February 22, 2009

In defence of Art !

Why can't we leave artists alone! The creative outpourings of art cannot be curtailed to accommodate the fickle demands of an overtly moralistic society. Cartoonists have a perspective that is unique to their art, and our inability to appreciate/understand their vision must not convert into taking punitive measures against them or their creativity.

Agreed, that the editor of the NY Post could have used better judgment and could have chosen to withhold this cartoon , but he did not, and suddenly all hell broke loose for artist Delonas. There have been other artists who have suffered a similar predicament: M. F. Hussein in India, Danish cartoonists with Jyllands Posten in Brussels, Amiri Baraka in New Jersey, Salman Rushdie in England, Solzenitsyn in Russia of the 60s, Neruda and Allende in Chile, Taslima Nasreen in Bangladesh, and many more in various parts of the world during various times in human history. The point to be noted is that the darkest hours of human history were also the darkest times for art and artists; be it during the Holocaust, the Great Depression, the McCarthy Era, the Crusades, or during the World Wars. Whenever and wherever art is suffocated there has always been a price to pay and a vital truth to be hidden. Suffocating art is like suffocating a civilization. Art may not cater to trends in socio moralistic behaviors or may at times even defy other socio political parameters, but as 'art', it must have its freedom lest we end up becoming a uni dimensional civilization.

Art presupposes freedom of the mind and consequently a freedom of expression. Delonas''s cartoon, though offensive to some of us, and definitely inopportune with some 'clear racial implications', is, after all, an artist's unique perception. If it got published due to the oversight or the in discretionary practices of publishers and newspapers, then why does art have to pay a price?

February 19, 2009

"Indian Muslims Stand up to Terrorists" by Thomas Friedman

Yesterday's NYT carried an op-ed by Thomas Friedman on 'Indian Muslims in Mumbai' who have refused to provide burial space to the nine terrorists responsible for the Mumbai massacre in November 2008.

A commendable stand no doubt, and one that should be recognized with no reservations whatsoever! Senseless killing of innocents cannot be condoned for any reason and by any thinking individual who calls himself civilized. In fact I await the day when the action taken by this group of brave Muslims is emulated worldwide so that the press does not have to qualify the term Muslim with a nationality before it like Friedman's article did.

February 14, 2009

"The World is What It Is" - The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul by Patrick French

There were two reasons why I picked up V. S. Naipaul's biography "The World is What It Is" by Patrick French. One reason was because I had so thoroughly enjoyed Naipaul's novel "A House for Mr. Biswas" which I had read numerous times during my late teens, each time finding something more to like about it. The other reason was an interview of Patrick French, Naipaul's biographer, that carried some candid comments by French about how and why he decided to write Naipaul's biography, "The World Is What It Is", and that's when I decided I had to read this one, and now I'm glad that I did. Having said that, I need to make some clarifications on what that declaration may construe:

- that I liked how French presented Naipaul's life story
- that French's biography made me like and/or understand Naipaul better
- that the biography helped me understand and/or like Naipaul's writing better

The truth is that none of those three reasons account for why I liked the book, and it took me the longest time to figure out why this work appealed to me. It had more to do with how this book helped me understand how a biography can dissociate the writer from his writing and present a chronologically sound and clear picture of an individual's life yet be unable to explain how that life connected with the creative energy that flowed out of the individual's pen. In fact Naipaul admitted to this when he said "his only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which nothing else was sacred." He was more than prepared to sacrifice his personal life to achieve success and recognition as a litterateur. Naipaul was astute to have gauged French's skills as a writer, and perhaps that was the reason he invited him to write his biography. French has clearly distinguished the man from the writer in this biography and leaves it to the reader to decide which of the two Naipaul's he wants to reckon with.

French gives us a vivid picture of Naipaul's childhood in colonial Trinidad where a young Vidia is "a displaced soul in a displaced community who by dint of talent and scholarship, finds the only imaginable way out: a scholarship to Oxford." However, the scholarship at Oxford turned out to be but a mirage as a disgruntled Vidia soon realized "the more insidious form of oppression is the spiritual one. I am an example of that...You will say that I am free... I have freedom of speech (in England anyway); freedom of worship. All these of course are quite useless to me without freedom of opportunity." What followed were numerous bouts of depression that Naipaul went through while at Oxford, and if it were not for Patricia Hale, who later he married, Naipaul may have left the shores of England within the first few years of getting there.

Patricia Hale augmented a new phase in Naipaul's life, in which Naipaul emerges as a domineering, manipulative, and insensitive man who could treat someone he claimed to love with a ruthlessness that shocks the reader. French appears to gloss over some of these years for reasons he best knows. It almost appears as if French could not make sense of the senselessness with which Naipaul treated Pat, and also the sheer absurdity of how an educated person like Pat silently absorbed all the mental and physical abuse that Naipaul doled out to her.

