Notes after Nasir – II

(Drawing on a few pointers from a lecture I heard earlier this year.)

Using either of these terms- the “aestheticization of politics” or the “politicization of aesthetics” appears to impose a hierarchy upon the two, where the favoured latter phrase assumes that art is subordinate to politics. How can this be, when aesthetics has never been bereft of politics from its inception? Aesthetic innovation is not a product of a sudden revelation or radical genius but that which is born out of observed and lived social scenarios. It took until 1976 for Elen Moers to recognize Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as more than mere science fiction, and then a few more years for Gilbert and Gubar to read it as a feminist treatise on the anxieties of being a female writer.
Aesthetics cannot stand disjoint from politics. Kant, whose views on aesthetics has defined much of its reception in western epistemology, asserts that pleasure is occasioned by a sensuous perception of a thing’s representation. The judgement of taste demands universality, and I think that this adds an important activist dimension to art when it demands universality in the aesthetic representations it makes of the political everyday, without resorting to a reductive statement such as “my art, my politics”. Democracy emerges by transforming the image into a medium for a public sphere. Kant’s ideas of beauty are much influenced by the idea of democracy and that of land belonging to its citizens that arose after the French revolution. Nasir asserts his right to be one such Free Man in his nation state.
One is glad we live in times when universities with a keenness for indulging in political discourse are emerging, but Nasir does not live in that sphere. He is a man who likes to write poetry, see his nephew’s colouring, listen to a ghazal and smoke a beedi in the afternoon, because as a man of this world, he has the right to these pleasures that offer comfort, stability and respite. Nasir asserts these rights until they are forcefully taken away from him by erasing his existence, and that is the political reality that Nasir represents. One must remember that even dreariness or monotony as aesthetic qualities in daily life have been subjects of Marxist discourse around workers’ lives. The violence of extremist hate speech that jars with the sounds of the everyday is an example of the negative aesthetics of Nasir’s everyday life, and gives us important access to the political tone of the film.
Nasir reinstates the scope of aesthetics by integrating within itself (a work of art) the politics of the everyday. The aesthetics of Nasir asks of us to stand under it and listen to it, acknowledging the discourse, listening to its conscious or unconscious presences and absences and finally, integrating this understanding in our worldviews. Nasir lets us reflect upon our political opinion – this is true of any art that does not double as propaganda – and if it does this through the language of aesthetics, then we will remember what Keats has said: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”.

Notes after Nasir

Things.

In a scene set to the emotion-suffused voice of Begum Akhtar that plays out of a radio in the boxy home that makes Nasir’s world, our man lies on a mat.  He picks up his son’s colouring book and leafs through images of fish that are marked yellow but have been roughly filled in with another colour, the soft crayons transgressing perfectly drawn boundaries. We seamlessly glide to an artificial fish tank and look at plastic colours refracted through water and lens come alive and allow the rhythm to shift to stills of walls (but then, this is a movie of images) that acquire an incomprehensible beauty in their mundaneness before we dwell on the graffiti of a clock, a motif through the film.

In a book I’ve been poring over called Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett evokes Spinoza as she writes about the vitality of matter, of how all bodies are made of the same substance, of the power that nonhuman things possess to evoke action in humans, about how we are quick to associate things, as they come into being, with human mood, action, emotion, agenda.

What makes up Nasir’s world when he has a moment to himself, when he is truly a man of loneliness and solitude, as he writes in a poem later? The coloured fish become precious moments in his son’s day that he has missed while away, and as if to encourage this line of thought about the inorganic evoking life, we see the fish and the walls looking comfortably beautiful, sights that we pay attention to only in our subconscious held down in a gentle stronghold by the camera, time paused with an image of time.

In this film very much about one man, Nasir shows us the everyday is composed not only of man but things and that time is not one but an assemblage of timescapes. Where do I look for you? asks Begum Akhtar and we are shown how man seeks solace in the aesthetics of the everyday.

I have been thinking a lot about Nasir, the quiet but sonorous chronicle of a man’s day that seems so much about everyman until it is not. In an interesting revelation the director makes in one of his interviews (and there is a plethora of reviews, all positive, doing the rounds since a couple of months about the movie), some of the team behind Nasir discuss an omniscient, omnipresent “angel” in the movie.  Is the camera the angel? Are we? Are we Nasir and is he the angel? Or are we the cat that quietly observes Nasir and his wife make their way through the streets, detached but observant, inhuman in the other’s suffering, seeing but passive? Levinas springs to mind as I think of all those faces in the movie, as I think of Iqbal’s lashes and the wrinkles on the face of Nasir’s mother, as I think of his wife’s face as she cooks, dresses, sits on a bus travelling away from her love, as I think of Nasir himself, praying, sleeping, contemplating, listening passively to a co-worker berate Muslims.. this face-to-face encounter leaves his vulnerability naked for me to see, and when the end comes I know why we saw those faces, the recognition of imminent death as Levinas writes in Ethics as First Philosophy, “call[ing] me into question, as if, by my possible future indifference, I had become the accomplice of the death to which the other, who cannot see it, is exposed”. If anything, Nasir is a lesson in empathy.

