoes and ricochets in my brain. I am waiting for the final adjustment.I am waiting for another Yak to change my life.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it. Remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "Its not where you take things from, its where you take them to" - Jim Jarmusch

Thursday, April 7, 2011

“The university system has done damage to the artistic traditions” - Zia Fariddudin Dagar

Ustad Zia Fareeduddin Dagar spoke to Deepak Raja about the Dhrupad Kendra, Bhopal, on October 6, 1998


By 1980, I had virtually settled down in Austria. I was running Dhrupad classes in Austria and France. Once, during a visit to India, one of my disciples, the filmmaker, Mani Kaul came to me and pleaded with me to provide the background score for a film he was making on Madhya Pradesh. I was reluctant initially, but I could not refuse Mani Kaul. So, I got involved.

During the making of the film, we spent over two months in Madhya Pradesh, a lot of time in Bhopal In those days, Shri Arjun Singh was the Chief Minister of MP. Cultural development was one of his passions. It is because of him that the magnificent Bharat Bhavan cultural center developed in Bhopal. At that time, the Secretary to the Department of Culture in MP was Shri Ashok Vajpayee, who later went to Delhi as Jt. Secretary, Department of Culture in the Central Government. I spent a lot of time with Vajpayeeji during those days, and we developed a great deal of respect for each other. Thereafter, I returned to Paris to resume my teaching there.

A few months later, I got an offer from Shri Vajpayee to start a government-supported Dhrupad School in Bhopal. By that time, I had become sufficiently cynical about the value of government patronage to the kind of work a serious musician wishes to do. I brushed the proposal aside as just one more of those well-meaning ideas.

By co-incidence, I was visiting the Cannes Film Festival, and there I happened to meet up with Ashok Vajpayee and Mani Kaul, and some other leading figures in the field of art. During the days we spent together, Ashok Vajpayee prevailed upon me to accept the invitation to move back to India and set up the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal. Immediately upon his return to India, Vajpayee announced the formation of the Dhrupad Kendra.

We formed a committee to supervise the activities of the Kendra. It had Dr. Premlata Sharma, Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Mani Kaul, my elder brother (the Late Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar) and others.

We decided on a training period of four years. Some committee members were skeptical. They thought it was too short. I told them that it was my responsibility to produce first-class performing musicians, and I knew what I was doing. The results are there for everyone to see. In post-independence India, no other institution, with government or corporate funding, has been able to produce comparable results under a Gurukul type institution.

We had a heated debate over the stipend for the disciples. I argued that we are not giving fellowships to mature musicians. We are giving pocket money to students. I insisted that, during their training, we do not pay amounts which permit them to seek distractions. We got the first batch for a stipend of Rs. 350 per month in 1981. Recently, it has been enhanced to Rs. 700, which is reasonable considering the inflationary pressures. Higher stipends could have been obtained from the Academy’s budget; but we might have failed in our mission. I think our tight-fisted policy on stipends has made a major contribution to the success of the institution.

Our selection of students is also unorthodox. We do not limit our selection to people who have a good grounding in music. We have our share of such students, of course. But, we have also accepted students who could not tunefully deliver a film-song on the day of the interview. After a year of training, such students are not doing very much worse than those who came with degrees in music. We are looking for dedication more than anything else, and that spark of creativity. Shaping the raw material is my task, and I know how to do it.

There is also another angle to this. Students, who come to us after maturing in the training of other gharanas, find it difficult to re-orient themselves to our style. Therefore, we try to ensure that the background of our students does not interfere with the process of shaping them into competent Dhrupad musicians.

My students reside in their hostelry, and report for taleem at 4.30 in the morning every day of the year. They go back around 11.00 at night, and return the next morning, again at 4.30. We started the institution with five students in each batch of 4-years duration. Recently, the number of students has been increased to eight, four from families domiciled in Madhya Pradesh, and four from outside the state. We are now into the fifth batch.

