What is the identity that is India ?

Sitting in a coffee shop at Vienna airport waiting for my flight to Innsbruck. , using fast free internet (why cant we have that all over India ?). The airport is full of Indians. Going to Milan and Frankfurt mostly. This is the time of the textile fairs, so its wonderful to meet all the young entrepreneurs from all over India.
The question that plagues many of us is, what is the force that binds India ? Before independence it was always empires that fought and brought this sprawling diverse continent under one leadership. But there was so many divisive factions, cultures, languages, political and social systems that the umpires ultimately broke apart not only through foreign conquests, but mostly because the internal divisions always helped the new conqueror. We say that the British were great at the ‘divide and rule’ policy – but in saying that we actually hide truth. We Indians are so divisive that it is easy to divide and rule us. Not the other way round. Is internal divisiveness our fundamental nature, and Indian nature ? I don’t think so. I believe it is that we are such a disparate people that divisions are easy to come by. India is always threatening to break at the seams, politically, or through religion, or through cast or race, or even language. Should India hold together (as I think it should), then what would/could hold it together ? Remember taht divisions in India can never just be resolved through geographical separation into states. For example the rise of the political power of the lower caste through Mayawati is not a geographical, issue. Caste politics are spread through our nation, or we would have to divide our nation once again through the upheavals that happened in partition.
So what is the idea that is India ?

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Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol: Whats common amongst them ?

and Helmet Newton, Marc Chagal, Brian Eno, Alexandra McQueen ? They have all done installations or sculpture/art pieces for the Swarovski museum in Wattens near Innsbruck in Austria. It is now the second most visited place in all of Austria. And now I have been asked to do an intstallation there. It is not only an honour, but also promises to be a very humbling experience. The installation is based on a short film called “Paasage” (which used to be called 3 Graces) that I just completed, and which I wrote about when I went to film in Argentina. Swarovski funded that film.
I am doing this in collaboration with my good friend David Adjaye, who is one of the most innovative and celebrated young modern architects in the world. Pray for me, that through humility I may access a universal creativity that would allow me to do something worthy of being there.

The so called ‘Negro’ Village in Gujarat

In Sasan Gir in Gujarat, we saw this ‘Peacock Dance’. We were astonished at the style and the beat of the dance, which felt completely African. The body structure of the men performing the dance did not feel Indian either. It felt like a troop of dancers that flew in from a country in Africa. I was told that the dancers came from the ‘Negro Village’. And when went there the next day, we found a village (and then many more) where everyone looked completely African but spoke and were culturally completely Gujarati. They told me they were descended from the people that were brought in by the Nawab of Junagargh, but some said that they had descended from fr earlier times, when the Arab traders brought Abbisynian slaves many many generations ago. The term ‘Negro Village’ is the local term, not mine.

Incredible India : The Great Rann of Kutch

kaveri exulting in the sheer magnitude of the white salt desert of the Great Rann of Kutch. The largest in the world, it covers almost 10,000 sq kilometers. Formed by receeding seas that left the salty marsh land behind, it is amazing to actually see yourself walk on crunchy salt crystals and see just white for as far as the eye can see. According to Wikipedia, this was a navigable stretch of water in Alexander’s time – but to my mind this is probably geologically a far earlier phenomena. Inside there is the largest colony of flamingoes in the world.


I am travelling in Gujarat with my daughter visiting the villages that keep the traditional handicrafts alive from generation to generation, the Rann of Kutch and now in the Gir forests in search of the last of the Asian lions. Many of these things will probably not survive the onslaught of our times by the time she grows up. So I would like her to see where India really grew up.
No fast internet access here – so will post some pictures and more details soon.

Humility, simplicity

he sat here
in all humility
in extreme simplicity
and changed the world
his empty ‘chair’
a symbol now
of the lack of
Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi’s room at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Visited today by my daughter Kaveri and myself. To pay our respects and homage.

Are Indians too desentisized to change anything ?

Austere wrote (to the story of a person being tortured and killed because he refused to give a ‘gift’ for Mayawati’s birthday party) :
“The lack of my own reaction frightens me Too often repeated a story. Happens. Is desensitization a survival skill? I don’t know. But I don’t like it ”
Is Austere right ? I think she has a point. And if he is right, how do we overcome this inertia ? Or is India consigned to the same cess pool of politics for ever ?

Merry Christmas and a cheerful New Year !!

Am in Mumbai at this time and seeing a much more somber Christmas celebrations. The Churches and other places of worship are full, but the hotels and the partying is tentative. But perhaps thats the way it was intended to be ?
This last year has been dramatic. And there are somber lessons to learn. The year started with India being branded as the next great economic power and the stock market flying incredibly high. The year ended with a crash in the economy, a sinking stock market and terror attacks in Mumbai. And we go into a New Year celebration with the pall of nuclear conflict hanging over us. All within a year ?
Yet we go into next year with hope that the lessons of last year will put us on far steadier course, both in our personal and public lives. We understand better now the nature of the world, and look to concentrate on that which is sustainable like, love, relationships, friendship, environment and spirituality.
The changing of the world order with Obama being elected also gives rise to a hopeful new force in world politics and I am sure we look forward to his taking charge. We also hope the India will find a new leader that has the same trust of the people,
Have a great Christmas and New Year everyone

Drunken Cockroach

Does anyone remember the scene in India in Mr India where Sri jumped on the bed in alarm when she saw the cockroach ? And then realizes that unknown to her, the house was crawling with kids ? Well, I needed the cockroach to be very still for the camera as he/she eyed Sri Devi threateningly. Focussing takes a long time and the cockroach needed to be patient. So we got the cockroach drunk !! No kidding, we surrounded the cockroach in a pool of my favorite Old Monk Rum, and the cockroach was soon lolling around like a drunken sailor, giving in to the DP, Baba Azmi’s every demand.
Unbelievable, but hey – talk to anyone on the sets. It was true !

Happy Birthday, Mayawati ji

With the potential nuclear conflict looming at our borders, and our economy spinning out of control, thank God at least one politician had the sense to celebrate their own existence and her own birthday. Who cares that the system of government is collapsing and who cares that the country’s resources – even our fresh water – is being sold to the highest bidder, and who cares that gradually we are slipping back into the poverty ridden state we were 20 years ago in only a few months.
And who cares that politics now is the biggest franchise in India, where seats are ‘leased’ to the highest bidder. Not caring where or how they got the money. Who cares the democracy has become just another form of corporate business in your state, and it’s people trapped in the poverty of democracy. What we really care about is that you had a jolly good birthday party, with a beautiful resplendant white cake and we loved your ever charming beaming smile.
We hear that your goons that beat the engineer to death, for he dared to say no to give you a birthday gift, were singing ‘Hap Hap Happy Birthday” as they kicked him senseless.
Happy Birthday Mayawati ji