The man who stood with the tree

He came one day and settled under the Banyan tree that grew in the garden of my building but branched carelessly into the street. Clad in saffron clothes as many wandering holy men do in India. Nothing special except if you looked carefully, his legs were unimaginably swollen as if he carried the weight of his self in his legs. Strange that it did not bother him at all.
We were curious, especially as he seemed to decide that the tree was his home. This after all was no forest. It was Juhu. Smack in the middle of one of the more chaotic, bustling and yet up market real estates in suburban Mumbai. And there he stayed, night after night. Curiously never, ever sitting, or lying down. Day or night, the man always just stood. No wonder his legs were so swollen.
Khare Baba ( The standing holy man) as we affectionately began to call him, fashioned himself a kind of children’s swing which he slung over one of the many branches of the tree. And late at night when we would come back from drunken parties, Khare Baba as would still be standing, but with his arms strung through the swing, so that he would not fall down if he fell asleep. We would hoot greetings, while he would just look disdainfully at us, or sometimes raise a hand back in an affectionate greeting. Khare Baba soon became a fixture.
If you asked him why he always stood, he would just say that it was his penance. To never again sit or lie down. To never rest again. What sin could a man have committed in his 20’s that required this kind of punishment upon himself ? He never told us. And as is believed in India, if a man is going through his Tapasya with such extreme penance, then he deserves to be worshiped. And so people from around Juhu would come to be blessed by Khare Baba. Into the same tree they carved a small temple to him. Khare Baba would calmly bless anyone that came, but at no time did he ask for anything. People just gave him food.
I remember sitting silently with Khare Baba late into the night waiting for dawn to come. Smoking hash sometimes, but never saying much. He would in any case refuse to talk about himself. And one day we suddenly noticed that Khare Baba had disappeared. Not just gone wandering around Juhu. He did not return. We never saw him again. We never found out where he went, but then we never knew where he came from either.
The temple is still there. Occasionally I see Coconut shells and lit incense sticks, so I know that the temple still lives. People probably do not know the origins of the temple after 20 years since Khare Baba left. But so what ? it’s a temple in a flowing Banyan Tree, and how many of those are left in Mumbai ? The temple ensures this beautiful tree will never be cut down as thousands others are in Mumbai. And perhaps that was Khare Baba’s purpose. To stand tall with the tree, for when did a tree ever rest or sit down ?
And when people ask me why I keep coming back to India, I tell them the story of Khare Baba. Anywhere else in the world, the people would have been frightened by this man. They would have complained and worried that he maybe a child molester. The police would have come and taken him away, put him in jail. But in India we never questioned the wandering spirit. Just accepted his arrival with the same ease as we did his leaving.

love and madness

How could you be in love
without being love itself ?
How could you be a devotee
without being devotion itself ?
You, that measure my madness
standing as you are
on an illusory ground of high morality
How can you know my madness
till you become mad with me ?

MF Hussein again

After I criticized Shree Shree Ravi Shankar’s remarks on MF Hussein, I was perhaps not surprised by the how many aggressive responses I got back. What confused me though is many people responded with the painting being both anti Hindu and anti Nationalist. Are are they now the same thing for many people ?
I think Shree Shree Ravi Shankar’s force does amazing work. Which is why I was surprised at his remarks. For I thought Universal Compassion was at the centre of Hinduism and the Art of Living. If this was a remark from an ordinary person I would not have given it a second thought.
So the question does arise, is “what is Hinduism” and does it need protection from what people are terming as ‘obscene’ art ? (Which I will say again, I do not believe it is).
What is the Hinduism that needs protection ? How do we see Hinduism now. It seems it now has become an ‘identity’ which it was never supposed to be. Not in the Hinduism that I have understood. Hinduism is about the concept of experiencing the ultimate unity of all that is space, time and matter. It is about experiencing the illusion of the ‘Self’.
If anything Hinduism is about the loss of Identity. And yet more and more people are calling these ideas ‘liberal and therefore “pseudo- intellectual’. Is there a new Hinduism that is emerging that has tones of Nationalism in them ?
I wonder how many people who wrote to me would have supported the Islamic Fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing Satanic Verses ?

