Saturday, July 21, 2007

T h e P r i m a l R i g h t

Jimmy is drunk. He is been to the annual bacchanalia that happens in the local forest, in the name of remembering a certain sum of soldiers who died there during the war. A couple of bands perform guitar music to a crowd of jolly juveniles, who come there with the sole intent of having a good time. Apart from setting the crowd in spirit, this music disturbs the annual mating season of the marmots which live in those woods. Well, a couple of marmots going without sex does not weigh too much of a sacrifice as against those soldiers who died fighting the Nazis. Does it ? And ofcourse, there shall be no shortage within the crowd to pick up on that job of having sex, which the marmots have left unfinished.

Jimmy is drunk. He is already begining to see inanimate things do swing-dancing. Everything seems to have been jazzed up. The general size of the women's breasts seems to have gotten much bigger. He can hear his friends shouting his name, as they continue to deeper glories of alcoholism. Jimmy decides to take a stroll. He needs to ponder about the general outlook of his life in the safe precincts of numbed down mental powers, which otherwise would scare him off the above pursuit.

He finds a cosy tree away from din of the crowd, sets himself down, and commences the process of ruminating. He looks at his life, his job, his prospects in the near future, his personal life - everything seems glossy and gleaming. With a huge smile pasted on his face, he falls asleep.

In the middle of his slumber, he gets woken up by a loud conversation.

"So, you think he will get past his next birthday ?"

"Well, it is unlikely, but there is always a sliver of chance. You see, this chap Jimmy is born an idiot. He may not realize that he always has the right."

"Yes ofcourse. The primal right. But, two more years, that's what I will give him."

"Not even that, what does his life offer him ? An unending slew of disappointment, rejection, confusion. More disappointment. It is surprising how he still has not gotten to see the truth."

"Yes, the truth, that the whole world is just a pretence. That it is just an elaborate theater set up so that we can look at his misfortunes, laugh at them, and get our share of fun."

Jimmy is alarmed. He opens his eyes and sees two shadowy figures clad in black cloaks, standing next to the tree. It is their voices that have woken him up. He cannot see his friends or the rest of the partying crowd. He must have walked quite deep into the woods.

Suddenly, one of the cloaked figures turns towards him.

"Can't you see Jimmy ? Your life is just for us, a piece of entertainment. Nothing in this world actually exists. You are just being fooled by us, and how well you are being fooled."

Jimmy lowers his eyelids in terror, lest the two figures see that he is awake.

"Haven't you seen the game Jimmy - where they use bloodthirsty hounds to chase the rabbits. The silly rabbit runs maniacally, never wondering why it is getting chased, may be it is for somebody's pleasure. It never knows. Hasn't it ever occured to you Jimmy, that you are probably participating in a similar game yourself ?"

"Ahh. Let's leave it at that. This chap Jimmy is dumb to his bone. He will not realize, for example, that he will never find a girl that truly loves him."

"That is part of the script. Isn't it ?", chuckles the other figure.

"Yes. He is like a stale vegetable in a vegetable market. The one that always gets picked up by the customers, only to be tossed down with a deep scorn. The kind of vegetable that finally ends up in the trash."

"And he will never get true appreciation for anything."

"Poor Jimmy, he will never learn how to dance, he keeps trying, only to produce jeering laughs from everyone around."

"He will never play any sport properly. His friends keep him only because they are short of a person. They hate him and make jokes about him behind his back. ".

"He doesn't realize that his life is a big joke by itself."

"If only he can realize that he can end it all. That he can pull the plug."

"That is his primal right, isn't it ? The right that comes automatically for every creature. He doesn't realize it."

"No, but we have also kept too many hurdles behind that. He has to think about his family. He has to think about what hopes they have kept in him, only to be constantly depressed about how he is letting them down."

"Yes, he cannot pull the plug, but he so wants to. Oh Jimmy, but this is your primal right". The figure bends over Jimmy. It keeps its hands around his cheeks as if caressing him.

Jimmy feels himself getting asphyxiated. In silent horror, he sees his blood dripping away from his brain.

