The Little Magazine, Volume IV, Issue 4, 2003

This is the first page of my first published story, STARDUST. It has been a long time since I wrote another... Funny how today, the last day of 2008, I suddenly felt nostalgic about my life as a fiction writer.

Here's the full text of Startdust, uncut!!

IT WAS ALMOST as if the refrigerator was part of Vidisha’s sack race. It shook. It rumbled and cleared its chilled windpipes. Made threats, as if it was going to explode. But Vidisha was too far gone to notice. She was thresholding in raw unworded screams, like someone gagged on unbearable pain. Her coming drowned the refrigerator’s chilly wind-piped noise for that half inexact minute. But the refrigerator went on alone. Unbothered.

“Is it coming too?” she said laughing, so hard that she felt herself choke and her stomach tighten like a fist. Saurabh bobbed his head in the direction of the refrigerator to check for outward signs of pleasure—or pain—causing it to stop, suddenly as if his eyes were a remote control. It stood in the corner interrupted and chastised, panting its last moments of ecstasy into some soundproofed hole in the wall.

She entered sleep like a half-taught swimmer, tentatively wading into the depths and crosscurrents of new waters. She waded some and looked back to regard the newness of Saurabh’s hairy body, the clean-shaven knob of his neck and the purplish marks that covered it like a smile. She thought the smile had been her doing. It made her happy. She felt like an artist who had just signed a masterpiece. She wanted to hold him but felt hesitant. She didn’t know him any better than when she first laid eyes on him.

In a way he had been the strangest of her strangers. His passion had had the hint of ritual. She felt worshipped and restored. His body seemed cold beneath his sweaty skin. Like her favourite fried ice cream, he’d felt warm and soft on the outside but cold and solid within. She liked to feel the two dessert sensations melt and tease the inside of her mouth. But with Saurabh there had been no melting and teasing.

Yet Vidisha was thrilled to have met him. Got him. And have him added to her list. He had made her feel things she had only read about in women’s magazines. She slept dreaming of bruising him again. And of sex like she had on her last night at home.

They had met in the morning at Sapna Lodge. The few times Vidisha didn’t have a place she came to Sapna. Sapna was a dream she visited whenever she felt lonely. She felt safe at Sapna, because the staff there didn’t raise eyebrows when she checked in with different men.

In a way Sapna was like Vidisha’s architectural double. She liked the way Sapna was built. Three storeys tall, neon-announced, brick naked and covered in loud magenta bougainvillea, Sapna was like an Amazon amid Sundar Nagar’s corset pygmies with French windows and grilled gardens. Like Vidisha Sapna was her own woman. She had guests but that was the limit of her attachment.

Vidisha was visiting India after three ‘long’ years. Long was her way of laundering the oily innocence of a girlhood she had loathed. She had hated the rules of belonging. Hated being forced to be good because she wasn’t born fair and rosy-tempered in a family that was pink and polite.

She’d gone to New York to study international merchandising at a heavy-duty fashion school because her family could afford it. But the fashion school was just an aside. An excuse. Her real study began after school hours. Among the other things Vidisha had lost in New York was the way her mouth moved to use words. She now said “Mur-see” and “What-eva” when she was frustrated or disinclined to argue. She also slurred her ‘r’s, yawned her ‘a’s and limned ‘i’s into words like ‘can’t’ and ‘man’.

She met Saurabh at Sapna’s wood and stone reception. He was hiding behind a shock of yellow roses with lips the colour of healing wounds. Three brass-rimmed Roman dials kept an eye on him. And on the time in London, New York and Moscow. Delhi's time was trapped in the bright red dots of a digital timepiece below the roses.

Vidisha had wondered why the receptionist had seemed so officious and distant. In her long absence from her country she had become unused to the ways of men like Saurabh. Their reserve, their gruff friendliness and their roundabout ways of showing interest. But Vidisha hadn’t totally forgotten her Delhi days.

Though Delhi wasn’t exactly New York there was lots to study by way of variety and numbers. The study was for a dictionary of male sexual behaviour. Vidisha thought of herself as an authority on the subject. Not that she was ever inaccurate in putting her studies into boxes of imaginary cardboard.

But her dictionary had a serious flaw. It had just one point of reference. Herself. Saurabh had interested her because he'd seemed unboxable. Not so much in the way he looked but the way he held himself. There was something odd and serious about him. It was as if his hands were tied to extremes of caution and urgency on two different posts behind his back.

He had avoided looking at her when he’d asked for her passport. His smile had been weary as if he was Atlas holding the world on his back. The fat steel dial on his left hand showed another time. "How long will you be at Sapna?" was the only full sentence he’d spoken to her.

