Kochi Biennale – 2016-17 — The Sum does not add up the Parts — Thoughts on a Trip!

Q-What is ‘art’?
A-A popular definition says – ‘Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
The ‘visual arts’ as a term covers – music, drama, film, photography, dance and performance arts.

Q-What is the Kochi Muziris Biennale?
A-Muziris is the ancient name of a port that existed in Kerala in an era gone by which had strong connections with Egypt and Rome. The Biennale called popularly as KMB was the brainchild of contemporary Kerala artists – Bose Krishnamachari and Riyaz Komu and had the backing of the Kerala government. Modelled on the Venice Biennale, the first edition was held in 2012. The third edition is ending in a couple of days.

All my friends who visited the place – went on and on about the place and put it up on a pedestal that my interest was piqued. So before the Aadhar card turns mandatory for booking train tickets via IRCTC, I booked tickets to travel to Kochi and just my luck, a day before I was due to travel, I had a bad fall and hurt my foot, with my right foot swelling up. As even walking became painful, I thought I have a bad sprain or worst case a hairline fracture of sorts. Started a bit early from office on Thursday and saw a doctor who gave medicines and said there was no fracture. Worked from home on Friday hoping all along that the leg would heal in time. I was not going to waste my chance on a solo-trip because of my foot. Thankfully pain came down substantially and with a pain-relief medicated strip covering my leg fully, I took the risk of travelling. The biggest plus, we have a neighbour, and the lady who worked earlier in a hospital gave Amma the insulin injection.

Train left at 10:30 PM sharp from Central Station, by about 11 AM, I was in Ernakulam South Junction, walked out, took a bus and headed to Fort Kochi. Bus fare – Rs 13. Got down at Pattalam Road stop and walked to Paul’s Home Stay where I would be staying overnight. Comfortable accommodation and a courteous family manage the property. Shout out to Deepan and Bragadeesh who stayed there earlier and recommended the place.

A quick bath, change of clothes and a snappy bus-ride to the Fort Kochi stop, from there another five minutes stroll down the road to Aspinwall House, tickets at Rs 100 a person and I explored the renovated building, which used to be a trading house for spices, coffee, tea, etc.., in the pre-independence era. Since friends who already visited the Biennale had posted a fair number of photos, I had a clear idea of what I would be viewing and to a fair extent the surprise element was gone.

I will be honest, if art is creating paintings, sculptures, etc.., I am a big fat zero and the struggles I faced to complete my Botany and Zoology record notebooks in high-school remain proof of my drawing skills. A lot of stuff went just way beyond my head, there were passages of explanations, there were poems, animated videos playing, all in different places of the property. Everywhere the young ones were busy taking selfies and it was becoming just damn exasperating to actually focus, relish and savour the fragrance/feeling of art for art’s sake.

I scribble stuff that I pass on as verse, a DSLR or a fairly decent smart phone camera lets you shoot photographs, does it qualify as art?

As I walked and walked and explored the sights and sounds of the old Jew Town area, I just had two thoughts that kept coming back!

What is art? Who is an artist?

If the idea was to promote local art and artisans and artists – why bring in so many people from abroad to feature their work here and half of it can’t be understood by the general public!

Why not promote the work of local artists? India has some great fine arts colleges, works by the staff and students needs proper coverage, not a name’s worth token gallery space.

TM Krishna concert and a concert by Thaikkudam Bridge complete the festivities.

Well organised, good opportunity for sales at the cafes like the Kashi Art Gallery and Cafe. Sell cakes and pastas at a price that’s not too high, nor too low, generate good business for local shops, autos and the premier heritage hotels as well as the small back-packer hostels and homestays, everyone gets a share of the money-pie. A good initiative indeed!

As I said, I do not understand art, the concepts, the ideas, portrayed.

A painting or a sculpture should hold my attention and I should understand what it is all about without a two-page guide to what it is all about. I guess art-loving people know a lot more and they can relish the experiences that the Biennale offers.

I am a commoner, I just visited as a normal tourist. I was left with a feeling of emptiness at the end of it all. Art did not inspire, elevate or nurture joy in me. I was left with a vast void and I realized that the entire premise caters to two diverse categories – those who understand the intricacies of art and cherish the place and the other group that goes about posing and clicking selfies. I felt like Trishanku or rather a shunyaku who could not fit in any bracket.

See you two years down the line, hopefully, I might grasp a drop’s worth of learning about the ocean of art!


The Show Must Go On

It is around 6 PM.
All the punctual staff,
Who enter on time,
Are ready to leave,
Their day has come,
To a wonderful end.
Having read and replied,
To a multitude of emails.

Others have processed,
A number of files,
Which have been sent,
To people around the world,
For translation into various languages.
Some people have focused,
All their energies,
Looking at statistics,
To determine advertising performance,
Others focus on digital advertising,
That has to be published.

Newsletters that need to be built,
Test to be sent to groups,
Before the final dispatch,
To the client mailing list.
Amidst all this; meetings,
Seem to be taking place,
With unfailing regularity.
A conference room with glass walls,
Distracts my attention and colleagues,
Seem to walk in and walk out!

I came in late today,
Thanks to a massive fault,
On the suburban train system,
Signal failure and track disruption.
My life has become a strange ritual,
Of rushing to catch trains.
Hoping they are running on time.
Sending an SMS to my superiors,
Begging for permission,
To reach a bit late.