We do not have any rigid rules about age at the time of admission. Most students come to us around the age of eighteen. We accept students even upto the age of twenty-eight or thirty, if we feel that they will be able to absorb the taleem.

In a significant departure from the past pattern, we have recently accepted Ph.D. graduates from Benares Hindu University. In this case, the consideration was that, at BHU, they have been trained by Prof. Ritwik Sanyal, one of my disciples. Therefore, the gharana orientation is not a major issue. These students are seeking further training because their earlier education has been governed by the academic prescriptions of the university environment. The performing art belongs to a different world altogether.

The majority of our students are boys. We also accept girls. We have produced some very fine singers amongst ladies. However, the Indian social environment does not normally permit ladies from cultured families to pursue a career in music after marriage. Therefore, considering our mission, this is one part of our success, which is mixed with regret.

My institution has a big name: Dhrupad Kendra, under the Ustad Allauddin Khan Music Academy. But, it is not an institution in the conventional sense. By way of staff, there is me, a sweeper, and a gardener. And, then there are students. That is all. The administrative work is handled by the Music Academy. Establishment expenses, and stipends for students are paid out directly from the Academy. I think we have achieved something because we are not run either like a university, or a government institution or a music academy.

I firmly believe that the university system has done damage to the artistic traditions – not only in music, but also in the other fine and performing arts. Take for instance, painting. Our universities have turned out a lot of very good painters in the oil paint medium. But, they are all functioning without roots in an artistic tradition, because India has no oil-painting tradition. Therefore, I say that, in the university system, you may promote technique, but not tradition. Tradition requires a firm grounding in the past. University education in the fine arts cannot fulfil this requirement.

I am not arguing that government funding for the arts is worthless. Nevertheless, I will argue that if it forces art education to divorce itself from the living tradition, it is achieving nothing worthwhile. In fact, on a national scale, the investment that is being made in art education is producing nothing by way of perpetuating the living traditions. In stark contrast to the university system, the Dhrupad Kendra has proved that it is possible to make government support productive, when it works within the traditional system of art education. I am sure even the Dhrupad Kendra model can be refined and improved. But, the basics must remain rooted in the living tradition.

If this Dhrupad Kendra idea had not taken shape, I and my elder brother, Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar, would have continued to train students anyway. So, our work as trainers was not made totally dependent on government funding. Because of government support, I started doing in Bhopal what I would have otherwise been doing in Bombay or Paris or Vienna. And, partly because of government scholarships, we attracted some very promising students. However, I am not sure that equally promising students might not have gravitated towards our training, even without the meager stipends government is paying them. .

In the ultimate analysis, what you need most is an Ustad wanting to teach, and disciples keen to learn. These are the factors which enable a performing art tradition to perpetuate itself.

In a government-supported system, there is a permanent danger of political and bureaucratic processes interfering with the momentum of the efforts. So far, the Dhrupad Kendra has been able to protect itself from this danger. I must, however, confess that I have had my share of frustrations, and have even come close to resigning. I have stayed because I could demand the freedom to do my work, and fulfil my obligations.

As long as the present equation between the Dhrupad Kendra and the government remains, the work we have started will continue. When I am no longer on the scene, I am sure that one of my own students will take over the Guru’s position. After all, that is the way the Parampara has always worked.

I know that Dhrupad musicians will, henceforth, find it more difficult to sacrifice full-time performing careers for a Guru’s position. There is also a non-commercial aspect to a Guru’s self-denial. All the hours that he spends in teaching, are denying to him the satisfaction of his own musical needs – of singing for his own pleasure, and working on his own development as a musician. For an accomplished musician, these are not small sacrifices. Yet, I nurture the fond hope that one of my better students will be willing to give at least half as much of himself to this Gurukul as I have done for over 16 years.

Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999

Monday, April 4, 2011

Back to Raganga... :)

Megh Malhar, a raga of considerable antiquity, is associated with the rainy season, and is considered a serious and profound raga, prescribed for performance around midnight. In this sense, this raga may be considered to represent the sombre, and even awesome, facet of the advanced monsoon (July-August), in contrast with Miyan ki Malhar and other Malhar variants, which are explicitly euphoric at the onset of the rainy season (June-July), and the imminent relief from the scorching Indian summer.

Musicologist V.N. Bhatkhande, writing in the first quarter of the 20th century (Sangeet Shastra, vol. IV, L.N. Garg, Ed.,2nd ed.,1970) observed that Megh Malhar is known to, and performed by, only a few Ustads although, according to him, it was not a particularly difficult raga to master. The popularity of the raga has improved considerably since then, even if some of the ambiguities surrounding the raga still remain unresolved.

Subba Rao (Raga Nidhi, vol.III, 4th ed., 1996, Music Academy, Madras) treats Megh and Megh Malhar as two names of the same raga, and goes on to list two versions of it, along with several sub-versions. Bhatkhande lists Megh Malhar as a variety of Malhar, and uses the two names interchangeably, while also identifying several variants of the raga in vogue in his era.

There are, very clearly, two melodic entities contending for the melodic space defined by the concept of Megh Malhar. The first is the tone material taken from the pentatonic raga (S-R-M-P-n), Madhyamadi Sarang (also called Madhmat Sarang) For conceptual clarity, and pending consideration the evidence of contemporary usage, we may call this the Megh element. The second melodic entity is a looped phrase ( R-P-g-M-R) suggestive of Miya-ki-Malhar, which uses the komal (flat) Ga with andolan (oscillated treatment). This may be called the Malhar element. In contemporary usage, however, the relationship between the nomenclature and the melodic form, remains inconsistent.

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (EMI: STC-850738) and Munawar Ali Khan (unpublished concert of 1984) have announced a Megh Malhar, but the rendition is pure Megh as described above, without the use of the Malhar phrase with the oscillated Ga treatment. Then, Rashid Khan (EMI: STC-850498) and Latafat Hussain Khan (unpublished concert) have announced a Megh Malhar, but have used a phrase with an oscillated Ga suggestive of Darbari Kanada rather than of Malhar.

Now, consider the evidence of performances announced as Megh. Amir Khan (Ninad:0001/2), Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali (Hannibal: HNBL 1332) Rajan and Sajan Mishra (EMI: STCS-850193), Gundecha Brothers (EMI: STC:04B-7790), Kumar Gandharva (Concord-05-014), Nikhil Banerjee (EMI: STCS-02B-2405) and Shivkumar Sharma (Music Today: A-91026), have all announced Megh and performed pure Megh as described above, without using the Malhar suggestion incorporating the oscillated Ga. However, Bhimsen Joshi (Sony-Nad:NR/0128-4) and Sharafat Hussain Khan (unpublished concert) have announced a Megh, but included in it a phrase using an oscillated Ga. Sharafat used a Malhar suggestion, while Bhimsen has veered towards a Darbari suggestion.

From this evidence, it is tempting to conclude, that the two names are used interchangeably, and being associated with either of the two melodic forms - the bare Megh as defined above, and Megh + Malhar suggestion, as described above. However, on a closer look at the preponderance of usage, it is clear that when a musician announces a Megh, it is more likely to be pure Megh of Madhmat Sarang scale, without the phrase suggesting Malhar with oscillated Ga usage. But, when he announces Megh Malhar, he feels free to perform it either with, or without, the Malhar suggestion. There is, therefore, an implicit acceptance of Megh as a melodic entity, independent of Megh Malhar. The third variant, with a Darbari suggestion replacing the Malhar suggestion, can only be considered an occasional, and idiosyncratic expression.