The rest of their meeting had been like a dream. She had produced her Master Card on which she smiled, thumbnailed and abbreviated, signed the Lodge register and accepted the plastic keytag from Saurabh gingerly brushing against the generous fuzz of his hands. On her way to her room she had dazzled him with her smile as she bid him "Adios amigo".

Vidisha was from Panipat. She hated it when her fashionable classmates in Delhi said, 'But you don't look like you're from whassitcalled'. In her heart she had never felt like a towny. Even when she first came to Delhi as a student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, she hadn't felt small because of her towniness. It was in Delhi that she first felt the urge to begin work on her dictionary. She was soaked in freedom like Delhi's winter fog. She could do as she pleased, with whosoever she pleased and no one would bother.

Now she was back in Delhi for a week to re-live her first taste of freedom. And Sapna was her natural choice. This was her last week of doing as she pleased before she took a taxi home. Home was a family that took marriage seriously. Like serious business. Her parents, her brothers, their wives had all married for money. And now it was her turn. They awaited her homecoming with a list of good matches one of whom would ignite their family business some more.

Vidisha’s friends in New York had wondered how she could settle for an arrangement so soulless. But she had smiled her dazzling smile at their disapproving innocence and said nothing to dam the floods of mush and sympathy.

Her week in Delhi was in a way a finale to her freedom as a dictionary compiler. Because in the list at home was squeezed in a sentence of good family life. Her six years and a week had been her barter for this life sentence. Not that she was heavy with regret. She had lived her freedom well, almost to a fault. Besides, she had no intention of giving up her dictionary work. But she knew marriage was sure to cramp her style.

Getting Saurabh's attention hadn't been difficult. There was knock at her door the moment she woke up to switch off the AC's heavy breathing. Saurabh stood waving a piece of paper masted with thin curvy letters. It was a 'Guest-Relations Form'. He said he'd forgotten to give it to her at the time of check in. He looked pale and apologetic. Vidisha smiled at him and invited him in for some shots of American bourbon that she'd purchased duty-free to celebrate her final week in Delhi.

"I have no one to share it with," she said as she stood away from the door to let him in. If he was surprised he didn't show it as Vidisha welcomed him with her dazzling smile. She had been jetlagged but the five hours of air-conditioned sleep had washed away the half-moon stains below her eyes. She was still wearing the prickly white bathrobe that she had got into after her long and detailed shower. She smelled of green apples, peaches and the faint spirit of nail polish. Her hair seemed longer and shinier than the plait she had brought it in.

"Ice?" she asked Saurabh as he sat struggling with his pinstriped tie and collar. "Lots, no water, thanks." He spoke like a whisky man, she liked that.

Vidisha didn't like small talk but with Saurabh she felt compelled to use it. "You surprised I called you in?" she asked looking at him meaningfully as if what was to follow would hold their conversation like a coloured weft.

"No," he said and creased his eyebrows. "But I was surprised you offered me bourbon, I really love whisky," he said to soothe the sting of his unexpected vanity.

"I am glad I have some surprises," Vidisha said feeling a strange pull towards the thin, pale and hairy stranger in a grey suit sitting facing her. It was surprising because he had hardly said anything to make her feel that way. It was as if he was telling her things with his shiny boiled egg eyes. His pupils were golden brown and impervious like thumb pins on a noticeboard. The inscrutable eyes of a user, said a voice inside her head.

But she disregarded the impulse to box him. She just kept staring at him, at his big boiled egg eyes, at the unassuming neatness of his grey suit and the black of his leathered feet. She felt as if his body circulated some liquid charm instead of blood. She felt the space around him teeming with Saturn rings. His body emanated light and star dust and his eyes were like a remote control. She felt small and lost before him.

For the first time in her life Vidisha felt unsure of herself as a dictionary compiler. For the first time in her life she felt the tiny hair on her skin goose up in anticipation of sex.

"I am sorry," he said intruding her sizing up of him.

"Why sorry?" she asked surprised.

"Because… because… I’m really not what you expected..." he seemed tied again to caution and urgency. "I'm Saurabh by the way."

This made her laugh and cause the spell to break and thin out like dust from a rag. Unlike her dazzling smile her laughter was natural and didn't precede an intent or a scheme. But she rarely laughed with strangers. Especially strangers she meant to strip and study and classify without guilt or remorse.

Rarely did she cross the fine line between observer and observed.

