Monday, June 30, 2014

Kissa Kursi ka

Is Kissa Kursi ka the same as The House of Cards and Game of Thrones, Hitler's Third Reich, Stalin's purges, Henry VIII, Becket's mentor Henry II, and countless others in every part of the world? Are they the same, seeking, often condemning, often not seeming to condemn but secretly admiring the race and intoxication of the pinnacle of power, the pernicious rivalry for supremacy?

Now, again, another question arises: power in the corporate world, power in a particular monopolistic production house, power in real or lacking-in-conviction ideology, for which one may have to destroy, decimate, connive, conspire, stop at nothing. At yet another level, power due to charisma, of leadership in smaller groups, captaincy of a company, chieftain in the lawless underworld, power over a small or large family unit, where one becomes tormentor of the rest, who remain in constant fear of punishment or even, sometimes, perish. Even in the animal world this singular element of assertion to some kind of leadership and supremacy. 

This is much too large a subject of metaphysics for me to get into its full-fledged scope. It will therefore suffice for me to frivolously answer the question by mentioning the film called Kissa kursi ka, which was banned in India. Shubhra Gupta has competently and knowledgeably written about it, as countless others have done also, during and after the Emergency in India (link):
Power Games, by Shubhra Gupta
Why the banned film Kissa Kursee Ka still speaks to us in these craven times.
A certain gentleman whom I have been courting for a while, and who shall remain nameless, came good last week, and delivered into my waiting palms a copy of Kissa Kursee Ka. This 1977 film had been banned, and all its prints were reportedly destroyed. Very few people could have claimed to have seen it. My benefactor had been one of the most influential film pirates in the Delhi of the '70s and '80s, the kind of guy who expertly wove his ways through the dodgy sides of 'non-official' distribution, and set up a huge empire. The gap between how soon the film would release in theatres and how soon thereafter you could watch it on your shiny imported VHS machines, was filled by him and his hardy compatriots. 'Cassettes' was where the business was, and my man was at the forefront of it all.
Kissa Kursee Ka was one of the films that went straight into the 'cassette' market. Because it was decimated so thoroughly, only the prints that had been sent out of the country survived. Those who remember say copies found their way back, and what is available today is scratchy copies of those copies. When I tried to track the film's journey, I was left with fascinating nuggets of how 'cassette' piracy was born, how it thrived, and how fortunes were made. There was a lot of juice in all those highly libelous stories which alas cannot be printed, so it was quite appropriate in a way that I found every little bit of Kissa... so juicy, so many decades after its making.
The film was a direct fallout of the Emergency and its excesses, which lasted for two years (1975-77). The man who made it, Amrit Nahata, a newly minted Janata party groupie, having dumped his Congressi roots, found a great way to stay in the news because his film courted controversy from the opening frame to the last.
In a long missive Nahata had written on the making of the film, he had spoken of how he picked his great cast — Manohar Singh, Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt (those who recall having seen the film get a certain look  when they talk of the special appearance made by the very bootylicious, very luscious ex-Playboy bunny Katy Mirza) — and how he was very clear he wanted to make a film on politics. You can find it quite easily on YouTube, but the pleasure of popping in a VCD with its opening legend, 'This Is An Old Film', is something else altogether. As also the pleasure of discovering material that should have attained cult popularity. Because there is no political satire made in India that has quite the same savage edge as Kissa Kursee Ka: in fact, it quite probably is the only one of its kind.
The kursee in the film is generic, but the kissa only masquerades as one. Anyone who lived through the tumultuous years of the Emergency would have no trouble in figuring out who the characters are lampooning. The plot is non-existent. The characters are all symbolic, and speak in underlined dialogues about bhrastachar and durachar, and the mindless greed of political animals and their equally greedy hangers-on.
The capital of Jana Gana Desh, where the action unfolds, is quite recognisably New Delhi (one of its main settings is, ironically, Vigyan Bhavan: you can't get more sarkaari than that). There is a Peeli party and a Neeli party, and the new entrant, is called, blackly, Kali Party. There's a fellow who demands that the 'licence' of making 'small cars' be given to him, because he knows how to, 'from his mother's womb'. There's a 'swami' busy power-broking between political rivals. And there is poor, voiceless 'Janata'(Azmi playing her crumpled-cotton-sari-big-bindi Ankur look to the hilt), who is driven from, literally pillar to hanging post, to get what should rightfully be hers. The tackiness and the poor production values are jarring, as is its heavily staged feel, but this is a film that socks it to you, scene after scene.
Many of the instances may belong to that era when
Ambassadors and Fiats ruled our streets, and having a landline phone connection meant that you had to know someone in high places. But it is frighteningly uncanny how relevant the film seems today. Meera Devi, MA in Politics, is a canny woman propping up a puppet leader, claiming that that is what true satta is. A saffron-robed swami declares he will go on 'fast-unto-death' till corruption is wiped off the face of the nation: now who was it who did just that recently?
Watching it now, you realise that "political" films did not just have a dim future back then: what happened with Kissa Kursee Ka may have caused the permanent demise of films that tried telling a truly trenchant, stinging picture of real India. So craven are the times we live in, I can't think of a film like Kissa Kursee Ka being conceived of, let alone being made any more.