Because of the acceptance of Megh as an independent melodic entity, it seems logical to attach some significance to the intention of the name of Megh Malhar, and define it as a deliberate enhancement of the pentatonic Megh by using a Malhar suggestive phrase (R-P-g-M-R-S) with an oscillated Ga.

Chalan (skeletal phraseology)
S n. P./ n. R n. S / P. n R / R M P M R / R P M R / R M P / M n P / M P n S' / P n S' R' / M' R' R' / S' R' n S' / S' n n P / M P M R R / R P Mg (oscillation) M R / P M R R / M R n.S

Bhatkhande identifies Sa (tonic) as the primary dominant tone of Megh Malhar, and considers the raga suitable for elaborate exploration in any region of the melodic canvas. Whether with respect to Megh, or Megh Malhar, this view has hardly any takers today. Although Sa is generously used as a melodic focus, the totality of the raga now revolves categorically around the middle-octave Re.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Prospect...

...of losing everything and having only a consciousness that reads the failure as "Failure" and nothing else. This is the nightmare I am having every moment. I'm waiting for times metamechanical hands to swoop down and grab me into space. I've had enough. Really.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Broken flowers
plastering the ceiling

Open towers
Cradling the feeling

Acid showers
Shielding the reeling

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The glory of the nineties, the end of the century brought home tulips in white. Electricity was the color of the sun. The oldest living city breathing air and fresh energy into my soul. That night I cried 72.8% water, the curtains looked grey. I thought it was the ascent of man, the dawn of the species. How wrong I was. How right she was. The fall looked like a flash in the sky. The centenary of fireworks. An indication of the end, the downfall. The purpose defeated, the moment gone. Now the moment sits in the real stance. If only I could predict tragedy. The birth and death of the last first one. The last man standing wearing a clone's hat standing in disruption mode. The awe and the wonder of the hands in my pocket, all I wanted was to try to stay and build placards that read "what if?".

Friday, March 18, 2011

Resolve, dissolve, try, delete, escape somewhere closer to your heart.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The word is out
Temporarily we hang about
Holding onto little threads
Sleeping at night in our little beds

Thinking in circles and squares
Hoping to circus about in pairs.

We are nothing
Drowning, suffering.
We are the dance
Natures only chance.

God’s lost gifts fighting in threes
Honey and lost money bees
Sulphur’s sheen
Wound up in a live machine

Thinking in zeroes and ones
Hoping to become sixty tonnes.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Slowly, slowly the clocks hands move
A mutiny in my head
The heart resides in one of the many limbs
Hiding in the shed

Looking up at the sky and the sun
The sameness is different now
The clouds form no shape
In my elitist brow

Change, again

And to think I could make plans in my life.
Its all left to the hands of impermanence. The hundredhands of God as He works his way through the traffic and insignificance of human life.
Our future lies in the sink, the age of aquarius brings us closer to what we think, tsunami's in ink...
Man is now being shown his true size.
After a very dark patch, I am slowly recovering from what might be the worst I have ever experienced. This is for me to know. There is not much to be said of what happened between 260111 and 110211. It was all like a mystics dream gone wrong. I will start documenting my recovery now. The past has nothing to do with me. Just traces of memory waiting for cosmic reboot. So, here I will begin again...
My physical hinterland is a failure. Time for the metaphysical Hinterland to come into action. Begin.

Monday, January 24, 2011

240111, Three times closer

Joy's morning message of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi's death. All morning I was playing Todi on the 12-string, tuning the strings to the notes of the Todi Scale and just improvising for hours, I could play for 24 hours if there was some method of arranging for water and food. :) All morning my tribute to Bhimsenji. The great hearts that God touched, the octave bringing forth joy, longing, hope...the time is here. Now. This is the sixth day of the rest of my life.

Afternoon, I sat with Bhimpalasi for hours trying to hit the ascent to the Shuddha Madhyam like Kumar Gandharv catches it. How beautiful it is, just the interplay of different notes, while the first Tanpura is set to Shuddha Ma & Sa and the second to a higher Komal Gandhar & Sa...and then the coming back to Shadaj is like the light the sun brought down that afternoon in Shivala.

