Friday, June 30, 2006

Mr. Godot has come and gone

'Godot Has Left the Building': Still Waiting in a Wasteland, Revisited and Revamped By GEORGE HUNKA Homepage: June 30, 2006 The 100th anniversary year of Samuel Beckett's birth continues apace, bringing with it the New York premiere of John Griffin's "Godot Has Left the Building," an explicit homage to Beckett's best-known play, in a production by David Friedman and FourScore Productions at the Culture Project's 45 Below theater. Forum: Theater
"Waiting for Godot" has been such an inescapable presence in postwar theater that one can be forgiven some trepidation at a modern-day salute. Fortunately Mr. Griffin's play manages in large part to defuse this trepidation. Godot's country road is here a junkyard filled with old computers, tape machines and a film-editing rack. Its Didi and Gogo are Sebastian, a bookish, philosophizing vagrant, and Joe, a well-dressed young executive who wakes one morning to find that everyone in the world has disappeared, except for himself and Sebastian.
Mr. Griffin certainly has the tone and dry, poignant humor of "Godot" well in his grasp. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, and his characters ring through the Godotian changes: they play games (including a most dysfunctional "20 Questions"), tell stories, share a pair of boots and even deliver disquisitions on meaning and being. The play falls short in its arid imitation of Beckett's admittedly inimitable lyricism. With the play having disposed of the idea of Godot, the friends have little center around which to structure their waiting.
Mr. Griffin is fortunate to have attracted an engaging cast. Scott David Nogi, as the scraggly, bearded Sebastian, possesses a peculiar, sometimes manic manner, and Edward Griffin, as Joe, accomplishes the character's shifts through confusion, anger, fear, vulnerability and despair with great precision. The two deliver Mr. Griffin's dialogue with an appropriate disciplined energy. Gabriel Gutierrez and Bert Gurin also impress in much smaller roles.
The director, Will Pomerantz, navigates the play through the wide and deep 45 Below space with imagination, aided immeasurably by Garin Marschall's set, a veritable cornucopia of wired and metal detritus. "Mr. Godot has come and gone," a character says late in the play, but his memory is still very much alive. "Godot Has Left the Building" continues through July 9 at the 45 Below theater at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street, at Lafayette Street, East Village, (212) 352-3101.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Banaras - a mystic love story

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 Ulrich Mohrhoff, the quantum scientist and spiritualist, on Banaras
"Dear Mr. Singh,
Yesterday my wife Vishwajyoti and I watched your movie Banaras-a mystic love story. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, for I am generally not a fan of Hindi movies. Unfortunately I missed much of the poetry in the songs and dialogues, which my wife tells me that the subtlety got lost in the translation to subtitles.
I am not a film critic, so please expect no expert comments.
I was touched by the story and believe in the ancient Indian wisdom that the movie was trying to recall. It is certainly not a movie that will appeal to the masses, but numbers don't count in these matters. Banaras has the potential to awaken a soul to higher realities, and if this happens to a few, it has achieved more than any of the blockbusters.
Affectionately, Ulrich"
Pondicherry, India Teaches maths, physics, and quantum philosophy at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry. His blog can visited at:
posted by L C Singh @ Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

The film song is mass hypnotism

Song Of Amnesia The film song is mass hypnotism, an aid to help us forget. But the past never leaves. Sunil Menon one page format feedback: send Special Issue: Bollywood Music Special
An outsized paper moon, a cardboard night. A faux skyline, windows tungsten-lit...a city beyond our love-lorn balcony. The hero, effeminate despite his jodhpurs, fingers all mixed up on the mandolin. The lady: ethereal, weaving the studio backlighting in her hair. For all the miles between them, they’re dead on cue in their song of lament. Paisley on the billowing curtains; lattice shadows on her blameless face. An unseen orchestra.
This scene was never shot, but does that matter? It matches a diagram in your head—in our collective head. We recognise all the elements in this romantic impasto. We’ve seen that paper moon a gazillion times, attained a state of bionic senility. Point a cursor and click on the diagram, and a medley of sounds too picks up from some corner of the brain. They strangely match our phantom set-piece—so flavoursome despite its bare economy. We could even swear we know the lyrics—give me a minute, it’s at the tip of my tongue. Even a false cue automatically opens up a folder—the Fifties, C:\MyMusic\ Bollywood\50s.
Vast mountains of para-real, audio-visual stock are stored up in each of us, permanently burned onto our memory cells. Whether the point of reference for your kind of film music is C.H. Atma or Trickbaby—or anything else from the half-a-century of pauseless music-making that intervened—you’ll have your Top 10 and Top 100, neatly catalogued. The rest is mnemonic debris, sheer inorganic waste floating in mindspace. It lies dormant till that accursed song floats up from the transistor on the migrant labourer’s shoulder, the family playing antakshari in the park...Hai Hukku Hai Hukku Hai Hai!
Call it passion or pathology, the film song is so basic to our landscape—like neem, or pepper, or cows on the roads—that we’re liable to not notice that it’s a special kind of artefact. Uniquely Indian, found in all its climatic zones, warm-blooded but immune to the snow. A supremely adaptive beast, it has segued well across time too: we have online antaksharis, Pallo Latke ringtones available for download, and a certain search engine called Yahoo! The film song is part of our suspended particulate matter. It’s in the air. At the water park. At the barbershop, on the ghettoblasters, all over TV. It’s the chewing gum that never leaves us.
We know all its visual cliches. The party dude at the grand piano, city girls cycling to a picnic, the Shakin’ Stevens in his open-top convertible, urchins, fakirs, sundry nobodies. We also parse it by its logical type. Like the declarative song that sets up a character—‘I am...’, and fill up the blanks (Awara, Jhumroo, Dus Numbri, Don, Aflatoon, Chameli, or whoever) All this trivia serves no tangible aesthetic function. It’s a shared database of no use except that it is shared—a zone of overlap in the experience of millions who will never know each other. It makes us all participants in a common pop history, with or without our consent. The old puritanical avoidance of films for its ‘low culture’, or the cultivated dislike of the convent-bred, they’re no immunity against the ocean washing up on your front porch. There are no draft dodgers here.
So much power. By what decree did it colonise the whole landscape of sound? That too in a country of a million songs of the earth, such richness of rhythm and tone? At its root, for a people who had lost patience for all that is archaic, it came as a technology that produces newness. This function is constant in each of its time-zones; only the aspect changes. It occupies a new habitat, a temperate flatland that shuns anything too ‘arty’, anything that bears the vestiges of ‘vulgar’ folk culture. Not abstaining, but coopting—it extends its body to ingest anything it fancies.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Singing Shillong