Another film of that time by M. S. Sathyu called Chithegu Chinthe considers the same subject.

I would be glad to receive reactions, and, if possible, more light on this subject, which, without doubt, is not perishable, no matter how much havoc to life and the environment it can cause. It is among the more interesting or, shall I say, intriguing aspects of life; all life, from its beginning to its end.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thus Spake Zarathustra

At a party several women, many of them Parsis, decided to ask me about God, and not succeeding in unsettling me, decided to declare that, "Okay. God or not, we can prove to you that spirits and ghosts exist." I merely smiled, indicating, "Don't even begin to try to prove it." They conferred among themselves, and decided to persist. They gathered six empty glasses of wine, kept them inverted on a table, and began some mumbo-jumbo ritual to summon the "spirit of the glass." It exasperated them that I was paying no attention, and finally they were unbearably frustrated that no spirit turned up, even after they found out, by conferring in a separate room secretly, that none of them was menstruating (which would have kept the spirit away – don’t ask me why). So, in affectionate rage, they cursed me that "the Satan in me should burn in the fires of hell," among a number of other curses. I responded by writing the following, and sending it to all of them:






(Note: Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Man and Superman, were magnum opus of the then widely-popular German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who, like many other thinkers, became insane in his later years, and is now almost forgotten, as much as also is his contribution to the field of philosophy. Hitler was credited with being profoundly influenced by Nietzsche, which is a historical error: Hitler was not educated, let alone capable of curiosity or ability to analyse thought and intellect. Similarly, Hitler was also credited with having been influenced by Wilhelm Richard Wagner, while in fact, what happened was that Hitler wanted to be identified with art and music of some form, and he made Wagner very popular, and therefore currently almost banned in Israel. Richard Strauss, a great composer of the time, came actually under the influence of Nietzsche's work, and named his most-remembered music Thus Spake Zarathustra, which gained its ultimate fame when Stanley Kubrick decided to use it very extensively in what will remain an all-time epic in cinema, 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Suspended Disbelief

Newton’s law of gravitation: Any particle of matter in the universe attracts any other with a force varying directly as the product of the masses and inversely as the square of the distance between them. In symbols, the magnitude of the attractive force F is equal to G (the gravitational constant, a number the size of which depends on the system of units used and which is a universal constant) multiplied by the product of the masses (m1 and m2) and divided by the square of the distance R: F = G(m1m2)/R2. Isaac Newton put forward the law in 1687 and used it to explain the observed motions of the planets and their moons, which had been reduced to mathematical form by Johannes Kepler early in the 17th century.

