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Friday, November 11, 2005

Dumb And Dumber

In the New Statesman, Charlotte Raven reviews a new "encyclopedia of modern life" which goes by the engaging title of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?:

"Lowe and McArthur are maddened, not just annoyed but literally maddened, by the effluvia of consumer society. The sardonic tone of the entries reflects a sense that this stuff is not just irritating but degrading to our humanity. We're talking bad shit here, dredged from a place beyond the reach of satire...The book is like that disillusioning second viewing, an appraisal of the culture by people who are no longer susceptible to the myths that stop us from seeing things as they really are."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In India, It's All Mainstream

For a change, am using this space to put down a series of jottings that explore the argument that in urban India, there's no counterculture to speak of. The mainstream rules. Perhaps one can make these random notes coalesce into a coherent article in the near future.

* Be it music, literature, film, art or fashion, all of our cultural artefacts are tinged by the banality of commerce and the acceptance of the majority; there's no discernible attempt to probe the alternative, to explore the fringe. Where is our Beat Generation, where are our Bohemians?

* What one refers to as the mainstream is, of course, an evolving spectrum. There are shades and there are extremes within it. But these are closely circumscribed: we get to choose between Adnan Sami and the Bombay Vikings; between Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and Vikram Chandra; between Salaam Namaste and Garam Masala; between lo-rise distressed hipsters and deep indigo 501s.

* Perhaps in this country, the counterculture can only be located at the sites of social consciousness and/or ethnicity: hence the block-printed sari-wearing, jhola-carrying, large bindi-sporting, tree-hugging, dam-saving activist.

* In the United States, the mainstream, of course, is famous for co-opting the fringe and rendering it "cool": jazz and blues have influenced more artistes than you can shake a stick at; baggy, hip-revealing jeans arose out of ill-fitting prisonwear; and an example of the noir graphic novel now even finds a place among Time magazine's list of the best 100 contemporary books.

* The last truly countercultural movement that urban India witnessed was the struggle for Independence, which defined speech, clothing, food and attitudes in a way as to clearly set oneself apart from the prevailing class. Much earlier, Buddhism was a counterculture movement within Hinduism, but one that the mainstream swallowed soon enough. Thus, counterculture in this country isn't in opposition to "culture" per se; but is in opposition to politics and religion. Any cultural fallout is a by-product.

* In the Western world, the mainstream perpetuates itself by incorporating elements of alternative lifestyles; in urban India, the mainstream thrives on attitudes derived from the West.

* One reason for the lack of an alternative to the mainstream would be a high degree of intolerance and discomfort with "the other", with anything that doesn't conform. Another is that a postcolonial hangover still exists, and one must find and define oneself as a nation before being comfortable with activities outside the cultural pale. And a third reason is simple economics: how is the cultural alternative to sustain itself in the absence of recognition and funding? We have no Sundance Festivals, no Provincetown retreats, no foundation grants. But perhaps that's a situation always faced by those who choose to turn on, tune in and drop out.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Indian Bloggers' Self-help Books

So we've all read about bloggers who've got book deals, and there's now even a buzz about an Indian blogger who's been asked to turn in a manuscript. But look at it this way: books that really sell in India -- indeed, anywhere in the world -- are those that promise to change your life. In other words, self-help books. This, then, is a look at some of the titles we could well be seeing on the shelves in the near future.

Women Who Run With The Cows by Amit Varma
An uncut exploration into why chewing the cud, not shooting the bull, is the way to happiness.

The Power Of Positive Collaborating by Zigzackly
Why create something all on your own when you can get willing hands to help you? Inspired by the classic incident of Tom Sawyer’s fence.

The Bar Girl Who Sold Her Ferrari by Sonia Faleiro
Wisdom from a former Mumbai dancer that speaks to the souls of all those who don’t want to twirl in front of others.

Tuesdays With Fellini by Jabberwock
Kiss ungenerous bosses and moronic colleagues goodbye. Tried and tested tips on how to survive by reading novels and watching movies all day long.

How To Lift Links And Impress People
by PrufrockTwo
Think your day job doesn’t give you time to maintain a blog? This helpful compendium of Internet sites will have you thinking again.

John Fowles Departs

The author of the memorable The French Lieutenant's Woman, as well as other works -- many of which were a tad too abstruse -- died last evening, aged 79.

A BBC appraisal says: “By playing with the novel's constraints and restrictions, notably by providing alternate endings in The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles challenged the concept of the powerful, all-knowing creator and deliberately highlighted fiction's illusory nature.”

And this is from The Guardian: “ ‘I don't spend much time in self-loathing or self-admiration. I have a great deal of contempt for writers who are vain, who want fame,’ he told the Observer in 2003. 'You do have to have a certain amount of vanity to be successful, to sell books. But you have to keep it under control, you can't take yourself too seriously or you become what you pretend to despise.’ " The Independent adds: "Ambiguity was one of the defining themes. He often melded fantasy with meticulously researched historical detail, mixing up the narrative viewpoints and time settings. Much of his inspiration came to him during the hypnopompic state between dreaming and wakefulness."

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Novel May Be Dead, But Evening Gowns Are Forever

Sir Vidia and the Lady Naipaul put in an appearance at the Chanel autumn-winter show in New Delhi: "Nadira Naipaul made a joke that her husband has suddenly developed a taste for fashion. ‘So here we are,’ she said, adding that, her personal favourite has always been Valentino. ‘I must say that I was very impressed by today’s show.’ The Naipauls left immediately after the show ended.”

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Parody Is A Game, Satire A Lesson

"While I keep everything on the brink of parody, there must be on the other hand an abyss of seriousness, and I must make my way along this narrow ridge between my own truth and the caricature of it."

In the Washington Times, an overview of Nabokov's works that finds them too heavily tarred with the brush of parody and vanity, save for one notable exception:

"For all his prolific output, Lolita rightfully graces the top of the pyramid. For once, at least, Mr. Nabokov struck the right balance between the cerebral and the sleazy, between world-weary asides and illicit sex, between -- most notoriously -- a creepy cosmopolitan's charm and Lolita's bubble-gum defiance.

"It's a rare convergence in American letters that a writer's most commercial novel is also his best. But if, at the very least, novels are escapes from the pedestrian Everyday, perversion sells darn well, particularly when it's so elegantly wrought. That may be Mr. Nabokov's final joke on the reader. We'll probably never know. "