IPL cricket – an adverse colonial point of view. Sour grapes?

We all constantly debate on whether IPL is real cricket, or will it destroy the cricket that we all grew up on. But one fact is indisputable. It has changed the financial structure of cricket into a major international sporting tournament, that will in time compete with football. And it is very very entertaining.
So is the rest of the world hating that India is the nation that is the leader. Is the rest of the world unable to get off it’s outdated colonial attitudes ? It’s time for the world to realize that this really is Asia’s century. Not an Asia’s century that panders to the West, but an Asia’s century where Asian consumers rule the Media World.
Please read the following article that appeared in a very responsible South African newspaper. A more racist point of view I have not read for a long long time.
http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/columnists/article346952.ece
And if you wish to read the text here, just read on….

Read the rest of this entry »

Shree Shree Ravi Shankar & MF Hussein

Now Shree Shree Ravi Shankar has got into the act condemning Hussein’s paintings of Indian Goddesses in the nude. I did not say naked. There is a difference. Nude implies a point of view of the artist, and having seen the paintings I would definitely say that that the artists, in exploring the Goddesses as nude, was exploring purity. Condemn me for that. I am willing to argue.
The argument that Hussein should now try and paint Muslim Icons in the nude is a silly , provocative, adversarial statement and a completely political point of view. Nothing to do with Art.
So I amazed at the stand that Shree Shree Ravi Shankar has taken. I have never visited his Ashram , but I always imagined that the words “Art of Living” would be more encompassing and compassionate. I would imagine his movement, called Art of Living, embodies a wider and more artistic creative and holistic way of life. What prompted him then, I wonder, to condemn Hussein and challenge him to paint Muslim icons in the nude ?
Christianity has forever painted Christ in the nude and indeed at crucification often naked too. As have the Greeks and their Gods and Goddesses forever. Nudity has been a tradition in Indian and Hindu art, but never in Islamic art. So why the comparison. As if Hussein went out to create a political statement ? No, it was an artists exploration.
Hussein, on the other hand is alive and well. And very Rich. Rich as never before, painting as never before, and at 95 who could ask for more ? especially from someone that started as a street artist painting film posters. Most of us at 95, if not dead, would be happy to not be in a wheel chair and be able to speak coherently. Hussein paints, has become a genius at marketing himself. As all successful artists (and Guru’s) are. There is much to be said for creativity and ageing here.
So lets not feel sorry for M F Hussein. More sorry for ourselves really.

Rhino’s and Tigers being farmed in China

I am conflicted. I was horrified to read in the press today that Rhino’s and Tigers are being farmed for assumed medicinal properties of the Rhino’s horns and many other unmentionable parts of the Tiger. My learning on wild life and ecology, the extinction of species bothered me.
But the question that came was, why do I not feel the same way about the Osterich, or even about Sheep. Because they are plentiful ? Or just because we are used to eating these animals and they are not under threat of extinction. If Tigers were as plentiful sheep, but in farms rather than in the wild, would we bother about them being farmed for their body parts ?
I would, I know. But why am I not bothered about cattle and sheep being farmed ?

Hurt Locker and a Prophet

I guess my impressions of Hurt Locker was colored by the brilliant ‘A Prophet’ I saw the same day.
Was Hurt Locker good ? Of course it was. It was well shot, modern and created a lot of tension in the four (or is it five) sequences that the film is built up of. Was the performance good ? Yes, adequately good. But if you look at the performances in ‘A Prophet”, Hurt Locker did not really get near.
Good film Hurt Locker, yes. But is it outstandingly the best film of the year ? No. Despite the predictable script Avatar is. Because I saw in it the film makers vision, heart and belief. Did Hurt Locker really give me an insight into the minds of the young American Soldiers in Iraq ? No. It was the adrenaline addicted bomb demolition Hero I have seen so often disguised in two scenes, one in the shower with him crying and the other in the helicopter where his friend is blaming him for almost getting him killed.
I guess part of my reaction was the way the Iraqi’s are shown. Each one of them was a potential terrorist. If one is making a serious film about the Iraq war, then we carry the responsibility to attempting to discover some of the reality of it.
My vote for Avatar as best film of the year. For it believes in a future with hope, without meaning to be something other than that.