"Keep struggling Jimmy, I can see you are awake, but it is too late by now. You will soon be out of this misery. Let me handle you gently. "

Jimmy tries to shout, but he can hardly open his mouth.

After what seems like an eternity, he suddenly manages to spring to his feet.

"Hey listen, this is Jimmy, speaking for myself. I know about the primal right, but it is not about pulling the plug. It is not that obvious. It is the right to see and the right to speak. That is my fucking primal right. You cannot deny it from myself. I will live to see, and I will live to speak. "

Jimmy is staring into the wide eyes of his friends. It is bright sunlight now, and he is standing outside their tent. They are looking at him like he is the devil.

"What the devil, Jimmy ? What the hell are you talking about ?"

Jimmy looks back into the woods, "I was sitting under a tree, somewhere beyond those woods over there. I had a real bad nightmare, I cannot understand how I walked down here all by myself."

One of his friends says, "There are some strange woods down here, I heard that some of the trees discharge hallucinational substances at night, which get washed down by the dew. You look quite crazy Jimmy. Those bloody eyes look like they are ready to pop out any minute. Come in here, have a sip of water. "

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I n t e r a c t i v i t y I n A r t

Why does India continue to miss its renaissance ? What does one mean by renaissance, anyway ? It is the time when a culture discovers a new dimension of growth, and explodes into it. This kind of cultural explosion would become unmatchable to any other place in contemporary times. As the European renaissance demonstrates, this process is literally something which makes a center-of-the-world phenomenon. India has frankly not seen such a process.

Making renaissance happen in India does not mean to mimic the elements of European renaissance. That would achieve nothing. What should instead happen is the discovery of a completely new dimension, something which is till that moment unknown to the world. An apt example would be John Sebastian Bach's discovery of counterpoint in music. Till that point, western music did not have a great element of harmony in its compositions. But after this, the theory of music changed course completely.

So, what is it that needs to be discovered now ?

In this post, I will try to point to one specific direction which could possibly lead to a discovery. That direction is that of more interactivity in art.

To make my point clear, I will specify three levels of interactivity that exist in art.

The first level which is the least interactive - is to consider art as a form of personal self discovery. There is only one party dealing with art here, and that would be the artist himself. His art is a process of talking to himself - raising questions and discovering answers. Most often, the artist looks at this process as holding the conversation with not himself, but with God. But Indian philosophy (Adwaita) considers both of these views to be identical.

The second level is to consider art as a form of performance. There are two parties dealing with art here - the artist and the audience. The art-form is created by consciously keeping the audience in mind. This can be considered as the equivalent of the artist cooking a meal for the audience. Without the audience, the art-form would not have any meaning.

The third level which is the most interactive - is to consider art as a form of sport. There are two (or more) parties involved here - and all of them are artists. The art-form is created purely for the sake of having fun together. Art has a socializing value here, and the notion of fun is defined accordingly.

Art created at all these levels can produce delight to the beholder. Though Thyagaraja (18th century musician) did not have Kiran (me) in his mind during his compositions, his art indeed produces a great delight to the second party.

Given its reputation for being a warm culture with very few socializing barriers, we expect India to have more art-forms in the third level. But the opposite is the case.

Indian Music : Strictly falls at the first level in India. This has been for historical reasons. Great saints and philosophers (like Thyagaraja) turned to music as a form of worshipping God, and have produced real gems of music. The later generations have followed their example. Due to the extremely personal nature of the art-form, Indian music tends to be very solitary. The notion of multiple instruments is practically absent in the Indian musical tradition. Consequently, Indian music does not exhibit harmony. There is a high element of improvisation in music which corresponds to the personal element.

In contrast, European music has historically been considered at the second-level. The notion of a concert hall and performance to a seated audience were crucial aspects in the development of European Renaissance music. Consequently, the music exhibits grandiose harmony. I do not intend to say that European musicians didn't have a personal element to their compositions. One of the most popular works of Bach "Mathew's Passion" is considered to be a deeply devotional/personal offering. But the nature of the composition, by itself, is at second-level. It is written for a huge orchestra. This feature is a significant element in western music.

