Saturday, November 30, 2013

Amitabh Bachchan wants to play his poet-father in a movie- dream role


Nov 30, New Delhi 

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan has a dream character — one that he has yet to enact  on the screen. It is that of his father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the famous Hindi poet, who wrote about 20th century India and its social realities in his poetry. 

The star, who stands the tallest on the Indian screen as the "Big B" with more than 180 hit movies in his 40-year-old stellar career as a hero in the multi-billion dollar Hindi cinema industry said he grew up under the shadow of literature and his father — who baptised him into the art of poetics almost at birth. But he loved reading Billy Bunter, (the fictional school boy hero) by Charles Hamilton during his days at the boarding school.

Bachchan, who held an audience of more nearly 500 people under his spell at the Penguin Annual lecture on December 29, 2013 in New Delhi (hosted by publishing giant Penguin Books India), dwelt for nearly 90 minutes on politics, cinema and development — pitching strongly for support to the girl child and gender empowerment in a country where he claimed "nearly 245 million women could not read". He peppered his monologue with poetry and a refrain - Whose blood it is — in context of the genocide of girls and unequal opportunities for women. He interspersed his exposition with quotes by eminent men of letters and  anecdotes from his childhood at Sherwood School in Nainital where he won he Kendall Cup for best actor in annual school dramatics and — his father's poetry of affection. "I was my father's greatest poetry," the superstar said, dapper as ever at 71 in an impeccably tailored suit and  a silver goatee.       

Born in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and raised in Nainital and New Delhi- the actor combines the refinement of an elite Hindi speaking intellectual from heartland India, the panache of a versatile actor and a suave English-speaking  colonial boys' school charisma. India in all its shades runs in Bachchan's multi-cultural blood- of a Kayasth (caste Hindu) father and a Sikh mother.He is married to a Bengali actress of yesteryears, Jaya Bhaduri.  "I am an entertainer. I need to enter the mind because what we hold in ourselves are the best of stories. True entertainers are not didactic story-tellers," he said. 

 The actor said his manifesto is to serve humanity - especially women. "I want to build a school for girls," the actor, who had once been a politician in his native state, Uttar Pradesh, said.

Cinema mirrors the life of the spectators —- not the actors, Bachchan proclaimed early in his address. "Our post-Independence cinema played centrestage by showcasing Nehru's vision of India," Bachchan said. "Our cinema respects spirit of a united India". The superstar, who has steered the country's popular cultural course in the last three decades by offering his viewers role models with the characters that he played on screen — of the upright young crusader, police officer the social monsters, the avenger, romantic hero and the comedian with a message — said cinema has had the power to make a "masala" that even the politicians have not achieved or dreamt of. "Even our sages knew that this profane world was not the source of truth". 

Cinema was an art without borders where there was no Pakistan or Bangladesh or Lord Curzon. It was in constant search for the truth and reality even "when it was called escapist".  "It is syncretic, trivial, flashing, layered and  trashy," Bachchan said. Cinema absorbed all that was culturally diverse — like the Jews, Parsi, Tamil, Bengali, Malayali, Assamese, blues, jazz and every possible cultural manifestations. .  

In a country like India, where literacy was the foundation of social growth, cinema allows the millions, who are unlettered, a window into the pluralities of the nation, Bachchan explained. "I think our cinema (like literature) prefers the truth. There should always be an inherent tension between eliticism and populism (as cinema is often branded as a populist medium). Everybody can watch a film, but not everyone can read," the actor said.The thespian (of moviedom) referred to the Veda— the sacred scriptures of the Hindu — to bring out the essence of cinema. "Sometime, I feel the absurdity of the seemingly dislocated elements of cinema (when he watches one). I reconsider what my father (poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan) saw- (perhaps that will  determine how Indian cinema should be seen)," he said. Perhaps, the fact that the Indian cinematic narrative is interrupted by the non-narrative which symbolised  the elements of Shruti and Smriti — the two foundations of Vedic literature and knowledge.

