Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Short and Long of Dress Codes

There is a bar at the corner of the street near my workplace. This bar recently threw itself open for 'quick lunches'. So in I sauntered, there were a few guys sitting on bar stools. The place itself had a funky decor with twirly chairs and swirly colors. I took one look at the waitresses and it took me a while to come to my senses. I guess they believed in parsimony in dressing. Add this to the fact that they were attractive women. And those long black boots - How comfortable would it be to wear those in Summer? Guessing that this was how bars had uniforms for their female employees, I left. And yes, the lunch was quick which was besides the point.

My head seemed to scream "Discrimination" through every nerve cell .I am not interested in the argument, "Well they wear it what is your problem?".The point here is I percieve this as using a woman waitress as a sex object to pander to the male psyche. The issue is that employers can get away with this easily as long as the employee does not object. The first time I faced this issue of discrimination was in high school when I cut my hair very short. There was a rule in our school that the girls had to wear ribbons and hence had to wear long hair and fold it up in plaits and the boys were not allowed to grow their hair. And I had to rebel and rebel I did. Even today time and again Anna University or Some medical college or Fake Kurta Clad Intellectuals stirs up this women-dress/culture issue.

Upon searching for the legality behind these enforced stereotypes and discriminations I was surprised at what I found.And What courts decided as late as 2005. The ridiculousness of these arguments literally makes one's blood boil. So just because someone does something off work and is used to it they can be made to do the same at the workplace.This is like saying, All women employees should make coffee since they anyway make coffee at home (ok let's make it Rasam, I don't make the coffee at home)

I am surprised that this News from Australia did not catch a lot of attention. This is relatively older and happened in 2005. From a legal framework as to what constitutes discrimination and what does not here is another article. In another case, a woman employee was forced to wear makeup.And they could do nothing about it. I am completely appalled at reading this. I know that the entertainment industry relies on this given the penchant of nightclubs and places like hooters catering typically to their male clientele.
This is from the same societies who classify porn and prostitution as illegal and make criminals out of people. So these kind of dress codes, night clubs which sell and peddle soft titillation is completely legal while prostitution is not. Who draws these lines?

Be it in attitudes to cheerleading or television anchoring or shows like Beauty and the Geek it does show that women are still far away from true sexual equality.And that is why some of us still go around calling ourselves feminists.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Meeting of Minds

I read this poem of Herman Hesse today. It reminded me of Bharatiyar's poem titled , Nirpaduve Nadappaduve.. He asks if all that stands, moves and flies is but an illusion. And a mere illusion..

Sometimes one gets tired of philosophy or spirituality or even rational deconstruction and dry reductionism. A beautiful morning, the sun and a lovely breeze. The philosopher and the spiritualist deconstructs it as the world , a canvas painted by a benign creator.And the rationalist deconstructs it as the power of elements combining in all its glory. At this point, the aesthete is lost.The power and the ability to just be - to live the moment is missed. I am reminded of J.Krishnamurthy's words - to look at a leaf without thinking of it as a leaf, just drinking it with your eye and not let the mind interefere with your vision. It is spring going into summer and every bright day brings a million questions.At the end of it all, one feels tired. exhausted. One wishes to command the mind to just shut up and drink it in. Just be.And do nothing else.

This is Hesse's poem.Today I might not identify much with a lot of Hesse's writings in terms of its inherent soft-spirituality but there is him in an old world aesthete, a certain characteristic at once German and still unGerman that still appeals to me.

Is this everything now,
the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees' song,
Is this everything
only a god'sGroaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony,only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird's cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-

But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wikispaces for Veena

Ever since I heard about this, I always refer to myself as an Air Vainika. My theoritical fascination with the Veena probably started due to the charismatic figure of Dhanammal. Dhanammal to me represents all that the Madras Carnatic Patriarchy was not. I find it gleefully satisfying that there was someone who did not pander to the egos of the head honchos. Ironically Dhanam did have certain proscribed rigid gender views as to how women should sing without sounding the tala loudly. Despite this, she seems to me a woman who led her life the way she wanted it. My practical fascination of course started with this incredible lady.She brought to life several compositions that existed only as notations in my mind. When I listen to her render Dikshitar's compositions in ragas Navroj or Neelambari I have a feeling that this was how the composer intended it to be.The way she weaves vocal and veena alternating with the right stuff to be highlighted is remarkable.