Lines blur between being spectator and being the man in the spotlight until I realize that the movie is about how I am not Nasir – an ostensibly unassuming and mute victim to hatred that resides easily with the everyday in the guise of dog-whistle politics, until the everyday avalanches into a grotesque, extreme and violent climax.

I have been thinking of things and faces, so far. Maybe I will write more in the days to come, about soundscapes and timescapes and Nasir, as I unravel these threads in my head.

 

(PS: This was not really a review, but I really like this and this, if you want to read reviews/ interviews).

Wary of Verse

I read some verse of beauty rare
In dainty thread of words ensnared
Wrapped in hues of golden thought
The poet to weave a web had sought.

Caught- readily, and waited I-
To drown in misery – but nay-
The web – souse in stilborn rue-
Was frail and could not carry through

Peals of broken heart- they weigh
More than well wrought words can say
(But less than what is in need
To be the blissful amnesic)

They fall through and hang by verse
Over the abyss of hope- midway-

Witness

Not too long ago my friend and I

We sat like Humpty Dumpties on the stile

We watched the smoke-crossed cars go by

Sucking on a lollipop all the while.

 

When he had sucked  and so had I

We watched the man across wave and say hi

We saw his face stretch into a smile

Sucking on the lollipop all the while.

 

Soon the friend left, the lolly half-done

I peeked to see if the man wanted to share the fun

I watched the man across wave and say hi

And jump from the thirteenth to end his life

 

Who am I kidding, it was far too long ago

To remember if he smiled as he let himself go.

 

 

Daily Prompt: Lollipop

 

 

 

 

the photo

IMG_20170615_122509

Here I am, laughing boisterously-

Nobody misses the flying hair,

the static twinkle in the eye,

the fingers wrapped around my waist,

a sliver of skin where the dress slips off my shoulder.

A moment captured for posterity.

Those who see, think-

“At the still point, there the dance is.”

Only,

The hair is unwashed, the dress is burlap,

the fingers are leaving a mark,

the twinkle is the reflection of artifice.

I am laughing at myself.

 

The Sunday Disconnect

I would rather write about a glorious Sunday. One that we all have painted out and ready in our heads, you know, a pretty little virtual movie with one of those watermarked Audiojunkie happy tunes in the background. One where I sleep in late and wake up to the familiar warmth of the midday sun or the sounds of a busy kitchen or the annoying screaming of kids playing cricket in the streets of a utopian gated community or the crackle of oil and the smell of breakfast or the floral scent of soap from Amma’s morning shower. Whichever happens first. But it is not to be. I wake up early, early for a Sunday that is, and try to remember what it is that woke me up, waiting for the all too familiar gushy feeling of I-have-nothing-to-do-it’s-a-Sunday to spread through my veins and provide the adrenaline to do nothing. I hit a blank. I just woke up, it seems. Outside the window the sun is bleak, looking like it did not sleep very well. Or maybe it just hasn’t reached its full potential yet. I realise all I ought to need is some brisk morning air to wake myself up. I step out into the garden.
The air is still and the ground is wet. It has apparently rained through the night, and this should be a relief. Google tells me today’s forecast for Coimbatore is 34 degrees with a thunderstorm. There’s nothing in there about the calm before the storm though. So much for the high hopes that the cool morning breeze will ruffle me up. The leaves stand in attention and the ants silently make their way up and down the stems, pushing me into a deep existential probe about the similarities between Sisyphus and the Ant. Out of the blue, I decide to sing to the plants. Surely that will wake both of us up? Unfortunately, I am not well informed about the song choices of the venerable Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and start humming Aerosmith’s Dream On . Like I discover, the song does not become humming very much and I growl out the refrain. I swear the plant shudders, and the thought disturbs me more than the fact that I have been unconsciously singing to the beat of the distant barks of a dog. At least somebody’s got their thing going this morning, I think.
I abandon the singing and pick up The Hindu, lying half wet on the porch. The paper boy must have overshot his aim today. It sits there, looking well informed and meaty and a little demonic. If newspapers can look that. It is Sunday and there is Jerry Pinto’s column to read, my mind rejoices. It is about snow. The article is well written, of course, but Pinto’s despondency only adds to mine. The two lines in the entire essay that I can relate to is when I picked my nose and found my finger completely red too, not due to low temperatures like in Pinto’s case, but from when I had dengue fever. That mental image refuses to make way for any more snow imagery and I sigh and give up on the article half way. The Sunday Disconnect weighs heavily upon me.
I trudge back to my room and put on my Sennheisers. The muffs need to be replaced, but my ears love them anyway, like the one pillow you love to hug though it’s not fluffy anymore. I hit play on my phone, and the tune picks up from where it left off.
Kitni dafaa subah ko meri tere aangan me baithe maine shaam kiya. Channa mereyaa..
How often my day has morphed into night waiting for you.

Closure.

How does one get closure from a love that never was?

Nothing to remember but forget-

one cannot.

How does one move on from a love that was lived

in the head and the eyes and the twitch of the lips?

 

How does one get closure from what was never told

but in sighs only the quietest heart

could hear as lovelorn moans

How does one move on from a past too scared to be

but in dreams of a spirit caged in reality?

