Friday, September 21, 2007

Feeding the Non-Resident Fetish!

Of late, one is rather familiar with calls to bring in change to current situations in light of perceived deteriorations in one’s immediate surroundings. A friend from Aizawl, in a recent e-rant, vented out his frustrations over the current government’s ineptitude and corruption. His rant did not spare the church which, at such perceived dire times, could only muster vague statistics on its missionary reach. Underlining his impassioned email was a desire to see a change for the better specified in terms of electoral politics—a new government that would bring healing.

At the risk of over-simplifying a list of ideas that need more definition, modernity engages all of us irrespectively whenever we consider where we are at present in light of where we were and where we want to be. This is because modernity implies a break from something earlier and that this break could be in terms of structure, institution, and culture. Structurally a once communitarian people defined by tlawmngaihna and the zawlbuk (I reify the most obvious for convenience) have urbanized and been differentiated in the process. Institutionally, our sense of being an indefinite ‘people of the hills’ has now been closed in with imagined but very real boundaries that are controlled by elected representatives and the bureaucracy which are still limited within a larger nation—India. With these breaks come very real cultural shifts so that individuality seemingly trumps over communality and relations are gradually determined by their economic value. The church, in spite of its spiritualized vision, often functions to maintain what was lost in the modernizing. That thorny MLTP act with its polyvalent political and social angles is a constant reminder of the mobilization of religion to achieve ends that are more secular than ‘spiritual.’ Let me not smudge the point that all these breaks from a traditional way of being and knowing came with the promise and potential for development and efficiency albeit with evident contradictions.

These observations, one must be cautioned, are generalizations. Yet, when further broadened to frame my friend’s rant, some questions (the list could go on) need to be answered: Will a change in government, hence political moves, be enough? Is World Bank a viable answer with its baggage of compliance expected? Can an overblown and pampered bureaucracy deliver the goods when it fails its subject people, even those concentrated around one city-Aizawl? Why is perceived development so concentrated around Aizawl alone and what does it say about us becoming modern? An interlocutor on my previous post points a perceptive finger at human want for ‘more’—is this what modernity feeds on? How does the role of religion change with changing times and hopefully for the better?

Although instant prescriptive answers are what buy you space in a microwave world, there just seems to be more questions than answers. And yet, the process of asking itself engages one beyond just attractive but empty rhetoric and to think of modernity beyond just its fa├žade of technological and commercial promises. Hopefully, such an engaged reflection can also widen our resources for answers—in the traditional that we are losing and the modern that we are taking on—and also constructively channel my friend’s rant.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Jazzing it a bit

To take a break from the seemingly heady stuff, let me digress to a story not too unfamiliar: we grew up during the hairy-metal days when spandex and split-ends were credible replacements for musical talent. The music industry in India was still awaiting Manmohan Singh's green signal so one had to make do with pirated stuff from across the border or the tacky 'copies' peddled by Pyramid at Palika Bazar (Delhi). One defiend music by the guitar work and implicitly deeming for any self-respecting metallized ego that the only way to go was to make the guitar scream with all the fancy licks available. Paa'ji at Pyramid was more than willing to facilitate that with his copies of instructional tapes: Arlen Roth, Steve Lynch, and a whole lot of others. Alongside macroecon theories, one was soon learning fancy modes: the Myxolydian, Phrygian, Aeolian along with smooth pentatonic and diachromatic scales. Somewhere between these lines was also that unwritten promise that once the guitar started screaming in all the fancy scales, chicks would find it hard to resist.

Its been decades now. Hairy-metal is now a part of nostalgia and i couldn't care less whether I use a Phrygian scale or a simple C-chord-the chicks seem to have caught on quick and haven't been forthcoming! (Aw!) I've moved on from rockstar-wannabe to fawning spectator. Music has changed and so have my tastes. Which brings me to my intended spot.
The Baked Potato

There's a really neat jazz club called the Baked Potato where the music is great; primarily jazz but more Jazz-fusion. One wouldnt have suspected a more hole-in-the-wallish club to be the site for running into relics of a metal-past and yet the eventuality couldn't have been more exciting. From among the heap of hairy-metal talent, one re-definition was Chris Poland from Megadeth. His band name no longer implied massive doom but rather a profound "OHM". No more shampoo-ed locks and the music spoke for itself. On drums was Kofi Baker, the son of Cream's Ginger Baker and Rob Pagilari on the bass.

On another evening, Frank Gambale came on with his band. Like Chris Poland, Frank no longer wore his hair long, in fact he was bald. On bass was Ric Fierabracci whose lines couldnt have been smoother. If you've watched Kasauti on the LPS network, you'd be familiar with the Yanni piece that plays on and on. That's from the Live at the Acropolis concert where the bassist goes off on a blistering solo. That bassist was Ric. As a band, their vituosity was palpable...check out the video clip.


I definitely remember a Frank Gambale with long mulletish locks sweeping through arpeggios on his instructional tape that i bought from Pyramid; also Chris Poland shredding with Megadeth alongside Mustaine or even Ric's hair swaying in-sync with Yanni's at the acropolis. The guitar-centric music sensibility has given way to a more rounded appreciation for the parts as they contribute to the whole while the Baked Potato has replaced the dusty parking lots at Delhi University.

Ps: The video clips were taken on a digicam and hence arent as clear as one would want them to be.