Monday, September 1, 2008

not so egalitarian

ive been accused and not just lately of being a little too egalitarian in my tastes. As in supposedly its really easy to make me happy, and apparently i'm not so discriminating in my tastes. Well fuck you too.
I have parameters. In fact i'm quite shockingly discriminatory. So heres the list: what i don't find attractive in people/ and conversely what i really go for.

What i don't like:
1. Pretentiousness: as in people pretending to be who they are not. Now the interesting thing is that pretentiousness in very easy to catch out, so you have to wonder why people bother, but they do all the time and with people who are clearly looking at them with a 'why do you even bother' expression on their faces.
See its fine to be not into certain kinds of things, but its NOT fine to pretend you are: As in I play guitar but have not tuned my guitar in four years (right, of course you play). Oh please, leave it be and discuss instead the relative merits of SRK vs Aamir. Theres much to be said there, and most of it is interesting. AND you might be able to tell me things i don't already know, which is always a little bit of a frisson:)

2. Snobbishness: This needs some definition. There are certain kinds of snobbishness that are violently annoying and other kinds that are sort of cute. Snobbishness based on material possession is violently annoying, as in phone, car, house based type of snobbery. In Delhi you also have the name dropping variety (oh so and so is my friend: no problem if its the truth, very annoying if the name dropper met them thrice at social occasions). In Delhi they also ask you where you live, as in 'where do you live' (the only appropriate answer being 'up your ass'), sometimes they also ask 'how much do you earn' (appropriate answer 'why, are you trying to buy me?'). As far as i'm concerned/ and this is very subjective of course/ the only vaugely acceptable kind of snobbery is the snobbery of knowledge. If someone really knows more about something, if theyve actually taken the time and energy to read about it, to think about it, and they grind underfoot someone who is pretending to know: well thats not snobbery in my book. Thats an unpleasant exposition of knowledge. Could be better and more thoughtfully done, but needs to be done, particularly for the people in category 1 (pretentious)

3. People very conscious of hierarchy: This is the kind of person who will behave with you based on their perception of your social position vis a vis them. So if a person thinks you inhabit a position in the hierarchy above them, they will treat you with a certain kind of oiliness (i cant think of it as respect, i think of it as grease). If on the other hand, they think that you are below them, well, buckle down and expect nothing to surprise you. All sorts of strange behavior will be evident, from blantantly abusive to mildly slighting. Now one needs to qualify this, because grease is spread and not equally/ over a largish spectrum.

So lets explain the grease spectrum. First, grease.

Grease is roll over and show tummy in face of superior dog. social submission. your might makes you right etc. its hard to explain this, but think of when you have seen such ingratiating behaviours expressed around a top dog and you'll see what i mean. Not all grease behavious are as obnoxious of course, people are free to agree with who they please. Constant agreement with figures of power is ok if somewhat annoying behavior.
The offensiveness of grease lies in two factors: firstly, how much/ how consistent. This also depends on the person on whom the grease is being applied i.e. the top dog. I have very high respect for top dogs who cant abide grease, but many seem to live off the stuff.
Secondly, and this is a little complicated so stay with me, the offensiveness of grease is directly proportionate with how the person applying the grease is likely to behave with others of less social power. So someone who is generally sort of ingratiating and constantly socially submissive is ok. annoying but ok. But someone who rolls over at a flick of a wrist from the top dog and then abuses the driver is not. NOT NOT NOT. correct me if i'm wrong, but there seems to be way too many of these types around.

Those located at the high power end of the spectrum (the base of the triangle) experience interaction very differently from people located at the low power end of the spectrum (the squiggly/ rocky road part). It is the people responsible for this phenomenon who are pet objects of hatred for me.

These are the people who you overhear at restaurants discussing their expense habits (how much, where, when, with whom) and their social lives (where, when, with whom) and bring children they cant be bothered to look after. So theres a maid, and she runs after the child. She sits at another place (may or may not be a table) and is rarely fed at the restaurant. Sometimes someone at the table takes a pause from the scintillating conversation to yell at her.
You could imagine scenarios in which people like this invite the boss to have six more drinks, take out for evenings peers who are aspirational, and argue and threaten to sack the maid if she asks for a raise or a holiday.
So you see, going back to the grease spectrum, the maid and the driver fall at the rocky road end of the spectrum, no grease, not even the mild lubrication of politeness just very very uneven territory. You bet i'm not egalitarian. I really dislike this sort of people.

