Who is an “Artist”?

In our soci­ety, in com­mon par­lance, an “artist” is one who paints, whose “works” are framed and hung on a wall. Which is such a nar­row out­look that I find it detestable.

By def­i­n­i­tion, an artist is one who cre­ates art.

What is art? That is a topic I will not go into in this post. Is “art” restricted to paint­ing? Art encom­passes a lot of human endeav­ors, and paint­ing just is one of them.

I find it incon­gru­ous that a musi­cian is intro­duced as a “com­poser”, an author is intro­duced as a “writer”, a fash­ion designer is intro­duced as a “designer”, a pho­tog­ra­pher intro­duced is as a “pho­tog­ra­pher”, while a painter is intro­duced as an “artist”. Why not a “painter”? What does it say about the epis­te­mol­ogy humans have accepted that we define all other artists by their pro­fes­sions except the painter?

This post is a response to “To Be Wor­thy Of Being An Artist

A per­sonal def­i­n­i­tion – the def­i­n­i­tion of an artist – is a com­bi­na­tion of (a) mod­esty, (b) arro­gance, and © reality.

First, def­i­n­i­tions can never be per­sonal. When it is per­sonal, it is an inter­pre­ta­tion, not a def­i­n­i­tion. A def­i­n­i­tion is an objec­tive mean­ing of a con­cept, thus of a word, that should never be per­sonal or sub­jec­tive. A def­i­n­i­tion ceases to be one when it is sub­jec­tive. An epis­te­mol­ogy that accepts “per­sonal def­i­n­i­tions” is reflec­tive of Kant’s sub­jec­tivist, ambigu­ous, and grey philo­soph­i­cal doc­trine that many intel­lec­tu­als today, like for many decades in his­tory, have been tak­ing recourse to in the com­fort of complexity-of-thought-that-mainstream-audiences-will-agree-to-rather-than-debate.

The true artist is for­giv­ing. Encom­pass­ing. Lov­ing. Giv­ing. Embrac­ing. Joyous.

There are other emo­tions that guide an artist: anger, cyn­i­cism, jeal­ousy, strife, decep­tion, trick­ery. For, if you would think of an artist as all things nice, you would be hugely mis­taken. But hate is not one of those. If hate is an emo­tion that guides, or even exists in your life, you are auto­mat­i­cally not an artist.

Is an artist dis­tin­guished from other human beings by tem­pera­ment? Do spe­cific tem­pera­men­tal traits clas­sify some peo­ple as artists and exclude others?

Emo­tion is the well­spring of all art. To enu­mer­ate which of those guide an artist and which don’t, is an exer­cise in futil­ity and mis­taken in its ini­tial presumption.

The entire soup-bowl of human emo­tions (minus hate) is the palette of the true artist.

Why sin­gle out and exclude hate? Hate can inspire great com­po­si­tion, ter­rific writ­ing, and amaz­ing paint­ing too.

Panchgani 053

To con­tinue my responses to this irra­tional, incon­gru­ous post:

The con­text of an artist is very dif­fer­ent from the way you and I see things. Artists are magi­cians. They trans­port us to worlds pre­vi­ously unknown.

Which is what many pho­tog­ra­phers do, includ­ing those like you, who con­duct MOOCs about that art.

I am not one of them. I thank you dear friend, for call­ing me an artist. I respect­fully decline. Some­day I might prove that you were right.

What is hap­pen­ing here? You include a fan­tas­tic pho­to­graph in your post that any­one would call artis­tic, and then demon­strate the mod­esty you claim is a) the per­sonal def­i­n­i­tion of an artist?

The one thing you need to be an artist, is skill.

Was the artist who archi­tected the Taj Mahal an artist? Or the Konark Sun Tem­ple? Did the artist have the skill to exe­cute his/her vision? What about the work­ers who built the Taj Mahal or the Konark Sun Tem­ple? Hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers toil­ing to cre­ate a mas­ter­piece. Were they artists? These are dif­fi­cult ques­tions in the con­text of art.

No, they were not, they were artisans.