After the advent of cinema, Indian music has started to experiment with the second-level. Unsurprisingly, this has necessitated a huge borrowing from the theory of western music. Marrying Indian raagas to the western theory of harmony is a hard task, but offers a huge potential for cultural explosion and renaissance. The best musicians of India (Ilayaraja, Rahman etc) have indeed been those well versed in western music. Though the barriers have not been breached yet (several mathematical problems remain), Indian popular music is set forward to bridging this gap. But several of the best brains in Indian classical music tend to shy away from the notion of thinking of music at the second-level. Consequently, Indian music keeps missing its renaissance. As a medicine, I propose the musicians to create musical operas based on the stories of Indian mythology. Why not an opera based on the story of Eklavya ? Would it interest Bhimsen Joshi, or Balamurali Krishna ??

Indian Dance : Has historically been considered as a performance, thus at the second-level. Most of the classical dance forms have been patronized in the courts of the Maharajahs. They ended up being elaborate performances requiring great skill.

In contrast, European dance has primarily been considered at the third-level, as a form of socializing. A vast majority of the dances exist just for the sake of giving pleasure to the dancers, usually a man and a woman. There are a few instances where dance is considered at the second-level (as in ballet), but the influence of the third-level is so huge that the dance-moves in the performance tend to draw from the more popular varieties. This tradition keeps alive to this day, and most of the invention in dance is done in this direction, for the dances of a couple.

Even in the era of the modern cinema, Indian dance has surprisingly kept to its second-level. Most of the moves in the dances shown in film are created by keeping the audience in mind. Even though it is a couple dancing on the screen in the wilderness of the mountains, they tend to dance as if they are on a stage. Several times, the actor dances alone on the screen to the applause of the audience. The cultural attitude of India would not change. Since dance has never been thought of at the third-level, Indians do not tend to understand the notion of a discotheque. It has not caught on well in India, as compared to Brazil or Japan, for example. As a medicine, I propose the great dancers of India to run discotheques, and organize events where they teach young adults to dance together. This direction offers a huge possibility of innovation in dance.

As an aside, there exist a few traditions of dance in the world which are considered at the first-level too, such as the whirling of the Sufi dervishes.

Indian literature :
Has traditionally been at the second-level. Just like in Greece, the bards of India have always been patronized to recite songs and poems. Great poets like Kalidas have written plays as their major works. This tradition has recently changed worldwide, due to the impersonal medium of the book. Here, the poet is at more liberty for personal exploration. Modern literature is turning rapidly into the first-level. The audience is usually ignored, unless in a few cases where the work of literature is a short story or a novel. As the spectrum shifts towards poetry, the audience is largely ignored in the current age. This may not be considered bad by many people, but there are several traditions which are dying out as literature becomes less interactive.

In fact, there exist several traditions in India where literature is even considered at the third-level. The Telugu tradition of Ashtaavadhaanam and the Urdu tradition of Qawwaali immediately come to mind. As the current era of poets keep themselves busy publishing books for a certain faceless reader, the human element of literature is slowly disappearing.

As a medicine, I encourage all writers to use the online media such as blogs and discussion forums, to rejuvenate these dying forms of literary tradition. Such websites can indeed be patronized by readers/advertising if the quality of the contents makes it worth. This kind of patronizing has indeed turned into a reality today, due to the extraordinarily high ratio of engineers (people skilled in high-tech) amongst the richer sections of the Indian society.

Indian visual arts : The very same thing can be said about visual arts such as painting. These have traditionally been at the second-level, and the artists worked for adorning temples, palaces, mosques etc. But in the current age, these art forms are increasingly turning to the first-level. As a medicine, I encourage the visual artists to participate in the growing revolution of computer graphics and aid in the production of movies and computer games, thereby working at the second-level. This also provides greater opportunities of monetary compensation for the artists, apart from triggering new discoveries in the forms of art.

In conclusion : I encourage all artists to explore more interactivity in their art-forms. This is a very promising direction for realizing a renaissance in India.