So finally in 2000 I took upon myself to learn the veena. As it so happened, at the end of the first day of my class I ended up having an intricate argument about Veena, Dhanammal and Banis and depth of gamakas with my music teacher who was from the Mysore School. Thus ended my tryst with attempting to learn the veena.Some people say that as a student learning the Sarali Varisai the above argument was uncalled for but I disagree with them.

Now I recently had an opportunity to work on making a Wikispaces for the Veena.My lesson learnt after building this wiki is that wikis are addictive.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Worker Reads History

I don't particularly feel like writing or blogging, so here is a digg from the past. In 2002, I went on a historical tour of some of the remote Southern temples. That was a time when I was quite high on a diet of indology, indic research institutions and indigenous scholars and save-the-palm-leaf-manuscript type of thing. Among these temples wase Dharasuram a small tranquil spot near Kumbakonam. Like all other places the board proudly proclaimed that Rajaraja II built this temple. On one hand I was awestruck by the artistry and the architectural marvel, on the other I could not but wonder about the dynamics of temple construction. I do understand that it provided some kind of livelihood.

But Who were the thousands of workers who were commissioned for this? How did they agree to it? Were they compensated enough? Were they slaves and refugees of war who did not have an option but to pander to the ego of a king?
A million questions raged in my mind as scenes from The Ten Commandments and Egypts Pharoahs played over and over in the background. I did try to dig up some references but did not get enough answers and then abandoned the cause. And then I found this poem of Bertold Brecht and it reminded me again of those questions on those marvels of timeless art crafted by nameless faceless workers. Yes, the anarchist feels very red today!!

A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?
Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
So many particulars.
So many questions.

--Bertold Brecht.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Making Allies of Ragas

A recent revisit of two compositions of Dikshitar in Darbar.There is more to this raga than meets the eyeapart from the obviously stated and restated issue that this raga in the South Indian system as an allied raga to Nayaki.There is even a standing joke attributed to various musicians that when someone told them that their Darbar had traces of Nayaki, the musician retorted saying that 'A Darbar (court) ought to have a Nayaki'

An old school musician of the Dikshitar school once told me that Dikshitar's Darbar ought to have traces of Kanada.Recently someone pointed out an interesting fact to me - Why does Dikshitar's Darbar not have any G G R Sprayogas which are usually stressed as its typified distinguishing prayoga.When I say distinguishing prayogaI mean in the context of today's South Indian musicians trying to distinguish it from Raga Nayaki. with its elongated Nishadha. So the South Indian Darbar at one point of time was closer to the Kanada constellation. Interestingly one compositionof Tyagaraja Nityaroopa which was supposedly sung originally in raga Karnataka Kapi is now sung in Darbar.(Karnataka Kapi is again another raga whose name keeps cropping up everywhere but not much detail is known of its identity - which is today conveniently placed closer to Kanada than Kapi) .

My guess is that Dikshitar and Tyagaraja had composed in a certain older flavor of Darbar.This Darbar probably had an older flavor similar to the North indian Kanada group.Dr.Harold Powers in one of his papers , mentions that at some point of time this Darbar usurped musical material from Nayaki thus weakening Nayaki in the process. This seems to be the perfect explanation for this phenomenon.Raga X arrives on the scene and in its form very different from Raga Y.,Some enterprising musician/composer mixes in some Y with this X , making a modified X. Now this Raga X begins to slowly sound more and more like Y so now we have Y's existence questioned. To combat this situation they add additional distinguishing characteristics to X, so X now morphs into a complete Z and now in the new world this Z and Y become related. So when this Darbar acquired new features from Nayaki there needed a way then to distinguish it from the other raga and thus this new set of phraseologies such as GGRS was invented. It would be interesting to see a study on the supposedly distinguishing characteristics of some of the Carnatic allied ragas in vogue today andtrace them historically.I would like to think that several of these distinguishing prayogas would be relatively newer additions to these ragas added specifically for this process of grouping,regrouping and reinventing.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Facists R us

So now environmentalists,war protesters, gay rights activists, animal rights advocates, anti-abortonists (well that one came as a pleasant surprise) are all Single Issue Extremists.Hail the infinite wisdom of Alabama's Department of Homeland Security.