While the epic narrative tradition was "smriti" - memory of the sacred texts and mythology handed down the generations by through lores, tales, fables  and philosophies  as recognisable voices in film plots —- the non-narrative traditions of songs and dance were pure "shruti" -words and sounds  that were heard or seen without historical contexts or continuity at times, Bachchan said, exploring the traditional links of mainstream Indian cinema. "My father Harivansh Rai, the literary giant in his last days, would asked to be shown  a Hindi film everyday - preferably one with me in it. As the darkness closed in his life, why he did not turn to literature," Bachchan mused. The poet (the actor's father) perhaps wanted to see the flickering of the flame burning inside cinema — another face of creativity that allowed one to see a new reality. "That is what my father saw. He no longer needed light to read - only in darkness, one sees the everlasting truth," the actor said. 

Bachchan ended his address reciting from his father's poem, "Imprints  of Blood" about the holocaust.

-- Staff Writer 

(The Penguin Lecture is an annual lecture that builds on the publishing house's commitment to bring the finest of minds and personalities from around the world to Indian audiences)   

Friday, November 29, 2013

South Asian contemporary sounds on Delhi in regional soft power blitz

South Asia/Music 

New Delhi, Nov 29 The national capital of India — New Delhi — has been consolidating South Asia’s regional soft power as a peace bloc with the eclectic sounds of its Generation Next musicians – inspired by global musical movements and yet distinctly indigenous  in their content and arrangements.

One of the most happening platform of new South Asian music in the country is the South Asian Bands Festival – a three day music fiesta on the sprawling lawns of the historic Purana Qila- a 16th century sandstone fortress dating back to the reign of Mughal emperors Sher Shah Suri and Humayun, both of whom occupied the fort, located in the heart of the busy megapolis.   

The festival, for the last five years since 2007, has been melting pot of new musical experiments and cultural sideshows — of arrangements, instrumentation, attires and stage acts — by bands from the south Asian countries that belong to the south regional cooperation bloc. This year, the festival featuring 14 bands from nine countries has expanded to include a band from Korea, an observer country of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. The organizers of the festival— the Indian Council for Cultural Relations under the ministry of external affairs and a non-profit platform SEHER— describe it as the stepping stone to spread the wings of the festival to cover even the eastern Asian power giants.                

The mellow autumn, the thousands of trees lining the old heritage venues of the capital shedding yellow leaves and the general  

The seventh edition of the festival began Nov 29 with a relay performance by five bands — Barefaced Liar (New Delhi), LRB (Bangladesh), ZnG (Bhutan), Circus (New Delhi) and Biuret (Korea). The sounds were funky, fresh, young and rooted in the classical culture in the region with western influences of hard rock and hip-hop. One of the highlights of the 2013 festival was a campus band, “What’s In the Name”.  

The south Asian music is developing a distinct signature of its own – new addresses that unearths unheard of folk sounds from the hinterland in the last 10 years — drawing without bars from the region’s 5000 year old musical heritage, improvisations and fusing rebellious western oeuvres like black metal, hard rock, hip hop, funk, soul, blues and R&B. Pop and popular Bollywood gets in between to create happy melodies that are grounded in social realities.

Bands like “Advaita”, “Parikrama”, “Band Bangla (Bangladesh)” and “District Unknown (Afghanistan)” which performed earlier at the festival (in its previous editions) best capture the fusion sounds of the “counter-cultural movement” and a “back-to-roots” wave — two disparate cultural trends — that characterize the emerging South Asia which is trying to reach out to the world with regional concerns, realities and traditional narratives.  

Seema Dahiya, Project Manager, SABF 2013, says the festival has become one of Delhi’s most eagerly awaited cultural extravaganzas showcasing some of best bands from the South Asian region. “It marks the coming together of some of the most talented musicians on one platform at the Purana Qila and can be called an authentic representation of SAARC regional integration through Culture,” she said.

The guest band– Biuret – from South Korea — is a winner of the  Asian American Idol  module that began in 2002 and has since released two albums. They have performed at the Incheon Pentapot Rock Festival and Ssamzi Rock Festival in Korea, in UK, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and China. The band is represented by three young musicians, Hye-won Moon (vocals) and Gyo-won Lee (Guitar). They sing in English and their native tongue.