Monday, May 21, 2007

P l a y i n g B l i n d

There was once a monkey, clutched to the branches of a tree, in the thick of a green rainforest, that sees an extraordinary thing. That its eyes blink.

It cannot believe what it sees. Because at that moment its gaze is transfixed to the ground, on the lookout for a leopard.Fear is what breathes life into every living creature. In this game for survival, every moment remains critical, vital. The punishment for laxity is quick and severe. There will be no looking back.

The monkey is petrified. It has experienced a moment of complete helplessness. It's a moment when a curtain falls before the eyes, dissolving reality into a whiff of smoke. It is only a moment, but a moment, before reality reappears before the eyes. As the cold golden eyes of a leopard, only closer.

Having survived that moment, the monkey is bothered with a greater fear. What's wrong with its eyes ! It closes them, it opens them again, trying to assert its control. It twitches its arm, wiggles its tail, squeaks with its mouth - all seeking some comfort. But the monkey is still bothered, there is a force, invisible, troubling it. What was wrong with its eyes !!

Again, it closes them slowly, this time for longer. It is dark, thick as a night. The monkey hears sounds - pleasant sounds, alarming sounds, sounds from afar, sounds from the deep. It can hear sounds from other monkeys in the herd. It has to get back to them. Can it get back to them, in the darkness ?

This is a game it has never played. The monkey opens its eyes. Everything is as it had been. No sight of the leopard anywhere close. The monkey closes its eyes again. The game is now on.

It feels for the grip of the branch with its arms. It moves along it slowly, carefully feeling the wood as it tapers gently into a tiny twig. The monkey knows what it has to do, it has done this thousands of times. The reflexes are stored deep down inside its body.

It jumps.

The ground gives way underneath its feet. Its fingers clutch gently against the vacuum. Then slowly, the ground reappears, firmly touching the feet. The feeling sinks in with a very strong smell. A smell the monkey has just felt. Just like the blinking of the eyes.

The monkey keeps moving across the branches. Then it jumps over to the ground, and starts walking on all fours, taking in the smell of the wet grass as it moves along. It comes across a tiny stream of water. It crosses it gingerly, feeling the ripples of the water across its legs. Its feet can touch the round pebbles on the surface. Where will the next step lead to ?

Its feet get onto the hard ground again. The monkey can now feel the sharp rays of the evening sun, tickling across its skin. There are sounds of birds, coming gently from a stationary point. There, is a tree.

The monkey feels for its trunk, and then starts climbing it. It moves across its branches. It can hear sounds of other monkeys nearby. They are close. It moves gingerly across the tree in that direction.

But it comes to an end. The monkey knows what it has to do.

It jumps, taking a strong plunge with its legs, manoeuvring its tail as a prehensile instrument. And slowly, it lands onto the firm branches of the next tree.

There are hurried cries from alarmed birds. The monkey moves forward. It feels instinctively for a fruit. There, it picks it up and puts it into its mouth.

The monkey opens its eyes. The fruit is delicious.

There are green leaves all around. Thin veins are running across each one of these leaves. Thin veins in yellow. Then, there are the birds. They have brilliantly colored feathers. Each one of these feathers is split into thousands of tiny little hairs. The monkey looks around - the earth is huge. The possibilities are endless.

It stands up on its hind legs. In the orange evening sun, it is standing erect, no longer blind.

Friday, May 18, 2007

S í t á y a n a

I have decided to publish a personal correspondence - just as a means to show how one can protest democratically against perceived defamation by an artist. One should not resort to arson, hooliganism or legislation to curb the freedom of speech of an artist. Art and culture require no patrolling of policemen. Instead, we should always remember the famous adage "Satyaméva Jayathé - truth always wins".

Here is my correspondence with Nina Paley, a brilliant illustrator from USA. She is the creator of Sitayana - a very cute comic on the story of Sita. I urge all of you to visit her website. My contention was against her portrayal of the character of Rama.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

O r p h a n s O f S a r a s w a t i

"Ambitame Sindhutame Devitame Saraswati"

The best of mothers, the best of rivers, the best of goddesses, Oh Saraswati.

