Posted on 27-10-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Five legislative assemblies have elections in November-December 2013. Political parties are fielding candidates who’ll get elected on their emotional hold over the locality they belong to. These elected representatives with scant administrative knowledge generally depend on bureaucrats to govern. As professionals, bureaucrats naturally care more for career ascent; their mandate is to execute official rules and regulations, not to meet voter expectations. 

I believe if Indian politicians were to acquire an entrepreneur’s caliber, the lot of the governed would positively improve.  An entrepreneur can set a vision for the common good. With domain knowledge and risk taking ability, an entrepreneur administers to make things happen, as the objective is to promote industry growth and create wealth for the people. But not everybody can be an entrepreneur, similarly everybody cannot be a politician.

That’s why I was very happy to hear that a personality like Nandan Nilekani, with outstanding entrepreneurial skills, is likely to be a candidate in the next Parliamentary election. His extraordinary global knowledge, leadership and forward looking vision to bring technology for transparency and improvement of life from the bottom upwards can transform tomorrow’s India. The condition of course is that the political party he represents does not disturb his practical vision and accurate focus to drag him to their old fashioned, disconnected-from-the-masses political ways.

Just as abolition of illiteracy does not come without specific effort, political standards cannot change unless professional politicians drive politics. A government program on how to make Indian politicians and civil service more entrepreneurial driven would be very useful. If minimum knowledge and skill criteria are established to qualify for public and political office, we won’t be worrying whether those with criminal records will be eligible to govern us.  The masses will benefit when political leaders become entrepreneur driven.

The real estate boom is an example of how ignorant, unprofessional politicians can be harmful. Suddenly a city corner gets 5000 additional apartments, yet infrastructure surrounding this improves barely 10%. Won’t these areas become miserable 10-15 years down the line? Governments and bureaucrats are not taking an aerial perspective of what the side effects could be. From Independence onwards, there’s been lack of vision or initiative to reform civic areas in hygiene and security. I’ve seen expensive apartments having large open drains alongside carrying black sewage dirt of the city.  The foul smell reaches the 3rd floor, yet occupants with low civic sense don’t revolt, nor does the municipality bother to fix the system.

Try entering a male public toilet even at the airport. You have to fight people pushing to get in or out. Sometimes a new toilet has a rush of flowing water in the urinal which can even touch your body or mouth! If you stop to use the toilet at a highway dhaba, it’s at grave risk of disease infection from insect infested excreta not cleaned for days. When you rush out holding your nose, can you imagine the hygienic condition of those who are serving you drinks and eats? As an income tax paying citizen, aren’t you eligible to demand better public facilities?

There’s the related issue of uneducated masses misusing any good public initiative like roadside toilets.  They destroy the facility not only out of ignorance of the usage system but from total lack of civic sense to respectfully protect public property. In the last 10 years Indian salaries have risen considerably. It’s evident from the new technology possessions the social climbers have amassed, but on visiting their homes for research I’ve found their toilet condition has barely changed. Irrespective of earning, unless people understand “better hygiene, better mind” to be the real dimension of life, things will not change.

In practically every street in India you’ll find a man or two turning away from passing people and cars. He’s enjoying turning on his personal tap water, very confidently makes jerking body movements and then turns around relieved to continue his walk down the street. Neither he nor the public appears offended by this act. When women can control such uncivil behaviour, why are men devoid of civic sense?

Twenty years ago I came on a cultural mission from France with 12 journalists.  Landing at 4 o’clock in the morning in Mumbai, on the way to the hotel we watched people sitting on their haunches at the roadside. The same scene was repeated driving in from Kolkata airport. The French scribes appreciatively remarked on the religious devotion of Indians in early morning prayers. Little did they know these poor slum dwellers had no access to toilets. 

Individual poverty should not affect individual and collective hygiene and civic sense. If we don’t strategically and instantly take care, within 10 years our country will become the breeding ground for disease and the world’s garbage dump. There’s immoderate growth of the consuming habit, but I don’t see the government or political parties take any action on this unhygienic, polluting subject our billion+ people have to put up with every day.

