Saturday, September 26, 2009

Paranoid Proliferation?

Bajeezzus - some people I know are SO prolific, they've almost managed to scare me away from this, my first post in, well...I don't know - a while? Excuse the illiterate (it's an ellision of 'by' and 'Jesus', of course) and immodest outburst. It was brought on by this, my first "signing in" in a few weeks. The "Blogs I Follow" screen threw me a little off guard, what with showing me the million and five posts (by all of 6 people, mind you) I need to 'follow' up on.

Right, that out of the way, hello! My name is Harmony and - what the hell; we've done this bit already if you've found your way here, nein? Moving quickly on then, I thought I'd write today because a curious epidemic seems about ready to engorge a lot of musicians I know. I fear for their safety and well-being. It's a certain little thing called, popularly, I'm given to understand, megalomania. A certain Trent Reznor (the creative force behind Nine Inch Nails) suffers from it. Roger Waters fell prey to it too, aeons ago. What got me thinking about this was the mass exodus 'real' music seems to be facing today - scores of musicians I know (and ruddy good ones at that) are trouping and trekking en masse into the realms of electronica, leaving behind the virtuosity they brought to their guitars, their drums, their vocals. WHY, I've often wondered, is this happening? Learning how to play an instrument was, in some ways, akin to spinning, in terms of Gandhian symbolism - it is your own personal (and beautifully secular) prayer. Why take the 'easier' way out? Because it's there? I mean, is it the easy availability of sounds you can't generate from 'traditional' instruments; tonality which you can play with and tweak to create new soundscapes? The urge to move, therefore, beyond normative sound and structure? But then, do you use this IN something, or does this soundscape BECOME the 'thing'? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

Or is this a different problem altogether; one which raises wider socio-cultural questions and points to circulating and effective hegemonies which require a different kind of theorising? Is it easy access (by way of Fruity Loops, Garage Band and a host of other media) to what can be (and so often IS) musical megalomania? Does it stem out of the inability we seem to face, increasingly, to communicate that which is 'on the inside' to people (a band) on the outside, who haven't got access to our internal soundscapes? If you need everything to sound 'just so', and only YOU can translate what you hear in your head, (and since you can't play all the instruments there are - unless you're bloody talented and have a lot of time on your hands), it's obvious you're going to shun live musicians and find a friend in your computer instead...

Think about it - Reznor refuses to play with a steady line-up, lest anyone try and 'contribute' their own 'thing' to his sound. Waters became increasingly incorrigible too; near impossible to work with. These guys turned into musical dictators, stifling what cannot exist but for light, freedom and improvisation.
Whatever the reason/s may be, we're in a precarious position here. I don't want to sound like Yeats in 'Easter, 1914', but my litany is almost as long. How many more (as Crosby sings in 'Ohio')? How many will we lose, and for what dubious gain? "A terrible beauty is born, " the poet wrote. I hope he proves to be more poetic than prophetic.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

‘GEZ’ing at a better future: A quest for alternative imaginaries

This is a piece I wrote for Tehelka recently. I wasn't thrilled with the way it was edited, so here's the 'original' version. The idea is a bloody brilliant one, mind you - GEZ away, say I...

The much-bandied and obscurantised term ‘development’ has never been an innocent one. In its wake has followed displacement and disinheritance, especially when it has come to be regarded as separate from and inorganic to the cultures of the lands it purports to ‘change’.

As a response to what they perceive as the brutality inherent to the highly popular ‘Special Economic Zone’ model, which has for its basis crass economic commercialisation, the Adivasi communities of Gujarat have formulated a novel counterpoint; an idea they call the ‘Green Economic Zone’, shortened to ‘GEZ’, which, since it sounds like ‘gaze’, is a play on the idea that they have a clear vision for the future.

“Any form of development which does not have for its foundation the concepts of sustainability, ecological sensitivity and an ingrained understanding of the cultural roots of a people is genocidal by definition,” says well-known tribal activist, author, literary critic and founder-director of the seminal Adivasi Academy at Tejgarh, Dr Ganesh Devy. It is to address these ‘wants’ in the SEZ model that the Adivasis are proposing GEZ in its stead.