If one has arti­sans who have the skill but who do not have the artis­tic cre­ativ­ity, why does an artist need skill? Artis­tic skill can be out­sourced. Artis­tic cre­ativ­ity cannot.

Per­haps the most intrigu­ing exam­ple of the chal­lenges this topic raises lies in West­ern Clas­si­cal Music. While we gen­er­ally con­sider the orig­i­nal com­poser as an artist, what about the indi­vid­ual musi­cian in the 60-odd orches­tra who is just one of the dozen vio­lin­ists? Is she an artist or just an arti­san? What about the con­duc­tor who inter­prets the work of the com­poser and directs the orches­tra to cre­ate a ren­di­tion of the work that is unique and dif­fer­ent than other ren­di­tions of the same work? Is the con­duc­tor an artist?

I think we need a care­ful rethink of who is an artist and who is not. Mean­while, I have no doubt that the author of the post that inspired this one, is one of the most cre­ative artists I have had the priv­i­lege to know, and whose cre­ative works inspire many.

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Don’t say true things if they’re not nice
Don’t say nice things if they’re not true“
– From a San­skrit Sub­hashita (via Navin Kabra)

(The wis­dom in the above sub­hashita is good as a gen­eral guid­ing prin­ci­ple, but I do not think it should be uni­ver­sally prac­ticed in all cir­cum­stances. Some­times, as a friend, one should say true things even if they’re not nice.)

Some­times, I regret what I said.
Some­times, I regret what I did not say.

Say­ing some­thing some­times requires courage.
Not say­ing some­thing some­times requires even greater courage.

Most peo­ple are judged by what they say.
Very few are judged by what they did not say.

His­tory remem­bers you by what you said.
No one remem­bers you by what you did not say.

What you say is a quick, direct, reflec­tion of who you are.
What you do not say is a dif­fi­cult, indi­rect, reflec­tion of who you are.

What you say is often not a true reflec­tion of who you are.
What you do not say is often a very true reflec­tion of who you are.

Say­ing often eases fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but some­times, it also impedes it.
Leav­ing some­thing unsaid some­times eases fur­ther communication.

The fool is one who is iden­ti­fied by what he said.
The wise one is who remains uniden­ti­fied by what he did not say.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Conjoined Twins

One can exist by itself, but the other can’t. But exis­tence of the other helps one.

One comes first, the other comes lat­ter. But the other gives birth to one again.

One is nec­es­sar­ily pri­vate, the other is typ­i­cally pub­lic. The other also gives birth to one in others.

One is some­times mud­dled and con­fused. The other comes to the rescue.

One can’t com­mu­ni­cate, the other can.

One can’t make money, the other can.

One can never lie, the other can.

One is form­less, the other depends on form.

One is auto­matic and effort­less, the other requires con­scious effort.

One’s beauty can only be revealed by the other.

When one is in the dri­ving seat, the other fol­lows. Great things hap­pen when the other dri­ves one.

One is always naked, the other often dressed up.

One is infi­nite in space, has no bound­aries, and is tran­sient. The other is finite in space, but timeless.

One is think­ing, the other, writing.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Straight Dope FAQ on Indian Elections 2014

What is UPA? What does it stand for?

  • Under­cover Pay­ment Agree­ment. This coali­tion is all about not let­ting any­one know who paid how much to whom for what.

Who is the UPA’s PM candidate?

  • They thought they had an ace in Rahul Gandhi, but are now dis­cov­er­ing it is not an ace but a joker.

What is NDA?

  • NaMo Dic­ta­tor­ship Asso­ci­a­tion. This group asks NaMo crit­ics to leave the country.

What is AAP?

  • Antag­o­nis­tic Agi­ta­tion Podium.

Is the AAP really free of corruption?

  • AAP is cor­rupted by Nehru­vian social­ism, from which the coun­try has yet to recover after six decades.

What is a “manifesto”?

  • A man­i­festo is a doc­u­ment cre­ated to get media cov­er­age. In olden times, a man­i­festo used to be a dec­la­ra­tion of a party’s ide­ol­ogy and plan. Now it’s a tool to get media cov­er­age with edi­to­ri­als, columns, dis­cus­sions, and debates devoted to dis­sect­ing the man­i­festo, which the media, the pub­lic, and the party, com­pletely for­gets once the elec­tion is over.