Disease spreading phenomenon like prostitution can easily get legalized to become a hygienic profession with mandatory medical verification for sex workers. Their customers can be trained to demand disease free service. Is it not a crime that red light areas have no easy access to condoms? Why should protection of sex workers become the sole responsibility of NGOs or Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation? The overall prevention of disease has to be enforced as part of the agenda of political parties and the government. 

If entrepreneur politicians prioritize public health, they can drive hygiene and civic sense as a disciplined, project with a task force that has clear responsibility. The public will never demand such a scheme; the government has to take the initiative to prevent disease and provide cleanliness to society. I hope India will embrace a high quality persons like Mr Nilekeni, irrespective of political parties, to change our country’s infrastructure, remove poverty while providing education, job and living comfort.

To download above article in PDF Entrepreneurial politicians

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/entrepreneurial-politicians/1187806/0

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Posted on 20-10-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Creativity is a hunger that incessantly chews the brain. Wealth and fame go by the wayside when you are chasing that ray of imagination to create a new dimension in the world.

They say creative people are eccentric, ego-centric and unsocial, but such interpretations are totally misleading. In reality, artists have an inner struggle on how their idea can get a foothold. With passion, guts and belief in themselves, their only ambition is to establish that distinction, they barely care for anything else in life. Artists can never think about a directional career which 90% of non-arty people pursue. So from the perspective of people who cannot see beyond the boundary of everyday routine life, artists are often considered vagabonds.

Actually a true artist is extremely self-disciplined. There’s no question that the dust of vagrancy can ever settle on their self urge. Take the example of my 75-year-old European artist friend you met in my last week’s article. His 45-year-old wife and muse recounted to me how he fulfils his hunger for expression and how she luxuriates in his passion. Her artist husband suddenly wakes up at night, pulls her into his atelier, very roughly takes off her clothes. At first she mistook this behavior as his wanting to make love. But he puts her on a pedestal, intensely strokes her through his eyes, mixes paints that he puts in her body, to find a matching body colour. She says she’s always amazed at how, with sensuality and excitement, her body responds to his paint brush. He reveals no physical sexual urge, but his paint brush is filled with a sexuality that engrosses them both in a summit of ardor. Steeped in the artist’s mind and brush colours, her body in his canvas, it’s never ever occurred to her to question whether the paint could be harmful for her body.

Only after hearing her have I understood how a muse can entirely change an artist’s canvas. Not everybody can be an artist’s muse. She devotes herself to these sessions, sitting frozen nude hour after hour, allowing her artist husband to just watch her, not paint: “I am memorizing your flesh, your sensitive touch.” He mesmerizes her saying he paints the intrinsic memoir that her eyes and body reveals, a sensation above any digital picture, and beyond her own consciousness.

One day I went with them to an artists’ gathering in a sculptor friend’s house in Britanny. Amidst the gossip an impromptu painting session started. When this artist started painting his wife’s face, I was amazed to watch how deeply her feelings had penetrated his mind. Even with a thick brush, his strokes on her cheeks, neck, edges of the eye displayed sensitive nerves. I expressed my appreciation to her, how his paintings, so modern in artistic form, have a universal sensual appeal with subterranean meaning. She spontaneously wanted to share my impressions and invited me to another artists’ gathering in Paris. For 90 minutes people listened in rapt attention as I recounted my experience of that day; then a writer took it forward as memoirs of an artist’s muse. I later came to know my artist friend had had many frustrating relationships, but only this muse could fuel the hungry passion of his inner self. He married her, they have a baby. This is my living experience of an artist’s untold hunger mitigated when the right muse is found.