She was tempted to lie but couldn't. She felt the rings regroup; the light and star dust around him return, and his eyes turn back into a remote control. She felt her bathrobe turn threadbare and slide off her body.

"You are different, Saurabh," she said, "in a very nice way". She felt the ‘very’ necessary. But there was also some truth in it. He was nice in ways she could not expand and put into a box of imaginary cardboard. His niceness was like the finely woven grey of his suit.

"But let me tell you, I don't usually do this... especially with strangers," she lied suddenly looking very firm and honest.

"You are probably right," he said without sarcasm or humour, looking deep into the frosted hollow of his ice and bourbon as if his eyes could see her lie refract in his glass.

"What do you mean, probably?" His casual smugness had irritated her; she wanted to know his mind.

"Er... I mean the part about strangers," he said as he tenniseyed her: head to toe, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. He seemed to be frisking her with his eyes.

He was different and nice, she thought, as the first mouthful of icy bourbon warmed and tingled the sides of Vidisha’s face. She felt herself relax. This wasn’t just another dictionary entry.

"Tell me what you thought of me when we first met?" She always liked to know what her specimens thought of her. But with Saurabh this question had come out without warning. She didn't want to know whether he thought of her as lonely or confused or downright sluttish. With him she didn't want to get answers in wordy elaborations. The sensations he was causing were enough.

Saurabh smiled and slid deeper into the foam-backed bracket of the sofa chair that had been his perch since he came in.

"That maybe… maybe… you could help me," he seemed sure, without sounding so.

"Are you on something?" she asked feeling a sour taste rise up the base of her mouth. Saurabh just gave her wan smile as if her question had unlocked something inside him.

"I'm sorry... I.. I.. didn't mean to sound rude." She cursed herself, smiled her dazzling smile and asked him for a refill.

Somewhere around the second bourbon their lazy conversation taxied like a braking airbus. All the warm feelings queued up inside her braking taxi were banging to be let out. She needed the urgent stepladders of touch and Saurabh's buzzing body to land, touchdown and celebrate.

She placed herself on the arm of his sofa chair and began playing with his cool, black, longish hair. He moaned and cupped the soft handles of her bathrobed shoulders and drew her face close to his. In his eyes Vidisha could see herself split and made tiny like images on reversed binoculars. The kiss that followed evapourated the six years of sweat and study that had gone into the making of Vidisha’s dictionary.

In her deep narcotic sleep she hadn't heard the refrigerator's second coming or her soft dreamless moaning. When she woke up the late-setting August sun had gone leaving behind a weak twilight. The falling darkness was luminous both outside and inside her refrigerated room.

She wondered what was causing the chill and looked towards Saurabh, waiting for him to say something. But he just lay there half dressed and propped against the headboard, regarding Vidisha’s nakedness with his big eyes.

"Shouldn't we order something to eat?" she asked to ease the discomfort of his gaze.

He shook his head and groped below the bed for his shirt. "I have to go," he said rising from the bed as if their sack race had been just a diversion.

There were things that she wanted to say to him but could not. She felt her mouth zipped like a space suit. She wanted him to stay, and let her look into his eyes and see whether her split selves had changed. But he was almost ready.

Her eyes were beginning to brim and overflow but she didn't want to sob and let him know what his leaving was doing to her.

She wanted to fight, weep and do all the things she'd hated some of her specimens for. But her body was beyond obeying. "Is that it?" she asked when she heard the click of his steel watch buckle. He turned around and looked in her direction forming difficult words of goodbye. But somehow the words never left him.

His footfall was soft like a cat's and the only sound he left behind was the greaseless whistle of the door's hinges.

Vidisha's mind was racing. It went back to her first dictionary experience. The first time she had lured a man: a boy, a smitten classmate, into her lab. The sex had been awkward and somewhat painful. The parting more so but only for the smitten boy, who had expected a romance to follow their first encounter. She had shut him out from her life after the first time. He had begged her, cried on the phone, called her names and then spread stories about her among the other students. But Vidisha had moved on to other specimens. There was a visiting lecturer, then a fashion designer, then a model, then a stranger she met a party, then another stranger and another and another.

There was something nice about strangers, they didn't follow her like abandoned puppies. Didn't bark and whine outside her door demanding love. They took the experience in their stride and moved on. Like her. Some strangers had called and wanted to keep in touch but she never showed any enthusiasm.

Her US stint had been like Delhi replayed at high speed. The freedom was delirious and the variety mind-boggling. She had done most nationalities, most races, and most body types. But they had all been studies. In her heart she desired nothing more than the experience, the sensation, the insights, the tales, the twists but only once.