What is “secularism”?

  • Sec­u­lar­ism means “secur­ing” votes. Usu­ally, this means attempt­ing to appease minori­ties and “secure” their votes.

What is “development”?

  • Devel­op­ment means devel­op­ing more slums in urban areas. This has a “kill two birds with one stone” impact.
  • It secures votes in urban areas since slum-dwellers have escaped the tyranny of rural exis­tence, and also secures votes in rural areas where par­ents are happy their young­sters have migrated to the city.

What are “minorities”?

  • Minori­ties are a seg­ment of the Indian pop­u­lace who are lesser in terms of numer­i­cal pop­u­la­tion, but are greater in terms of elec­toral votes. Because the never-termed “majori­ties” rarely go out and vote.

What is the “Gujarat model”?

  • The Gujarat model is a quan­tum mechan­i­cal exper­i­ment where the results are inde­ter­mi­nate. Depend­ing on the observer, results of the exper­i­ment vary. Either a Schrodinger’s cat exists or doesn’t exist in the Gujarat model box. Those who say it doesn’t exist, aren’t allowed to exist either, so nobody really knows.

What is the “Modi wave”?

  • A mar­ket­ing spin by the NDA to what is nor­mally called anti-incumbency. Since nobody in power deliv­ers, peo­ple get sick and tired after a while and choose the alternative.

What is “Eco­nomic Growth”?

  • Eco­nomic growth is grow­ing the finan­cial reserves of the party so as to have suf­fi­cient funds for the next Assem­bly or Lok Sabha election.

What is “Inclu­sive Growth”?

  • Inclu­sive growth means you should not just grow your party’s finances, your coali­tion ally min­is­ters’ finan­cial reserves should also grow.

What is “Infra­struc­ture Growth”?

  • Infra­struc­ture growth means grow­ing the net­work of hood­lums and gang­sters in urban and rural areas, who can coerce large seg­ments of slum-dwellers and vil­lagers to vote for the party, dis­trib­ute liquor and money in exchange for votes, etc.

Why are vot­ing days dry days?

  • So that the liquor dis­trib­uted by the par­ties has more importance.

What is “women empowerment”?

  • Mak­ing sure women are not raped on vot­ing day in the vicin­ity of the vot­ing booth.
  • Hav­ing suf­fi­cient allo­ca­tion in your elec­tion bud­get for mak­ing women-centric ads, get­ting women celebri­ties to talk about the impor­tance of the women’s vote, etc.
  • Suck­ing up to pow­er­ful women politi­cians like Sonia, Mamata, Jay­alalitha, etc.
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The Importance of my Earnest Vote in A Comedy of Errors

I voted in the 2014 Indian Lok Sabha elec­tions today, after research­ing for many days about the dif­fer­ent can­di­dates up for elec­tion in Pune. I voted today after dis­cov­er­ing yes­ter­day that I was not vot­ing in the Pune con­stituency at all, but in the Maval con­stituency. I had a few hours to learn more about the can­di­date scene in my con­stituency before I voted and here is what I dis­cov­ered:

  • The NCP-Congress’ cho­sen can­di­date deserted them and stood as an independent
  • So the NCP-Congress poached a can­di­date from the Shiv Sena/BJP
  • The Shiv Sena/BJP denied a ticket for its sit­ting MP and chose an ex-Congressman instead
  • Dejected, the sit­ting Shiv Sena/BJP MP quit the party and joined the MNS instead
  • The MNS is sup­port­ing the inde­pen­dent can­di­date who quit the NCP-Congress

I strug­gled to choose between these earnest folks and thought I had made my choice until I dis­cov­ered:

  • The Shiv Sena/BJP can­di­date (who chose ex-Congressman) Shri­rang Barne had com­pe­ti­tion from another Shri­rang Barne who some­how got a ticket from the JDU
  • The inde­pen­dent can­di­date Lax­man Jag­tap had com­pe­ti­tion from not one, but two other Lax­man Jag­taps, also independents

(This is a com­mon prac­tice in Indian elec­tions to dilute votes of your com­peti­tors by field­ing can­di­dates with the same names so gullible vot­ers will not dis­cern the right candidate.)