Another illustrious muse was Russian-born Gala, without whom Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was helpless. In March 2013, we had to queue for 2 hours to see the largest retrospective exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris of this prominent Spanish Surrealist painter, sculptor, and cultural icon of bizarre extravagance. But it was certainly worth waiting to see his several works that magnified Gala. Actually Gala was earlier an inspiration to many artists, including André Breton, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst and her first husband poet Paul Éluard. She could recognize creative genius when she saw it, and had relations with many artists and intellectuals. For 3 years she lived in a ménage à trois (threesome) with Ernst and Eluard. In 1929, she accompanied a group of artists visiting Dali in Spain. Love at first sight struck Dali and her, so she stayed back with Dali while her husband returned to Paris.

“It’s mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures," Dali had said as he started signing his paintings with his and her names. The couple married in 1934. Ten years older than him, Gala became Dali’s agent and re-directed his focus from a liberal ideology to totalitarianism. She mixed with high society to start a private Dali collectors club. Affluent investors would contribute every month; on Christmas Day they’d each get a Dali painting at a coveted, exclusive party in Dali’s studio. Dali and Gala shared 53 productive years together, “Without Gala, divine Dali would be insane,” he said. They spent the World War II years in America where he did many repetitive society portraits, window displays and promotions which brought disrepute to the Surrealist movement but made the couple very rich. Dali encouraged her penchant for young men as he practiced candaulism, exposing her in his paintings for other people’s voyeuristic pleasure. Rock singer and televangelist Jeff Fenholt was allegedly among her last toy boys when she was over 80 years old. That she bequeathed him a million dollar home on Long Island, USA, was among the reasons that Dali and Gala’s last years were very bitter. Yet after she died in 1982 he could barely function; convulsed with terror, he’d spend hours crying on her tomb.

Although the artist’s model can shape the way the creative image emerges, it is the artist’s hunger for expression that can never be curtailed. With curiosity, observation and action, artists always unearth society’s trends through brush strokes on a white canvas.

To download above article in PDF Fueling the hunger

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/fuelling-the-hunger/1184857/0

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Posted on 13-10-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Society values art for many uplifting reasons. Art can preserve history, evoke feelings of pleasure or inspiration, voice individual or collective opinions and be sacred in culture or religion. We read of the lives of famous artists posthumously, but wouldn’t it be interesting to peep into the life and times of a contemporary artist? Let’s look closely here at his rapport with his model.

In the course of my quest of art, I befriended a well-known, well-to-do European painter whose work critics predict will be enduring. He was 75 when we met, I initially figured his 45-year-old wife to be his daughter; they had a 12-year-old son. We would meet from time to time, visit homes of sculptors with other artist friends of theirs and spend very creative evenings together. In fact it was really inspiring for me to be in this French arty milieu. My artistic sense enlarged infinitely.

At their Paris apartment the wife introduced me to a 30-year-old handsome Spaniard who appeared a paying guest student or their butler. On one of my visits to the artist’s home the couple was having a sparkling discussion with the young man; it seemed like he was the host of the house. He always accompanied us to artistic pursuits and the artist’s wife was very attentive to him.

Three years later, a classmate from my art college Ecole des Beaux Arts who was very close to this artist’s family suddenly called me to accompany him as the artist’s wife had a big problem with her man. She threw him out and he’s retaliating furiously. I couldn’t imagine the old man in this scenario. When we arrived, I realized the problem was with the Spanish guy.

Here’s the story of my friends, and it’s definitely not fiction. Being tremendously in love with his wife, the old man allowed her to have a relationship with a younger man if she so required. At some party there was an instant spark or “coup de foudre” as the French say, between the wife and this Spaniard looking for accommodation in Paris. It was clear this Casanova’s ambition was to find a cozy love nest. The wife brought him home to enjoy intense love with him. But she never sexually abandoned her husband, who was happy that she was happy. They lived happily together for 7 years, the husband, wife, son and lover and everybody knew of their exceptional relationship. Cleverly winning her sentiments, the Spanish man flexed his muscles, exerting power over the little son and tried to grab their property. He got the house address endorsed in his passport, kept all residential documents to prove that this was his home.