Because hierarchy and place in the hierarchy is so very important, their perspective of the world is often indexed on what their betters think of the world. So if their betters at point A have a high opinion of x (person) y (writer) and z (car), this will pretty much be their opinon. Its a safe way to be until the better (who is, in social science jargon) the opinion leader changes their mind. very embarrasing.
A weltenschang based on a twisted and seamier take on Pico Della Mirandola. We can all rise to the angels (money/ Pg 3) or sink to the animals (anyone anywhere near the rapidly sinking poverty line) so be careful: Get closer to the angels, and distance yourself from the animals, and thats why its so necessary to be conscious of hierarchy. after all if the world was flat, what would one do with the SUVs?

4. The morally judgemental Lets see, how do you recognize these people? well firstly theyre boring as shit. I mean, really i sometimes think that moral judgement is the recourse of the truly boring. These are people whose world is bounded by the kind of rules that have symbolic meaning only to others who think like them and to some hypothetical others.
Much is indexed on what these hypothetical others are likely to think. So for example "how can she wear that on the road, what will people think". So who are these people? id really like to meet the silent goggling masses who are waiting around to agree with the one with the moral judgement. Unfortunately they probably do exist, and this forms the backbone of the world the OwMJ (One with Moral Judgement)inhabits.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thinking of you

Last night was a bad night. I had nightmares that bespoke of too much coffee and shorshay maach late at night. In these nightmares, unfamiliar people casually inhabited places i once knew well, some of which no longer exist

Perhaps it was more than coffee, cigarettes and mustard. Ive been feeling what can only be described as a privileged middle class angst. In other words, theres no problem. But i'm not used to not having a problem so my minds going crazy trying to figure out what the problem is. Put down like that its so simple, but the experience of your mind trying to wrap itself around a non existent issue is very disconcerting; like walking elaborate dimly lit labyrinths and finding nothing at the end 'oh there must be a mistake, let me try it again' and so on ad infinitum. not light amusement, i assure you.

In this somewhat disoriented frame of mind ive been going on with things, pretty much as usual. Well at least ive not fucked up anything major. Work, analysis, read, write, drive, Gmail, Facebook, debate, go out for a smoke, check to see if the red ants got the sugar again that sort of thing. Life as usual.

This morning my phone rings and its an old friend "why are you depressed?". Well how the hell did he know i was depressed he doesnt even live in the same city. We keep in touch, but havent met in a while. Of late weve both been very very busy, each walking our own labyrinths i suspect. So how the hell?

I guess it takes about a decade and half of friendship (almost, now, isn't it?). It just felt so good. And i was half asleep so i told the truth about why i was feeling this way. So now i know why. Yes there is something at the center of the labyrinth, lets say its the cake in the clive barker introduction to sandman. No big deal, quite interesting in fact. At any rate theres a number of ways to deal with it, one of which would be to simply eat the damned thing:)

Actually, this is about not just about the particular call i got this morning/ although im still smiling from that. Its about my friends, many of whom have proved repeatedly that they will be my friends no matter now annoying or difficult i get. Theres this web of relationships that i inhabit, and the web holds me up, sustains me and provides a place to fall into nylon netting/ as opposed to solid ground.

So i sit here in front of a lighted screen feeling very grateful for the people i love, and those who love me. technology and emotion, who says they don't go together. I find myself receiving love over the phone, over chat, over email. And there are those who give up other things to sit and talk, sometimes for unresonable lengths of time. So this is for all of you.

Thank you so much.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hellborg and Selvaganesh at Tabula Rasa, New Delhi

I saw Jonas Hellborg play with V Selvaganesh last night. It was incredible, and i mean incredible. Two great musicians, who have played with each other for a while now (since 1998 i think), and who speak /with each other/and with the audience through their instruments.
and they seem to enjoy each other, which is probably why the dialogue is so seamless and so real at the same time. I'm still feeling replete, its been a long time since live music made me feel this way.

I'm not a very informed listener, in that my basic understanding of music is divided between what i like and what i don't like. So i'm really picking up on the feeling, more than the substance or even the form. The substance, i don't know that much about, the form i respond to on an emotional level or not at all.

But i did think that what i saw yesterday was what is called 'fusion' music at it finest. Much fusion that i get to see, particularly in Delhi, (but more on that later) seems to me to be too fragmented to be called a dialogue. i do my thing, then you take your turn and do yours. Well, thats the best case scenario, there are a number of others: we play together and produce unattractive sounds, thats one, or (and this is the WORST) some really good international musician 'jams' with indian musicians in such a manner that you come away with a deep sense of regret that you didn't settle in the west where the aforesaid musician actually gets an opportunity to do the music that is his forte.
i come away hoping that it was the organizers and their Delhi aspirations (fusion is SO hip) that resulted in the unfortunate international musician being stuck with 'jamming' in a form with with he may not be so comfortable. This happens a lot at Jazz Yatra, and every year i come away wishing that the so called 'fusion' element be restricted to musicians who do fusion music on a regular basis and NOT some misguided wish to have intercultural harmony. Intercultural harmony is a good thing, but music really is music. And even an uninformed hearer like me can feel (not hear) the difference between good fusion and organizer inspired fusion.

