Saturday, April 27, 2013


In the early 20th century Austria, the twilight years of the Habsburg Monarchy, an artistic genius was hounded by morality police and chased down like a child molester for his unapologetic creative excesses. The charge was, “seducing a young girl below the age of consent”. The officers who stormed his studio found and seized more than a hundred of his “objectionable” drawings that they thought was “pornographic”.  Even though the accused was freed of the charges of seducing the minor, he was found “guilty” of ‘exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children’ and the disgruntled judge who presided over his trial burned one of his “degenerate” drawings keeping up the spirits of the tragedy.

Even a century later, the art of the expressionist painter Egon Schiele horrifies and scandalizes many and some still insist it’s pornography. It cannot be denied that his powerful body of work he created in his brief decade-long career (he died at the age of 28), most of which were his characteristic evocative nudes of young women (and some way younger), could be disturbing to some, given the twisted, intertwining emaciated figures with sharp bones about to burst out of their skins assuming the color of corpse. But drawing parallels with a trade that is not remotely intended at exciting ones artistic sensibilities is cruel. Here, I couldn’t disagree more with Stewart Home (author of 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess) who thinks, “Art is sanctioned pornography”. I cannot see Schiele’s works, unsurpassed in the intensity of style, as something you wack-off to.

The fad of legally attacking works of art in the name of morality has not died down even in the present day. The works of Jan Saudek, one of the most celebrated (also the most controversial) Czech art photographer, known for his hand tinted photographs of surreal, dreamy world has been subjected to numerous attempts at censorship and one of his photographs was removed from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the eve of its opening claiming to have had depicted child prostitution.

That his works could very often be powerful, often shocking nudes of morbidly obese octogenarian broads is besides the point. He creates those fantastic settings, where even decay and deformities have a story of beauty and elegance to tell against dramatically painted walls that are in states of heightened putrefaction.

Some may often find his works disgusting and painful. But the level of surreal intrigue his magic realistic images create in each viewer can’t be denied. All this, lost in the battle between the rights and wrongs of morality.

No doubt, most of his photographs like Schiele’s paintings have strong sexual overtones or at the least a kind of erotic quality that sure does wake ones hypothalamus during a superficial viewing. But again, isn’t it bloody crude to call it pornography in the third damn millennium? We all have sure viewed porn at one point or the other and we know where that stuff's headed. And that it doesn’t have squat to do with art even though some like Gloria Leonard, former porn actress would love to think that “the difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting”. I mean, no offense to her past line of work, but for the love of god! Save it for the afterlife sweetheart. She sure has a swell sense of wit.

If author Clive Barker feels that, "one man's pornography is another man's theology", I'd beg to differ again. One man's pornography could be nothing but another man's pornography. There's no argument. But here, it's Art and the so-called "obscene" art that falls in the disputed land.


Those who see Shiele and Saudek as obscene or pornographic could only be doing it as a part of a defense mechanism that psychoanalytic theory fondly calls reaction formation (since pornography is looked down upon as socially unacceptable by even die-hard addicts) and the general attitude is like what comedian Tony Hancock said, "It's red hot, mate. I hate to think of this sort of book getting in the wrong hands. As soon as I've finished this, I shall recommend they ban it." Well that's besides the point, but when art is tucked away in the name of it's alleged resemblance to this area providing celibate carnal gratification, one needs to think of its purpose.