When her friends talked love she'd turn coy and reticent and said it was a personal matter. But it was a personal matter that she'd turned into an art form, like graffiti. Her only fear was AIDS. She always carried protection in her shoulderbag. She lugged it around like a Santa Claus of safe sex.

With Saurabh the Santa bag remain untouched.

But never had a dictionary entry been so abrupt. Saurabh had been different like no one else she'd studied. She wanted to tear out those eyes. Keep them in a petridish and watch them rot. Yet she wasn't sure of her reaction if she met him again. She couldn't say what she'd do if she saw herself split and made tiny in those eyes again.

She decided to check out of Sapna. Cut short her finale. Saurabh had changed her in ways she'd never imagined. She had friends with whom she could stay. But she didn't want to meet anyone. At the reception there was another grey suit who called her Miss Vidisha. She smiled at him and lied about her leaving Sapna early.

"There's been an emergency at home," she told him as she dropped the keytag on the counter. "Can you please arrange for a taxi? I’ve gotta go to Panipat right way. I don't mind paying more," she said coolly.

She wanted to ask him about Saurabh but didn't know where to begin. What's his full name? Is he married?

An Ambassador came. Vidisha’s two suitcases were loaded into its back pocket. She sat hugging herself in the emptiness of the stone and wood reception.

"Miss Vidisha your taxi is ready," said the receptionist. "Hunh?" she looked at him as if his voice had thwacked her back into the palm of a giant hand, like a yoyo. "Yes, thank you," she inhaled deeply to push out the words she’d been dying to get out of her. "Saurabh..." she said, her voice thin and brittle, "When do you think he’ll be back?"

The receptionist's looked shocked, as if she'd casually enquired about his sex life. "Who?" he asked surprised. "Sau-rabh," she repeated irritated.

"You mean Saurabh Doshi?"

"Yes. The guy who was here before you."

"Ma'am but it's not possible..."

"Just tell me who was the guy who checked me in. The guy with those big eyes." She was beginning to feel an angry vein burst inside her head. She hated Saurabh Doshi or whatever he was called for putting her through these explanations. For making her leave Sapna early and hate herself for it.

"You are right, Miss Vidisha. The guy with big eyes is Saurabh Doshi, but it's not possible..."

"Am I making this up then? Or is this some sick game the two of you play? Okay just fuck it... " It seemed hopeless. She was beginning to have grave doubts about her judgement, her integrity as a dictionary compiler. Why was it that she'd fallen the one time she'd strayed from her path.

"Ma'am I could say the same about you," said the receptionist mildly angered.

"What the fuck do you mean?" She had never used that word on someone she didn't know.

"I am sorry. Please. I am sorry," Vidisha said as she struggled to find a tissue in the depths of her Santa bag. It was as if all her anger had suddenly liquefied and found an exit through her eyes.

"No, no, it's okay," he said as he went behind the counter and disappeared below the wounded yellow roses.

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to shout at you," Vidisha said drying her eyes. "Please don't mention all this to him."

The receptionist came back with a loose leaf of newspaper and laid it on the table before her.

From its folded page stared Saurabh Doshi, clean-shaven and pale faced, in a blue background passport mug. He was smiling like he had been when she'd asked him if he was on something. But his eyes looked smaller. Beneath him was a column of fine print news whose lines kept flying off the page. It's headline first blurred and then leapt out at Vidisha. With some difficulty she ordered them back on the page. They said 'Jilted lover hangs himself'. Then the words lifted off the page again, like some black insects. They encircled Vidisha for a few seconds then entered her spine and travelled all the way up to her head.

She wanted to keep her eyes open and read on but her lids got too heavy. The wood and stone reception began to melt like a snipped movie scene. And from the corner of her crumbling reality she could hear the receptionist asking her if she was okay.

Two digital frames juxtaposed vertically to look like a face :)

120 cm X 75 cm
acrylics on canvas

Old dish antennas like old anything are given to rusting, falling apart and crumbling. Age also gives them character. A certain aura of experience, a shoulder for smaller creatures to come and rest on and reflect. They also become a harness for the daily wash and other random wired things.

These pictures are the work of the same afternoon that made the Wall-bleed-scrabble post possible.