This is how the Aryans addressed the mighty river that flowed through the green valleys of Rajasthan and Gujarat. As a result of tectonic plate shift, Saraswati lost its waters. The vedas are filled with hymns expressing the anguish of the Aryans at the loss of this river - their mother.

The bulk of the settlements of the majestic Harappan civilization were along the river bed of Saraswati. After they arrived, the Aryan people were as tremendously inspired by this great civilization as by the great river. Since it nurtured the civilization, the river Saraswati was equated with the very notion of culture.

Though now reduced to a tiny broken stream that dries up in the summer, the mighty Saraswati once flowed as the greatest of all rivers. But Saraswati would forever be preserved in the consciousness of India. She became the goddess of culture and learning. Vaagdevi (the goddess of speech) became another name for this river, because the ancient people knew about the equivalence of ideas and rivers.

The waters of the Saraswati got diverted to flow into the Sindhu and the Ganga, making them mightier than before. Sindhu in Sanskrit means river, and the people who lived by the banks of this mighty river are termed as Sindhu people. This got corrupted as Hindu by the Persians, and further got corrupted as Indians by the Greeks. Thus, Indians actually mean river people - the people who acknowledge the equivalence of rivers and ideas.

The other name for these people is Bhaarateeyas, meaning the people who live in the Bharata country (bharata means dazzlingly beautiful in Sanskrit). The knowledge goddess Saraswati earned another name Bhaarati (the one who is bharata - the one who is truly beautiful). Thus, the second name for the Indians - Bhaarateeyas means " the children of Saraswati ". Due to the equivalence of rivers and ideas, the two terms Indians and Bharateeyas become equivalent. The only other people who share a similar nomenclature were the Athenians who were named after Athena (the goddess of knowledge in Greek).

It is with this knowledge that I bemoan the current state of the Indian citizens. Just as the river Saraswati dried up turning lush green valleys into desert, the ethos of India is drying up turning it into a wasteland of cultural vacuum.

The mother Saraswati has been forsaken by the Indians and she has left them. Thus, Indians have become the Orphans of Saraswati. Does anybody have any craving for their mother (knowledge) anymore ? In the blind rote of religion, they have forsaken the very essence of Hindu thought.

God the omniscient is understood in terms of creation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva). Each of these forms are equally represented by their female equivalents - knowledge (Saraswati), beauty/wealth (Lakshmi) and energy (Shakti). Even though they have separate names, all these three forms are one and the same. That is the essence of God (Brahmaan). Call Him by any name you want - Yaahveh, Elohim or Allaah - He is essentially the Brahmaan. The very act of worshipping Brahmaan means invoking his wife, Saraswati / Vaagdevi. Every word that is spoken (vaak) is a form of worship to God. The highest form of worship is an act of genuine creativity. Thus, the dearest sons of Saraswati would be the very people who get the closest to God (Brahmaan).

One need not even believe in Brahmaan (God/truth), but one needs to believe in Saraswati (prayer/knowledge).

Such people are already on their way to salvation. The mumbo-jumbo about God is unnecessary. This mumbo-jumbo becomes all the more useless if the very belief in prayer (knowledge/beauty/energy) is lost. Such orphans of Saraswati do not even deserve to be called as Bharateeyas / Indians.

Such people seem to populate the very shores of the once mighty river Saraswati - in the state of Gujarat. Mr. Niraj Jain, a politician of the Bharateeya Janata Party and his goons have entered the campus of a university in Vadodara and beat up Mr. Chandra Mohan, an art student.

An artist is the best chosen son of Saraswati and his creations are the most sublime forms of prayer. Just because one thinks that this art is offensive to one's own misunderstood religion, one does not hold any rights to suppress the freedom of speech of an artist. But, the state of Gujarat seems to license such behavior. These people are no less than Raakshasas (filthy demons) who torment the sages who meditate in the forest.

Just like Sri Rama, who came to the rescue of these sages and drove away the demons, the youth of Gujarat need to wake up and offer themselves in service to the sages (artists).