The sit­u­a­tion seemed like a mix of The Com­edy of Errors and The Impor­tance of Being Earnest.

Given such a free exchange of can­di­dates between par­ties amidst a com­edy of triplets, I felt my earnest vote had no value left any longer.

Yet I voted. I voted because I felt it was my respon­si­bil­ity towards my coun­try. I voted because it was my con­sti­tu­tional right. I voted to uphold my right as well as my respon­si­bil­ity. It feels good.

Posted in politics, pune | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Dumbstruck by a poem from my 7-yr old niece

This is a poem by my 7-year old pre­co­cious niece that I wish to cher­ish for pos­ter­ity through this blog.

The Earth”

I saw the stars
Twin­kling above my head
And the sand
Blink­ing below my bed

The plants grow­ing around me
The boats sail­ing around the sea
The eyes sparkling in a face
The bikes rac­ing in a race

Oh, I won­der
I could be part of this beau­ti­ful nature!

I was flab­ber­gasted after encoun­ter­ing this from a 7-year old. At that age, I don’t think I could even grasp such con­cepts, for­get writ­ing about them.

Evo­lu­tion is not illu­sory, it is hap­pen­ing today, in front of all of us, if we only real­ize, under­stand and accept.

Update: After writ­ing this post describ­ing her as pre­co­cious, I later saw what she had scrib­bled on our whiteboard:

Scribbling by niece
Scrib­bling by niece
Posted in Personal, poetry | 2 Comments

Looking back at 2013

This year has been unfor­get­table in many ways.

Did I spend enough time with friends and fam­ily? No. Did I keep in reg­u­lar touch with those who wanted me to remain in reg­u­lar touch? No. Was I there each and every time some­one needed me to be there? No. I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to, I wrote much less than I wanted to. But as a human with lim­ited resources, did I try to bal­ance dif­fer­ent and con­flict­ing expec­ta­tions from fam­ily, friends, and col­leagues? Yes. The com­plex art of bal­anc­ing your expec­ta­tions of oth­ers, their expec­ta­tions of you, and your expec­ta­tions of your­self is what we call ‘Life’, after all.

In 2013, I dis­cov­ered new friend­ships, redis­cov­ered old col­lege friend­ships, reju­ve­nated old colleague-friendships. I made many mis­takes and hurt my friends some­times, but I hope I delighted them and made them smile too. This was true in the year 2012 too, and what mat­ters now is if I learnt from my mis­takes in 2012 and avoided or made less of them in 2013. I think I did. That is why I bid 2013 good­bye with peace in my heart and hap­pi­ness in my soul — not because I did not make any mis­takes, but because I learnt or attempted to learn from ear­lier ones. 2013 also leaves me with a deep sense of grat­i­tude for my friends, all of whom accepted my flaws, yet remained friends. I hope to keep learn­ing from you, how to be always so under­stand­ing and empathetic.

On the per­sonal front, it has been a mile­stone where a dream we worked for over 3 years was finally real­ized — our new home. And despite get­ting busier, becom­ing frus­trated, being com­pletely stressed out, we still share not just the love, but that elu­sive romance too.

I am truly blessed. Dear 2013, I will remem­ber you for­ever, thank you!

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 7 Comments


Bore­dom is intrigu­ing. In this age, when there are count­less activ­i­ties, hob­bies, spe­cial inter­ests, and diver­sions both online and offline, bore­dom seems a dif­fi­cult pin­na­cle to achieve. Yet it is as com­mon today as it was in ear­lier times when peo­ple had to occupy them­selves with far fewer things. When­ever I watch a period film, one of the things I always won­der about is “What the hell did these folks do in their whole days in that era”?! If I had lived as a human any time before, say, 1940, I think I would have died of boredom.

Obvi­ously, it doesn’t work that way. Our tol­er­ance level for get­ting engaged is decreas­ing at the same rate as our inge­nu­ity in invent­ing new ways of occu­py­ing our attention.