It has been almost a decade now since Adivasis in 1200 villages across the south and south-eastern belt of Gujarat started working “quietly, but purposively”, as Dr Devy puts it, to create a massive network of micro-credit federations. “Similarly they have been setting up their own food-grain banks, water harvesting cooperatives, organic agriculture practices, and have set up and run informal centres of learning. All this work began when a group of young Adivasis met at Tejgarh in 2000 and resolved to make their villages free of hunger, indebtedness, exploitation arising out of illiteracy, and migration arising out of helplessness,” he explains.

This team of dedicated ‘karyakartas’ has now decided to create several Green Economic Zones, eventually covering some 2200 villages which fall between the Tapti river in the south and the Mahi in the north, with the Narmada flowing in between. What is striking about the GEZs is that, unlike their namesakes, they seek to court neither foreign investment nor exploit natural resources. “We have, over the years, collected the seed capital we need to launch this initiative, and since the idea is to respect and integrate local custom and resource at every step of the way and create 100% employment for the people who live and work in these GEZs, it would be against our credo to treat the issue of investment otherwise,” says Dr Devy.

This massive initiative was launched at the Academy in Tejgarh on June 5th, from where the assembled group of community workers, students and faculty of the Adivasi Academy, joined in their efforts by human rights activists, villagers, educationists, writers, theatre artists and other ‘green-development’ sympathisers from all walks of life started on a week long march over the course of which they covered some 175+ villages, spread over an area of 3000 sq. kms, spanning the region between Tejgarh and Vedchi, Rajpipla and Vankoda, Naroda and Rangpur. This march, lasting from June 5-12, was named the “Vivekshil Vikas Mate No Pravas” (A march for judicious or wise and ‘sound’ development). Including all those who joined the Pravas at various stages, the group numbered around 1800 people, a number culled from across the country and abroad.

At each stop along the route, the volunteer workers were split into teams which covered the given district on foot, engaging the villagers, Sarpanches and local Panchayats in discussion, every step of the way. After initiating them into the ideas behind the GEZ philosophy and how it would translate into employment and uplift for their communities, the teams would then rendezvous late in the evening and go over the day’s developments, sifting through the information gathered and enlisting people for the execution of the tasks ahead.

The atmosphere at the academy in Tejgarh on June 5, before the march began, was electric to say the least. The morning was spent going over the entire idea’s raison d’ĂȘtre – the whys wherefores and burgeoning necessity for GEZ to find room in the popular imagination. The day began on a high-note as the Sarpanch of Tejgarh came forward to pledge that the country’s first GEZ would be established in and around his village, quickly followed by news that Palia would follow suite; and this even before the Pravas had officially begun. At the end of this initiative, the number stands at 129 villages. They have each now signed a declaration saying that they would like to have Green Zones created in their villages.

Present as key-speakers on the occasion were, among others, Mahasweta Devi, the venerable doyenne of Indian letters and social activism, who said, “All my life I have searched for the ‘genuine’; that sentiment of selfless service which manifests itself in only a handful. In Ganesh and the people at the Adivasi Academy, I stand vindicated. We are at a crossroads in space and time – there is anticipation in the air; it is as if we know that something big is either about to pass or give way disastrously. This is history in the making. West Bengal needs the GEZ idea as much as, if not more than, Gujarat does – you are all familiar with what has happened in Singur and Nandigram. These are the outcomes of a world which has lost sight of what is truly important. Seize this moment and win the day.” With these rousing words, containing all the sonority of a battle-cry, Mahasweta Devi addressed the assembled karyakartas, just before they set forth on what could perhaps, given time, prove to be the veritable turning-point in the history of ‘development’. The moment when a people long dispossessed set out to reclaim their world, and in so doing gave it a new lease on life.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bang-galore (hah!) Blues