 

Shivering nights in the naked breeze

Stars together that smirk and tease

But I

I see the dreamcatcher.

Glossophobia

​May I write to you?

My core processors from terabyte speed

swivel and ruggedly power down

(Like the brazen biker without a silencer

jerking to a stop at the junction)

when I try speaking to you-

Wile E. Coyote out of cliff to run.

May I write to you?

I might forget the avalanche of words

that break off into unfinished textese

(Like the mike at the leader’s speech

betrayed by the blackout)

when I try speaking to you-

Homer Simpson run out of d’oh.

May I write to you?

I’d just like the time you see

To google bits of poetry

Appease your grammar nazi

And stalk your facebook ID.

Then perhaps I shall edge in a word or two

And invite you to a mute date

At the cinema.

The Boy Who Lived lives on

I confess, I am an addict. Even when it has been weeks since I read a new book, I will still go back and re-read the part where Snape produces his doe- Patronus and weep myself to sleep. Even when I am having a bad-tummy-day and must ignore the delicious vathakozhambu my mother has made, I will still fantasize tasting Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and chugging on some Butterbeer. And even when  I know that nothing including doubly-strong iron chains that could anchor the Titanic firmly in place could keep my parents out of my room, I will hang up a poster on the door and will it with all my nonverbal- spell-casting skills to ask anyone who seeks to enter for a password. I am a Potterhead and the promised worldwide release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, set 19 years after Voldemort is dead has got me all riled up.

potter door
My Pinterest-inspired Potter door/ He is a leglimens

Since the launch of Pottermore, an entertainment website to which Rowling officially contributes, we have had more than enough to satiate our appetites for any news from the magical world of Harry Potter. And Rowling has delivered. From sorting us into houses, allowing us to explore Diagon Alley (and pocketing stray galleons on the way) to sharing with us the back stories of characters, one can say that the boy who lived has pretty much lived on. But there lies the conundrum. Did we really want him to live on, and live thus?

I must say, I was partially disappointed with the Epilogue to the series in itself. Yes, Voldemort is dead. To have the snubby-people-like-Fudge ridden world suddenly transform into a warm, friendly place wasn’t the worst part, in fact, it was totally understandable especially after Rowling proved she was only second to George R.R. Martin in making the world gloomy (read Sirius, Lupin, Fred, Dobby and Dumbledore- enough said.) But to find that the trio ended up being pretty much where they wanted to end up in life, married to the people they “loved” during school and all responsible and gay struck me as slightly odd. I mean, how many of us end up marrying our childhood sweethearts, doing exactly what we thought was our goal in school and name our kids something they are bound to be teased for the rest of their lives? Rowling gave us the imperfect marauders whom we fell head over heels in love with, and everyone from that generation surprised and delighted us (a 25- minute movie called “Severus Snape and the Maruders” made by Potterheads and uploaded very recently on Youtube will tell you exactly why we made such a fuss over that generation). Then she gave us the Potter generation, and they had their moments too, making us feel bad for Draco in parts and call Ron a complete ‘arse’ for ignoring Hermione. Rowling was employing the oldest trick in the bag of character constructions- making us see the perfection in everyone’s imperfections. We wish the epilogue was similar.

But let us not dwell too much on the past. After the seven books came, we busied ourselves with Mugglenet, reading fanfiction and rooting for Drarry. We busied ourselves with Rowling’s stories on Pottermore. What we did not expect was a whole new magical world thrust upon us, complete with new magical schools, sorting and histories of their own! Yes, I was miffed when I discovered that the American counterpart of a muggle was a ‘no-maj’, because it came from a woman who flaunted her French with Vol-de-mort (you are no Potterhead if you did not know that) and her Greek mythology with at least half the other characters and creatures. But I was overwhelmed and overawed when I was introduced to Ilvermorny, Mahoutokoro, Uagadou and Castlebruxo- wizarding schools other than Hogwarts all over the world. The Ilvermorny story (the North American wizarding school) was revealed on Pottermore a few days back, both to the delight and chagrin of fans all over. The latter was sparked off by an indignant letter by a Native American Potterhead which went viral on the internet. She felt Rowling had been insensitive in her research on the Indians and hadn’t given them enough space in the story. But for a non-indigenous fan of Rowling’s who knows very less to nothing about Indian folklore (yes, I am being selfish here), the school and its houses opened up a world that promised to be as magical as Hogwarts itself. After going through the magical sorting, a revamped version of the Hogwarts one with questions like “What would you exchange for your heart’s desire?” and “ Do you prefer to remember/ experience?”, I was declared to be a Horned Serpent. I was confused if this was in any way related to Slytherin, and only heaved a sigh of relief when I read that it “Represents the mind” and “Favours Scholars”.

Harry Potter brought in a flurry of firsts in my life. My first literature paper was an eco-critical analysis of Harry Potter. My first application of Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” was when I imagined the broomstick at home was a Nimbus 2000. The first time I saw what the world looked like at 5 in the morning was when I stood in queue to buy the latest book. I can hardly wait for the magic to recommence on July 31st. For Harry Potter, the excitement is on, always.