When pop­u­lar­ized, I am sure the tele­phone must have saved many souls count­less hours of bore­dom — the abil­ity to call a far­away friend must have led to excite­ment that lasted sev­eral years, if not decades. We treat voice calls on the tele­phone mostly as a nui­sance today. When the TV started appear­ing in many house­holds, it must have been a very excit­ing era for the whole fam­ily to get together to watch news and enter­tain­ment. We now call it the Idiot Box. It was thrilling to be able to chat over the Inter­net on IRC chan­nels with unknown friends dur­ing the ‘90s and mes­sen­ger apps with known friends later. Now we dis­able chat when we check Face­book and log on to Skype and other mes­sag­ing ser­vices in “Invis­i­ble” mode.

How­ever, this uber-connectedness with oth­ers, this end­less sup­ply of online stream­ing music and videos and games, doesn’t pre­vent bore­dom. At times, we still get bored.

When I get bored, I feel a bit guilty. You know, so many things to do, so lit­tle time. How can I get bored when there is so much I can expe­ri­ence, check out, play, con­nect, com­mu­ni­cate, share, etc.? There are hours of music, dozens of movies, innu­mer­able arti­cles, many books, and so on that I have yet to expe­ri­ence that were rec­om­mended by my friends. Time is already run­ning so short that I think my life is not long enough to ade­quately con­sume these while doing jus­tice to each, and I am get­ting bored with noth­ing to do?! That’s the guilt. But yes, I still do, and noth­ing alters that fun­da­men­tal truth.

All bore­dom is a prob­lem of the engage­ment of atten­tion. Tech­no­log­i­cal advances have expo­nen­tially increased the “price” of our atten­tion, because atten­tion is a lim­ited resource. Ear­lier, it was rel­a­tively easy for a phone call to get one’s full and undi­vided atten­tion, because it was com­pet­ing with few other dis­trac­tions. Today, it is per­ceived as a nui­sance because our atten­tion is already devoted to other things at the time.

True bore­dom is when we do not wish to pay atten­tion to any­thing or anybody.

On the one hand, bore­dom is a sig­nal that noth­ing excites you any­more, there is noth­ing you look for­ward to. On the other hand, bore­dom may sig­nal that you want to break away from rou­tine and seek new expe­ri­ences and adven­tures. Bore­dom — lack of enthu­si­asm — is some­times misperceived.

Some folks get bored quickly if they’ve not done any­thing inter­est­ing or new for some time, while other folks get bored because there just isn’t any­thing inter­est­ing left for them to do. The dif­fer­en­tia­tor lies in whether there is a desire to do any­thing. The for­mer is a tem­po­rary state of rest­less­ness, the lat­ter is where there is no desire what­so­ever to do any­thing. The for­mer is just rest­less­ness, the lat­ter is true boredom.

Have you ever been truly bored? If you have read this far, were you bored read­ing? What do you do when you get bored?

Me? I write such point­less blog posts.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 2 Comments


I was fly­ing on a quest
With a great deal of zest
When I fell down
Into a cuckoo’s nest

Thus I had a frac­ture
And lost all my rap­ture
While I kept pon­der­ing
The rea­sons for my capture

All my friends told me
The nest was the best for me
And as the days went by
I for­got how to fly

As my mind reeled
My lips were sealed
My frac­ture healed
But my fate was sealed

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Indian Housewives and Their Maids

The rela­tion­ship many Indian house­wives have with their maids is in many ways like that of arranged marriages.

To start with, the elab­o­rate maid-hunting process begins much like bride-hunting in arranged mar­riages, where you first seek ref­er­ences for qual­ity maids. After short-listing suit­able can­di­dates, they are then ‘screened’ in an inter­view where the capa­bil­i­ties of the maid are assessed in con­junc­tion with her expec­ta­tions. After the screen­ing process for every can­di­date maid, feed­back and impres­sions are dis­cussed between the fam­ily before mov­ing onto the next can­di­date. After some rounds of dis­cus­sions about the nature of work­load and what is a fair pay for that work, a can­di­date is cho­sen after a lot of nego­ti­a­tion. Vet­eran house­wives nag and scoff at the unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions of today’s maids, just like mothers-in-law nag and scoff at the unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions of today’s brides.