Ok, so this doesn't even merit the usual exultation, "Whoopee! 3-point alliteration - she scores", but it is apt. If only jjust. It's funny how some people (read:ME, except, since facebook's idea of a Rorschach Test has diagnosed yours (all of us) truly as being decidedly Schizophrenic, 'we're' never sure who you - yes you, all of you, if you prefer {see how many syntactical problems this poses?} - will be hearing from at any given moment, I/we/she/that other one we call 'the other one' decided to give the First Person personal pronoun the skip, in as much as is possible) tend to work more when they're on 'holiday', ostensibly, than when they're sitting in an office (yes, even we academic-type things have little coves full of books and blather that can vaguely be called 'offices', before you conjure visions of 'cubicles' and computers at aforementioned utterance), again, ostensibly, to DO that "work". In this case, I've (sparing you the I've/We've/She has and c., see?) been in Bangalore for a week, and have made more headway on editing a manuscript for publication than I've been able to make in 2 months of working on the bloody thing. Maybe it's just that the weather is kinder here; maybe all this Andhra food agrees with me; then again, it could merely be that I've been waking up earlier here (so that Jayawant can drop me off to Yelahanka before he makes that long, winding, tedious, godawful trek to Whitefields {aside: WHY is it called White-FIELDS if it's full of buildings and malls, with ne'er so much as a tree in sight, leave alone fields of gold/white or otherwise? Curiouser and curiouser this gets, as a certain Alice we all know would doubtlessly say}) than I ever have back 'home', where my kind Ph.D. guide allows me to loll around and haul ass to campus only by midday. I don't know. Either way, doing all this work while I'm meant to be chillaxing the fuck out is bothering me. Hence the title. At least there's Woodstock by CSN playing in the background (and NO. It isn't CSN & Y - I know what I'm - at least one of 'us' does, anyway - on about). 
I guess where this rather pointless exercise in keeping track of punctuation and syntactical changes is going us out, won't you? We tend to meander - this we have in common.
On another note, I saw Kryptos again last night, and they were splendid. They are, without a doubt, THE best Metal band in the country right now. They were playing at a Maiden Tribute gig yesterday, in anticipation of the release of 'Flight 666' today - review, duly, will be posted here soon enough. They were easily the best band last night - oooohhh! Wooden Ships just came on  - DANG, I love that song! - and had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. Gig in Mysore on Saturday, which Mel, Hazel and I are tagging along for. I think what makes them such a treat for me to watch/hear is that they're clearly passionate about their music - no half-way measures. They give it their all every last time. Catch them if they come play anywhere near you, and you'll see what I'm (it might appear to some, needlessly) carping on about. The reason this rather obvious 'fact' hits me that much harder is because I have, necessarily, to play covers, not all of which I'm kicked about. To see someone stay true to their creed is rather pretty, in my humble opinion. *jaded/faded/wistful grin* (big and toothy, all the same)
Anywhoo, the weather cheered me up enough to write this essterday, when Aditinath Sarkar sent me some gorgeous poetry (VERY Ramanujanesque):

On a close and pregnant summer's day,
My heart, it leapt with joy - 
I wished for rondelles and enjambements;
New whims for old toys. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

The 'Great Game': being her entry into the murky realm of 'political' writing (A Trilogy in Four Parts)

I feel awful about not having written in so long. Here, in a nutshell, is why - I got stung by bees, went out of town (a bunch of times), fell ill while away, have been worrying/working myself to the (admittedly still a few mm away) bone, getting what I hope will read like a literate and erudite Ph.D. proposal together. I wrote this little blurb-type rant to "incite" people (the 'youth' in particular; whoever they are and wherever they be) to vote a few weeks ago. Haven't had the time to post it yet, alors, tiens - better-late-than-never-and-other-abounding-cliches...

So get this: It isn’t, not by any stretch of even the most fertile imagination, alright to affect apathy about the state of your country. It’s even less alright to kid yourself by thinking you can’t make a difference because you’re up against (this much-mythicised beast) ‘the system’, and that one vote can’t alter the course of history. This isn’t completely untrue. You’re right, for the most part. But if everyone, ever, thought this way, we’d probably still be living in caves, swinging off trees and fending big lizards off with sticks. While this idyllic existence isn’t exactly to be knocked – it sounds like fun! – I, for one, can’t live without my iPod, so thank you very much, I don’t want to be a Luddite today if it’s all the same to you.