This picture happened just by chance, on an impulse infected by the shutterbug bug(?), as I was scrounging around for 'subjects'... on my apartment block terrace. I had been reading about Nick Veasey, an amazing artist who uses the X-ray phenomenon to tell his stories.
I found this composition on the horizon of a cement wall and the floor. The wall was randomly splattered with blue and the two scrabble squares were (conveniently) lying just next to it.
The story goes back to the Christmas of 1876 when in the home of Mithibai and Jinnahbhai Poonja was born a boy whom they named Mohammad Ali. It is pertinent to point out here that this boy was NOT floated off on a reed basket to escape an order to kill all boys... of a certain age, from a certain community. It is also pertinent to add here that this boy did NOT grow up in a foster home. But the boy had an upbringing of privilege. He grew up and learnt to speak the language of the court, the Empire’s language of logic, empiricism and substantiated debate. He was a thumping success at this. Later, he took to fighting the Empire with its own logic, its own sense of fair-play and constitutional methods.

Then one day he had an epiphany that ‘his’ people were not the people of the larger population of the land. He realised that his people instead were a smaller group, a people that at some point in the history of the land had taken up a faith of another kind. His own family had had a similar history.

After the epiphany Jinnah, as the man was increasingly referred to, decided to take his people away from being underlings of the larger population of the land to a Promised Land of milk and honey. A land so pure, so full of righteousness that the old land of inequality and injustice would become a distant dream!

Here unlike the Biblical story of Moses, Jinnah did reach Canaan... he got to see the newly-formed land of purity and righteousness. But then like Moses, he soon followed his forefathers into the great beyond leaving his people to their own devices, which ironically were in short supply. The people soon learnt that the milk and honey of rhetoric could never match up to the institutions and systems needed to administer justice and maintain peace.

With this realisation began Jinnah’s Canaan’s descent into chaos. A chaos more destructive than the one they’d been promised they were leaving behind. They realised the fact that their purity and exclusivity in fact stood on very shaky ground. Not based on the lofty ideals that they seemed to be in the beginning. Rather, they realised, that they was based on an error of perception. On defensive reasoning. On brittle egos. They realised that their Canaan was not a land of milk and honey but a sprawling necropolis, a remnant of another civilisation that was now simply called Mohenjodaro or the Mound of the Dead.

So for want of better ideas, Jinnah’s people hid behind the graves. They made the graves their home, dug more graves, renovated old ones, redecorated them. They transferred all their energy and passion to grave-building, making graves that were bigger, roomier and grander. They dedicated their scientific know-how to the pursuit of making graves. They didn’t care about food or drink, they didn’t care about their poor but built graves with a vengeance.

At some point they realised that they had more graves than people to fill them so they started training their young men to find newer, faster ways of filling up their works of passionate enterprise. They developed, not entirely on the own, a weapons system of staggering proportions, fitted with the capacity to annihilate millions at the press of a button.

So why did Jinnah’s people take on such a self-destructive trajectory?

For this we have to go back to the story in the Bible. The story of an incessant wait…

According to the Bible Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive a Code of Living for his people and this took what looked like ages. In this time his people got restive and demanded to go back to a somewhat familiar system of being. So they collected all the gold each one had, melted it and built themselves an effigy of a calf and started worshipping it. This was the exact opposite of the form of worship Moses had in mind but that’s another story.

Jinnah, unlike Moses, never came back to his people with a Code of Living. And so they collected all their gold and built themselves an effigy of a government. An easy calf-like system that could be tweaked and bullied into looking the other way while the real work went on undisturbed. The real work was the work of making war, something Jinnah’s people were familiar with having fought their way out of the larger population of the land. The fighting took many forms, since there was no larger population to fight they began to fight each other. It was a fight for dominance. The Punjabi began to fight the Sindhi; the Sindhi, the Balochi and the Balochi, the Pathan and the Pathan, the Punjabi. And soon the Land of the Pure had not just one golden calf, but a whole dark pantheon of violence, of hatred, of funding underground wars. It had written its own Code of Killing and Dying. It had turned itself into a state, in direct opposition to the one dreamed by Jinnah. And what was worse he was not coming back. Besides there was no shortage of graves.

Today, Pakistan continues to carry on its strange and vengeful legacy, its biggest and vilest jihad against its founder. It carries on finding newer ways to negate and erase everything that he sought, everything that he argued for, going back into everything that he wanted to deliver his people from. In fact Jinnah’s Pakistan, like the Biblical story, has rubbished the very idea of a nation of based on the tenets of a faith. Was Jinnah wrong? Or what we're seeing today is a posthumous punishment... a garland of shoes that his people have taken upon themselves to put around his grave?
(Pix by Sahar Z)

This past week has been a great time for Delhi… two shows about the city that boldly navigate the public-private art debate.