It seems the wife found true happiness with the Spaniard in the first 3 years, but was so emotionally drained that she could not dislodge him in the next 4 years. When he became violent after 7 years, she put him out with great difficulty. Later I heard her polyandry continued with other men. Somehow her extra marital relationships always ended in violence. Why did she need the family protocol of husband and child, when a lover is under the same roof? Her husband never wanted to leave her; her affection for him was intact. For her, is family a status symbol, is living in opulence a need, or is continuous, free and open adventure her game of life? Does this love story say she loved to live in a blur? I did not get any answer, but this is a memoir in my diary.

Very naturally and openly she used to converse with me about her experience of two types of love sensations. She’s convinced her husband is a genius, “My postures and portraits are all over his paintings, he’s declared that my eyes are matchless for all time to come.” When the artist paints she says she feels his caress all over her body. She talks passionately, with sincerity, not using flowery vocabulary; I have always found her to be genuine. She says her husband spends countless hours to focus the right light to illuminate her body, different parts of which she says can reflect different colours. Using the kind of skill that her artist husband paints his brushstrokes with, she explained the pigment of her skin in detail. She narrated with simplicity that the artist needs her desperately for his emotional security. He wants her to be his muse and model, and to get all the love she gives so generously. She needs an experienced man who treats her with the affection of both a father and a lover at the same time. People may think she’s with the artist for money alone, but her sentiments expressed with fervour filled her words with depth. I still could not fathom whether she engrossed with affluence or with having the father-lover relationship.

On the other hand, when she had narrates her infatuation with the Spaniard, it gives her a totally different character. She gets wide-eyed saying his youthfulness penetrates her body and mind like a fresh bath at the Garden of Eden. His kiss conjures up the abundance of rose petals on her body where she goes astray in the misty dream of hallucination. Sometimes the Spaniard is brutal, “I think I need that. It wakes up all my senses, it elevates me from real life. He is the bountiful lover of forbidden, beautiful Eden.” It’s difficult to understand how this woman balances her emotional level. She’s never said anything wrong about either her husband or lover as she has the caliber to use their different love doses as psychological medicine.

Clearly, irrespective of the artist’s age, achievement of her immortality through an artist’s canvas and sculptures is a dream come true for her as a muse. To criticize this woman’s character would be a big mistake. An individual’s emotions are so fragile; it is more aspiring to understand this fragility because that’s where mental anaesthesia so easily sits on.

To download above article in PDF Artist-muse rapport

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/artistmuse-rapport/1181875/0

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Posted on 06-10-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Through art I’ve imbibed a certain familiarity in smoothly reading human character. My alma mater, Kolkata’s Government College of Art, was established by the British in 1854 with “the purpose of teaching industrial art based on scientific method to youth of all classes.” As a student here in 1970s, I was sent next door to the Indian Museum to study ancient Indian sculptures. Since 3900 BC, Indian art has been expressed with voluptuous feelings through celestial apsaras to Ajanta frescos, Mughal miniatures to folk and tribal art.

But when in class we had to draw the nude figure, my craftsmanship automatically shifted to European art. That required perfection in anatomical drawing, accuracy of human figures, nature or still life. Somehow my artistic hunger felt incomplete in this expression of realism. I was unsure of where I was headed until I suddenly discovered unrealistic disruption in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings in the library. Simultaneously, unlike before the Renaissance era, the artist’s personality was being given an identity. Such artistic disruption so appealed to me that without finishing my course I headed for France, with just $8 that my mother could muster up, in search of disruptive expression of Western art.

Since prehistoric times, art has been intertwined with religion. Europe’s oldest discovered cave art in northern Spain’s El Castillo cave is over 40,800 years old. Paintings of large animals drawn 17,300 years ago were found in France’s Lacaux caves. That’s why behavioural modernity goes back 50,000 years when people began engaging in different civil activities. They started practicing art and music, growing and cooking food, playing games, burying the dead, long-distance bartering, making fine tools and becoming conscious of personal beauty and artistic decoration.