In other words, i think musical fusion is a difficult and complex and feeling task, a fusion of cultural rhythms as much as sound rhythms and a number of performances in this city should stay very far away from it.

So theres this rant, and theres what happened last night, which was GOOD GOOD GOOD fusion. More of this please. much much more of this and much less of the other kind. It felt good, like the bass guitar in some way was made to play with the kanjira (but how could that be? think of the history of the instruments). It seemed that way, i suspect because the people playing the instruments were not only unbelievable musicians in their own right, but had an understanding of each other beyond music.

So this was happening last night at Tabula Rasa. Which brings us to context, and the third element in the communication triangle: the audience. First, context. Tabula Rasa had pulled a coup: think of it, Jonas Hellborg, some say he's the best bass player in the world, and V Selvaganesh, the leading kanjira player of his generation, playing together. This would seem to be an important occasion, right? And important occasions need appropriate arrangements, right, not to mention respect for two such accomplished people.

So where do they place the stage? Right next to the open kitchen

NO seriously, i'm not kidding. Hellborg and Selvaganesh sweated profusely through the show, and asked for paper napkins to wipe themselves. They had to drink water continuously, and the kitchen kept cooking. In fact the organization was so uninformed that they did not even figure that most musicians can't play with whirring fans aimed directly at them. As a single fan was the only moving air possibility, jonas Hellborg and v selvaganesh played in conditions that were incredibly uncomfortable (theyre musicians, right, so they asked for the fan off/ i was wondering if others actually have the fan on. how do you play?)

Not that much of the audience cared. There was social mobility conversation happening all around ('oh did you see so and so at such and such place' etc.), and someone behind me said that the bass was a variation of the Tanpura. No, not kidding about that either. Oh and there was NO call for an encore. NO ONE asked for them to play one more piece. I mean this is Jonas Hellborg, and he's plying a small (if exceedingly uncomfortable) venue. you don't want more? I guess not, youve got enough to tell people that you went to the Hellborg/ Selvaganesh show at Tabula Rasa. How does the music matter? its just sound after all, and fusion is SO hip, you just need to be seen there.

so thats my take on the show. The show was fabulous, the other elements of the communication triangle were,



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Words and pictures

I don't know if this is true for you, but i grew up being told that words were of far greater value than pictures. Words were serious because they were a passport to a serious (trans: better) adult life. Particularly words in English, those could get you anywhere you wanted to go. Post colonialism at its best

Words are useful of course, you can use them anytime, anywhere, they are totally not dependent on referents. So in a sense you can live through words, a significant section of your reality can be mediated by words. i suspect thats where my affinity for genres like science fiction and fantasy comes from. think of it: an internally consistent universe that is entirely separate from your lived reality. It exists too, vivid and textured and REAL. Ursula Le Guin is right. you cant trust writers:)
Pictures, well pictures are trickier. Pictures are captures rather than weaves (i'm not talking about Vouge or Mens' Health, clearly those exist in the multiple zones between fantasy and reality). So pictures will tell you something about the world as it exists, but not enough, not complete, not whole.
So theyre different. And this is the crux of the problem:
If youve trafficed in words most of your life, how do you move to picture as text
clearly, if it is words that is your primary sign system, youre going to constantly try and translate the pictures to words (much much easier said than done)
See the problem is that the components of pictures are different from the components of words. So i can mostly translate with ease enough from english to bengali and the other way, but i cant look at a picture of a market place in Meerut and 'put it in words' in any satisfactory manner.
Now you can tell me thats not how you do visual analysis, and youre right of course. Its just habit. So i have what may be called pictorial diarrhoea: pictures pass through whole (hehe sorry, its the most vivid image i could access)
My mind refuses to treat them as units, it constantly seeks the sub units that knit together to make sense of the whole. Well and good, true, but the problem is that my mind seeks to understand these sub units as WORDS. which they are not, whichever way you look at it. So i can't do visual analysis because apparently pictures speak a language i'm not used to understanding.
Dammit, if you can translate words to pictures in your head, WHY is it so difficult to translate pictures to words???

Well, I can't/ maybe you can, if you can, please tell me how its done, and i'll stop banging my head against the keyboard.
And thats the current problem.

see you later