Sunday, May 27, 2012



It is not everyday that I have a good laugh in the morning after reading the morning newspapers, but today I did have one and a hearty one at that. The saturday edition of the Chennai Times on page seven carried an article with the headlines ‘Now, there is Invisible art’. I showed it to my daughter and her instant reaction was “oh! like the Emperor’s new clothes”. My God, how true!

“It actually looks like the gallery just got robbed, but don’t get taken in by that. Empty sculpture stands and canvasses are the main attractions of a new genre of art that’s there by not being there – and it’s called Invisible art! And it’s shaking up the culture world for sure.”

I am not an art critic or an intellectual who can decipher something out of nothing. My first reaction was “what a whole lot of crap!”. Then I sat down to digest what was written and found immense possibilities for lesser mortals like me. Immediately I imagined myself giving a musical performance on stage with an imaginary flute playing imaginary music, a music that was not there, but is there. You cannot call it a mime because a mime does convey a message through the movements representing a concrete event. How will you interpret whether I am playing raag Bagesri or raag Yaman. Of course I leave it to your imagination and you have the liberty to imagine whichever raag pleases you. Wonderful is’nt it? And wow! I get paid for it, and all I have to know is how a flute is to be held while playing it, or maybe even that is not necessary, I can just make an announvement that it is a flute recital. Imagine how Hariprasad Chaurasia would feel, he may have to reinvent his whole repertoire.

It gave me some pleasure to read the reaction of the Indian art fraternity, I sounded credible enough in my views to see their description of this as “an eggless egg curry” and who will buy these things they cannot see”.
You see they were speaking for the Indian Art scene. But consider this, “Come June, a stark white canvas will be displayed at the Hayward Gallery in London in a first- of- its- kind show that explores invisibility and emptiness. And its not cheap either, as invisible art is said to fetch upto US$10,000”. Also its director is quoted as having said that “it leaves so much to your imagination. There is a lot of invisible art out there, there is a lot of art you’re never going to see”. My God you are never going to see what you want to see, so how does it matter so long as you pay for the experience.

But it was what an Indian Art curator is reported to have said that really made me hit the ceiling, with laughter of course, he called it as an amalgamation of science and imagination “Its about an art work. We definitely need galleries and museums of the future, after all we have so many brilliant artists. Its high time India had a space to show Invisible art.” He is also reported to have said that it is about paying respect, he adds that taste cannot be taught and that we need more awareness on this subject. You see I can understand, he was just doing his job.

If I may borrow an analogy something I have heard in the past and which was quoted by my wife when I showed her this article was – a person was staring at a blank canvas wondering why there was nothing on the canvas, the artist who was standing next to him explained to him that it was the painting of a cow eating grass. When asked where was the grass he replied that it had been eaten by the cow, and where was the cow, it had gone away after eating the grass. Wonderful, need I say anything further.

You see, I of course am an ignoramus on this subject and so I say things as they come to my mind. I do not weigh the pros and cons. But I understand what a con means. For me art is from the heart and not from the mind. I still belong to the old school and am still overwhelmed by the old masters.

Hegel in his ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ says that the understanding of any aspect of human life must be concerned with its history, its evolution, its genesis, or its roots, rather than with the empirical observation. So also art is an offshoot of the evolution of the human mind, which has passed various stages in the history of mankind. So we see the development from the prehistoric to Renaissance, Classicism, Realism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism to Modernism and various movements. If one follows their development, one can see the themes varying from the  religious to forms of intense self expression moving away from the biblical, to representations of nature in all its glory, to subjective impressions, to distortion of reality to enhance the emotional effect. Of course art has now become so subjective that it is difficult to comprehend what the artist is conveying.

Subjective representation can be very powerful as can be seen from the expressionistic paintings of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. The distorted realities of Picasso or the symbolic paintings of surrealist painters like Salvador Dali. With the advent of modernism the subjectivity becomes so intense that it is in a sense incomprehensible at least to me. Though I cannot understand the paintings of the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, I saw the movie ‘Pollock’ starring Ed Harris and liked it. He brings out the neurotic behaviour of the artist so well that one can feel this neurosis on the canvas. One can at least discern a pattern and understand the artist.

So where does this take us. We have a new art movement and maybe we can call it ‘Invisibilism’. This explores invisibility and emptiness or is it nothingness, Sartre must be  turning in his grave.

Finally I am reminded of what Van Gogh said, "And my aim in my life is to make pictures and drawings, as many and as well as I can; then, at the end of my life, I hope to pass away, looking back with love and tender regret, and thinking, 'Oh, the pictures I might have made!". We may have to modify that and with due apologies to Van Gogh say “ oh! why did I have to undergo all this agony of painting all these pictures, I could have left blank canvasses instead.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012



Why am I writing an obituary about a boy who I have never known or met? Today when I sat down to read the newspaper in the morning, the first thing that really struck me, (after all the newspapers do not carry anything new, you can predict what it is going to be like since you have already seen the TV channels) was the headline which read ‘Boy behind the Terry Fox Run Dead’. Then I recollected that my daughter had often talked about him, and how he had organised the Terry Fox run at IIT Madras. He had joined the Biotechnology Department at IIT department not as a regular student but more like an intern in the Cancer Biology Section where my daughter is doing her Phd. This was facilitated for him by IIT as he was undergoing treatment at Chennai for Cancer and was eager to know and contribute to the cause. He was very young, only eighteen but was a quick and eager learner. It was when he was undergoing treatment at Chennai, he first organised the Terry Fox run in the IIT, a six kilometre walk inside the  campus, with the help of the authorities.

Who was Terry Fox? I looked up the Wikipedia and I reproduce what is written there, here below -

Terrance Stanley "Terry" Fox CC OD, (July 28, 1958 – June 28, 1981) was a Canadian humanitarian, athlete, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi), and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over C$500 million has been raised in his name.”