Sex and the Guru

With the internet raging with people wanting to search for sex video’s of the hapless Swami Nityananda having sex with a famous Tamil actress, you have to ask what this is all about ? While people express outrage all over India through acts of violence against him and his property, others desperately want to voyeur into the wanting to look at the act.
Why ? Watching a Guru having sex with with an overweight actress who’s face you cannot see is pleasurable ? What drives us ?
It is not possible to have a Guru unless YOU worship him or her. So in effect YOU create the Guru, YOU set the rules, YOU decide what the Guru practices in his or her daily life. And then when the Guru does not conform to YOUR expectations, and finally having created him, YOU destroy him.
We need to know that there is something beyond the mundane existence of our lines. We are scared of death. We are desperately afraid of that which we cannot comprehend of course, but mostly that which we can. Like failure or self loathing. Like disease and loss. We can comprehend these things, but are so mortally afraid of OURSELVES that we look for people who can take responsibility for our lives. And the first person that is willing to come out and say ” That’s my problem, and I will look after it” becomes your Guru. Unfortunately that is what more and more people are understanding ‘Faith’ as.
So a Guru has had sex. Who decided that he/she must not ? The Guru or you ? The Guru said it of course, but almost certainly in response to a need in you that if someone had to be ‘PURE’, then they must not have ‘SEX”. Why is Purity and SEX so closely related ? Why are we so afraid of sex, so filled with guilt about it that at the slightest provocation we are willing to destroy and revile other people over it on the one hand, and use it as tools of humiliation, conquest and rape on the other hand. I know a lot of people are going to be upset when I equate puritanical attitudes on sex with rape, but the provocations are fundamentally the same.
Some will say that a Guru must be above the 5 senses realm. But hey, it’s like saying that if he suffers pain and feels it, and dies of a heart attack or has cavities and has to have a tooth extracted, then he is a mere mortal and cannot be a Guru either. Why just sex and not hunger ? Why does no one object to the sheer luxury and wealth that surround our most successful Guru’s? A Guru is a realized soul, they will say without the slightest understanding of that actually meaning. I am not sure I do, but I can certainly say that merely changing your clothes into expensive designer ‘Guru Fashion”, being able to give long lectures that appease and assuage your guilt and fears, and not having sex does not mean realization.
I do not deny the existence and possibility of beings that have come to experience their Universal Selves. Who are now existing constantly in a full experience of their lack of individuality. But what’s sex got to or not got do with that? What do we know about that state to be able to say it is sex less ?
As I said, more often than not, we create the Guru, we make the rules, we ask for behaviour patterns based on our own sense of guilt and morality. And finally we Crucify the Guru for being Mortal. I am sorry, but they were always mortal in any case, but immortal only in our creation. So much so that while everyone else just dies, a Guru ‘decides to leave his/her earthly body/
So do I, mate !