But instead, they would rather shout angry slogans of "Jai Sriram Ji" and go butcher other human beings. These people are nothing less than Raakshasas. Seeing his name sullied like this in the Kali Yuga, Srirama is bemoaning his fate. He is questining sadly, "Oh Saraswati, why did you turn these people into orphans ?"

That is the feeling of every Indian who knows about his mother and his roots "Oh mother, why did you turn us into orphans ? Please come back and make green valleys out of these desert lands".

Like Bhageeratha, who convinced the Shiva to let go of the Ganga and let it flow on the earth, we need Parama Bhageerathas who could bring the Saraswati down onto this orphaned land, and let it flow once again like the mighty river it used to be.


Friday, April 27, 2007

R i v e r S p e e c h C o n g r u e n c e

"Acharya, what is the purpose of life ?", asks Jaya with his hands folded before Dheesara, the chieftian of the city of Vaishali.

"You need patience, Jaya.", curtly replies Dheesara.

"I am thirsty for answers, Acharya. My entry into this world has been unwanted. I never knew my mother. I do not know the reason she left me for. I do not know if she has died immediately after she gave me birth, or if she is still alive at this very moment now. If I only knew, I would have asked her. All that my life presents me is a single question - why. I tried to learn patience. But if is of no avail. I am consumed by restlessness. Please help me Acharya. I am damned. Please show pity on me. And as a kind person offers a morcel of food for the starving, you offer me a tiny spark of knowledge.", implores Jaya.

"Jaya, you are more to me than a son. A father reserves neither the right nor the ability to force his thinking down his child. You should understand that these answers to your question will not come from me. You will find them yourself.", replies Dheesara with kind affection.

"When would I find the answer, Acharya ? "

"When you ask the right question, Jaya. You will find the answer immediately. My blessings for you will only be that you shall have the patience that is needed until you discover the right question."

"I am deeply afraid about that, Acharya. I am consumed by hate. I hate the stupidity of people around me. And I hate their cupidity. Of what purpose are these sacrifices, these sham religions that they follow ? Of what purpose is their blind drive for money ? Of what purpose is their cruelty to fellow human beings ? For that matter, of what purpose is love ? I know answers to none of them. Whenever I hate people, I only hate myself, because I am only their equal. The Bodhisattva has once said that a person consumed by hate would never find the answers. Please pray for me Acharya - for the blessings of the exalted one that I may find peace in my soul. "

Dheesara smiles at the young man before him. He then points to the mighty river flowing at the edge of the city. "O Jaya ! Look at the river Ganges flowing in front of us. Does it have a purpose ?"

"This river is born at the feet of the mountain Gangotri in the Himalayas. Only the mountain can tell us about the purpose of this river."

"You are wrong, Jaya. The mountain would indeed tell us the purpose of this river, if only it had been the true parent. But it is not. By crediting Gangotri to be the only parent of the Ganges, you will be ignoring the mountain Yamunotri which creates the river Yamuna that flows into the Ganges. You will also be discrediting the thousand little brooks that flow and build this mighty river up. Where are they born, my son, each one of these brooks ?"

"You are correct, Acharya. But all these tiny streams are born inside several places within the Himalaya. Surely, Himavan, the collection of these mountains, will know the answer as to what is the purpose of this river."

"Surely he would, Jaya, if only he is the true parent of this river. But he is not."

"What do you say, Acharya ?"

"It is the cloud that rains on these mountains, stocking up the lakes and the glaciers. Without this action of the cloud, the river would not have been born.", explains Dheesara.

Jaya gets to see the light of the argument. He says humbly, "O Acharya ! But neither is the cloud the true parent of the Ganges. Because he draws the water from the ocean through the action of the sun. It is the ocean who is the true parent of the Ganges."

"No Jaya, the ocean is no better than either the cloud or the mountain. The water in the ocean comes from every river flowing on top of the earth, as also through the continuous action of the clouds and the sun. So, the ocean would not be the true parent of the Ganges, and thus it would not have the answer to our question."

