(“Cozy Donkey,” Swati Kurana, 2007, via NY Arts.)

From NY Arts profile of Swati Kurana:

I see myself as very loose, disorganized, and cluttered with my artistic process. I’m a collector, so I have too much stuff, too much music, too many tear sheets, too many journals, too many plastic flowers, too many hard drives with too many images and movie files. But I keep it all, because I hold onto a piece of text, a source image, or song that I want to incorporate in a piece. It often gets shelved for a while, until another text or image or song comes up that complements the first one, and then I ferociously work to complete it.

Although I respect artists with a singular vision, artists that paint from life or doggedly pursue a discrete theme expressed in a wash of watercolors, variations on one idea, I’m much more an eclectic; I always love reading about other artists working across media, jumping from branch to branch as the wind blows through the trees …

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Little-known fact: surly old T was a varsity cheerleader for a number of years in high school. Her caboose was loose, and her team was boom dynamite, and even when a rival high school burned the words “white trash” in 20-foot letters on her alma mater’s football field, she kept high kicking.

But even she is skeptical of the Washington Redskins’ stunt to cobble together a cheer squad for a new cricket side in India, as reported by Tunku Varadarajan in today’s Times op-ed section. And though I find the idea objectionable, I do like Varadarajan’s take on things:

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women’s groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India’s relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

I sometimes verge toward holding our fucking idiot president responsible for the fact that two of my brothers have risked their lives in the Middle East numerous times, but I try to stay rational about it. But….this? Despicable. Unforgivable:

HuffPo: Bush “Envious” of Soldiers Serving “Romantic” Mission in Afghanistan.

This is not bull-fighting in Spain. This is men and women, putting their lives on the line, often not really believing in the mission, but doing it anyway, because they feel a sense of responsibility. This is our youth — often, our underprivileged youth — fighting and dying because they were told to fight, because they were told our idea of ourselves depended on them being there for us. It is fodder for tragic novels, for reflection, for analysis. But it is not romantic.

And if you are really envious, go there. Fight. Subsist on MREs. Point a gun at someone who does not speak your language and may hate you not because you’re American, per se, but because you’re in his country and have leapfrogged diplomacy for conflict. Put your life on the line. Then come back and do it all over again, because you feel you owe it to us, or because you have no better options, or because you feel adrift. But don’t patronize us with your fucking delusions of grandeur, your sepia-toned imaginings of a conflict you wrought and yet seem not to fully grasp.

(HuffPo blurb from Reuters article.)

So I was watching network TV today, which I rarely do (I usually save my TV watching for the weekend and catch up on NBC.com, &c.), and a commercial for Vitamin Water that featured Kelly Clarkson came on.

“Oooh! K-dawg! You’re muh girl! I wanna break away!”

She looks awesome and cute, but the commercial is utter tripe — and not only because the product she’s shilling is, at best, utterly unnecessary. I think it’s supposed to be a spoof of German talk shows (?!), and the host is like, “Rock und roll! I hear you’re into trying new things! Like India!” And then Kelly’s all “Yes! I wanted to learn to be a snake charmer!” and the host honks “Rock and roll!” and then we cut to a guy dressed up kind of like one of those monkeys that wear fezes, and he’s playing a tiny piano, and he’s in … brownface?

Oh, India. More than a billion people, and the American media would have you believe that all of them fall into neat categories like (1) gurus/godmen, (2) starving peasants, and (3) tech geniuses.

A piece by Salman Rushdie, “The Shelter of the World,” ran in last week’s New Yorker, and while I didn’t find the story (a tale of Emperor Akbar and maybe-real, maybe-imaginary wife Jodha) as gripping as I have some of his work, one passage jumped out at me:

“The court was also full of foreigners, pomaded exotics, weather-beaten merchants, narrow-faced priests from the West, boasting in ugly, undesirable tongues about the majesty of their lands, their gods, their kings. When the Emperor showed her the pictures of their mountains and valleys they’d brought with them, she thought of the Himalayas and of Kashmir and laughed at the foreigners’ paltry approximations of natural beauty, their vaals and aalps, half-words to describe half-things. Their kings were savages, and they had nailed their god to a tree. What did she want with people as ridiculous as that?

They came in search of—what, exactly? Nothing of use. If they had possessed any wisdom, the inutility of their journeying would have been obvious to them. Travel was pointless. It removed you from the place in which you had a meaning, and to which you gave meaning in return by dedicating your life to it, and spirited you away into fairlylands where you were, and looked, frankly absurd.

Not sure whether it’s happenstance or by calculation, but Rushdie’s not the only person who’s got something to say about the erstwhile emperor. Jodhaa Akbar, a Bollywood flick billed as “a sixteenth-century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal emperor, Akbar, and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa,” debuted on February 15 and has been in the news ever since, not least because its historical accuracy has been called into question. The Times gave it a fairly good review, but people in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Sonepat, and Ambala will have to wait for pirated VCDs of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Cecil B. DeMille-esque grasp of cinematic grandeur.

The Times of India offers a fairly good precis of recent controversies related to Bollywood releases; the Hindustan Times also chimes in with analysis of the phenomenon.

Mass hysteria, the making of a mountain out of a molehill? Or a microcosm of a deep sense of unrest about (historical and contemporary) identity in India? I can’t say that I have any answers, or even insight. But Bollywood — and artistic expression, disciplined studies or street-level outpourings — does, however, seem like an important vehicle for understanding the subcontinent; I certainly find it, and the way people in the middle class interact with it, more enlightening than figures from the World Bank about the economy’s growth.

Additional links:
Bollywood literacy for the 1990s and today, a Berkeley course coordinated by Leena Kamat and Katherine Good
Hindi cinema: making meaning of a popular culture
Desi critics
Queering Bollywood
Bollywood as India’s cultural ambassador
Bollywood for the skeptical
Upperstall: a better view of Indian cinema
Bollywood fashion police
BollySpace 2.0
Beth loves Bollywood

One of my latest guilty pleasures has been doing Google Book searches on my favorite topics. A search for “tea” yielded a full scan of Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, a meditation upon the social meaning of the beverage (particularly in Japan, but larger meaning can certainly be extrapolated). Okakura writes:

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the ordinary facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life. … [W]hen we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.

Okakura also offers insight on the foibles of globalization (applicable, still, 100 years after he penned this tome):

Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavorable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information is based on the meagre translations of our immense literature, if not the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers.

(And, an addendum in the form of a cool link: the National Institute of Health has an interesting collection of info on America’s tea craze, which blossomed right around the time Okakura’s book came out.)

The Rubin Museum keeps doing things that make my ears perk up — first, there was Brainwave, a series that explores how art, music, and meditation affect the brain; now, they’re sponsoring a weekly happy hour called the K2 Lounge (Sir Edmund Hillary, spinning in his grave? No matter!), and the upstairs galleries will stay open late while DJs spin fusion music.