And again, articulated beautifully by Rajan Parrikar:

The ati-madhur and ati-priya Raga Bhimpalasi has the penetrating power to infect the human mind and control it for days and weeks on end. There is as yet no known antidote to the Bhimpalasi contagion. Fortunately, it strikes only those with a mind and so the damage is restricted to a very small fraction of humanity. My first memories of this expansive, orphic raga hark back to the many bhajani utsavs in Goa I had the good fortune to be part of as a lad in shorts. Here I invite you to join me on what promises to be a balmy afternoon cruise through the enticing waters of Bhimpalasi.

The constituent swaras of Bhimpalasi are drawn from the Kafi that corresponding to the 22nd Carnatic melakarta Kharaharapriya: S R g M P D n where M = shuddha madhyam.

The aroha-avarohana set may be stated as:

n’ S g M P n S”::S” n D P M g R S

The aroha-avarohana barely betrays the rich fund of melodic promise vested in this mode. The very idea of raga impels us to look for fulfilment beyond mere scales. The insight, intellectual leap, and abstraction required to ferry us beyond a scale and into the raga realm must be considered a signal achievement in the history of music.

Bhimpalasi traces its antecedents to the almost defunct Raga Dhanashree of the Kafi that (Note: Dhanashree of the Bilawal that is still occasionally performed, and hence the clarifier). In Dhanashree the primary aroha-avaroha contour sketched above is retained, but it is instead characterized by a dominant pancham. When the accent is shifted off the pancham and the madhyam is advanced, the result is an avirbhava of Bhimpalasi and it is precisely this preponderance of the madhyam (nyasa bahutva) that bestows on Bhimpalasi its allure.

The kernel of Bhimpalasi is encapsulated in the following tonal movement:

P’ n’ S M… S g M, M g M g R S
Notice the M-centric nature of the phrase and the reprise of M g.

Supporting movements are:

n’ S g R, S, n’ S M, M P, g M P n D, P
The rishab and dhaivat are langhan (skipped) in arohi movements but assume the role of deergha bahutva in avarohi runs. There is symmetry in the elongation of R and D through the clusters n’ S g R and M P n D, respectively.

M P g M P (S”)n, n S”, P n S” g” R” S”
The typical launch vehicle for the antara.

S” n D, P, D (P)M P (M)g, M, M P (M)g M g R, S
The descent looks innocuous but there are always those gotchas to watch for. A spurious phrase of the type n S” D P may soil the development (we shall have occasion to experience this event later from a great master).

Obiter dictum: Some musicians, notably from the Agra school, view Bhimpalasi as a union of two component ragas, viz., Bheem and Palasi. Accordingly, their Bheem drops the rishab altogether and Palasi the dhaivat (the Bheem of the Khamaj that is today better known by the name “Gavati”). There is a recording of Faiyyaz Khan in Raga Bheem (not adduced here).


Night on the terrace with Joy, candle lit, Brownie and Tommy hanging around. The moon looked down at the Ganga, now waning. But then the freshness and rapidity of Malkauns brought back the feeling of rejuvenation, a timely thing well-needed in our times...The moon reflected off the stainless steel, as I listened to the sound of night with just five notes. God has made his presence felt. Every moment brings a song, a message, some cosmic intervention making waves via Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's sleight of hand. I am here, maybe this is the next life, rebirth, dwij.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

230111, Octave

Jaunpuri stayed with me all morning and with the surprise visit of Pallabda, the nuances were clarified in detail. The classic S, G, M-> G, R. That late morning feeling, sun in my eyes, that longing, that final nuance of Pancham giving hope and showing optimism renewing energy by sliding down to Madhyam, Madhyam bringing in the grace of the Gandhar. And Kumar Gandharv is constantly in my room reaching out to the vibrations and tightening them up a bit...