If I sound flippant, it’s on purpose. Let not the style, however, distract you from the high-seriousness of the content. We’re getting to that time of year/life/world again when we play out pre-assigned ‘roles’ in the dance-drama of democracy, the ultimate performance piece we call ‘elections’. Ostensibly, the people we’re meant to vote for come ‘from’ us (kind of like in the Theatre of the Oppressed, come to think of it), but increasingly, there seems to be a disconnect between ‘real’ people and ‘politicians’, the third gender; the fifth species, seventh element; whatever you want to call them.


It’s a vicious cycle – if you look at the candidates most parties field, and think of them as an aggregate ‘mean’ symbolising or standing in for a nation, a sort of microcosm of all the humanity this great subcontinent is home to, the results are shocking. Is this who we are? Are these the leaders we choose to ‘represent’ us? One of the most standard arguments I’ve heard raised against the idea of voting is that people feel the parties let them down by not giving them people “worth voting for”. The point is that you won’t get them – not until the message that fielding just anyone won’t do goes out to the powers that be, very loudly and clearly. Even so, to do this requires you to vote. Vote for the least of the evils, vote for a pretty symbol – do what you will to make peace with yourself, but vote!


Change and Hope are infectious words. If enough of us start believing in them, to quote an erudite source, “What better place than here, what better time than now” to start making a difference? The Times, too, Are a’ Changin’ and it might be a Long Time Coming, but we’ll get there. By and Bye. IF you, yes you, care enough to make a difference. Care enough to vote. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned (sin-shmin - they say Zoroaster or Zarathushtra, if you like, came up with the concept of 'guilt', and therefore, as a by-product, sin). It has been four weeks since my last confession/rant. I've known what I want to write about for ages now, but things have been tight - what with my peripatetic life getting in the way of this virtual(ly) reality shabang - with one 'incident' following closely on the heels of another till this poor, addled brain of mine was rendered incapable of deciding what I wanted to 'say' next.
I planned, originally, to talk about how disgusting the concert-going public in Ahmedabad is. IIM-A had their annual noise fest, Chaos, last month, and there was a 'rock competition' (sadly, there weren't any large {rolling or otherwise} stones around, which I could hurl at the excuses which pass off for musicians these days, but that's another kettle of miscellaneous creepy-crawlies, as the inimitable Terry Pratchett would say) at the RJMCEI, running late into the night. Bands from all over the place came down 'like wolves on the fold, and their cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold' (not really, they weren't, but I like that Byron chap).
The lousy local bands got the crowd going with their 'OC's which sounded like much-pilfered tunes, but when the Bombay and Delhi bands came on, they were booed off stage, with the audience chanting something to the effect of 'bandh karo ye atyachaar', 'get off stage, Madarchod!' and my favourite, 'WE DON'T WANT ORIGINALS! PLAY SOME FUCKIN' COVERS, YAAR!'. Nowhere in the world, apart from here, is this particular war cry used to lay low a creative artist. I was indignant and furious initially, and wanted to yell back at this disgusting crowd to go back to fucking their mothers, since that's about all they seem equipped to do, but I realised that one (ok, two, maybe - Jasdeep would've joined in) against 400 isn't exactly the best odds in the world.
I could go on about this, but other, more important news has reached these ears. Friends of mine in B'lore - two friends, in seperate incidents - have had a really harrowing time lately. One had her car followed, spat upon and hit by a stone (before the dumb ch** on the bike tried to punch her in the face, all the while calling her names in Kannada), and the other saw his friends get bashed up when they tried to stop a bunch of goons from hittting (NOT just hitting on) their female friends outside a pub. What the hell is this all about? We live in factious times, this much we know, but this is surreal and disgusting beyond belief.
It's almost as if we're living under siege - and it isn't 'terror' of the kind that played itself out in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur and Delhi either. The danger lies in extremes. Of any, every and all kinds. I can sound as jingoistic about secularism as my neighbour in Karnataka can about the righteousness and need for the Ram Sene. Moderation is what is called for. Temperance in all we say and do. Otherwise, 'they' will be as justified in sending 'us' saffron flags as 'we' were in sending 'them' pink chaddis. It's tough to walk this talk, but we can try to live and let live, can't we, even though we'd much rather live and let die?
What scares me senseless is the everydayness of the attackers - it's the people on the street - people like you and me! Can you imagine the horrors of living in a city where you don't know where the next attack is coming from? The rickshawallah? The paanwallah? That car-load of dicks who just drove past you, hooting? And what are we meant to do to make it go away? I think that school of ancient Greek philosophers was onto something - they held that the world disappeared if you closed your eyes. It came back into existence when you opened them. I'm keeping mine closed for a while - wake me up when this is over, yeah?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lutyen’s Delhi is a schizophrenic city, so drunk on its sense of power, it teeters on unstable heels (high, golden ones)