So let’s settle on the fact that, in the age old tussle between art and what is deemed as obscene, vulgar, provocative or offensive, I strongly believe the mischievous human hypocrisy has a big contribution. Or perhaps we should stop thinking with our dicks. But, well who is to say? Five pairs of eyes, five hundred different viewpoints! Like how much baffling it was to look at Fiona Banner’s 2002 Turner Prize entry “Arsewoman in Wonderland” and decide. (Look it up and decide for yourself)

Monday, April 15, 2013


When it comes to spirits of the dead, I assume, they have a free will to do whatever it is that please them. It’s been a month since this has been happening as a rule- an unusual visitor moving in to spend the day in the house. It came and went on a daily basis. This is how the routine worked; at around quarter past six in the morning it flies in from nowhere and installs itself on the branch of the drumstick tree that extends under the sun shade of the first floor living room. It perches there for the entire run of the day in a very proficient tableau vivant. At around quarter to seven in the evening, it propels out into the dark, only to return at exactly quarter past six the very next morning and gets into character all over again. This has been going on for closely a month now at the house of a friend who buzzes me one night and says, “What do you know about owls?” She sounded a little worried.

Caught completely by surprise, I give a thorough account of every bit of middle school knowledge at my disposal about how this bird of prey could see in the dark and everything! Shutting me right there, she fills me in on those daily visitations. Like me, it did not bother her either, but only up until one of her brother’s friends said they are a breed of ill omen that brought bad luck. “Should I shoo it away?” she sounds like Shelly Duvall from The Shining. Hang on; it’s just a bird- harmless as it seemed- and as low maintenance as it was- soliciting for a little shelter! Pffft! Didn’t seem all that omeny!  These winged hunters obviously had to park somewhere to digest their nocturnal game. Now, given that their eyes were sharper at night only made day time their bed time. Case cracked. But that was not it. At the time, I was absolutely ignorant about the way the world looked at this bird. What I do then is, I wisely dive into the background of this creature right away. The first thing that I trip on is the fact that these birds carried spirits of the dead according to many Native American Tribes. The Aztecs and the Mayans considered owl as a symbol of death. Chalchiuhtecolotl, the owl-god of the Aztec was a herald of Mictlantecuhtli, their god of death. Of the Africans, the Kikuyu’s of Kenya also believed that they were harbingers of death and disease. The Arabs, the Chinese, the English, the Romanians and the Romans also associated bad news with the bird, and deaths of famous Romans including Julius Caesar were apparently presaged by owl-hoots. In the process, I also find creepier facts about owls that they can spin their heads all the way around. Phew!
However the Greek and the Indians seemed to preserve a slightly different view of the guardian of the dark. Owl was the bird of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. Suddenly the bird begins to change shape; it represents wisdom, wealth, victory and helpfulness here. So did it in the northern parts of England.

Now when wealth weighs against death, you had to invest concern on the uncanny of the two. So I buzz my disoriented friend and say, “Shoo it away. It apparently brings death. It’s no good outside the living room window anyway and it doesn’t even amuse your guests!” My words did not even pretend to conceal the pressure of superstition on me.

“But it’s cute! (No shit!) And I don’t feel like hurting its habits. (Raining crap!) Mom and Dad look forward to it every day. (OMG!) It’s become a routine for them. Once we shoo it off, it’ll never return. (Weep!) Moreover I think this is the barn owl, not the spooky one, and I hear they cost you a bomb in the illegal market! (Pause…long one)”
Twist in the tale! Quick exchange of pictures, and we confirm it’s the barn owl- the probable million bucks!
“Why don’t we sell it off?” The scare gives way to greed in no time. Human instincts, I tell you!
“Because it’s illegal. That’s why!”
“But nobody has to know!” (just a thought... But don't kill the messenger!)

Barn Owls are apparently a major target of illegal trafficking in India for various purposes. Its different parts such as skull, feathers, ear tufts, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones are apparently used for ceremonial pujas and rituals as prescribed by tantriks in black magic and sorcery. Golly! Not a part of this spirit- carrier goes waste! 

 They are also captured and trained for street performances and fights in small towns. Here they don't merely stick to Barn owls. Rock eagle owls and spotted owls are also given an audience.
These birds are killed for certain folk medicines as well. Various tribes are also known to eat them. Hence, all that money riding on it. All inside the progressive nation that’s trying hard to rub the canonical snake-charmer image off its shoulder.

