band-party-BX69_lIt is 11 a.m. Woke up to a pale sunny morning which was to soon lose its innocence to the maturity and the haughtiness of the noon. What sounded like a marriage procession in the street (at this time of the year??) was the prominent trigger to the whisking away of  lethargy that kept me cuddled to myself all through the dawn and the wee hours. The band procession goes away. The images of the bright red dress and the flashy turbans of men in the band linger for a bit longer. I have wondered about these professions and professionals. I once again think of the ways in which these men explain to their near and dear ones about what they do for a living. The question seems quaint. However, it keeps coming back to me. It also comes uninvited to me when watching a mythological series on the television where actors put on the demonic make ups-unreal eyes, crumbled hairdo, protruding teeth and made to act out those horrifying and yet endearing laughter sequences. The ‘hoohaahaha’ and the costumes make me think of the lives of these actors as it would unfold beyond the stage and the set. Do these professionals carry their ‘jobs’ back home to their kids and spouses? In what ways are the intricacies of such engagement articulated in speech? I know of my friends employed by multinational giants, some businessmen and others who call themselves ‘artists’ for whom ‘work’ is all about being respectably tired. How is fatigue talked about by the others who in a way remain oblivious to the social eye because of the ephemeral effect and the obsolete occasional needs that they are called on for fulfilling. Play a tune for an hour, beat the drums, blow into the trumpet and then vanish with the ‘payment’ only to adorn another gathering in another locality with the music that is surely more strenuous than the one that is played in a studio orchestra with a ‘in demand’ playback singer lending her voice to it!

In the street is the work for a new building in progress. Marble tiles are being cut to squares. The grilling noise reaches my ears and I visualise the stream of beautiful sparks landing on the fabric of my shirt. The men who work with the tiles sit too close to the machine as it cuts into the substance. The sparks leave holes on their shirts. I haven’t seen any of them ever using a bib. I look at my shirt, find it safe. The floor in my room looks dirty as ever, the commode needs a dose of disinfectant and the bed sheet has already begun reeking of dust and endocrinal exudates. The broom is nowhere in sight. The clothes are in disarray and badly need some hot iron pressing over their crushes. With respect to the kinds of work people do for a living, all that I have to do today, if I am able to, I heave a sigh of relief. I will be doing all this for myself and not because I will be paid for it, not because if I don’t pay attention to these chores the chances of my evening bread shall suffer. Not because these chores involve my limbs and my senses in positions they would surely not want to be in. Alienation from what one has to do sends me pondering.

Believe me, a cup of hot coffee and some pretentious reflection over a blog post are best ways to make oneself forget the strangeness of lives we have all come to lead. It obviously does not matter if we have time to think of things going on around us. Thinking about it and reflecting on it is just a choice that one has to make. There are no penalties for not doing so. Honestly speaking, there are other more important things to do. Watch a film on a pleasant Sunday afternoon and go to sleep while it is half over. Relax…that’s life!


Showcasing My Friends-2

(For the second post in this series, for which I have been interviewing people I am close to, I emailed Lokesh a set of questions. His responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier post). 

Dharaji, a village facing submergence by Omkareshwar Dam project

It was some fourteen years ago that we finished high school. Lakkhu Bhai Pathak – as most of the classmates called him, was everyone’s friend . Often seated on the back benches, I remember him as a quiet and shy but not so shy student lost in thoughts about everything other than what was being immediately taught. His ‘areas’ were quite varied- international affairs, literature, art, cinema and sports! At least that is what I can recall right now. I could be wrong and Lokesh should excuse me for any exaggerations here J

Having finished school, both of us came to Delhi for higher studies. Lokesh studied Political science (he had to!) and then went for a degree in law. In all these years, the occasions on which we met each other can actually now be counted on fingertips. In spite of such an apparent gap in communication, we have remained so much in touch. Looking at the thinker and the artist that Lokesh has evolved into, I have realized the package of talent and creativity he is. His simplicity and the “I am lost in this world” look that he wears all the time impress me the most. A voracious reader, painter and now an equally accomplished photographer (all the photos in the post are his own!) he is someone who continually chooses to defy most conventions. On the occasion of the new year, it is my sincere wish that Lokesh succeeds in all his ‘out of the box’ endeavours and continue to be the amazing individual and friend he has always been.