The strength of Earth's gravity depends on location. The gravity at the centre of the earth is 9.789 m/s2 while the gravity at the poles is 9.832 m/s2. This means that all the objects on Earth are in a continuous fall towards the earth's centre at a speed of 9.8 metres/second. The moon is 1/4 the size of Earth, so the moon's gravity is much less than the earth's gravity, 83.3% (or 5/6) less to be exact.
As far as I know, Stephen Hawkins has so far not challenged this law, as is his wont to first challenge everything and then retract.

The picture above was taken in 1990, when, as a perennial insomniac, my system full of sleeping pills, I ventured out of my gate with my dog, Sheru, into the marsh opposite it, which bordered on the backwaters of the Adyar River, between MRC Nagar and the Quibble Island cemetery. The time was between 4 and 5 a.m., with hardly any light, the sun undecided as to when and how to rise. I mounted my Nikon F3 on a tripod, opened the shutter, and closed it at the end of between 7 to 9 seconds. I kept the aperture at 22 to cover as much as possible within my depth of field, since there was little visibility. The result astounded me, and was mentioned by all reviewers of the three exhibitions which followed, in Madras, Bangalore and Bombay.

I hope what turned up, voluntarily or because of my befuddled insides, would make scientific as well as aesthetic sense to the viewers.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Born to Die


This picture was taken from a room in Calcutta, at the place where my mother’s head rested while I was being delivered. It shows the roof of a Jewish dharamsala, a charitable lodge for travellers.

Unlike what is most popularly but not totally believed, life has no purpose, it is not intended, there is no reward, and nor is there a cycle of birth and rebirth. (Most often belief does not arise from intuition but is forced by superstition, lack of understanding of what life is, and threats or promises of punishment or reward.) 

The reality is that two chromosomes with compatible DNA accidentally combine and form rudimentary plant or animal or human life. As is its wont, all DNA material has a span through which it traverses before terminating or dying.

In a lighter vein, I tell people that the first thing on being born was that I cried because I did not want to be born. In actuality, crying upon birth is caused by the loss of the familiar environs of the womb, the proximate rhythms of the mother's heartbeat, and other not very glamorous arrays of sounds in the company of which you are ensconced.

I have somehow believed that if I did not want to be born, I had automatically forfeited in principle my right to create a life. I will never know if I am paying the price, or if I would have been less at loggerheads with the act of living, if I had had a child. At this stage in my life, it more rather than less, does not matter. What matters however, is that I have not wavered from my conviction: that I did not want to be born, that I did not and will not believe that life is cyclical or predestined, or mediates in its own destiny; that it is accidental and contingent, each contingency contingent upon another, ad infinitum.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Quiet Day

Video by Nancy Gandhi

For human beings around the world: What has a quiet day come to mean? Whatever it means, is it achievable, or partially or wholly prevalent, or has it become irrelevant, obscure; out of hand, out of bounds?

For creatures other than humans, large and small: Fortunately such inquiries or questions do not arise: they do not know that they exist, nor the laws that govern the universe. Neither do they know the turbulence of the planet they inhabit, which is almost entirely manufactured by the ingenuity of mankind, which, even when it is constructive, always leaves some destruction in its wake.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


to amnesia

salud! nostrovia! skål
prost! slàinte!

piyo, jiyo, ya yaar maro!

in times when
the pervading chaos
is drowning us
in incomprehension
as it spreads like
a swallowing storm

jaane bhi do yaaro

Anonymous wrote:

i lauuuu salute. The ribbon loops create the impression of a drunken decorated sailor trying with all the might of his tipsy will to stand straight  
And i love the lines. Brings to mind hum hi sab jahaan ki fiqr kyun karein / kabhi mili fursat to phir socha jaayega 
Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy wrote:

...Chabi hum rakhte hain
Saare khajaane ki
Hum se khabar tum sun lo
Saare zamaane ki
Aankho hi aankho me hum
Katale aam karte hai

Sabko salam karte hai
Sabko kalam karte hai
Dekho tamase kya kya
Hum aaj shaam karte hai
Koi nahi jo kar sakta
Hum vo kaam karte hai.... :-)