Suddenly an element of sympathy pushes in. After fright and greed it’s time for some quality compassion. And there still sitting on the drumstick tree outside the first floor living room is the scope of perhaps a million bucks, not knowing squat about its worth. Sigh!The bird has a new name in the family- Pepsi! Goodness gracious... identity et al! What more could one ask for!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


You either love Star Wars or you shut your trap. Which means, you never say that you dislike Star Wars. And to say you haven’t heard of it, it’s blasphemy. Capisce? Any breach of the above code, and the titanic community of Star Wars fans around the planet could obliterate you with a mere look. Such is the reach of that sweeping cultural institution conceived by Lucas about 35 years ago redefining concepts of science fiction in Hollywood and raking up a cultural response at a global level like never before. Darth Vader and Han Solo and Princess Leia’s doughnut hairstyle took places in the reserve of urban metaphors and never went out of style till date.

May the power of God Who look after the lesser mortals save my head from exploding as, frankly, I was never a die-hard fan, nor did I follow it to the extent where I could tell apart Ewoks from Chewbacca. But I knew beyond doubt that Star Wars was big, mighty big (despite a share of critics panning it in the name of juvenile fantasy), and that it had a staggering fan following all across the globe.

But then Star Wars is history, an already established truth that is nothing you are going to relive or look forward to anymore. But save the displeasure. Repeating the global reach and cultural bearing of the same size, if not more in the third millennium is the crafty world of a multi billion dollar science fiction video game called HALO. Along with legendary graphic novelist Brian Michal Bendis and Variety magazine, many believe that this first person shooter game by Bungie, Inc. is assuming the size of the magnificent George Lucas masterpiece which was one of the most influential creations of all time. Halo being a video game, also has the advantage of offering the magic of living in the world as one of them as opposed to the confines of a film. That one live inside the combat zone contracting bullets and stabs, makes the factor of empathy towards the protagonist/ player/ performer tenfold sounder and first-hand with a video game. Anybody who has maneuvered the virtual wheels for NFS would know how the shock of speed could send paralyzing chills up your spine.

Inside the stunning world of this fabulous video game that Halo has evolved into over years (even post Bungie), what stands above gunfights, explosions and alien zombies is the experience that’s to die for. 

In Halo, set several hundred years in the future, one plays in the shoes of the protagonist, a space marine called Master Chief who enters a world of aliens in a domain where it’s on an interstellar war with humanity. As and when each installment came out, the stakes got larger and threats got meaner, the set-pieces and cinematics along with characters got more and more real. The design of the look of the game has been so deliberated to make it look no lesser than the best. The construction of characters based on motion capture and the brilliance of quirky architecture along with the landscape in the vicinity, both immediate and away has succeeded in making the current face of Halo top-notch. 

One of the most successful aspects, which is also the scariest, about the experience offered in the Halo world is the size of the conflict in comparison to self. One grows to know deeper in the game that the magnitude of the combat is unfathomably large, complex and unpredictable. With all these, one cannot blame the grasp this multilayered living experience has on today’s generation with general surveys proving a large number of video game players falling in the 25-40 age group.

Like Star wars that was novelized and adapted for the market through toys, comic books, children’s book and radio drama, Halo franchise has books, comics, anime and collectible action figures and vehicles not to mention its varied spin-offs. The word of a film version has been in the wind for quite some time with big names like Guillermo Del Toro, Neil Blomkamp and Peter Jackson flapping around as dragon flies. Latest addition to the list of enthusiasts is Steven Spielberg who showed interest in making a film version.

The weekly Halo3 match between the nerds in The Big Bang Theory could only be a reflection of our generation minus the nerdiness which prompts Sheldon to say “Halo 3 is better than sex” similar to Tracy from 30 ROCK who says, “I love Halo so much I want to take it behind middle school and get it pregnant”. So a little heads up to the non-fans should not be a bad idea. Next time, be careful while asking who Cortana is, even if it’s to a 40 year old, if you don't want to end up in a hospital bed with an eye patch. He might be from the Halo Nation.

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