God's grace is here.

The evening brought Marwa home, the frequencies converging in superspace onwards to the red sky. Then the ray of hope with a subtle touch of the Shadaj. Each note a specific mood. A little on the Raga-rasa theory.

Each sruti or micro tonal interval has a definite character; the names manda, candovati, dayavati, ranjani, raudri, krodha, ugra or khsobhini denote their emotional quality which dwells in combination or singly in the notes of the modal scale: thus, dayavati, ranjani and ratika dwell in the gandhara and each of the notes ( swara ) of the scale in its turn has its own kind of expression and distinct psychological or physical effect and can be related to a colour, a mood ( rasa or bhava ), a metre, a deity or one of the subtle centres ( chakra ) of the body. Thus for the sringara (amorous or erotic) and the hasya (laughter) rasa , the madhyama and the pancham are used; for the vira (heroic), raudra (wrathful) and the adbhuta (wondrous), the shadja and the rishabha ; for the bibhatsa (repulsive) and the bhayanaka (fearsome), the dhaivata ; and for the karuna (compassionate), the nisada and the gandhara are used.Every swara stands for a certain definite emotion or mood and has been classified according to its relative importance, and it forms a different part of the person of the modal scale.

And, the wonderful Rajan Parrikar on the Marwa Matrix.

The thought of Raga Marwa stirs memories of many youthful evenings spent walking on the Miramar beach in Panjim, bouncing Amir Khan’s stupendous opus in the corridors of my mind. Lost in the intoxicating reverie wrought by music and colourful sunsets, I occasionally allowed myself the fantasy of imagining what it might be like to feel and see raga from the Himalayan heights of an Amir Khan. I wondered if that great man, too, had likened himself to “a boy playing on the sea-shore, diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of raga lay all undiscovered before me.” After sundown I would walk home to a hearty meal and then hit the sack. For those were the days when we took pride in leisure. How times have changed. Today people take pains to disclose just how “busy” they are, as if it is a badge of achievement. You’d think they have been charged with re-designing God’s floor plan for the universe. [Update: I am delighted to hear that this "pompous" introduction has given some folks piles. As always, I aim to annoy and offend.]

In this installment devoted to the Marwa group, we will examine its familiar members and unveil some of the lesser known affiliates. A companion feature to follow soon will be devoted to the citizens of the Poorvi Province.

Throughout this discussion, M = shuddha madhyam and m = teevra madhyam.

The Marwa-Pooriya-Sohini axis

Marwa is among the ten thats enumerated by Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande and is characterized by the swara set S r G m P D N corresponding to the Carnatic melakarta Gamanasrama. The flagship raga of this that – Raga Marwa - drops the pancham altogether. The same is true for two other principals of this group – Pooriya and Sohani. These three ragas maintain a collegial but distinct melodic dynamic. It is therefore instructive to view them together under the same lens. This is a marvelous example of the magic of raga music – the evolution of differences originating from the same scale-set through the agency of chalan bheda (differences in melodic formulation), uccharana bheda (differences in intonation of swara) and vadi bheda (differences in relative emphasis of swara). Facility in this kind of sport demands cultivation of appropriate habits of mind and manana-chintan (reflection). But the game is well worth the candle for the ananda it brings.

The main idea in Raga Marwa is the overwhelming dominance of r and D. This is an apavada since no consonance exists between r and D; it took some genius sense this germ of an idea and fructify. The definitive tonal sentences are:

D’ N’ r G r, N’ D’, m’ D’ S N’ r, S
The points of note in this poorvanga construct are the nyasa on rishab and dhaivat, the langhan (skipping) of shadaj in both arohi and avarohi directions, and the alpatva (smallness/weakness) of N.

D, m G r G m D, D m G r
The madhya saptak movement. Marwa typically employs ‘khada‘ swaras – i.e. the lagav is direct and unwavering, shorn of delicacies and meends (the situation is different in the scale-congruent Raga Pooriya).