It's thanks to them that Delhi's suddenly found time to get in touch with its eternal throb. It is a city that not only defines India (established as it was by the King of Gods, no less) but also pulsates with the confluence of many countering energies… a daily race between those who are visiting it and those that call it home or office, all of whom remain but a blip on its eternal radar.

This is the City of Djinns and cosmic DJs who with a mere sleight of hands mix, scratch and direct the fortunes of a billion people. This is the Delhi of sophisticated protests: a sit-out at Jantar-Mantar followed by cappuccino at Barista. Also the Delhi of imperial impulses: spread across two states and still grabbing land. Delhi gives you a voice and ample opportunities to use it. It also gives you immediate recognition anywhere else in the country... Who but a Dilliwala can meet you for the first time and ask 'Do you know who I am?', or remember other people's mothers and sisters at the drop of a hat? Or say 'Don't mind, yaar' every time he jumps the queue to get ahead. And who but a Dilliwala would give you wrong directions to avoid appearing impolite.

Yes, this is Delhi, who at 48 degrees C is a cauldron of contrasts. It is also a city that challenges many ideas about the very Nature of the City.

The images above are part of the city's first public art festival; those below, from a gallery show about the nature of urbanisation.

CHAUKHANDI TOMBS, Karachi (pic by Sahar Z)

Banjar Hai Sab Banjar Hai
Hum Dhoondne Jab Firdaus Chale
Teri Khoj Talaash Mein Dekh Piya
Hum Kitne Kaale Kos Chale...

This song sums up the morass I find myself in these days... it has been a strange and tumultuous fortnight. We'd returned from Pakistan, a month back, full of 'amazing stories' and then on November 26 something happened that turned what we'd thought were small crevices into giant canyons.

Suddenly all that love and bonhomie that we felt there began to seem small in the face of the hatred that 10 young men carried in their backpacks. A hatred that they unleashed on unarmed people without a thought to the network of roots that joins every man to five hundred others, each of whom is joined to five hundred others. And each of those five hundred, to yet another five hundred. These roots are invisible to touch but we see them in the eyes of those we love. And once those eyes are forced shut that love turns to hatred. A hatred that is carried on in multiples of 500 through the invisible roots of our eyes.

In this past fortnight I have listened to many theories, counter-theories, solutions and super-solutions about what SHOULD, COULD and MUST be done. I have also been part of many conversations in front of the TV and on the Net and in these moments I have felt the draining futility of all this solution-finding, this building of air castles, this bullshitting ourselves and others in the hope that somewhere in the heart of these discussions lurks an answer, however nebulous. The thought is comforting if comfort is what you're seeking.

Perhaps we talk to let off steam. Or feel protected by the force of our convictions. Or maybe we just talk because it's easy.

The one and only thing that I have realised in this past fortnight is that we've been wrong; way off the mark in combing a wasteland of words in search of Paradise or its active principle, if there's such a thing. We've walked a hundred 'black miles' in search of a Subcontinental Utopia, a place where former brothers could be re-united. But we're nowhere close to resolution.

I have come to the realisation that answers to the problems of our beloved Subcontinent lie not in talk and discussions... a pursuit that invariably gets entangled at the edge of some old scar. Or falls right in the middle of a still-festering wound.

But I do have great respect for the roots that grow from our eyes. I respect them because these roots don't know any boundaries... they just grow... and fall in love... with other roots. And in their growth and multiplication lies my biggest hope. I shall therefore not talk, not discuss the pros and cons of this war or that peace... these boycotts or those CBMs... your terrorists and our victims. I shall not talk this language because it is the language of subterfuge and reaction.

Instead with open eyes I shall remain silent so that my roots don't stop growing.

My piece in TEHELKA magazine...

SCENES FROM Lollywood’s earliest raunch-fests play to a sex phone call in Urdu… Mustachioed heroes and plump heroines are preparing for what promises to be a very naughty time. This is an installation called Telephone Pyar by Adnan Malik showing at Islamabad’s prestigious National Gallery of Art, an institution run by the government in the high-security Presidential area.

At Lahore’s National College of Arts a unique miniature department gives new direction to the old subcontinental tradition. Many miniaturists from here have found recognition around the world. Among them is Mohammad Zeeshan, who has just returned from a residency programme in Weimar, Germany. Zeeshan’s new work takes a dig at the English alphabet using very graphic nudes.

Lahore’s famous Hira Mandi is also home to Cucoo’s Den, an art gallery and café run by Iqbal Husain. The son of a dancing girl, Husain is now a respected painter whose works are a keen document of the red light district. The rooftop café with its marble crucifix and grave slab centrepiece is a must-see for any visitor to Lahore.