Nirmal Pandey and Bandit Queen

When I was casting for an actor in the role of Vikram Mallah in Bandit Queen, I was looking for a man that on the surface was as rugged and handsome as any. But inside was a gentle and soft. A man completely in touch with his feminine self. After all, we all are a balance between the yin and the yan, the feminine and the masculine within ourselves. But often that balance becomes disproportionate, often with too much of the masculine, which if not tempered by the feminine, becomes arrogant and violent. Looking for self worth in acts against the feminine, against women. I am not talking about sexual preferences at all, just the inherent balance of being human.
The moment I met Nirmal Pandey I knew he was right for the part. He was questioning, searching, yearning, extremely gentle and completely comfortable in his own skin. He was comfortable in his feminine self. And for those of you that remember the first love making scene between Vikram Mallah and Phoolan Devi against the rock wall at dawn will know what I mean. I needed an actor that would allow the actress complete sexual domination without his own ego coming in the way. For a girl (Phoolan Devi) that had experienced sex only as an act of violence and humiliation needed to explore those very acts before she discovered her own sexuality beyond violence.
And few actors would have been able to perform that scene. Seema Biswas was outstanding, creating and exploring the complexities of confusion between sexual desire and the fear of violence and rape. But Nirmal as Vikram Mallah was a perfect foil. Reacting acutely to every moment, every nuance that was happening magically between the actors. In fact Nirmal was the bond between the audience and Seema Biswas – interpreting vividly what Seema was potraying.
Nirmal was so attractive to women that encountered him, that he would set of chain reaction in the crew – and I once even had to let a British make up lady go because her obsession with Nirmal was getting out of hand. At the Cannes and London Film festival he was constantly surrounded by young girls. I thought this was the makings of an International Star. But that never happened. I don’t think Nirmal was ready to make the personal sacrifices for stardom. He was not ready to take on the mantle of narcissism that is so essential to travel that path. He was a small town boy at heart and never comfortable in changing that.
Throughout the filming of Bandit Queen, Nirmal was the searcher. One of those actors that was eager to give all of himself, unafraid to bare his inner soul. He would look to discover things about himself as an actor and a human being through his performance, and never once blocked any suggestion or any idea.
We would sometimes smoke a joint and sit in a temple. He would talk about who we are and our significance in the universe. These issues were important to him. I wish I has spent more time with him. I barely saw him after the all the hoopla of Bandit Queen was over. But then who knew he would go so early ?

Copyright is ‘Right to Copy’ : Wisdom of Collective Conciousness

That is not as foolish a statement as you might believe. Imagine a world in which all of the basic Raga’s of Indian music were copyrighted ? Most of our Indian film composer would be lost without them.
Where would the world be if Einstein’s equations or other scientific/medical knowledge were copyrighted. Where would Hinduism be if the Bhagvad Geeta was copyrighted. Or the Mahabharath. What if the Koran or the Bible were copyrighted ? Or Buddha’s teachings. What if all of Ayurveda and all of scientific discovery was copyrighted. The arguments against IP in life saving drugs for HIV have been well documented. The price demanded for such drugs is out of reach of those that are dying of HIV. Thank god for companies like CIPLA that refuse to bow down to international pressure and make the drugs available at affordable costs. Of course they are flouting international laws, but who’s laws ? Can there be a fundamental law against saving the lives of millions of people ?
Traditionally India has been a society that looked at Arts and all Knowledge as something meant to be shared with the human race. Really well argued in :
http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/traditions/turmeric.html (thank u for the lead, Kavitha).
I also believe that all imagination is born out of a Collective Consciousness. Nothing is imagined or created out of singularity or in isolation. People’s consciousness moves to a particular need and creativity is provoked. An ecosystem of creativity is created. Why else did the 60’s and 70’s give rise to such incredible creativity in pop music ? Ideas are born out of existing ideas. Innovation comes out of provocation and need and borrowed ideas too. If we block that flow, all innovation and creativity wll cease.
However we accept that we live in a modern world and artists and researchers should no longer be doomed to a life of penury or poverty. There are not many Akbar’s around to support a Tansen. The argument for IP (Intellectual Property) are strong. The fundamental one being that IP protection is essential for innovation, both artistic and scientific. It costs billions to develop a new drug and millions to produce a film. And innovation would not happen if IP is not protected and financially valuable.
So the fundamental argument is not creative but financial and I can understand that. I make my living because what I create has financial value through some kind of value given to it’s IP and copyright. However I do believe that this is a chicken and egg situation. The more IP protection we give in to, the more expensive it becomes to create. Why should it cost 100’s of millions of dollars in Hollywood to make a film, or billions of dollars to create a new drug ? Because in world of Intellectual Property we are also creating and protecting hugely disproportionate returns to a a very few people who feed off this very protection.
However we need to find a balance, otherwise the very idea of Copyright and Intellectual Property will go against it’s very reason to be. Which is to provoke Creativity and Innovation.