Three Books Outside Begumpet, Hyd

Now that the Oscar fever had subsided, the delirious movie binges are easing out as well. We are done with most, and the rest are in a tomorrow box that never gets opened, one that the missus and I never forget even when we fight about something else altogether. It also provides for a little more time for reading. It is this way for me, and if you are like me, I thought you would benefit from knowing about three books I read recently that really made an impact on me.

It is a fairly wide range of things that I have got to do with my life. I read a little, but I have never done and do not intend to start doing book reccos, and these are definitely not my desert island books, but these three books were breathtakingly fascinating, contributing to my worldview in ways that compel me to share them with you. I am a firm believer in the purposefulness of all that occurs and in the epiphanic nature of each moment. These books brought me what I needed at this point in time, mystically.  I had lived with what can best be called philosophical shame for a good part of my life, embarrassed to share what I believed.

My disagreements with organized mysticism and psychologists have landed me in more trouble than I had bargained for, inside and out. I grew averse to the entire philosophy-psychology-productivity-self help continuum after overdosing on it in the '90s. Similarly, I have been outgrowing my understanding of music and musical expression, straying uncomfortably close to noise, yet enjoying the precariousness of it. Over the last decade or so, I have been actively pursuing a line of thinking that all we know and believe about the science of music, the conventional theory that all students of music are subjected to, is possibly a very limited, censored, "state sponsored" view of things, and that the truth lies in the voices of the voiceless. This conspiracy theory was further strengthened as I watched Junior explore rhythm, melody and language. What was going on there was not what any convention could explain, and this is evident in the development of this faculty in any child, and it doesn't have anything to do with what you learn when studying music or language.

Two of these books are from the pop psychology genre. The third is a book I was advised against by a fellow music lover who had much greater engagement with the theory and history of music than I ever did and whose opinion I revered.  The likelihood of my reading these three books was close to zero. As my best friend always course corrects me, we don't know why anything turns out the way it does. Our intent is never lost on the universe, it is just that needs have to be met first. These books met a need that I was not entirely conscious of, resolving conflicts that I could not acknowledge.   

Three Bluesmen Who Shaped Rock and Rhythm N Blues

This blog has way many more followers that any of my other blogs, perhaps because most of them lie untended. It makes it a good platform to promote posts that would otherwise not get read. 

For those of you who enjoy rock and R&B or just music in any of its myriad forms, and those who do not follow my blog on music, The Operative Note, here is a close look at three blues guitarists who shaped much of modern music - The Unholy Trinity of Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It is not an introduction to these musicians or their work, but more of a critique of their contribution, both positive and negative, and a questioning of the mysticity of their lives.

I would love to know what you think of it. I know, the pictures have dates.

Salutations to the Sun

My life,
My seasoning, my reason,
My reasoning, my seasons,
My riches, my Eden,
My bearing, my North,
My courage, my learning,
My yen, my diet,
My redeemer, my comfort,
My mystery, my lotus,
My document, my script,
My morning, my noon,
My being, my bravery,
My light, my air,
My sex toy, my sanctum sanctorum,
My spring, my fall,
My melody, my counterpoint,
My hemlock, my truth,
My pulse, my heartbeat,
My onion, my universe,
My raised letter,
My inclination, my Eiger,
My beginning, my end,
My hopium, my aadhar,
And then just numbers, values, dates.
My! My!My! My!

February 14, 2018

Music For Those Who Listen

Most writers write with the purpose of being read. Therefore, nothing such writers write is personal. Pitches to publications, revisions suggested by editors, all of it serves to remove all that is personal to be replaced with market politics or universal marketability. My journey of trying to be a writer, one who considers writing his primary occupation, has thus far indicated otherwise. I am not talking about one trick pony theories that suggest that everyone has a novel in him or a story in him, his own, and after that, zilch. My limited reading of the masters, classic and contemporary, seems to indicate that what one writes about has to be personal to possess enduring value. And I feel that is true of all arts, visual, music or words.

The trouble with the personal lies in the conflicts it triggers in living. I see my life as a classic example, since no one is really qualified to comment on the life of another. If I were to make my innermost thoughts public, it would land me into a fair deal of trouble, with my friends, my neighbors, my insurance, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, and my children. Oh my, my!

Having Dad around hasn't helped much with resolving this dilemma, since he turns into a duck's back whenever I bring up the question of an artist's priorities and commitment to the truth. But this question haunts me more than ever as I grow older, move into newer territories of relationships with self, society and state, new worlds of the mind and the spirit, . I am not Prince Rama, nor was meant to be, but heck, I wouldn't mind putting a few of my conflicts to rest.