Lokesh now lives in Bhopal where his projects-actually several of them- continue to take shape.


Personal Concerns- Thank you Lokesh for agreeing to respond. To begin with, I want to mention to the readers that you recently changed a part of your name. Could you tell us something about this journey- from Lokesh Pathak to Lokesh Malti Prakash?

Lokesh- Adding Malti Prakash required lots of deliberation and overcoming certain hesitations. It required rejecting certain norms and accepting certain others over and above them. To put it straight, what I love most about this journey from Lokesh Pathak  to  Lokesh Malti Prakash is this element of choice and challenge. It’s definitely about standing against caste and patriarchy though it might be symbolic. In a way it is. The fight against caste or patriarchy lies at many levels and that at the levels of symbols (and languages, and names….) is no less important.

It’s also an intimate personal journey of constantly trying to regain myself, to imagine myself in a way I like. Just another milestone of a long journey!

PC- How are you liking Bhopal? How is life over there different from that in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh?

Lokesh- I love to be in Bhopal. Delhi has perfectly imbibed the new culture of the globalised India. It has become monstrous in the process. I know Bhopal is no escape. No place is an escape from this predicament unless it chooses to resist. But still, Bhopal retains something of the charm of its peculiar character.

More than this, my love for being in Bhopal is in a way related to my journey that we talked earlier. It is this particular fact that has made my life different from what it was in Delhi. Personally, Delhi was like a lost decade. In a way it’s like redeeming myself as I could be. It’s not a nostalgic longing for Deoria. It’s more like living and reimagining a lost imagination.

At a rally of Narmada Bachao Andolan in Bhopal

PC-  How do you react to a commonly held belief of our times that the national language- Hindi,  is facing a challenge and therefore is in a state of crisis?

Lokesh- I don’t care about the “national language”. But yes, the language Hindi that belongs to its people more than the nation is facing a challenge. But again it’s not in a crisis because of this challenge. The crisis itself is a challenge. A challenge more to the people than a language. A crisis of a society that is unable to accept anything except English as a language of erudition, status and power. I have nothing against English. I have loved my Shakespeare and Shelley in English. But in India and especially in our Hindi-belt English is not merely a language it is more a power-system. And I am very clear that the Hindi of Bollywood and TV ads won’t change this situation.

PC- In case you feel that to be the case, what was so remarkable about the year that just went by?

Lokesh- Personally, Lokesh Pathak became Lokesh Malti Prakash.

For the world at large, (as) you might have expected. The most remarkable about 2011 was not the crisis of neo-liberal order. That’s a stale story. Capitalism has never been free of crises. What is really remarkable is that we are witnessing the rise of resistance that is increasingly globalising. From the Arab Spring to the Occupy. The resentment is maturing into resistance. I wish in 2012 it turns into rebellion.

PC- Which book have you been reading these days? How are you liking it?

Lokesh- Most recently I started reading Hind Swaraj. I am still reading it and I love my disagreements with this marvellously frank book by Mahatma Gandhi. Though my disagreement over specific prescriptions of Gandhi do not preclude me from agreeing with some general principles I am able to discern from what I have read till now.

There is one thing called civilization, there is another thing called modernity and there is a third thing called capitalism. Privileging Marx over Gandhi I would argue against capitalism retaining modernity and civilisation. At the same time, privileging Gandhi over Marx I would argue industrialism as the means of developing the ‘productive forces’ of human society has long outlived its utility and is now threatening life.

PC- Please tell us something about your favourite artists. Who among them impresses or inspires you the most?

Lokesh-This is a very long list. There are painters, poets, writers, film-makers. To name a few….Chittaprosad, Monet, von Gough, Rivera, Picasso, Cartier Bresson, Yeats, Muktibodh, Mayakovski, Kumar Gandharva….

It’s very difficult to say what impresses or inspires me. It can be the beauty, the aesthetics of expression, the politics of expression, desire, nostalgia, love……

PC- You are passionate about photography. In what ways do you consider the photographic image to be significant?