Some of the key bands at the gala   

Stigmata from Sri Lanka was formed by three young musicians, Suresh De Silva, Andrew Obeysekara and Tennyson Napoleon in 1999 at S. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia, where they have been schoolmates. The name "Stigmata" traces its origin to the 1998 album Stigmata by melodic death metal band “Arch Enemy”. Stigmata plays a quaint mix of progressive, thrash & death metal with hard rock temperings, laced with nuances of classical, Latin, jazz, blues, baila and traditional Sri Lankan rhythms. Critics say the band has been the inspiration for a generation of young school bands around Sri Lanka, a country that was coping with ethnic  conflicts and bloodshed for nearly 30 years— and had virtually lost its culture.
LRB from Bangladesh is a cult name in the history of band music in Bangladesh that is barely two decades old. Ayub Bachchu, the force behind the band began his career with SOULS, one of the pioneers in the band movement of Bangladesh. In 1991, Ayub Bachchu left SOULS and formed LRB which performed live for flood victims in 1992 and released their first album in the same year. It was a double album — a new concept in Bangladeshi music. The sound was crossover — a mélange of Bangladeshi traditional folk, social awareness or progressive music and western genres. Through the years, the band shared its vision with a number of musicians. It had played earlier in Kolkata in India in 1997.

Susmit Sen Chronicles from New Delhi is like Pink Floyd gone solo. Featuring one of the country’s most versatile guitarists Susmit Sen of the cult band “Indian Ocean”— who anchors the Chronicles — the band connects to social causes, singing for awareness and missions for development and empowerment of marginalized groups and cultures. The Chronicles uses the signature folk-rock sound of the Indian Ocean. The repertoire is like a bunch of narratives – stories told through music. Susmit is travelling the country with his music.    

ZnG from Bhutan include the Zhaw and the Ngori Gyabs (ZnG)- two bands from the Himlayan kingdom which is gradually warming to American cultures with open air dance and music concerts and band shows. ZnG rocks to the influence of early metal age rock pioneers Judas Priest and The Scorpions and progressive alternative outfits like the Creed, Alter Bridge and Matchbox Twenty. The band has given new life to Bhutanese music scenario — combining traditional ethno, spiritual with gut sounds of US and Europe.

Albatross from Nepal was born in 1998 and has made a mark in the contemporary Nepali music scene. It all began when a couple of musicians came together with their rusty guitars and other old instruments to create Nepali Alternative music.  The three-man school band now has four members. Albatross has made their presence known nationally and internationally. With a huge influence among the GenX, Albatross is also popular name in the Nepali contemporary music circuit. It composes and plays “Nepali Rock” that addresses contemporary issues like underdevelopment, insurgency, gender and social backwardness  of Nepal. They love playing music to which people can relate.

Strings from Pakistan, formed 1989 by Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, is now one of most sought after bands  in the country and South Asia, Strings have performed over 700 concerts in countries like Pakistan, India, U.A.E, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kuwait, Bahrain,  SaudiArabia, United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, South Africa,  Singapore, Maldives, USA and Canada.

Papon And The East Indian Company from Mumbai is a multi-instrumentalist band with its roots in the ethnic northeastern region of India. Led by vocalist Papon, it is semi-classical in nature. An established folk singer, Indie musician and now a popular movie playback singer in Mumbai (Bollywood), Papon is one of the most heard regional voice on the Indian “desi (indigenous) rock stage.

Barefaced Liar from New Delhi is a fusion of young talents — Akshay Chowdhry (vocal, guitar), Sumant Balakrishnan (vocals, guitar), Akshay Johar (bass) and Suyash Gabriel (drums). With a friendship tracing back to high school, the band is energetic and modern.

Circus from New Delhi has been making waves on the Indian Music Circuit since 2007 with its no-frills rock assault which is psychedelic. Since 2007, they have played over 200 live shows in the country and abroad.

Complete list of participants
The participating bands are Barefaced Liar (New Delhi), LRB (Bangladesh), ZnG (Bhutan), Circus (New Delhi), Biuret (Korea), Stigmata (Sri Lanka), Eman’s Conspiracy (Maldives), Papon And The East Indian Company (Mumbai), Strings (Pakistan), What’s In The Name (Mumbai), Pardis (Afghanistan), Susmit Sen Chronicles (New Delhi), Albatross (Nepal) and The Raghu Dixit Project (Bengaluru).