Every religion has used art to propagate its faith. Artistic embellishments portrayed belief in god’s power over humans. South Asia’s Indus Valley Civilization from 3300 to 1300 BC has inference of religious art in swastikas and Shiva-Pashupati seals found in the sophisticated, advanced urban culture remains of the Harappan period. Sacred art of Sunni Muslims prohibits representation so you will find highly evolved calligraphy and ornamentation. Buddhist art of 6th century BC has tantric symbols and Buddha images. Chinese art dates 10,000 BC, but was later influenced by Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Ancient Egyptian Nile valley art from 5000 BC to 300 AD was highly stylized and symbolic, veering around pharaohs regarded as gods. Even the Central American Maya civilization from 1500 BC to 1500 AD had art intimately serving a religious purpose.

Christian art from 70 AD wanted to tangibly illustrate religious principles. Western art evolution has 13 broad movements starting from 7th century BC Classical antiquity. Centered around the Mediterranean Sea, these art movements are Byzantine, Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classicism, Early modern period, Modern art, Graphic art, Street graffiti, and Digital art today. The Renaissance period saw famous artworks in Italy such as Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, Bernini’s huge column of St. Peter’s Basilica and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Then 16th century religious Reformation movement divided Christianity into Roman Catholics in southern Europe and Protestants in northern Europe. This fragmented the art world too. Artists who followed Protestantism that espoused humanity is perfection because god created man in his own image, started painting individual common people in moralistic day-to-day life and nature-scapes. These went on to greatly influence society in the coming centuries.

Western Europe’s spectacular masterstroke has been to bring the art movement beyond the religious boundary. Society today places high value on artistic skill, making art the liberty of self expression, creating controversies with it, using visual art ideations to conquer nature and inspire inventions. Art’s never-ending contribution in multiple domains of everyday living drives distinction in the contemporary world. It gives non-restrictive shape for people to imagine beyond what they see.

Design as expressed from Latin designare means to mark out. Through the window of art, we can find that all religions have a strong common design thread; their prayer structures have an elevated, high rise form. You’ll see them in holy structures such as Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, Christian churches, American Indian prayer totems, Egyptian pyramids, Buddhists stupas, among others. It’s possible that religion has emerged either from venerating the means of survival such as animal or nature worship, or from worshipping what’s feared, not understood, or outside the realm of human control. So god being somewhere beyond the sky gets expressed through monumental religious architecture.

Different religions display distinctive architecture as artistic design. Take the world’s oldest known temple built 11,600 years ago. It’s Göbekli Tepe, the archaeological site in Turkey, atop a mountain. If you see its 200 colossal limestone pillars with carvings of creatures like snakes, gazelles, foxes, scorpions and angry wild boars, you’ll wonder how in those days when wheel carts did not exist, they had the fervor and commitment to build this temple. From very ancient times, religious monuments have had fantastic, artistic architectural design that expresses distinctive religious ideas.

Western Europeans later transformed the art in design to a usable form so that designs could serve functional benefit to society. Religious monument design had the emotive factor of aesthetics and the rational stability factor for sustainability. That’s why these architectural structures survived several centuries, endorsing their distinctive design strength.

Significantly from the da Vinci era, Western design started to strongly pay heed to the functional aspect of having outstanding usage advantage. So when the Church freed human expression in the arts, science and literature from the 17th century, the functionality of design was explored in an incredible way. Initially, the usage advantage of design was manual. Subsequently, mechanical motorization came to provide functional benefits to avoid human effort, followed by electronic inventions and now modern day digital innovations. These inventions are reducing our exertion and increasing our comfort, so we enjoy a life of better ease today than people in past centuries did.

To download above article in PDF In search of expression

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/in-search-of-expression/1178916/0

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