D N r” N D, m D N D S”
The uttaranga marker where the nishad is often skipped en route to the shadaj (Pooriya shares this lakshana, but not Sohani).

That was Marwa in a nutshell. It is an affective symbiotic relationship between r and D. Both the swaras are full-blown nyasa locations, yet bound to one another by an invisible cord: the pull of one is strongly felt when you visit the other.


Evening Puriya made a grand appearance, other colours emerging, other stars touched.

The night brought the beautiful Chandrakauns out, with that little shift from Malkauns to the Shuddha Nishaad brings in the melancholic touch, unlike Malkauns. With the one shift of a semi-tone, a night transformed. I am immersed in love.

The Sarod has officially changed my life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The "PIKO" look

And then, the same day...

Bhimpalasi made a very long trip home. Stayed with Madhuvanti and me for long while Piko played outside in the sun. Tired and weary from the afternoon sun, Bhimpalasi balances on a tight rope between hope and promise, the two pillars of our society. She stands unscathed, bathing in the white light waiting before Multani comes with its oranges and reds...

The voice is a wonderful thing.

A note about Bhimpalasi
The madhyam (fourth) is the most important note - an important 'nyaas' sthaan (note for rest) with emphasized elaboration around this note - S g M, M g M, g M P, M P g M P (M) g (M) g M... The Rishabh (second) and the Dhaivat (sixth) are skipped in Aarohi (ascending) passages, but are given due importance when descending (Avrohi). Use of the Dhaivat and Rishabh is symmetric and both are approached via the succeeding notes (D from n, and R from g).

And the wonderful Parrikar on the Raag...

The ati-madhur and ati-priya Raga Bhimpalasi has the penetrating power to infect the human mind and control it for days and weeks on end. There is as yet no known antidote to the Bhimpalasi contagion. Fortunately, it strikes only those with a mind and so the damage is restricted to a very small fraction of humanity.

The constituent swaras of Bhimpalasi are drawn from the Kafi thaat which corresponds to the 22nd Carnatic melakarta Kharaharapriya: S R g M P D n where M=shuddha madhyam.

The Aroha/avarohana set may be stated as:

n' S g M P n S"::S" n D P M g R S

The Aroha-avaroha barely betrays the rich fund of melodic promise vested in this mode. It is the genius embodied in the idea of Raga that impels us to look for fulfilment beyond mere scales. The abstraction and intellectual leap required to ferry us beyond a scale and into the realm of Raga must be considered a signal achievement in the history of music. The much ballyhooed Harmony, on the other hand, is a relative no-brainer.

Bhimpalasi traces its antecedents to the almost defunct Raga Dhanashree of the Kafi thaat (Dhanashree of the Bilawal thaat is still occasionally performed). In Dhanashree the primary Aroha-avaroha contour outlined above is retained but is characterized by a dominant pancham. When the accent is shifted off the pancham and the madhyam advanced there obtains an AvirbhAva of Bhimpalasi. It is this preponderance of the madhyam (nyasa bahutva) that bestows on the raga its allure.


And then, even later, as I began a lovely walk on the ghats, Jaunpuri made a surprise visit via a telepathic lunar connection sounding Kumar Gandharva's voice.

This raga is very close in spirit and substance to the R-only Asavari so much so that some musicians (for instance, Omkarnath Thakur) do not acknowledge any difference between the two. In recent times Jaunpuri's dominance on the concert stage has virtually extinguished the shuddha rishab Asavari. A widely accepted point of departure in Jaunpuri concerns the komal nishad in Arohi sancharis. Whereas in Asavari n is langhan alpatva (skipped) en route to the shadaj that stipulation is relaxed in Jaunpuri. Still other minor areas of independence from Asavari are suggested, such as a higher value for P over d. As in the shuddha rishab Asavari, R receives a pronounced grace of S. All said and done, Jaunpuri (and the ragas to follow) deeply embodies the Asavari-anga.