Millennial Lessons from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

How could I not have a Padmaavat post on this blog? Even if it is the 3000-word rant that you have come to expect on this blog, even if it is a commercial Bollywood, pseudo-historical film with its standard share of songs and violence, even it is a subtle nudge towards reigniting the fire that consumed women of honor in the 13th century, a post was in order.

The run up to Padmaavat and the content of the film itself has a lot of lessons for those who are going to run the world the next few decades. This run up did not start a few years back, but can be traced back to the early days of Independence. It is one that validates and justifies intolerance and hatred in the name of identity. It is one that drowns out the equality, of nations, ideologies, classes and gender that should be the beacon of our times. The recent years have only seen a growing acceptance and institutionalization of this rabid movement. Everybody who is anybody now has an identity that needs to be defended. The parallels of the religious and gender levels of this oppression is frightening when not sickening.

This is not a review of the film. With everybody posting reviews, I have little new to add. I believe films, like all art, has the ability to profoundly influence our worldviews and the beliefs based on which we make choices. Very often, especially with popular cinema, this messaging and learning is unconscious.  The unquestioned objectification of women ties in with the gender violence we are seeing today. The nationalist films of the 70s and 80s have shaped our collective understanding of Hindu-Muslim dynamics and the attitude towards a land that was once a part of India, Pakistan. Along with this, there has been the rise of voices that object to art that opines on matters in a way that is not comfortable. Whether it be Hussain with his Hindu deities, Rushdie with his Satanic Verses, or lesser known painter who get their exhibitions vandalized because of nude subjects, freedom of expression is limited to the convenient and the universally acceptable. Step out of line and the baton comes down.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali (the guy who gave us Black) has been in this kind of trouble before, and there has been speculation that the protests might have been engineered to boost publicity for the film. The last time, he offended Ram-worshippers by naming his film Ram-Leela. The workaround seemed just as absurd as the dropping of the letter i in the case of Padmavati. I like his work (not that the guy who gave us Hum Dil De Chuke and Sawariya) and after Ram-Leela and Bajirao-Mastani, I was looking forward to Padmavati. The controversy and the hype took away a lot of the fun of waiting, but there we were on its first weekend, catching a late, late show on a large, large screen, 3D glasses and popcorn in hand.

A Moving North

Having lived in Hyderabad for nearly two decades now, the one time of the year that I look forward to the most is the Sankranthi weekend. It is one in the morning of Saturday, and from my office at Ameerpet, I can hear the frenzied collective hooting of fleets of buses ferrying the better part of the city's population back to their homes. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is still largely an immigrant city, with most businesses and workforces tracing their roots back to coastal Andhra. This demographic quirk is also what led to the creation of a separate state for the people of Telangana. When I leave for home before Suryadev visits us, the streets which are otherwise deserted except for manic cabbies dropping sleepy IT workers off, are bristling with last minute travelers and hordes of trucks, minivans, buses, haggling over fares and seats, frantically calling friends and relatives, much like Ramzan nights in the old city. Except that the rush here is to get out of the city.

The next morning and till the weekend gets over, the city quietens down, the air and noise clears up, and moving around the city becomes a pleasure. Hyderabad grew rapidly in the 90s and the Telugu Desam government under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu gave shape to a vision of a truly global city, with wide avenues, industry specific zoning, elevated mass transit, and a vibrant cultural identity. Subsequent governments fed off that vision but did little to accommodate the boom that followed.

New is New, Happy Happy

Stories, like poems or songs, have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. That is how stories have to be. Life, on the other hand, doesn't. Between McTaggart and Wittgenstein, between Einstein and Russell, linearity of being has been demolished quite thoroughly. The start of the new year is always a good time to look at the validity of beginnings, middles and ends.

With Junior creeping past school going age, and his parents not entirely sure what they want to do, the question of what learning and education are, and where they can be found is one that has been central to our daily grind. We have come a long way from Socrates and Seneca, but we stand at a peculiar juncture, with fake news, and ideological spins on everything including science. Our best myths are Hogwarts, the Cullens, and reluctant Jedis. We are also close to the tipping point of artificial intelligence where machine logic matches human wisdom.  The greatest nations of the world are being led and governed by men and women who are bound to a dehumanizing vision of the future, and technology is matching them gaffe for gaffe. Terror and cryptocurrencies are both equally safe investments, and war is what children play on their mobile devices.

Then there is the Nobel Prize. While the prize for the sciences are relatively apolitical, those for the humanities are no longer benchmarks of what is great about the arts or peacemakers. They never were, but what better North do we have any more? Two laureates of recent times are close to the North though it did not seem so then and it perhaps does not seem so now. Time will tell if Obama truly strengthened international diplomacy and cooperation among peoples or if the life and work of Bob Dylan was literature at all. Maybe Alexa will have an opinion.

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