The term itself is interesting - single-issue terrorism.The sheer direction and dimension this line of thought takes is unbelievable.For every issue in the world, ranging from Nishadhae in Begada to the war in Iraq there are passionate people on every side. But the Governmental approach and attitude to this issue is alarming. I understand that antiabortionists have in the past been associated with violence but look at the other groups.They all have been more victims of violence and persecution. Antiabortionists fight against the rights of people while the others fight for their rights.I am not sure how close I am ideologically to classifying myself as an anarchist but after reading this and looking at the general attitude of the Government I think I am pretty close to being one.

The term "Single Issue Terrorism" is broadly accepted as extremist militancy on the part of groups or individuals protesting a perceived grievance or wrong usually attributed to governmental action or inaction. Generally, three principal issues are regarded to fall under that definition: animal rights, environmentalism, and abortion.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Whose ethnomusicology?

I had mentioned the insider-outsider conflict with regards to Indian Philosophy from an abstraction point of view.Again when it comes to music, the word ethnomusicology would always cause a distinct discomfort in my mind.It somehow used to make me feel that it is used from the perspective that the West alone has a classical tradition and other music systems are essentially ethnic as in primitive, folksy, tribal etc.I have read statements from the late Prof.T.Viswanathan talking of similar reactions The primary problem here was the assumption of Western musicology as "Musicology" and other systems as "Ethnomusiclogy".Today most scholars and researchers have come to terms with the idea that Western musicology is Western ethnomusicology as is Chinese ethnomusicology or South Indian ethnomusicology.Leaving alone the problems and politics of etymology aside, what does ethnomusicology have to offer for indigenous practitioners and researchers? Lawrence Witzleben in a paper titled 'Whose ethnomusicology?' discusses the two fundamental questions ,Is ethnomusicology as understood and practiced in the US and Europe suitable for the needs of non-Euroamerican scholars ? How can we reconcile the universalistic ideals of ethnomusicology as an academic discipline with the specialized needs,established scholarly conventions of a particular culture and its musics? He adds a beautiful dimension to the insider-outsider perspective normally understood as unidimensional.

What is all too easily forgotten is that "insider" and "outsider" are multiplex and relative perspectives. Every researcher is an insider in some respects and an outsider inothers: a "cultural insider" exists at many levels of specificity (ethnicity, language, dialect; country, region, village, or neighborhood of one's origin),as does a "musical insider" (general music knowledge, performer or theorist, knowledge of a specific instrument or tradition, level of performanceskill). In addition, each individual has a unique combination of attributes which connect them to or distance them from a particular topic, group,or individual: these include gender, age, religion, economic or class background,education, and political orientation. Even in an ethnomusicologyprogram whose purpose is to train "emic" researchers (in the broad sense of "Chinese people studying Chinese music"), insider/outsider issues are still highly relevant, as the people and traditions studied are in some respects inevitably "the other."

Again when it comes to articles on musicology I find this cultural acclimatization a difficult barrier to cross.For instance, if you read an article by a typical South Indian performing musician/ scholar in the age range between (50-80) say on some compositional aspect of Tyagaraja's music you will soon be reading a huge paragraph on the 9 kinds of bhakti and the emotional states of Tyagaraja.This inherent esotericism would certainly baffle an outsider (in the country/cultural sense).Similarly there are brilliant articles by indigenous North Indian musicologists who frequently indulge in polemics.I have read an article on Dhrupad where in the middle of nowehere a huge diatribe against Pandit Bhatkhande and his That classification was launched. This is not to say that the scholarship of the West is all propriety and sobriety but there is an academic discipline which prevents these.Of course the situation in Indian universities today might be different but I am talking about the pool of research articlescurrently available across journals and publications.