There. I’ve gone and spent it all on the title. I’m told this isn’t done, especially if I intend people to read the rest of my piece, but I’m going to impose upon the benign goodness of my readers and assume that since you’ve already ‘hit’ this page, you’ll finish what is going to be yet another rant (it seems to be all I do these days, but if you found yourself in the same situation as I’ve been in, and didn’t act prissy too, well, then you, my son, are a better man than I {I went with ‘son’, instead of the more gender-neutral ‘child’ because it’s just easier to then leave Kipling’s next line untouched, instead of adding the correct, but more clumsy qualification ‘man/woman than I’, even, say, if the latter were technically more accurate in this case}).

Back to Delhi, then, customary hemming-and-hawing done with. You can see it everywhere – in the scale, in the choice of automobiles, in the architecture – the almost manic geometry of the layout, in, inevitably therefore, the people. Their accents (a posher-part-of-London-meets-hardcore-Ludhiana-via-Chandigarh or a Gujarati-goes-to-New York-returns-to-Ahmedabad-and-then-heads-to-London type of thing – you know what I mean) and constructions (a marvellous study for any fledgling linguist/ gatekeeper-custodian-historian of language).

Shiv tells me that the same concerns are still being voiced by the same academicians, at the same kind of conferences, thirty-odd years down the line. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. Or, if I were to say it another way, this doesn’t surprise one. One what? One who? One why? ‘One’ has, in the past been guilty of using the third person two (sorry – I just couldn’t resist this numerical aside), but get over oneself, one wants to say to these other ones. Hmm.

(Aside: How is it that people discussing S&T Policy don’t know how to turn a cordless microphone on? It amuses me much that of all these scientists, this musician is the only one who is mic-savvy)
Ah well - these were the fevered musings of a conference I was at a couple of weeks ago. I 'found' it just today. Blame the 15-odd speakers I was meant to 'report' about for why I couldn't continue the rant which started (IMHO) so very promisingly. *Or thank them, if you'd rather, for they are the ones responsible for this - my shortest post yet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Unclear Conundrum

I wonder how this will help my cause any, but here goes anyway. I'm very annoyed with my paper at the moment. I was away for ten days covering the European Knowledge Commission debates across the country, and dutiful journalist that I am, was sending in pieces from all over in real-time. Now, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom (I'm just oozing generosity of spirit this evening), did not carry the articles when they were sent in, because the head honcho was away. They are now dated, but the paper still says it "wants to run them". Today, my desk-head called and said they wanted to carry an edit piece on the proceedings, without first grounding it in the news it seeks to comment on. The guy they approached to write this editorial is one of the most brilliant men I've met yet (and no, it isn't because he's luminous - backlit by some halogens or anything), and the reason I was taken along to cover these conferences in the first place. Genius that he is, he said we'd send in something in 5 minutes. 

No prizes for guessing what happens next - we tweak one of my articles, and turn it into an edit in 30 seconds flat.

It irks me that we had to, but c'est la vie and all that shaata (Thank you, Jj - I can't imagine life without this handy little cus word now). 