The cho­sen can­di­date begins her work in the home much like a bride join­ing a fam­ily after mar­riage. The maid’s boss, the house­wife, acts like a mother-in-law does with a bride. Every aspect of her work is observed through a micro­scope in an overtly judg­men­tal fash­ion. The maid, like a new bride, has an innate accep­tance that this is nat­ural. Dur­ing her ini­tial days at work, she demon­strates her best behav­ior. The house­wife takes care not to appear too demand­ing, lest the maid run away. For the house­wife, it is a tricky game of how many demands of work you can get away with for the amount of pay agreed with­out los­ing the maid; for the maid, it is a tricky game of how super­fi­cially you can do the assigned work for the amount of pay agreed with­out los­ing the job.

At this stage, it is cus­tom­ary for the house­wife to nag and com­plain about a few aspects of the maid’s work. The cleaned uten­sils still have some left­over soap pow­der or aren’t being cleaned prop­erly, there is always some dirt left in this area even after dust­ing, she has been late at work two times in the past two weeks, it was her duty to inform before­hand when she skipped work the other day, and so on. Ear­lier gen­er­a­tions of maids may have taken this crit­i­cism pas­sively or sim­ply deflected it to domes­tic prob­lems, but mod­ern maids, like mod­ern brides, have evolved their own retorts. The qual­ity of the soap being used, the cheap mop that should have been replaced long time back, how other maids in other house­holds do much less work for much higher pay, etc. are now weapons in the maid’s arse­nal that are used judi­ciously. It is a game of cards, where both the house­wife and the maid strive to retain their aces up their sleeve should the need arise, while con­tin­u­ing to play counter-attack.

Like arranged mar­riages, many of these con­trived rela­tion­ships sur­vive this ini­tial chal­leng­ing phase. Nei­ther side’s expec­ta­tions are fully met, but there is accep­tance of the dis­sat­is­fac­tion as a price to be paid for the ben­e­fits of the rela­tion­ship. After all, if there were no maid, the house­wife would have a tremen­dous bur­den on her shoul­ders man­ag­ing all the house­hold chores by her­self. On the other hand, the monthly pay for her work is finan­cial secu­rity for the maid, whose hus­band usu­ally can’t be relied on to pro­vide suf­fi­ciently for her children’s future.

Jeal­ousy, like in many mar­riages, is a another fac­tor between neigh­bor­ing house­wives, about who has the best maid. Chat­ter between house­wives breaks the ice with dis­cussing how awful or awe­some their maids are, and if the rela­tion­ship devel­ops, ends in how awful or awe­some their hus­bands are.

The maid’s role extends well beyond the house­hold work. She is the back­bone of the grapevine in the soci­ety. From the daugh­ter of neigh­bors so-and-so who is ready for mar­riage for whom they’re look­ing for suit­ors and how neigh­bor so-and-so has many domes­tic argu­ments, to how there was a brouhaha about that party last week and who was say­ing what about it to whom in the soci­ety, the maid is the dom­i­nant under­ground chan­nel of communication.

In a few cases, again, like in those rare mar­riages, the rela­tion­ship blos­soms. The maid’s qual­ity of work is adju­di­cated as excel­lent and best in class. The house­wife can now brag to her neigh­bors about how she was able to find the per­fect maid, just like how some women brag about find­ing the per­fect hus­band. Over and above her usual Diwali bonus, the maid gets gifts for her chil­dren. Her absences at work due to domes­tic issues are treated with sym­pa­thy. She is given free med­ica­tion and med­ical advice when­ever required. Old clothes are no longer dis­carded, they’re instead donated to the maid’s fam­ily. From children’s toys to antique fur­ni­ture, the maid enjoys the char­ity of the gen­er­ous housewife.

I doubt this sce­nario exists any­where out­side India. It is a unique sym­bi­otic tri­umvi­rate, where the maid works, the house­wife orches­trates and the hus­band pays. Jai Ho!

Posted in society | Tagged , | 6 Comments