Sunday, July 11, 2010

In the footsteps of giants?

Up until very recently, my idea of an artsy evening was slouching on my sofa, tucking away chips and cola, watching "Bats: Human Harvest" on HBO. If anyone were to tell me that there are higher forms of art out there, they would get Raymond Chandler in my best bugger-off voice, "There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that."

Mr Chandler; your Philip Marlowe, despite being inclined towards the odd whinge - which is a habit I despise, and would never indulge in - has kept me entertained for many an hour. But I'm sorry: I've decided to go over to the other side. I'm now what is known as a connoisseur; of the sort in "Cinema Paradiso," turning my nose up at the popular, and spitting contemptuously on the lower classes from my seat high up on the balcony. Also, to mark my ascendancy, I'm brushing up on my French and Latin, which shall soon be sprinkled all over my blog. So long, ignoramuses (ignorami?). It was nice knowing you.

All right,  that's enough self-congratulation. Let me get right to the point. A few weeks ago, I got to go to my first-ever book reading - with a real, live author and everything. I forget where it was exactly (there was free beer), but I do remember that it was in the basement of a mansion in a nice, quiet part of Delhi.

His name is Ambarish Satwik. Interesting chap, too. He began by bemoaning the general lack of scatological writing in Indian literature. From what I could understand of the mixture of Hindi* and English in his graphic novel, he's on an epic quest to make up for 5000 years of lost time. His reading was excellent, and had all of us convulsing in fits of laughter with his poker-faced delivery. And this other story of his, further hardened my resolve to never, ever get married.

He was followed by an artist exhibiting something that, even several weeks later, I can't make head or tail of. The title had the words "Mountains", and either, or all of, "Misty," "Smoky" or "Pink" in it. To describe this properly, I need to give you a mental image of the basement.

There was a projector set up so that the projection would be near a corner of the room, on a glass partition that separated the room we were in from the next. There wasn't much space; so, while most others were facing the section on which the projection would happen, the only spot I could get to was along the partition, facing the projector.

I was well away from where the projection was to be, though, and so figured I wouldn't be obstructing anyone's view. My view wouldn't be great, but I could live with that: it didn't seem like the sort of thing that would interest me. Besides, it was a basement with no air-conditioning, and I think I've mentioned somewhere or the other that Delhi in the summers is freaking hot. Unfortunately, the two exits could be reached only via much profanity from people whose hands and feet I'd step on. So I stayed put.

The lights dimmed, and something that looked a lot like a guitar, but wasn't quite one, made its presence felt. No contribution yet from the projector. But that's ok. David Lean and Stanley Kubrick, for instance, have started with a pitch-black screen and an overture. I was interested, all of a sudden: this guy was already rubbing shoulders with giants.

Meanwhile, someone starting cleaning the partition behind me. I was annoyed. It didn't seem the right way to treat high art. She was moving across the glass, slowly, squeakily toward the projection - which started up, by and by, and looked like a Rorschach blot in motion. Or maybe it was dancing bulls. I lost interest. Boredom crept in. The heat was getting to me. I wanted more beer. I wanted out.

I was staring at my shoes, immersed in self pity, wishing the window cleaner would move on and take her squeaking with her, when something started to pierce my shell of self absorption. I looked up. People were staring, giggling; there was even the odd camera flash. Having the "situational awareness of a dead goat," to steal a phrase from I-don't-remember-where, it took me a while to piece together the mystery.

Apparently, the "cleaning" behind me was part of the performance. She was smearing a wax-like thingy on the glass. What the whole thing signified, I cannot say: perhaps some comment on the transience of life, or maybe on entropy (spotless glass to begin with, getting progressively dirtier), or something. There wasn't much for me to do, other than blush a bright crimson, mutter a "Why the hell didn't somebody say something?" and creep sheepishly away. Thankfully, at that point, something malfunctioned on the projector, and they had to start the whole presentation again. I was no longer the centre of unwelcome attention.

I'm no expert on psychology, but I do know that there's only so much of watching the smearing of wax, in a hot basement - even if accompanied by music and dancing bulls - that people can take in a day. One 20-minute stretch, they can manage to sit politely through; but a repeat immediately after - and this time, with no one in front of said presentation, pulling pained expressions while studying his shoelaces - well, that's asking for too much. There was much loud whispering and exiting. I stole out, too, careful never to be within throwing-of-blunt-objects distance of the artist.

Outside, I felt a little better when I noticed worse philistines than me about. For instance, there was this group on the lawn behind me, who thought the restlessness of the audience was part of the show, and spent a fair while discussing that and other inanities, until I just about wanted to scream. But then again, Tarkovsky, on being asked why he kept the camera trained for 10 whole minutes on a dude, who was raising excitement to a fever pitch by sitting, reading a newspaper, in a moving car, famously came back with, "So that the idiots leave before the actual movie starts." Perhaps something earth shattering took place in the basement after the rest of us left. Besides, I thought of my contributions to the evening, and kept my trap shut.

I suppose the thing to do now is to wind the whole post up, with a succinct "lessons learnt", or how it all added up to a significant chapter in my life. There aren't any, and it didn't. However, since we all have a little bit of whimsy in us...

My ultimate fantasy career has always been "film director." Strange then that when my debut came, it would not be behind the camera, but rather on stage... after a fashion. Perhaps it's fate hinting that my future lies in following the footsteps of the likes of Lilette Dubey and Anthony Hopkins? I can already hear those of you who know me, muttering faintly, "No, it isn't." Still, there it is. The evening that launched me from the low brow to the high brow.

*My Hindi's not too good, but Dr Satwik helped improve it tremendously, with a few essential words that I simply must try out when I can manage to get a girl alone.


CarmenT said...

Amusing post. I got here from the AAYSR site who noted in a small post that you are up for review ASAP

Hopefully this will be one of the posts they read. Of course it's always hard to tell what it is they'll like. Anyway, good luck.

Rohan said...

Thanks, Carmen.

I've been on the edge of my seat for over a week now. My blog was in the list last week, too. Judging by a couple of one-minute reviews posted as comments on last week's announcement, they've likely spent the time on some extra bit of sharpening of knife...

Forcemeat the Clown (Rtd) said...

Sir, you have been reviewed. I sincerely apologise for the week's delay - I had a disagreement with a funny Scotch egg.

CarmenT - wink wink.

Rohan said...

Thank you, Forcemeat.

Since something at work has disagreed with me violently, leaving me rather incoherent, I think I should reserve comments for a couple of days.

missjane said...

Hopefully you won't be trying out the scatological ones on girls, Rohan, unless you're using the term a bit more, umm, loosely than I would. I do tend to the literal, mind you.

You could also use that quote as a rationale (apologies, raison d'etre) for long posts.

Rohan said...

Absolument, Jane. Erm, idiotes eunt domus?

missjane said...

Heh! I think what you forget is that we're on the internet... they are home. *g*