"Then, O Acharya ! Who is the true parent of the Ganges ? "

"That, my son, would be the Ganges herself. Along with every single river on earth. They are all children and parents of each other at the same time. Now, I will ask you the question - what is the purpose of each of these rivers ? "

"I do not know, O Acharya. Only the Ganges will know the answer to this question, she being a self-born. I will meditate before the Ganges and request the answer to this question."

"You will understand my message, Jaya, only when you understand the exact congruence between rivers and ideas. Ideas do not have an existence until they are spoken, neither do rivers until they start flowing. This principle is called the river-speech-congruence. Vahini (the word for a river) and vani (the word for speech) mean one and the same thing. The ancient people have understood this congruence and thus equated the river Saraswati with the very goddess of learning. As a conscious human being, you are no better than an idea. And the idea would not have an existence until it is spoken. "

"And that will be the time when I ask the right question ?"

"Yes Jaya, just as a river finds its form revealed when it falls as rain on the feet of a mountain, you will find yourself revealed when you ask the right questions. What you should not forget is that, as an idea, you are neither born nor will you die. You will meet every other idea, inspire them and be inspired by them. Just as the Ganges gets into contact with every other river through its waters, through the ocean and through the clouds, you will meet every other idea before you reveal yourself."

"Like the exalted Bodhisattva, a person who discovers the right questions will flow like the mighty Ganges. A person who does not, he will only be a tiny droplet of rain falling down the sky.", says Jaya and bows with respect before his Acharya.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

D e m o c r a c y O f A r t

On a Sunday, I walk into the center of town and see a middle-aged man playing accordion. It is a romantic instrument - the accordion. As he plays the music, joy wraps itself unconsciously around me. What a sunny day ! There could even be little fairies dancing here, hiding in the soft glow. I walk upto the man and drop in a euro in his tin on the ground. He smiles graciously. I feel elated.

Art is a divine message. It needs to be propagated for its own sake. By dropping a coin, did I have any claims to the music ? No, because art belongs to everybody. And yes, because it belongs to me too.

We are stepping into an epoch where the economic relations that bind the artist and the audience are going to be revolutionized. The pace of change that is happening now is extremely rapid, and it requires a complete overhauling of existing economic paradigms. However, the tidings of this change will not be music to many ears.

The corporations which will suffer immediately are the Times-Warner company (hollywood production house, owner of the CNN, the Times magazine etc), Virgin records, Paramount and the like. Most of the global media industry is in the hands of these few mega corporations which are currently facing nightmares on how to cope with this change. The truth is becoming increasingly clear - these mega-corporations do not hold a right to existence any longer. Irrespective of how much they try to distort the facts, or to fool the people, or to contort the markets (DRM), they stand to lose the battle with technology.

Elton John cursed in the middle of his New York concert that his recording label are a bunch of bastards. George Lucas almost gave up in despair when his script for Star Wars was rejected for 3 years consecutively by production houses. Kurt Cobain commited suicide when he was unable to cope with the marketization of his music. What do all these incidants have in common ? The servitude of art to the brokers of the industry,

What characterizes these companies ? They control the means of distribution between the producers (artists) and the consumers (audience). The trade that they specialize in is art. The phenomenal thing that happens to go unnoticed is that such a trade has never existed in the history of mankind, except in our own age spanning about 150 years. And it is going to end mercifully soon.

Trade has been the reason for prosperity ever since the dawn of civilization. Markets offer an efficient means of distribution for products (goods) and services. Every time a person purchases a product, he is effectively casting a vote about whether the product should survive. Thus, markets are an indispensible form of economic democracy.

The trouble with art is that it cannot be categorized into either as a product or as a service. Thus, it has never been part of the market in the conventional sense.

So, how did the artists of the past earn their livelihood ? They are provided for by the society. In pastoral age, the bards were provided for food by everyone. Honoring artists was considered to be an opportunity unmatchable. It is considered to be the same as donating money to God, both being creators.

In the feudal age, artists were provided for by the kings. But since the kings themselves were living off the working class, it is in effect the working class that provided for the artists. When they donated money to the artists, the kings did not expect to confine the art to themselves. At best, they could expect a dedication of the material to their name, but even that is not usually forthcoming. It has to be noted that, the really great of the artists did not even court the favor of the kings.