The art community in Pakistan may be small, but it is thriving and trying to find a face and voice in these troubled times. It has not been an easy task, given the tightrope that ‘artistic freedom’ often means in Pakistan. But the environment also gives a certain muscle to art and creative transgression. These are not exactly halcyon days for the arts, but it’s hugely better than the ‘dark age’ of the Zia years where anything with a whiff of rebellion could be declared ‘un-Islamic’. That was the time when wearing sarees and watching films were also outlawed.

Read full article...

77 cm X 56 cm
mixed media (charcoal, acrylic, enamel paint and reflective tape) on paper

This started out as a collage using the chamakpatti (reflective tape) I got from Pakistan and some (new kinda) paint... but gradually the paint encroached on every possible bit of space. The paint is the colour often associated with the sky i.e. unlimited space... so in a sense it was space that took up space... and created form within it, form in the form of galaxies, suns and nebulae... form that could also be contained within an atom... form that could expand to distances of millions of light years... form: square, reflective, blue, white, gold and iridescent.

This is Pakistan’s Sistine Chapel, more commonly known as Karachi's Frere Hall. It’s an old colonial church that now has the misfortune of standing within sighing distance of the American consulate. This makes stopping your vehicle in its vicinity and trying to capture the building in your camera a security risk. Thankfully, this idiotic injunction is routinely flouted (evidenced by the photographs).

Frere Hall also houses the largest work of Pakistan’s best-known artist Sadequain a.k.a. Sadequain Naqqash, so named for the filigree-like intricacy that he developed as his style. Frere Hall's ceiling was given to Sadequain to use as a canvas... but an untimely retreat from this world stopped the project midway. As I see it this was a blessing in disguise because visually the vacuum of the unfinished half of the work balances the sizzling otherworldiness of the finished half.

(Pix by Sahar Z)

In the month that Sahar and I spent in Pakistan we had the privilege of visiting galleries and private collections where 'a Sadequain' or 'Sadequains' were held up as trophy-rocks from an alien galaxy... you're proud to have them but don't quite know what to make of them. And that is precisely the beauty of Sadequain. He leaves you baffled and confused. It's almost as if his strokes have the power to enter your head and disturb you. At the National Art Gallery in Islamabad where 46 Sadequains were on display we distinctly remember coming out with a headache.

Such a subliminal power is often associated with the written word and not the (thousand) words of a picture but Sadequain (also a notable versifier and calligrapher) manages to blur the boundaries between the two.

This post is my humble tribute to the artist...

56 cm X 77 cm
water colour on paper

77 cm X 56 cm
mixed media on paper

This is my first work that mixes mediums; one that I am most happy using (acrylics) and another (pastel) that gives me a feeling of playing with dust... coloured dust. It's unsettling, coz dust doesn't settle. It keeps moving, keeping the paper in a sort of flux. As if what you're trying to say is eminently unsayable. In the sense, it defies saying or putting into words. I don't have a name for this work so I am simply calling it 'The Unsayable'.

77 cm X 56 cm
pastel on paper
There is this grid that runs through the whole Universe, and through everything that's a part of it. It's a sort of scaffolding onto which hang layers and layers of matter, anti-matter, and energy and the electricity produced by their constant intercourse.

99 cm X 56 cm
acrylic on canvas

According to Carl Sagan 'pareidolia' was a survival technique that human beings used to detect anthropomorphic life-forms wherever and whenever they felt threatened or alone. He believed that they were in fact hard-wired to join random and unlikely dots to see faces, limbs etc. An exaggerated or distorted likeness of themselves! In times of trouble and despair these imagined beings became gods or protective deities. And in good times they became wrathful deities who needed regular appeasement.

180 cm X 77 cm
acrylic on canvas

(detail of) 180 cm X 95 cm
acrylic on canvas
The cosmos of cause and effect continues to expand and unfold...

91 cm X 73.5 cm
acrylic on canvas

91.5 cm X 91.5 cm
acrylic on canvas
In his book, The Songlines, novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin describes the songlines as, "...the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as 'Dreaming-tracks' or 'Songlines'; to the Aboriginals as the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law'."

(detail of) 180 cm X 80 cm
acrylic on canvas

86 cm X 106 cm
acrylic on canvas

Here the viscera is neatly re-arranged to create something memorable and yet not disturb peristalsis and other body functions.

