An Artist's Date With Good

Every single day, for the last week, I pause at the top of the page. No, not time yet. I am referring to the things that I do outside this blog, and some of what is shaping up is really, really gratifying. Not only am I more than halfway into my 2015 targets on most fronts, I am also on my way to fulfilling a few dreams that are more than a decade old on the drawing board. But, wait, I can drop broad hints. Creative arts. Tea. Music. At a studio. Someplace nice. Soon. Out of my page now.

The fun thing about spontaneous writing is that what is most pressing tends to pop right out, whether you want it to or not, and right now – top of my mind – it is to continue exploring the question of reading, judgment, and the social responsibility of the artist. God. That is going to take a while. That is also going to be a whole lot of crib. Tea is ready. All rise.


Over the last few years, we have been actively seeking out and associating with creative communities, mostly writers, artists, filmmakers, poets. The purpose of this is to build up a network of people who will contribute to putting art back where it belongs, among the people. In the process, I am encountering various kinds of artists. Some of my encounters are extremely heartening. Some are downright shocking. Yet through it all, they are instructional. They help me understand the criticality of non-judgement, and help me accept the truth that all of us have a right to coexist meaningfully. Since I write more than draw or dance or sing, I can reflect on how I relate this with the need to judge when writing (or reading, knitting, whatever).

The world of contemporary creative writing, especially in India, is a divided one. On one hand you have the writers whose works need a footnote for every sentence. On the other, you have writers who write about irrelevant inanities and keep pinging you on the social networks to “like” their marketing pages. In between these two extremes, you have a silent majority who put out their work in journals, blogs, and self published books, much of which stands out for their mastery of the craft.

An Artist's Date With Reading

I continue to be pleased with the last two pieces (on writing and on tea), and at the same time, a little disappointed as I read them back to myself today. They did not hold up as cohesive pieces either by themselves or as a part of this series. It set out in one direction and ended up quite somewhere else. But one of the decisions I took when I started this series was to allow each work to assume its own life, to let it decide for itself what ingredients would go into its making, how long to simmer and when it was done.

What still pleases me was the fact that they got me to write about two “paradoxical” things about my life as a writer. Strangely, neither of them have anything to do with tea. I am referring to my poor publishing frequency and my absence of reading. Over the last several years, I have recommitted myself to writing, and we have slowly been blessed with a network of fellow writers. This blessing has resulted in the recognition of a few contrasts. Some of my fellow writers are terribly committed to what they believe in, much more than I am. I am happy shirking the call of writing much of the time. Most of them are extremely well read; I on the other hand have scant familiarity with contemporary writing, and it would not be entirely wrong to say that I tend to avoid it. I read what those who I trust recommend, and yes, I am often not disappointed.


Most of the writers I know frequent the company of fellow writers at conventions and literary gatherings. I, on the other hand, feel extremely out of place at such dos. I find them pretentious and self defeating. There goes any hope of being praised by my peers. The purpose of writing to me is to bring wholeness to the reader and to help him or her find the resources needed to take the leap, to make the change. This is a very personal belief, born out of how I felt reading Kafka or Dostoevsky, Celan or Brodsky and this is the belief that makes me give myself to writing.

An Artist's Date With Tea

I was among the ones gloating as day 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Artist's Date series rolled past. I knew I wouldn't make it. I was writing every day, but elsewhere, breathlessly, desperately, pointlessly. I thought about this blog every morning as the flavors and smells of my tea mingled with the wind and brass, bass and drum of my staple fare. How I wait for winter, when listening to music becomes a pristine activity, especially early mornings and late nights. So as I determine to spend more time (if not every day) here, I feel like writing about tea, music, technology, anything, anything but writing. These are the things that really turn me on, writing is more like work on most days. Chore. So, without any further ado, here's what every asdfasd thinaking adtiv ofa dasdl tea drinking creative artist needs to know about tea - and for all who have been with me so far, a three, a four, a five, six, seven, eight.

*****

Tea is classified typically into white, green and black teas. The same, with a few variations, applies to e-stores like Blend Of Tea that home deliver premium tea. More than 90% of the world’s tea production is used to make black tea. At home, we drink black tea on an everyday basis, several cups of it every day. Even though we receive and stock the finest green teas, they are usually relegated to the occasional use shelves. What makes black tea such a hot favorite, pipping its allegedly more salubrious cousin, green tea to become the most widely consumed type of tea?


