Names Matter! - and a Desi Surprise
Here is an installation by N N Rimzon (surprise: he is a Malayali although his name has a Naga or Mizo flavor). Titled just 'The Tools', it is now on display in Kochi as part of the Biennale.
Critics have remarked: "The Tirthankara-like figure of austerity and spiritual purity placed in a cosmic circle of tools evokes the eternal duality of violence and materiality contra human aspirations." and " (Rimzon's works) reveal postmodernist nuances in their attitudes, but the social-radical statement continues as an important motif, particularly in a work as direct and unambiguous as The Tools."
Here is an icon of lord Viswakarma in majesty circled by a halo of floating tools:
Need I say more as to what I think would be a more pugnacious name for Rimzon's work than 'The Tools'?
I had always believed that India has no serious indigenous tradition of calligraphy. Among our dozens of scripts, only Bengali and Urdu (which anyway uses an imported Arab script) seemed capable of sustaining really beautiful writing; the rest of our scripts could at best be neat. Moreover, all these scripts are but medieval innovations. Indeed, precious little of what I had seen of ancient Indian writing had even passable looks(and whatever I had seen of Keralan inscriptions in Vattezhuthu etc was shoddy tending to ugly).
And then, around New Year, I came upon a volume on Pallava art put together by a certain Michael Lockwood with assistance from some Indian scholars including Gift Siromoney. Here are some samples therein of Pallava inscriptions in Grantha script dating back to 7th century AD. Most are carved onto rock faces at a place I have been to many times - Mamallapuram; despite the elegance and flashes of panache(*) these inscriptions display, I had totally failed to spot them.
I recently got a doubt: Is there any need for musical instruments to look good to also sound good? Most western and Desi instruments do have great physical beauty. A veena is supposed to look so good that its principal resonating gourd is held as the standard against which the comeliness of .... well, that should do!
In a more contemporary context, see how this saxophone holds its own among some superb watercolors painted by Prof. C S Jayaram (picture taken from an ongoing solo exhibition):
Dirac and many others have held that Nature ought to be described by beautiful equations. So there may well be deeper truths behind the physical looks of musical instruments.
Checking online, one can see an instrument from Newfoundland called 'ugly stick'. Youtube has some videos. Ugly stick doesn't look too good. Neither does it sound very good.
And to conclude, let me quote myself. This is from a valediction read when Jayaram Sir's exhibition got under way - a fondly hopeful vision of what the future promises for a gifted artist/musician/scholar (and I believe these are some of the best lines I ever wrote).
"The hoary Bard reaches for the sculptor’s tools – to carve out of Time a throbbing ‘thudi’, once more to sing slumbering Gods into existence.
The Craftsman’s undimmed eye again meets the teasing gaze of the slim dancer; and the little muse dreamed up by a distant forebear awakens ever newer epiphanies"
(*) I was pretty pleased with the phrase 'flashes of panache'. And then came the idea of actually looking up 'panache' in the dictionary. And here is what Merriam Webster gives. Panache means: 1. an ornamental tuft (as of feathers) especially on a helmet
m-w.com goes on to add this remarkable bit:
Few can match the panache of French poet and soldier Cyrano de Bergerac. In his dying moments, he declared that the one thing left to him was his panache, and that assertion at once demonstrates the meaning of the word and draws upon its history. Panache derives via Middle French from Late Latin pinnaculum, meaning "small wing" or "gable," a root that also gave English the word pinnacle. In both French and English, panache originally referred to a showy, feathery plume on a hat or helmet; its "dashing" figurative sense developed from the verve and swagger of one bold enough to wear such an adornment in public. When the dying Cyrano turned his huge nose heavenward and spoke of his panache, his nose became the literal and figurative pinnacle of a multifaceted pun
The name Bergerac rang a bell. After a bit of intense memory-trawling, I found him in an all-time favorite, Perelman's 'Physics for Entertainment'. While explaining Inertia, Perelman makes a typically brilliant reference to Bergerac's pioneering science fiction work "A History of the Kingdoms and Empires of the Moon".
Note added on Feb 21st, 2017: A strange coincidence happened today. A colleague, having read this post and looked around online told me "Bergerac and his tall tales remind me of another character, Baron Munchhausen; he could make up some very big tales!". And guess what, I had actually read about Munch... and his stunts, from where else but this very same Perelman volume!