And then the night came, with the moon one day smaller, waning of the moon coupled with the waxing of the heart. Madhukauns brings the moons light closer to my heart. God bless Raganga.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two days (+ 1 one-documented) of the beginning

The new year brings a new gift. In the manifest form of a Sarod. I call her Madhuvanti sometimes, sometimes Shree. The sunset was spent discovering Sarang in the afternoon, Multani at late afternoon and a touch of empire Marwa in my heart, those meend-laden thoughts making gestures in the sky, next to the sun...

The beautiful morning in Shiv-Ganga, spent on the terrace discovering the vastness of five notes, Raag Bhupali. Although classified in the night category of Ragas, this is one, in my opinion, that can be played anytime because it brings the most innermost feelings of contentment and peace, like floating on the ether into planet hinterland…sitting on this mount looking at Raju's Chi-kong and thinking to myself…"What have I done to deserve this?". And as I close today's morning session, Kumar Gandharv closes of with his version of Bhupali, reminding me of those wonderful times with Bijoy in the blazing heat of Ahmedabad, the sun in the Doshi film is what Bhupali encapsulates, a wonderful new force…now looking back, such a wonderful trajectory. Bless the divine being…

Now those veins have found a limb to reside.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tree Interface

I'm sitting again with the face of another,
Branches and buds in my eyes,
Clouds on my tongue
the Mistress of the Dunes now looking back,
her 108 ways of seeing, her hundred and ten hands,
fragile, like
the fabric of early morning mist…
tender, like
the touch of temptation.

The future has no script, its theme is "impermanence", its vice, "death"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Trikon Miti: A Benaras Triptych

Story One
Dazzling star from Bollywood in his prime, living in limos, on sex, wine and drugs comes to Benaras to shoot song sequence and loses his eyes in an incident and then disappears. Film industry breaking news. Star goes missing. Finds solace in boatmans house and then begins life-changing few months in disguise & in the company of a new friend who then becomes his eyes and documents everything for him. Two interconnecting trajectories of two people coming from completely different environments. And connecting by chance. A coming-of-age story by force.

Story Two
Deaf and dumb couple find love and salvation, local style in Benaras. The world in the gulleys, the pan, the incense, the cows, dogs, birds, river, earth, sky, the sensorial trip sans words. An expression of love via only one medium. Eyes.

Story Three
A brother and sister come to Benaras to look for their mother who is apparently in Benaras waiting for her death. Their journey in search of their mother through the labyrinthian maze of Benaras, their relationship evolving from one that was cold and distant to an ethereal relationship, a cosmic primordial bond. The mother's character, a mysterious ascetic lost in the transcriptions of the divine.

Friday, October 29, 2010

When the phantasmagoric heart begins sending you visuals of your soul, catch it and articulate everything in poetry, visuals and sound. The illustrations rich with that sunset-edge, defeating the purpose of the mundaneness of constant striving...
Benaras, back to here and now, life and death, side-by-side, like lost friends meeting again by the river...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The River (Polly Jean Harvey)

And they came to the river
And they came from the road
And he wanted the sun
Just to call his own
And they walked on the dirt
And they walked from the road
'Til they came to the river
'Til they came up close

Throw your pain in the river
Throw your pain in the river
Leave your pain in the river
To be washed away slow

And we walked without words
And we walked with our lives
Two silent birds circled by

Like a pain in the river
And the pain in the river
And the white sun scattered
Washed away this snow

And we followed the river
And we followed the road
And we walked through this land
And we called it a home
But he wanted the sun
And I wanted the whole
And the white light scatters
And the sun sets low

Like a pain in the river
Like a pain in the river
Like a white light scatters
To be washed away slow

Like a pain in the river
Like a pain in the river
Like the way life scattered
To be washed away slow