Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut

Art is an adventure. It is exploration.

As much of the lowest desires as the highest ideals. As much of vices as virtues. As much within as without.

Art is not for those who are afraid to see. Neither for those who are blind to anything that exists beside themselves.

Art is expression. Of everything human. How can you then deny yourself who you are? Unless you are uncomfortable with who you are…or who you can be…could have been.

It is only when you hate the part of you that Art depicts that you run away from it…the one who fears desire shies away from depictions of desire…the one with a closed mind shies away from depictions of liberalism…the conservative runs away from the radical…the hypocrite from ambivalence.

And yet, that does not change the fact that you are capable of all this and more…the ability to commit the seven sins as also to achieve great things. To deny any of it is to deny being human in completeness. And an incomplete man can seldom create art that is complete in feeling. 

‘…because I have felt these things…my lust, my greed, my hatred…my happiness…’

Art is not for mortals who stand on God’s pedestal and look down. On other mortals. With contempt. For being complete.

Art is not for frogs in the well. And here, I find myself thinking of this essay – On Eye-Opening Art – from Alain De Botton’s Art Of Travel.

Eye Opening Art…

To present only palatable art to the observer is like letting your child eat only potato wafers…he has no taste for anything else. It doesn’t do any good to exclude the unpopular broccoli from his diet. Unfortunately, what’s good for his health is not always pleasant and palatable. You have to teach him to appreciate the food he doesn’t like. And then introduce him to cuisines never tasted.

Expand his horizons.

To present only palatable art to the observer is to malnourish. Wouldn’t you rather present art without Maoist censure and cultivate a more tolerant society than to present mashed potatoes with salt, play it safe and encourage intolerance?

It has always been the adventurers who have charted new course. Not Mr. Play-It-Safe who wouldn’t leave home because the sky looked cloudy. The way Marco Polo chronicled his journey or Columbus told his tale, the way Da Gama spread word of the new coast he conquered, it is in the same way that those of us who have had the opportunity to explore new shores of Art, who have charted new course and conquered new territory in the mind, must educate the rest of us, open their eyes and take them along.

Else you end up with a agoraphobic lot that hyperventilates every time it sees something new and outside of its comfort zone…content to be confined to what it has always known…and marking that as the be all…the end all…and worst of all, looking down on the maverick who challenges its safe existence and seeks adventure.

It is these people that look at the world with eyes wide shut and call themselves the saviours of morality.

May art open their eyes. And their mind.

If it can.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review: March 2010

March was disparate reading. Three genres, three worlds. A Newsroom, an advertising agency and Central Asia. Feels nice : )

The books being reviewed this month are:
  1. Stilettos In The Newsroom by Rashmi Kumar
  2. Welcome To Advertising, Now Get Lost by Omkar Sane
  3. In Xanadu by William Dalrymple

Stilettos In The Newsroom
Rashmi Kumar

So I wanted to know more about how Newspapers/News Channels work. The blurb of this book looked inviting…It’s about what life is, being a journalist and not being one through the eyes of a twenty-eight year old journalist…and so I picked it up.


But this book is far from the ‘real chronicler of events’ that it claims to be. It is chick-lit. And bad chick-lit at that. I can’t even begin to describe how bad a book can get but this might give you an idea – two chapters have got swapped and the book went into print. The narrator talks about getting married in chapter 25 and about being proposed for marriage in chapter 26. I went back to the book to reconfirm I wasn’t missing something fundamental…it’s always proposal and then marriage right? Right…the chapters have definitely got swapped.

Now I am more interested in knowing what happens inside Publishing Houses more than newsrooms. How does a blunder like this come into effect? Just how?

More than the blunder, which most people can just get around by reading the 25th chapter again after the 26th, it is the quality of the writing itself that is questionable. It is a rulebook apparently…every chapter ends with a rule. Something the narrator has learned during the incident being narrated. Some of them are downright cheesy. Sample this: Journalism rule number 18: don’t be guilty about kissing asses. And that ought to pretty much give you a feel of what the book is about.

The story begine in Poona but there is Delhi involved as is it’s upper class of the society. There is office politics. There is the regular office guy who hits on the narrator. There is the girl friend who acts as the friend, philosopher, guide. What exactly in this book is new?  Zilch. Some people have done wonders with this combination of factors (Everything Happens For A Reason by Kavita Daswani anyone?) There is chick lit that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling once you close the book. But this book is an utter waste in the genre. It’s like a lovely-looking cake and then having the cake pasted all over your face rather than getting to eat it. It’s wasted and you can’t taste it.

Not recommended at all.

Welcome To Advertising, Now Get Lost
Omkar Sane

I am glad Omkar Sane left Advertising and became a writer (I hope that is what he will stick to at least). He has been gifted with the ability to write hilarious stuff that is most unassuming. Now that I think about it I have found an analogy for his kind of writing. It’s like stand up comedy. The comedian keeps a straight face like he is stating the most mundane fact on planet earth. The audience has sides splitting with laughter. Yes, that’s exactly how this book is. Come to think of it, Omkar will make a good stand up comedian…I have a feeling. (I say Omkar and not Omkar Sane because the boy was born in 1984 and that makes him my absolute contemporary. I think it’s ok to take that liberty)


This is a funny book that is like the warning board that says ‘Hard Hat Area’ outside construction sites. You still have to walk in to get work done but you’re better prepared. For anybody already working in advertising or considering a career in advertising, this book is a must read. For others, people stressed by the traffic jam on the way back from work, people getting stressed over who did or didn’t make it to the IPL semi-finals, people stressed in general, this book is a must read too. It will give you a good laugh and the beautifully done up pages that introduce every chapter will refresh your mundane-infested eyes.

What is beautiful about the book is that somewhere Omkar is stating facts. He is ripping (Indian) advertising apart but he hasn’t deviated from the truth too much. He gives you a good insight into that world while also twisting the truth to make a joke out of it. And that is where Stilettos In The Newsroom needs to learn from it…how to tell the truth (when you claim to in your blurb) and still make a great book out of it. For that and for being so hilarious, I respect Welcome To Advertising as also Omkar Sane. I wish he writes more. And I wish at least some of you read the book and enjoy it.

Loved this one!

In Xanadu
William Dalrymple

A delightfully written travelogue that has me longing to go to central Asia and the countries around. A story of adventure, of rediscovery and of peoples. A beautiful book.

In Xanadu has William Dalrymple take the same route as Marco Polo did centuries ago to reach the court of Kubla Khan all the way from Jerusalem with a phial of oil from the Holy Land. The journey covers countries like Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Western China and is a story well-told. Truly, the way he has narrated his story invokes a desire to see in person what he is describing. And there itself, I feel, In Xanadu becomes a piece of literary splendour. I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it!


Not much else to say about this book except that you should read it. Very different from Dalrymple’s purely historical writings; the personal angle certainly makes a lot of difference. It is an adventure that brings forth the power of human grit and goodness at the same time. It’s a visit to the past that will delight any student of history and cultures. Enough said. Highly recommended.