Caught In A Time Warp Soutik Biswas The Times of India Saturday, June 17, 2006
On a balmy Friday night in Shillong, Tipriti Kharbangar and her band Soulmate are belting out gut-wrenching blues in a cavernous pub called Cloud Nine. "The blues is my teacher/ The blues is my friend/ The blues never hurts me/ It just heals me in the end", sings Tipriti, as her mates plunge into a gritty sound. The audience is a mix of the young and old who have paid Rs 200 each to go in and listen to blues and fusion acts like Soulmate and Mermaid, a grungy girl band playing out lead singer Gweneth Mawlong's angst-ridden takes on life and times, alternated with her mate Lolly's sedate guitar licks.
Shillong is a place where the music stopped - in no other city in India possibly do rock and roll, blues and country music rule so strongly. Even hard metal, really. There are almost no DJs scratching records and playing hip-hop, and there are no 50 Cent and Snoop Dog clones. It's also a place where people take to the floor listening to peppier 12-bar blues. Where a politician and ex-minister is an ace blues harp player. The once-pretty hill town is also home to ageing Elvis Presley imitators, and two music festivals to celebrate the music of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.
Fifty-nine-year-old Lou Majaw with his flowing hair, skin-tight denim shorts, yellow socks, white sneakers and a giddy stage presence that is a mix of James Brown and Angus Young. He is Shillong's own Bob Dylan playing out the essential Dylan songbook without a break for the past three decades on the legend's birthday. Cabbies play Deep Purple and Jethro Tull on stereo as they weave in and out of diesel fume-spewing traffic, and muscled bikers roam around town in AC/DC T-shirts. The place teems with bands with names like Mojo, Meghalaya Love Project, The Honey Drippers, Euphonic Trance, Brain Damage - and yes, Jerk. And they all take their music seriously. Mermaid's Gweneth, locally called the 'poetess singer', writes doleful angsty lyrics. Soulmate's sassy singer Tipriti writes a lot of her own songs because covers can be such a bore. She says their music is sometimes even influenced by local Khasi tribal folk, but in the end all musical roads lead to the blues.
"When I listen to my local Khasi folk, it reminds me of the Mississippi delta blues", says Tipriti. When people are not singing the blues in Shillong, they are trying to imitate Elvis Presley. On a slate-grey afternoon recently, Felix Ranee is in mourning after losing his wife and nephew, but mention Elvis and his face brightens up and he breaks into an impromptu Elvis act, belting out Blue Suede Shoes with frenetic air guitaring and nifty pelvic thrusts and footwork. At 47, Felix is an unusual Elvis clone - he is short, squat and balding. He says his life changed after watching the singer's movie That's The Way It Is. He got himself Elvis suits, glasses and silver belts, and began singing his songs. And nothing else mattered to him after that, "nothing at all".
Then there's 61-year-old Shandaland Talang, who began worshipping Elvis ever since he read somewhere that the star "loved his mother, only later fell in love with his wife, and gave away charity to friends". The music of Bob Marley also hangs heavy over the cloudy town. So much so that a local fan Keith Wallang grew dreadlocks, read up Rastafarian texts, and decided that the reggae legend's music was better than his Rastaman vibrations and reed. So a decade back, Wallang launched a music festival on the reggae star's birthday on February 6 where three local bands participate regularly and a few thousand fans turn up at a farmside lake. "Marley speaks the truth", says Wallang.
It is difficult to pin down precise reasons but observers reckon Shillong, like most north-eastern states, got its bluesy musical groove thanks to a strong Christian missionary movement in the region, and a consequent affinity to western cultural mores. Many of the musicians cut their teeth in church choirs singing gospels - like Tipriti - and have a more limpid, honest approach to their words and music unlike the spoilt, flashy and unimaginative rock bands in mainline Indian cities. But for all their musi-cal virtuosity, Shillong's rockers simply cannot think of making a living off music.
Though there is an increasingly thriving rock music scene in India's main cities, Bollywood's stranglehold will mean that Indian rockers will always remain second- or even third-class citizens in the industry churning out retreads of western standards. But not all is lost. The world is beginning to take note of Shillong's love for music - some spotty international acts like Petra, Michael Learns to Rock, Firehouse and Air Supply have played in town. The local bands are getting invited to pubs and festivals outside the state. And hey, even musical time in Shillong may be beginning to crawl forward. Felix Ranee rues his children don't like their father doing the Elvis routine anymore. "They listen to hip-hop and rap". The times they are a changin'? The writer is deputy editor with BBC News site.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