Lokesh- I love the medium of photography. For me the photographic image is significant just like any other image. There is one peculiarity though, the certain tension in the photographic image between the apparent factual depiction (of what was there at a certain point of time) and the loaded interpretative subjectivity that it can’t avoid.

From the same rally in Bhopal

PC- What are your views regarding the need of the institution of an ombudsman in India and the movement led by Anna Hazare?

Lokesh- The movement led by Anna Hazare has obfuscated the issue of corruption in its thoughtless hyper-nationalism with reactionary right-wing leanings. An institution like ‘ombudsman’ might be suitable for checking corruption in a legal sense. But what if corruption is endemic to the system …. I mean it’s structural and beyond scope of ‘ombudsman’. We have had an activist Supreme Court at a point of time. But it could not save the system. Can the Lokpal do anything if the Parliament passes an act privatising the water resources of this country? At best the Lokpal will ensure that this is done without the need of anyone bribing the MP’s.

Anna’s movement is reactionary also because it has raised this hoopla at a time when the market driven policies of governments are increasingly being challenged and resisted. It’s a good safety valve. If the government is not listening it is not because of any revolutionary potential of the proposed Jan-Lokpal it’s only that they want to save their necks.

PC- What are your plans for this year? 

Lokesh- Read, write and shoot!

PC- One event from school days that you are reminded of- mention it here 🙂

Lokesh-Pandey sir, maths, Mrs. Sakhuja, chemistry, physics, Mrs. Ifat, samosa-wale bhaiyya, our cycle journeys!

From my ancestral village Sajaon

(All comments and suggestions regarding the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)



Showcasing My Friends-1

(For the purposes of this series where I shall be posting interviews with people I am close to, I emailed Faisal a set of questions that I wanted him to respond to. I have reproduced the responses here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. It is my plan to continue the series with other friends as and when that becomes a possibility). 

A lean bodied young man seemingly lost in an intense conversation on his cell phone walked a couple of steps ahead of me. It was a hot summer afternoon of 2007 and I was at the headquarters of the organisation that I had chosen to study for my Ph.D. thesis. It was months before I got to meet him in person. We had a very formal conversation at that time. I remember that we spoke to each other about such things as my research and the university departments where both of us were then enrolled-Jamia Millia Islamia and University of Delhi.

It was not until July of the following year that we met again. He had come to Delhi University as an applicant for the M.Phil program. He soon joined the program and it was not long before a never-ending exchange began between the both of us. What I call exchange has in effect been a precious experience, special because it has always transcended and at the same time overlapped varying categories in terms of which we tend to generally think of relationships. I find it difficult to think of an instance where we have had any talk that was either just intellectually serious or nonsensically humorous. Being with him and talking to him has always been that unique moment wherein laughter and intellect intertwine. I cherish all that I have shared and learned from him and I hope that this friendship deepens further and takes so many more roots in our minds.

Faisal finished his M.Phil thesis in 2010 and left Delhi for Bangalore where he now works as a researcher for the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy.


Personal Concerns- Thanks Faisal for agreeing to respond. To begin with, I would like to ask you something about your name. What does it mean and what do you think of it?

Faisal- My Dad named me. The name is OK. My name is stupid….I am the most confused and the weakest when it comes to taking decisions in personal life…But still it means ‘the one who takes good decisions’!

PC- You know a number of languages. Is there any one of them that you find special?

Faisal- Urdu is special to me as I am the most expressive in it. Urdu is also the most accessible of languages in terms of audience. No matter if a person doesn’t fully understand Urdu, a properly delivered talk can make sense to most Indians. The language has a lot of ‘expressional’ merit. Also for a language which has developed in last three to four centuries, it has travelled a credible career, in terms of literature and in its reach.

PC- Could you please tell us something about the kind of literature, music and sports you enjoy the most? 

Faisal-I like poetry and sports/sports persons who are more artistic like tennis/Roger Federer, Cricket/Laxman and Jayawardhane. Firstly, to appreciate any music I need to understand the lyrics. I can’t hum away a song if it doesn’t make full sense to me. My musical senses hit a road block if they can’t digest lyrics. I enjoy plain instrumental, mostly the classical type. Especially (the ones) filled with emotions. 