Again, it wasn't so much the documented story of Naipaul's life that held my interest as the gradual revelation of why this biography came to be, and why Naipaul had allowed Patrick French complete access to all his records in order for French to document his controversial life where he often came across as a selfish and egocentric individual who sacrificed close relationships to fulfill his one burning passion of becoming a world renowned writer. French admits that in writing Naipaul's biography, he gained great insight into what it means to write a biographical sketch of a person as enigmatic as Naipaul; "since writing about a writer for the first time, I have become more doubtful about the notion that an artistic creator should be expected to explain himself. Anyone who has written imaginatively will know that the process remains mysterious even to the author...The best writing can only be examined in its effect." Needless to say, Naipaul's writing had far reaching 'effect'; one that earned him the Nobel prize in Literature in 2001. His literary achievements have been remarkable, having covered a range of contemporary issues such as religious and political identity, global migration, extremism, individual rights and the rule of law, and many more. Here was a writer whose "art transcends the artist cos he talks a load of shit but still writes excellent books." Naipaul stirred many a controversies with words and actions that were often hurtful and highly inappropriate like when he said, "Africa had no future, Islam was a calamity, France was fraudulent, and interviewers were monkeys." It is a miracle that the writer Naipaul survived despite his other half.

Patrick French may not have been able to write this candid biography if Naipaul the artist had not completely disenfranchised Naipaul the mean mouthed Trinidadian of Indian origin who struggled with low self esteem and poverty for a major part of his life. Naipaul the artist clearly did not want to regionalize himself, and so he broke free of all bondage including that of lineage, ethnicity, diplomacy and even propriety which may account for his controversial love life or the lack thereof.

I have no idea who benefits more from this biography: Naipaul, for having gotten a chance to redeem himself, Patrick French, in getting to write his first writer biography, or the reader, being better equipped to deal with biographies in the future.

February 05, 2009

Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" - Suggesting a Makeover?

Gran Torino is a Ford trademark car, and given that the Ford Motor Company may be on it's last leg while battling the current US economy crisis, the title of this movie may carry a deeper significance. "Gran Torino" the movie, reminded me of a bunch of movies that I have enjoyed in the recent past, and in all of them I find a thread that binds. Little Miss Sunshine, Babel, Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, and now "Gran Torino"; all carry the message of reaching out to fellow beings who are unlike you: be it a dysfunctional family member, a people belonging to a foreign culture in a foreign land, a third world underdog who inexplicably earns a stupendous amount of money, or strangers who come together due to a chance happening. Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" features yet another reaching out by and to a very disgruntled war veteran living in the mid-west, who having recently lost his wife of some 40+ years finds himself on the verge of misanthropy. The two things that keep him sane are his dog Daisy and his vintage muscle car, a Gran Torino that he cherishes more than his life. However, even this sanity is forever threatening to snap. The slightest provocation can have Walt reach for his gun while mouthing the choicest of abuse. The young pastor of the local church who insists Walt go into confession, local gun toting black, Korean, and Latino gangs, and his immediate neighbors, an immigrant family from Laos are some of Walt's victims that draw contempt, ire, and gunfire from the "all American" Walt.

"Gran Torino" is a movie about what transpires when disparate ethnic groups live in close proximity amid a socioeconomic reality that is dysfunctional but all pervasive as it defines their very existence. "Gran Torino" does not articulate any profundities, and neither does it boast a complex storyline, yet it makes the audience revisit the basics of what it means to be human, and shows them how camaraderie can soften blows and minimize pain of our everyday life. As for the title and it's deeper significance, Clint Eastwood may be suggesting a makeover for this country, a chance to redeem itself, and to revisit the faith on which this country was built:
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

"Gran Torino" is a heartfelt story simply told!

February 03, 2009

'Taken' ...for a Ride?

I was given to believe that "Taken" was a 'thriller with a difference'. I was told this movie would make for an 'on the edge of your seat' kind of an experience. I also read that it was a thriller that would 'touch your heart'. Admittedly, the last comment had me suspect, but unfortunately, I got cajoled into watching 'Taken' where Liam Neeson attempts to rescue his naive 19 year old, on a visit to Paris, from the clutches of a flesh trading, Arabic speaking, immigrant-Albanian mafia. It was an ordeal to watch an aged Neeson fight ten thugs at a time and come out unscathed! Furthermore, it is become so predictable nowadays to have the bad guys speak Arabic, just as it is for the evil king-pin to be a sheikh! I could have perhaps tolerated all this, if I could have at least 'felt' for the 19 year old who had fallen prey. Alas, those were not the emotions she evoked in me; she was the stereotypical rich, spoiled, immature American teenager who is oblivious to anything beyond the reaches of her nose, and is therefore begging to be 'taken', and it is no surprise she is.

You can spare yourself the torture of being "taken', even if it's only for a hundred minutes!