Amidst all this hurry and worry,
A rodent has chosen to die,
It is caught in some AC duct,
That is hidden by the false ceiling,
We are being visited,
By technicians and exterminators,
The rodent is truly a devil,
Escaping all the probes and searches.
The stench of the rotting carcass,
Is sending my olfactory bulb,
Into a crazy tizzy.

The AC has been switched off,
The windows opened,
The pedestal fan swings,
From left to right,
And then right to left,
And I wonder with,
A sardonic smile,
Like the fan, I too am lost,
Without any fulcrum or purpose,
From second to second,
And day to day.

In some strange pursuit,
From one end of the metropolis,
To the other, from home to office,
And yet again from office to home,
Repeating the cycle,
All over again!
In pursuit of what?
Love, Money, Respect?
I do not know at all!
Like a robot, pre-programmed,
I am one more human,
Who sold his soul.

I sold my soul,
To adhere to the norms,
Of what this society,
Expected of me,
What my family wanted of me.
I no longer dream for myself,
Except for some visions of Mother Mary,
All that I get are nightmares!
Which have me waking up,
In a cold sweat, in spite of the AC.

This should have been a simple poem,
At the most 20 lines,
But this is the problem that plagues me.
No focus, no purpose, no pattern,
Or design – even in what I write.
A day at the office,
As usual as always,
Perhaps this is the only,
Short span, when I can keep,
My crazy mind free of worries.
For the work and tasks,
Assigned to me,
Will keep me occupied!

It is 6:15 PM now,
I started writing this poem,
At just about 6 PM.
In 15 minutes,
I have tried to cover,
The anguish that many of us-
Lost souls or souls who have sold,
Their souls in the pursuit of excellence.
What is it that lies ahead?
Where does this path take me?

At the end,
There is just one line,
There have been many,
Many such souls before me,
And there will be yet,
Many more souls hereafter.


Like Travis Bickle,
I look at the crowded streets,
The empty souls,
Disguised with mirth.
All fighting their,
Very own battles.

This too is a phase,
Wherever I go,
This phase shall rear up its head.
This is the Game of Life,
We are all players,
The show has to go on!

The Perfumer’s Poem

Have you travelled all alone,
With just a basic kit-bag,
Seeking peace, calm and quiet,
Away from the maddening pursuit,
Of bonuses, salaries, congratulatory emails,
And all those celebratory team-lunches?

Boarding a bus from the terminal,
Late one night after a maddening week.
I knew not the destination.
It was a relatively less crowded bus,
With some other state’s vehicle registration number.
Inviting me to board the bus.

There was a distinct smell of grapes,
When the conductor asked me for tickets.
He smiled; I smiled – we both knew,
He had consumed a peg to keep him steady!
I paid for my ticket, I said ‘last stop.’
He smiled again and gave me the ticket.

I stared at the motley crowd within the bus.
Newly wed couple right at the end,
All smiles and content headed for a honeymoon.
The middle-aged couple headed for a pilgrimage.
Some more people who seemed lost in their world.
The sisters from some church dressed,
In an ash-colured dress holding the rosary.

The bus cut through the traffic,
Leaving the madness of the city,
Fighting with space on the roads,
Evading cabs taking the IT crowd home duty.
Lorries transporting vegetables and fruits,
Other buses headed to other destinations.

As the darkness of the night,
Enveloped me in a safe hug,
I slept, wondering where this bus,
Would take me to?
I woke up after a few hours,
It was early morning.

I looked out of the window,
The smell of the hills,
Herbal mist with a dash,
Of citrus and tea-leaves,
I was happy heading into the hills.
The bus stopped at a point.

A small stream in the background,
A small hotel up-front,
Tea; pooris and aloo-subzi and jalebis.
There was a wait for a while,
Then the journey resumed,
The bus climbed into the mountains.

The countryside was picturesque.
I refrained from clicking pictures,
Just soaking up the beauty,
Of Mother Nature in its glory.
Finally we reached our destination.
Pushpagiri – a place in the mountains.

An abode of Lord Shiva.
It was a pilgrimage of sorts,
A redemption for the atheist,
Who seeked perfection in work,
Answers to troubling questions.
And a purpose in life.

The temple bells rung clear and calm,
The fragrance Of the incense and the flowers,
The stream that babbled away,
The wind that had the slightest
Hint of pine-cones from the trees,
That grew further up in the mountains.

I was at peace absolute peace!
This was indeed a journey,
A strange and necessary journey,
That I had to make.

This post masquerading as verse has been written for the ‘Inspire a Fragrance’ competition organised by Godrej and Indiblogger. The fragrances that I would like to capture and make a part of the range of fresheners and purifiers made by Godrej Aer are:

1 – The fragrance of freshly pressed grapes a fruity wine-like aroma.
2 – The fragrance of various aromatic oils – lavender, rosemary, thyme, patchouli all rolled into one.
3 – The fragrance of saffron and milk that one gets when eating some special Indian sweets (kesar rasamalai)
4 – The fragrance of flowers and incense sticks – the fragrance one gets in the sanctum sanctorum of a temple after the first aarti/puja of the day.
5 – The fragrance of green tea and pine woods!

So what fragrances would you like 🙂