86 cm X 76 cm
acrylic on canvas
On the outer edge of our Universe is a Great White that prowls its dark waters looking for the stray planet or planetoid that's spinning out of its orbit around the Sun. Like the Great Bear the Great White is also a constellation, a formation of stars that the people of the planet from where it is visible have so named even though their planet has no sharks, no seas, no water. They have named it from memory, a flash that they have of their Earth days when they hunted sharks from a small Alaskan archipelago that was wiped off the face of the Earth in a tsunami.
This is the story of souls that spend lifetimes on each planet, dying on one and being born again on another, progressing out, away from the Sun until they slip into the dark waters and are born in another universe, another planet, as another order of beings.

acrylic/charcoal on A4 paper
There, swimming in the Atlantic is a giant finless fish that eats other smaller fish. It's a one of a kind mutant fish that has no mate, no friends, no family.
What is the name of this fish?

Here's a clue

114 cm X 70 cm
acrylic on canvas

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."
--Daniel 12:2-3

70 cm X 70 cm
acrylic on canvas

92.5 cm X 82.5 cm
acrylic on canvas

This one's about 'space perception'. The picking up of an image from a host of inchoate images or 'ghost archetypes' in trying to understand that which stands out or is alien or new or so seeming because of a lack of proximity, or distance. It also tries to understand space as an everchanging entity. Whether it is an illusion of the senses where by reducing distance from and increasing proximity to (or vice-versa) things we're constantly updating what we know or don't know.

100 cm X 90 cm
acrylic on canvas

105 cm X 70 cm
acrylic on canvas
Sometimes in the stillness of the night I turn into a unicorn.

acrylic on board
(50 in X 7.5 in)

Then the String snakes its way through the clouds. Like the glorious Quetzalcoatl, the first principle of the New Worldians. This is how the human-sacrificing Americans saw their creator. Like a giant string with wings.

70 cm X 80 cm
(acrylic/charcoal on canvas)

Inside a museum
lies a glass-box
in it is a crown
from which come out
flashes of colour
red, green, gold and white.

acrylic on board
(50 in X 7.5 in)
As the story of the String unfolds many new smaller strings are created, rather transcreated from that one original String. These new strings make noise, like a guitar in the hands of a new learner. And in that silver noise of newness the strings fight to exist.

80 cm X 90 cm

The Unconquerable Sun... because everything and its cousin cluster around it in eternal orbits, like slaves driven by an absence of choice.

100 cm X 80 cm
acrylic on canvas

Am back to my eye obsession.
The eyes here are swimming in a sea of visual references. They appear somewhat dazed, awake to everything that they see.

They're the eyes of the artist, who hungering for experiences immerses himself completely in the process of seeing and catalogueing... till he finds it in him to build stories around that which he finds worth his while.

180 cm X 120 cm
acrylic on canvas

This is Camouflage recamouflaged: given a few more coats, swipes and textures. I was told that it looked like a 'halfway' work. Now I hope it looks 'over'. It's now called 'Swamp Feast'.

178 cm X 25 cm
acrylic on canvas

"Isn't it a great feeling when a painting finally tells you to step away from the paintbrush? I love how expressively your inner crocodile burst onto your canvas..."

----Bone Singer

Collage: newspaper, ink, shoe polish on A4 envelope
I was going through a weekend newspaper supplement when a page stood out and began to make faces at me. So I took my cigarette and made holes where its eyes were. But the blind page still didn't stop mocking me. So I tore it out. Burnt its edges. And made a mohawk out of its head. All this, I thought, would teach the page a lesson. But it didn't. It flapped its mohawk at me in a way that can only be described as obscene. I then got some glue and stuck it on an envelope. Like a stamp shaved and serving a jail sentence. Now I wanted to make faces at the page. So I drew and drew and drew... over the stamp, on the envelope... I drew like a maniac stopping only when I had two half faces and a quarter. And then I took some shoe polish and blackened them further.
No page was ever going to mock me again.
Pic: Sahar Z
This car outside Parwana, my apartment block, caught fire some days ago. Luckily all those in it came out before the fire spread, which probably explains the broken windscreen and windows. You can't make out what colour it was before the fire, because all of it has evapourated. The mustard stains on the body are made up of rust and the residual grey of the paint base. The upholstery and the foam inside it has also turned to ash, leaving behind exposed coils of metal. The head and tail-lights are now gaping holes like the eyes of a skull. The car is a Maruti 800, the first small car to hit Indian roads, way back in 1984. Now there is talk of phasing out this once middleclass dream car.
Parwana, incidentally is a moth in Hindi. It is often poetically used as a metaphor for compulsive self-destructive behaviour, like the moth that spirals into the flame after what becomes its last dance around the fire. What remains is a chintinous frame on which once hung a moth shaped being.



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As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment



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