--Staff Writer 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pakistan is still not sure of its identity - between democracy & Islam


By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi , Nov 26

Pakistan is not a failed state inspite of the perilous policies of the successive governments which have pushed the country to the brink time and again, says noted journalist , writer and political observer Babar Ayaz, but the nagging problems refuse to go away. After the May 2013 general election, the Pakistan government is once again facing critical times.  The conflict with the Islamists – the militant Islam - and the overall political structure of Pakistan has taken a serious turn preventing the country from adopting a multi-dimensional prosperity trajectory at the international level out of its narrow geo-strategic concerns.

“The country is also faced with the serious issue of the withdrawal of US/Nato forces in 2014 which is going to have a long term impact on regional politics. Pakistan is fighting a serious financial deficit in its official economy. I have to differentiate between overall and official economy because in countries like India and Pakistan, the quantum of informal and parallel economy  is as much as the official economy,” Ayaz said.

The political observer, who has worked for publications like The Sun, Pakistan Press International, Business Recorder and The Dawn, in his 40 years of career as a journalist, has tried to “explore the inherent problems facing Pakistan – as the country hunts for a middle path between growing Islamic fundamentalism, fledgling democracy and development disparities” in a new book.  His anthology of essays, “What’s Wrong With Pakistan” analyses Pakistan’s greater geo-strategic aspirations in the context of its ties with its South Asian neighbours, China, West Asia and US within the framework of its Islamic identity and as a nation at crossroads. 

Ayaz tries to work his arguments on he premise that the “theological grounding of the formation of Pakistan as an Islamic state (in 1947)” gets in the way of democratic ambitions reflecting on its society, culture and economy in general.

“This is how the politics of Pakistan stands now — the issues are fighting the Pakistani Taliban, the drone attacks and putting in place a development apparatus. The government has taken a strong stand on against the drone attacks but it is one of the temporary issues that come and go. The government has to make up its mind about the tough line of the Tehrik-e-Taliban and various other jihadi (Islamist) groups. Right now, the government is evasive,” Ayaz told this writer in an interview during his recent visit to India to launch his book, published by Penguin-India.

The writer said “the Pakistan government was vascillating on the issue of Talibani extremism because it does not want to risk the terrorist outfit going in increased activity”.
The reasons for the rise in terrorist activity in Pakistan can be put to the establishments’ early and dangerous policy of nurturing the militants in extremist doctrine. The military establishment of Pakistan — which over the years has become the shadow power centre in the state calling the shots in governance and foreign affairs —  believed that “the militants would be an asset in its conflict with Afghanistan and India”, Ayaz says in his book.  “These people were armed and trained to  fight across the border, but when the establishment wanted them to stop, the militants treated them like renegades of the Islamic revolution,” the writer points out.

Another reason for the revival of religious extremism is that in every religion, there are puritans who resist change and “want to continue with the agenda of religion”. In Pakistan, the largest hardline fundamentalist outfit is the Tehrik-e-Pakistan, an umbrella organization of all the al-Qaeda franchises. “The militants do not have public support. The fundamentalists resort to violence and militancy  because they know they cannot win the democratic election. Hence, they try to create situations from which they can capture power,” the writer says.     

Ayaz, in his book, observes that religious extremism is embedded in the evolution of Pakistan’s  political psyche. It was based on religious nationalism seeking freedom from the Hindu majority that was to rule India in a post-colonial set up. This propaganda about Islamiat gave the religious extremists enough room after Independence to demand an Islamic state.

The spurt and the consolidation of religious extremism do not bear well on the Nawaz Sharief government in Pakistan. “I don’t think Sharief is effective. In every country, there are multiple power centres,” he said. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “wants to decide on Siachen and Sir Creek, he will not be able to do it”, Ayaz argues.

Digressing on the efficacy of the Nawaz Sharief government, Ayaz offers his insights into the contentious and troubled border. “Once India and Pakistan came very close to a solution, but the army developed cold feet,” Ayaz recalls. It is a burden for both the countries. “India spends around Rs 4 crore  per day  and Pakistan spends Rs 2.5 crore per day. But there are more people who have died in crossfights on the border,” Ayaz says.