The secret lies in what tea does to you – stimulating and relaxing you as you need at that point in time. Black tea is significantly more stimulating than green tea, and several times more stimulating than white tea.It compels your mind to recognize its forays into the tea gardens, the misty mountain mornings, the sunny hillsides, and come back to the brew at hand and the ugly city soundscapes. The repeated straying and returning is a kind of mental push-up, strengthening that faculty of ours which defines, interprets and judges everything. This is one of the fundamental practices of mindfulness.

An Artist's Date With Writing

Less than a week into my determination to write a post a day that will meet your and my approval, I am blessed with an excuse to not write. Discomfort. Not sure it has anything to do with anything, but from yesterday, I have developed a not-nice physical sensation made worse by sitting at the computer. When it struck me last night, I experienced a secret moment of relief, that I can take today off from my writing challenge without any sense of having let me down. I happily occupied myself otherwise, helping Hyderabad poetry lovers to get to listen to Neal Hall and Rochelle Potkar read their political poetry on June 21, and it wasn’t till now, early in my afternoon (it is just past 10 a.m. IST), that I sat to take a look at my schedule for the day and what’s left of the week. I almost crossed out my artists’ date item, when it struck me I was actually pleased I didn’t have to write. So I sit, Dev in arm.

A few years back, we made the acquaintance of a talented poet whose obsession with the art rapidly made us friends. Expressive and vocal, able to draw us quickly into deep and meaningful conversation, not an easy task, it made for a fun friendship. At one point, this poet was traveling on work, and after a couple of days silence, there was an update on social media. It was something to the effect of “I feel like dying.” Of course, poets say it very differently. Knowing obsessive nature and the depth of this person's struggle with expression, we were naturally concerned. There was a storm of “whys?” and “what happeneds?” from friends. When the poet finally did respond after several agonizing hours, the explanation was not having written anything in over three days. Come on, now!! I don't get to play my organ every day, ever heard me complain?


Like most good Bengali boys, I read and wrote poetry as an adolescent. Almost every day, or more accurately – all the time. In Bengali and in English, more English, but wrote many years in both. I was fortunate to have a mentor in my father, who guided me to the masters, and by the time I was a teenager, I had read a lot of what I wanted my writing to measure up against. I struggled till my early 20s, and by the time I was in my late 20s, I gave up. I gave up writing altogether because I realized I would never be able to write what I wanted to, the way I wanted to, that it was beyond my abilities, especially so in my mother tongue. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not the guy I wanted to believe I was - in Bengali, English, Dakhni or Esperanto. Additionally, I discovered material success could buy you purpose and meaning faster than poetry could. Or so it seemed then.

I did not write anything of consequence for the next 15 years. I felt awkward whenever friends and family would ask me if and what I was writing. I would write the cursory one or two poems a year, on birthdays or when great change took place in my world, more habitual wordplay than true poetry perhaps. The important thing here is in all those years, I never felt the urge to write, or experienced any distress about the fact I was not writing. So when I read my young poet friend’s social media SOS, I realized how differently the call to write affects different people. Anyway, let’s return to what we were looking at.

An Artist's Date With Great Good

The two great wars of the last century resulted in unimaginable loss of human potential. Apart from the loss of lives, there was global damage to economies, infrastructure, works of art, and budgetary allocations to human welfare. However, it also led to the most unprecedented era of human development in many of the areas we suffered the greatest losses in. It led to the acknowledgment of the vital role of women in modern society. It led to the evolution of global entities like the UN and its various little ones. It led to the awareness that war was not worth it. The fact that war is in the interest of most, if not all, governments and corporations is another matter. The point worth keeping in mind is that the great evil of war led to the emergence of the great good in many areas of human endeavor. This fills me with hope.

Contemporary Indian rock album art. Among the finest bands, this.

There is no denying we are living in times of great moral darkness. Globally and nationally, human welfare has been reduced to just another item on election manifestos, and ethical living is popularly considered to be the refuge of the incompetent. Popular art and culture has almost entirely been hijacked by commercialism, sometimes even in the garb of conscious capitalism. Education has been institutionalized into an industry. The news media is no longer the watchdog of the citizens but panders primarily to the needs of those who garnish their salads. The good news is this widespread degeneration of civilization can only mean one thing – great good is on its way.