To Live or Not to Live

In this context, what you think of Mishra's view on novels? Do you think that the mid-nineteenth century Flaubertian model that he recommends (and has himself used) works in this century, especially when exploring Indian realities? In these times of globalized powers, terrors and dissent, is it possible for the novelist to be a creature of ascetic calmness and dispassionate observation, an animal without an angle of vision? I have my doubts. Amit Chatterji, at 5:53 PM, June 12, 2006
Dear Amit -
There are many ways in which to go about writing novels, and the model you speak about is still, to my mind, a perfectly worthy ideal, even if replete with all kinds of ifficulties. I don't see at all why it should be unsuited to dealing with Indian realities - in fact, just think of how swampy and stifling our middle-class life is, and how interesting an Indian *Madame Bovary*, written with close attention to the life of a couple in, say, Kota or Ghaziabad would be, were it to be written by an Indian novelist today - office life and family life, the great many things swept under the carpet, complicated and confused attitudes towards sex and the body, the taking of a vacation in Shimla, visits from relatives, letters from an old flame. It would be great.
The kind of observation you are speaking of as possibly being outdated, although you find good, rich words for it, is really not as ascetic and dispassionate as you think - even that has a kind of ferocity and ardour to it, a hunger for detail. It is so subtle as to seem without an angle of vision, which is of course much harder to do than write from a clear point of view - in fact there is a kind of wonder in it when it is successfully brought off. Chandrahas, at 8:17 PM, June 12, 2006

Participating in the writing process

Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” remains an all-time favorite with me: the shock of the first line (“When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug”) followed by a languorous opening of several long paragraphs in which the body of the cockroach battles fiercely with the soul of a traveling salesman. It can’t get better than this, just in terms of “bursting” into a story, turning our world topsy-turvy, then relaxing and teasing out the implications of the opening line. When I read “The Metamorphosis,” I find myself participating in the writing process.
I’ve learned much from Nadine Gordimer on how to control narrative distance—you know, move away to provide a larger, omniscient picture, then zoom in on an individual character’s intimate feelings and thoughts. William Trevor is a writer whose technique I admire the most, but feel as if it’ll take me a couple of lifetimes to master what he does: provide a startlingly visual picture for the reader without compromising psychological accuracy. His compassion for his characters, even the “baddest” ones, seeps through the gaps between the words, and I’m in awe of it. “The Potato Dealer” from his collection After Rain is a good example of this. Simultaneously, we experience three characters’ point of view, and Trevor manages to make us feel for all of them. Chandrahas, 1:02 AM permalink (6) comments

Aesthetic pleasure and intellectual nourishment

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 A year of the Middle Stage
Today it is a year since I began blogging about literature - about other things too, but mostly about literature - at the Middle Stage...A blog is like a generous editor - it allows you to do whatever you want to do in the hope that you will do it well. I find I can write here about two areas of my interest, poetry and classical literature, when nobody wants a piece on any of these things for a newspaper. There are no restrictions on space - although I try not to misuse this by being verbose or imprecise. And I'm not limited to current books - I can write about whatever I want, and one of the things I like doing best is bringing the work of little-known or neglected authors to light.
There have been some debates in the Indian blogosphere recently - it is a good thing that there are these debates, and that the quality of debate here is better than in Indian newspapers - about what reviewing and writing about literature, about what work they should properly do and how they should go about it. But I must confess that, reading these opinions, I cannot agree with any one of them. The sentiments expressed here are not the sentiments that animate me.
I think of my work as a form of love. It is a way of sharing out with people books that have given me aesthetic pleasure and intellectual nourishment. When I write about current books I try to judge those by the highest standards. Nevertheless I get some kind of pleasure or the other out of most books. I try not to be cutting about low-quality or middle-grade writing, because after all each one can only do the work he or she is capable of doing, and often poor work is the stepping stone to better work. It is only with what I consider to be dishonest or wilfully mendacious work that I feel harsh. I take my work seriously, and ask also to be taken seriously and judged rigorously. I devote almost no time to thinking upon the subjective-objective questions raised recently. To my mind a good critic’s subjectivity is a kind of objectivity. Chandrahas, 1:31 PM email this to a friend permalink (27) comments