When he went to the US after the treatment here, he joined as a freshman at Stanford University. He was present here whenever the Terry Fox run was organised, three consecutive years from 2009. He was hopeful of returning again as he was responding to the treatment well. He was suffering from Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His cancer relapsed in December 2011 and as per the newspaper reports he fought long and hard for five months before he was overcome by the disease. It appears he had told his doctors that if he was going down he would go down fighting and volunteered to be put on a trial drug. He put up a heroic fight right till the end in the face of extreme agony.

Terry Fox was twenty three when he died, Akash was only twenty. He had drawn inspiration from Terry Fox in his fight against Cancer. The runs organised by him collected about Rs. 50 lakhs which was donated for Cancer Research to the Tata Memorial Cancer Centre in Mumbai. One is reminded of other exceptional people Randy Pausch, who in his ‘Last Lecture talks about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment, because time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think.’

Akash was no exception. We can only marvel at the tremendous maturity that he had achieved, that to by the age of twenty and could stare death in the face and say I am not afraid. He had lived an authentic life. I was told by my daughter that he used to undergo the chemo session at the hospital in the morning and come to the lab in the afternoon. The physically taxing chemo sessions did not come in the way of his commitment to his work. My daughter says that despite him being very much younger than all the people in her lab, they learnt the value of life and the strength and commitment that is required in cancer research. He would remain a source of inspiration to all of them.

It was necessary for me write down all of this and now I feel I know him despite having never met him. He represents the indomitable nature of the human spirit. How I wish that we can make our life as authentic as his. May be we are too comfortable in our situations.

Akash had the tremendous support and love of his parents and his brother in his endeavours. They would miss him immensely but I am sure they will embark on the path he has shown them and continue to translate his dreams to reality.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.


Sunday, May 13, 2012


The Cage

This is my world,
That’s all I know,
As I sit on my perch,
I have stopped to grow.

I count the bars,
As I sit inside,
Wondering about
The world outside.

I see all the people,
Staring at me,
As if I were a toy,
They had come to see.

They have only known,
Their world outside,
Never stopped to wonder,
What lies inside.

I am waiting for the day,
When the door is left ajar,
Then I will fly away,
Far, far and far.

Monday, May 7, 2012



One of the more memorable events during my visit to the United States this time was a visit to the History Museum at Saint Louis. Though the museum itself is not very big, what made it eventful as I would call it, was  an exhibition of photographs by Michael Nye and the subject of his photography was ‘Hunger and Resilience’. Michael Nye lives in downtown San Antonio and practiced law for 10 years before pursuing photography full time.

As I walked into the exhibition, a dimly lit gallery, with spotlights on each of the fifty portraits there, greeted me. To each portrait was attached a headphone. I saw people, some sitting on the seats in the middle of the hall gazing at the photographs, while there were others standing in front of the portraits with the headphones on. All of them seemed to have been transported to another world, from the contemplative looks on their faces. A sombre mood prevailed in the entire room. No one talked. I walked around looking at the photographs and was struck by the intensity of the faces captured. I never really knew what was going on in those headphones, till I decided to try one of them. I stood in front of one particular portrait for it had caught my attention as soon as I had entered. I am reproducing here the photo of the photographs taken by me. As I put on the headphones and listened, I was immediately struck by the deep voice that narrated the story of Mathew and his struggle to overcome the pangs of hunger and the lessons he had learnt in his fight for survival. The voice was of Mathew himself.

For nearly five years, Michael Nye has been listening and asking questions about hunger. Why does it happen? What can we learn from them? The fifty portraits and audio stories reveal the courage and fragility of those individuals who have experienced hunger. These voices and images draw you closer into their lives. Each face, each voice invites you to listen. Nye doesn't reveal their full names to preserve their anonymity.

What still sticks to my mind, after Mathew’s narration as to how he had gone hungry for days on end and how he had to struggle to overcome it and the lessons he had learnt in the process, was one statement of his “Humour can come out only out of Humility”. When you look at the photograph, you see those piercing eyes as if they are boring through your head. There is so much intensity, so much passion to live, that you are humbled by the resilience of the human spirit. I spoke of Mathew because that was the first photograph I looked at. There were others equally intense each with his or her own story. I did go through some others also but the time was short as each audio runs for about five minutes. But it was enough to give me a glimpse of the work that Nye has done. I did plan to go there again but did not have the time as I was to leave back home to India the same week.

It is only when one is passionate about something does one create great works. What Nye has done through his exhibition is to reiterate the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Tragedy need not break it as we can see and hear the transformative process that each of those individuals has undergone. This exhibition is about the experience of hunger and the desire to live.

In Michael Nye’s own words “Listening is another way of seeing. It has been a privilege to have these passionate conversations. It has changed me. I tried to honour each story by being faithful to its spirit and the way it was spoken. Hunger is an issue of human rights. Everyone has the right to be heard, to be listened to, and to receive help when hungry. Once you start listening, you find that it's really about ourselves," Nye says. "That it's not about those people, but it's about humanity."

Kathy, a homeless mother, in her recording at the exhibition says, "How do you explain to a 2-year-old or 4-year-old there's nothing to eat? All they know is that they're hungry. And the pain in their stomach. And you try to sit there and say, 'Honey, I'm sorry. I don't have anything to cook you. I don't have nothing to give you. I have nothing.”

There are many other such stories narrated as one moves from portrait to portrait. But what was most striking was the intensity in the eyes of all the subjects. I could not detect a shade of self pity on their faces, even though while hearing the audio one could detect the agony that they had undergone, in their voices. Some were born hungry, some had experienced hunger at some point in their lives, but they had come through it all.

What is it to experience hunger?