I think Begum Akhtar is one of the greatest singers. Unlike any other singer she does not try to match up to the music direction or even to the lyrics for that matter. She owns the raag and the song she is singing because her voice is the medium of her emotions. To my mind, the instruments playing around her voice come to life and all of them unconsciously decide to tune to her voice almost like those disciplined and drunk rats following the bagpiper. She is the Singer Sorceress. 

My favorite of Begum Akhtar’s Dadra is ‘Hamri Atariya pe Aao Sanwariya…’- such lyrics! Very few actually, but the way she repeats them with layers of emotions coming to the fore with each recitation is just magical. She is someone who has mastered the classical art and has reached a state where she need not care for the classical form. The form is a slave to her voice, emotions and persona. Total Be-nayazi, still the most classical of them all!

PC- If I ask you to name two of your most favourite sociological thinkers, who would they be? 

Faisal- (Emile) Durkheim for his emphasis on a scientific method and (Max) Weber for his breadth and depth. I don’t know about August Comte. But to me founding fathers of sociology are only two- Weber and Durkheim. Marx is a great thinker, a greater satirist too but I don’t think his contributions to critical theory have developed Sociology as a discipline. Without Durkheim and Weber there wouldn’t have been Sociology. Only with Marx, Sociology wouldn’t come to life either. People who can’t make this distinction in the founding fathers’ contribution are called Marxists in the Indian academia. Marx set out to make political economy as a method of inquiry and not to build an academic discipline from scratch.

To my mind the earliest foundations of Sociology are in Durkheim’s Suicide- solid empirical data, spatial as well as temporal. And the ways in which it helps him come up with concepts and make generalisation on the nature of social cohesion in nineteenth century Western Europe.  Durkheim made the difference between mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity and for the first time made the nature of social cohesion in modern societies more discernible, saying that in modern times people’s inter dependencies increase due to division of labour.

Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

I think Weber, though famously called as some one who always fought against the ghost of Marx, was precisely making this point. Marx introduced a method, but it cannot encompass a whole discipline, for God’s sake! He carried it forward and made Sociology a prophetic discipline, if you want to call it, by explaining the missing ingredient of modern societies, Enchantment! Made it more decisive by proclaiming an ‘Iron Cage’  if instrumental rationality increasingly rules the world. Somewhere here between these debates we started to understand the meaning of being social or a collective.Weber enriched and carried forward that emphasis on empirical data. But more than anyone else he was a critical theorist trying to critique and understand the role of religion in human societies. Grappling with the idea of what is now called the interpretative method, broaching the subject of Objectivity and Interpretation. (He never defends subjectivity, or whatever it is!) and giving those fine touches to what would be a sociological method. I wish I get a chance to revisit Marx, Weber and Durkheim.

PC- Which film did you recently watch and how did you like it?

Faisal- I saw Don 2. Its awesome. Don 2 epitomizes what Shahrukh Khan is in Bollywood. He romances his audience- the ones who like and do not like him. The way he romances in the film! To my mind, he is not a great actor, not a good one either. At times he doesn’t even make an effort to act.  But no one has better capitalised the need for a superstar for the Indian cinematic mind/eye than SRK. He has a face, not necessarily the most beautiful, that the camera cannot take its lens off from! Most importantly he maintains an intriguing balance between his religious/social identity. A conscious Muslim, throwing in Inshaallah’s here and there in conversations, married to a Hindu and seemingly comfortable with it. Mind you someone with no family background in Indian cinema the career he has built for himself is just incredible. Most importantly, from a fan’s point of view, he doesn’t make those annoying distinctions like Amir Khan between private and public life! Neither is his life up for sale. Sorry, I speak more about SRK than the film. Frankly, there is no Don sans SRK. He was born to be a Super Star.    

PC- What is on your mind these days?

Faisal- Confusion about what to plan for the next few years.

PC- How do you react to the notion of being an Indian? In other words, what about India impresses you the most?

Faisal- I don’t know….

PC- Which book, if any, have you been reading these days? 

Faisal- No book actually.

PC- If there is anything you would like to say about the time we spent together, do it here 🙂

Faisal-Time spent with you is very valuable and lovely. It is one of those moments which I remember when alone.

(All comments and suggestions regarding the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)