My reply:

Piye jaa aur pilaaye jaa
Jab aas bharosa
Pyaar ka dhoka
Sahaa na jaaye
Piye jaa aur pilaaye jaa
Agar jeena mushqil lage
Pite pite mar bhi jaa
Salute, salaam, cheers, tears

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


In 1978 an exhibition of my photographs (shown with poems which were written for them; or the pictures were taken for some of the poems that I wrote) was held in Bangalore. The then-Governor of Karnataka, Govind Narain, ICS, opened the exhibition, in the company of Raja Ravi Varma of Trivandrum, and members of the Secretariat. Among several speakers, the Governor also spoke. He had prepared his speech after his secretary had gone through the exhibition and taken notes, so that the speech became relevant and erudite. The draft of the speech was sent to me in advance, to seek my approval and comments.

Gov. Govind Narain going around the exhibition with me.

The Bangalore Photography Club members were also at the opening and thereafter. The then-President of the Club invited me to speak to the members at the Club premises. I felt honoured, and not very sure of having deserved such an honor. However, I agreed, and suggested that if the meeting were to be held at the exhibition gallery, that would be more effective, as there could be a question and answer session after the talk, specifically about my pictures, my approach to photography, and other aspects of photography in general.

The exhibition lasted for ten days, extended to twelve, and the meeting was held on the last day. After pleasantries and my talk on my interests, approach and limitations, when questions were to be asked, most of the questions related to wildlife photography. I discovered (for the first time; this was my fifth one-man show) that almost every member was into wildlife photography, and had questions related to it.

E. Hanumantha Rao, who was a friend, and who was among the few Indians who qualified for the ultimate in wildlife photography at that time, when, from India, there were only two or three such photographers whose work was encyclopedic and accepted by Life, National Geographic and other prestigious publications, was also present.

As wildlife photography was a subject farthest from my acumen or interest, I could only talk about technical aspects such as depth of field, and long exposures; and generally show appreciation for the adventurous spirit which was the most important thing required for that brand of photographic activity. I was appropriately apologetic for not being one of them. I said that my own interest was more in aesthetics: in balance, composition, the play of light and shadow, and so on. I felt that an excellent wildlife photograph might or might not have these elements: they were secondary to the capture by the camera of the animals themselves. Nowadays, of course, there are many highly talented and artistic photographers of wildlife. 

In those days, as I discovered then, birds, butterflies and other insects were considered to be part of 'nature photography,' while wildlife photography involved trekking, camping in the wilderness with a tent and all the other such paraphernalia, lying in wait for hours and often several days and weeks, with camera at the ready. Eventually, the animals of the jungle would become accustomed to the presence of the photographer, and would yawn or perform some other natural act as they lived out their lives, providing wonderful, but more importantly, informative and educative photo opportunities.

Anyway, the above, probably boring, preamble, is to introduce my first wildlife photograph: a mosquito on my pajama, having been vanquished, crushed, in the act of disproportionately gorging itself on my blood, and therefore unable to fly. So here it is, Ladies and Gentlemen. Please bear with me, and be indulgent. Do think of my indignation at the audacity and greed of the mosquito, even though I appreciate that it was only fending for its life.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


or fearsome
or annihilating
gender subjugation
or submission
ideological surrender 
or adherence
benevolent obeisance

one or all

Anonymous wrote:
i thumb thumb the photo but what is it?

i thumb it because of the intricacy of the multiple weaves which gives the impression of nuanced layers as in a good text or a poem or a film. 

i like the way the light creates the different shades of black and grey.  

i like the ominous dark shadow that falls over it as if to blot out its beauty but actually enhancing it.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

On the Road

Nothing But the Best:
the slogan of the maker 
of the terrestrial machine

does it envy the satellites
which watch over it
from space,
and often guide its course?

will it, can it levitate
to fly?
its whirrr surely shows
it is eager 
to rise