Here in the capitalist age, a new form of transformation has imposed itself on art. This is the diabolical transformation of art into a product. Since this transformation is so unnatural, it does not deliver justice to the product in question. The people who make money are usually the people who don't deserve to make it.

Art is created for the sake of itself. It is created for the sake of self expression and self discovery. When I say art, I mean it to include mathematics, science, philosophy, painting, literature, music and so on. Seasoned computer programmers also consider themselves as artists. None of the great masters of the past worked on art for the sake of earning money. An artist uses his creation as a means of communicating with the society, with the universe and with himself. Who can quote the price for art ? It is priceless.

The transformation of art into a product is a diabolical violation against nature. In Sanskrit, it is termed as the sale of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. In Christianity, it is akin to selling one's soul to the devil. It is a fact no artist would be proud of. But, the mega-corporations I was talking about achieved the unthinkable , this by brainwashing people that they are providing for the artists.

How many people are aware of the fact that out of the 10 dollars they pay for a CD, less than 50 cents go to the artist in question ? How many people are aware of the enormous number of talented artists driven to suicide in a state of rejection and despair after failing to court the recording elite ? How many of us even do consider exploring our creativity as a possible way to earn livelihood ? The thought of swimming through the mafia of the big production houses is debilitating to say the least. In the process of selling their souls to the devil, many artists are forced to sell their bodies as well, in forced prostitution to the power-brokers.

In any case, how much of the output of these production houses (Hollywood or pop music) classifies for being considered as art ? As expected, these situations are much worse in India. What we have now is a complete lack of democracy of art. Markets, in their conventional form, do not provide the required economic democracy for artists.

Can the brokers be dispensed with completely ? Can the audience patronize art directly ? The answer to these questions is "yes". In the current age, one need not be a king to patronize art. One can provide money directly to the artists of one's choice via the internet.

In fact, these type of donations have always been the means for sustenance for most of the artists during their budding stages. It is usually friends and fans who donate money so that the budding artists can pursue their interests. Most of the best work ever done by artists has been done in this stage, when they are independent of the wishes and whims of the mega-corporations.

What we need now is a new means of banking - a simple means of disseminating money to the artists. Like Google helps in searching for websites, a similar service is needed for transfering money by search. For people who do not have access to internet, a similar service could be provided at physical locations. This service can even deduct some charges for the transfer. If you want to be the next big internet millionaire, take my advice and start this service. This is going to be the next revolutionary thing after free email.

You might question me that this form of service will never raise as much money as done by recording companies. Maybe yes, but it will definitely raise sufficient money and provide immensely greater freedom for the artists.

What about making a movie such as the Lord of the Rings ? It would be impossible, right ? To sceptics of my economic model, I would like to counter this by relating the story of the biggest emblem of freedom - the statue of liberty. When the architects decided to build the statue, they realized they needed a lot of money. So. they did first build a part of the statue - the hand holding the torch. They put that piece up on a truck and showed it at several cities for fundraising. To their own surprise, they could raise the necessary funds much earlier than they expected to.

In fact, a similar thing does happen in the movie industry. First, a director has to build his credibility before attempting a mega movie. George Lucas had to prove himself with American Graffiti before he could dare mention about Star Wars (though he had written the script for Star Wars much earlier). Peter Jackson had to earn his credibility with a bunch of movies before he could broach about the Lord of the Rings.

What the new economic model would do is to connect the artists directly to the audience. Instead of courting a filthy rich power-broker in closed doors, the artist would directly court the public.

Irrespective of any viable new economic model, the existing model is bound to fail. With the reach of the internet, the mega-corporations can no longer control their assets from being pirated. No amount of digital rights management (DRM) will suffice. In the end, these corporations will be forced to demand a tax from the government to sustain their businesses. Ironically, these corporations will be soon demanding the socialist answer (centralized planning) to save their assets.

Instead, we can dispense with the mega-corporations altogether, thereby realizing the much cherished economic democracy of art.