I was born long after India became independent, so my knowledge of how India came together as a people to claim independence is entirely from books and from hearing about it. And no, I don’t mean Rushdie and Guha, in case you are nodding your heads. I believe, as a people, we somehow connected to the fire within during those days. In the seven decades since, somehow we have lost that connection, and perhaps the fire itself. The richness of our culture, the depth of our philosophy and the respect for human life that is part of our spiritual identity as a nation, has also been dampened significantly along with that connection and the fire.

An Artist's Date With Laziness

Today is the second day of my self-prescribed challenge to publish a piece a day. My first thoughts on day two have to do with the just missed weekend. Should I permit myself a weekly day (or two) of rest? Does it necessarily have to be on the weekend? Or can I take it as I feel sufficiently exhausted or uninspired? The birds are calling from their cages on our neighboring terrace in the quiet morning, and the aroma from a steaming cup of tea plays hide and seek with me. Instead of being excited at the opportunity of writing this post, I am already wondering why I took this challenge on and where I should posit the exit routes.

Part of the reason that I embarked on this “post-it a day” is the fact that I am lazy. Not lazy as in don’t feel like doing anything. Lazy as in I seek out the most convenient way to find my way through life. In the case of writing, it is especially true. I have a million excuses, some of them extremely compelling, why I do not write what I feel I should. Some days, I tell myself that my writing is so important that it needs to undergo the test of time before anyone, myself included, realizes its worth. On other days, I tell myself that what I want to say is so difficult to put into words that it needs to condense, to crystallize and to ferment adequately before my limited mind can find ways to put it into words. Some days. Bull shits.


This exercise is to test whether I can consistently write something that will be interesting enough for you to read, and something I will find of sufficient value to publish. It is likely that in the course of the month, I will lose perspective and be willing to hit “publish” even when what I have written does not meet my expectations. I might consider something to be essential reading for you while you may find it worthless. I am aware of this, but am willing to take the risk just to take on my spiritual laziness. This laziness is not something that is unique to me. On the contrary, it is the emblem of our times. One look at what is considered popular culture and mass media, and you will see what I am talking about.
 

An Artist's Date With Self Doubt

Some mornings are grey because they blend the white of the empty page and the black of what you meant to write and look back at you with an insipidness that borders mockery. This is one of those mornings. A pile of unpaid bills and a rapidly depleting pantry hang like rain clouds from the roof of my mouth. The most common question that taunts the decision to live a principled life is whether honesty pays. Of course, it doesn’t – it was never meant to. Honesty grants you peace and meaning, but if you are looking at benefit beyond your needs, it is perhaps not the best way to get there. From where I stand, it seems an excellent way to get back to writing on this blog though. I have had the most wonderful year behind me and it just seems to get better each passing day. Last weekend, I was at a writers' workshop with Corinne Rodrigues. My time with her and Aarathi (an old familiar out here) led me to think deeper - more honestly perhaps - about contemplative writing, intuitive painting, and photography, and what I do out here.

I have been seriously challenged to make time or even feel like writing a post. Those who follow me know what I mean all too well. And as many of you are artists and writers yourselves, you know how it is to get your butt back to the writing desk. It is a cool morning after a while, and the tea smells awesome. So hey!

I am not trying free writing (writing without stopping to think or edit) but I am close, probably because I am short on time. The two overwhelming enemies that I have been able to identify in the last several weeks of working with my creativity mentors or catalysts or whatever are self doubt and sloth.


As a writer, I have a daily schedule of writing. However, on most days, I do not produce a single cohesive work. Some days I create an outline, or pick up a piece I had started earlier, and on other days, I edit something that I liked but was not to my satisfaction. However, the fact remains that I write everyday. Many of the writers I admire, like Corinne, create complete works in their day’s writing, and I have always found that amazing. Some of them take on prompts and turn out a new article every day based on random ideas. Others write poems or publish photographs, one incredible piece each day.

As June commences, I decided that I would give it a try too, but perhaps only till I have something to say. I have four year-end papers in June and a slew of other things that I need to get done. The days I cannot get a piece, I can always do a Worst of 2014 (since it looks like I didn't do that). I am filled with apprehension as I begin this series, since the only thought in my mind is that it will turn out to be nothing more than a dull journal. I do not have an outline for the series; I plan to take it one day at a time. I am also excited since it challenges my perception of myself as a writer. I hope that my fears and my hopes will result in a bearable marriage. I hope as I plod along, the outcome will not be a boring narrative but something that will be of use to all who read it. Like an accused unsure of his own innocence, I surrender to you.

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