The piece I turned in was about one of the best public debates I've ever attended. It was on the Nuclear Energy issue (Yes, I know - you thought books, music, places and movies were all I wrote about, and I would have had to agree, prior to January 10, but...there we are. The blog IS called 'She Writes' - in my defence, I never once specified what about!). 

Without further ado, since there's always so bloody much of it wherever I'm concerned, ladies and gentlemen, I give you 'The Unclear Conundrum'

Return of nuclear power: Old problems, changed contexts

The nuclear story as it is told in India is distinctly incomplete. While the debate around it is age-old, this story has always suffered from our society's inability to give voice to those pathways of innovation the choice of nuclear energy rendered non-options, pushing them ever closer to obsolescence. A new kind of imagination is called for if we are to tell this tale allowing for the plurality inherent to storytelling.

What brings about this musing is a continuation of the ‘Knowledge Society’ debates which recently took place in the country. The STEPS Centre University of Sussex, and civil society groups in Bangalore, organised a public discussion on the nuclear energy debate, exploring how its current resurgence, while posited with the same problems of yesteryears, today requires a new terms of engagement, since the context in which it is playing itself out is a charged one.

While concerns relating to nuclear weapons have dominated debates in India for the past few decades, the talk of nuclear power expansion has traditionally been justified by saying that it is the only way India can meet its growing energy needs. Likewise, in Europe, many governments and policy makers are encouraging the propagation of this form of energy as a response to climate change and environmental concerns. But even as these contexts play out within the ambit of local politics, the old problems with nuclear energy – those of high costs, safety concerns, radioactive waste and security risks – have not been addressed to-date.

The Princeton scientist MV Ramanna has made an astute case for what he calls ‘the propaganda of scarcity’, saying that agendas so shrill and heightened that they are close to proclaiming we’ll have no electricity if we don’t ‘go nuclear’ are pure rhetoric. Starting with Amulya Reddy in the late 1980s, there has been a lobby firmly stating that alternatives to the nuclear path exist – it’s time we took them seriously.

SPRU Policy Scientist Andy Stirling holds that it is imperative we know why we’re sceptical of nuclear energy – so-called ‘facts’ can be made to read in different ways. Right at the outset we need to recognise that there is literature which says that this form of energy is safe, cheap and reliable. The question then, is that of parameters and supposedly apriori assumptions, such as the most common one of them all: that nuclear power is cheap.

The other argument made for it is its alleged environment friendliness – how can this go unchallenged? And as for the risk of energy dependence, we would do well to question whether this isn’t simply a case of moving from one form of dependence (gas) to another (thorium/uranium). This is not merely a technical debate. The facets underlying it are very political, and we would do well to engage with it at top priority.

Scientist Vishnu Kamath maintains that it would be incorrect to view this question in the light of an ‘either/or’ parameter. It shouldn’t be about pitching one form of energy against another – it would be reductionist to say ‘if not nuclear energy, we should try thermal or hydal power’. What is called for is an examination of the developmental paradigm our country subscribes to – any developmental work undertaken needs necessarily to cater to the multitudes of have-nots, and in a direct manner. Again, if this sort of democratic, all-inclusive form is what we’re looking for, nuclear energy isn’t the answer.

We cannot fall prey to the amnesia that seems to underwrite any discussion of the nuclear question in India. I come to this question from the vantage point not of science, but of the social sciences, and I ask myself, what does ‘being nuclear’ mean to our Indian middle-class imagination? Science was to be the language of the Indian Nation-State, with different forms of energy reading as metaphors for it. We overlooked bio-mass, and with this crucial exclusion, failed to speak of the scores of people living with and in nature. 

There followed a systematic disengagement from indigenous knowledges, even as liberalisation broke down our body politic. Our defeated ‘traditional’ knowledges therefore remained dialects, never allowed to turn into full-fledged languages. To dissent against the nuclear was to call into question all of officialdom, and in so doing, the sovereignty of the nation; yet another instance of the suspension of democracy being officialised.