The writer says “both countries can come down”. “Neither mine nor your’s and declare the disputed area as a buffer zone. It can become a tourist paradise and visitors can get visas from either India or Pakistan. There is so much politics out there. It is ridiculous to spend that kind of money and manpower to man the territory. The establishments forget the human element in the disputed areas between India and Pakistan,” Ayaz says.

In his book, Ayaz makes a strong plea for a secular, peaceful and democratic Pakistan. Majority of the citizens have time and again proved that they want a democratic system. Although Pakistan turned 66 this year, it is still not sure about its identity whether it should be an Islamist or a democratic state, he says.

There have been so many movements for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan — people have given up their lives for democracy. It is one of the rare countries which fought for democracy. Inspite of the aggressive and prominent religiosity, the religious parties do not poll more than 10 per cent votes, Ayaz says.
“During general Zia’s regime, the political stand of the Islamist parties turned into a militants’ stand with Zia’s support. Now they are inspired by al-Qaida ideology and have resorted to terror killing people,” Ayaz says.

The roots of terrorism in Pakistan, the writer points out, lie in the  Islamic jihad of 1978 which the military establishment had launched against the Left government in the country. Pakistan not only trained and armed Afghan rebels, but also invited jihadis from all over the world to join the war. This made Pakistan the world’s “largest terrorist training university”. Once the jihad was over, these prpfessional warriors of faith, who believed in the extremist Salafi version of Islam, took upon themselves to launch a global jihad.

Terrorism for the last three decades has taken a heavy toll on Pakistan.  The situation is as grave as India, Ayaz says. Citing statistics, the writer says over 50,000 Pakistani people have been killed in terror attacks, 3,500 soldiers have died and the country has suffered a loss of 70 billion US dollars in the last 10 years. “Malala Yousafzai of Swat (who defied the terrorist ban on education for girls) is symbol of defiance we are using. There is a parallel narrative in Pakistan. But the debate about why extremism is turning so violent is still low key in the society,” Ayaz says.
The writer devotes fair space to the debate over the fate of India and Pakistan- the shape of bilateral ties after the pullout of the NATO/UStroops from Afghanistan and dwells on the movement for Independence on border areas like Balochistan as well- issues that might come into focus in 2014.      

“In the first phase, there was lack of willingness to give Balochistan its economic rights which has resulted in people taking up arms against the Pakistan government,” the writer points out. Instead of managing the political and economic issues, the establishment in Pakistan has used strong armed tactics – using the army and the rangers against the people of Balochistan.  “Changes have taken place but the establishment needs to convince people in Balochistan not to talk of independence and stock pile arms,” Ayaz says.
Much of the power balance in the region rides on the future of Afghanistan – in context of its stands India and Pakistan take after the withdrawal of troops in 2014.

“In the first phase, both India and Pakistan have to play a positive role if they try to solve the problems in  Afghanistan to get the country back on social and economic rails. Right now, they are competing for more power and space in the future political structure of Afghanistan. Competition creates adversarial positions. When countries do not fear good relationships, they fear settlements,” the writer explains.

Pakistan wants a friendly government in Afghanistan so that Indian influence can kept is minimal. India is keen on pro-India dispensation. ”Right now, the government is India-friendly because the Pakistan had extended tacit support to the Taliban in the 1980s. Many of the top leaders, who fled the Afghan Taliban found shelter in India,” Ayaz says.

The best thing “is to leave the Afghanis alone and allow them decide their own future”.                        

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Artist Anjolie Ela Menon on life, work & acknowledgements - freedom strokes


Madhusree Chatterjee 
New Delhi 
Anjolie Ela Menon spoke to this writer in an interview after receiving the prestigious Dayawati Modi Foundation award for a lifetime’s contribution to arts in New Delhi on Nov 18 when she joined the league of recipients like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Amitabh Bachchan.  Menon was overwhelmed in her trademark modest and down-to-earth manner. “I have too much recognition for my work. I don’t know what an award does to a young artist, but when you are above 70, it is an acknowledgement of a life time of hard work! But I can’t stop here… I have to move on,” the 73-year-old artist mused, “the journey is far from over”.
“I don’t think I have changed much as an artist. May be, I am jollier. But the meditative quality in my work still remains. There is also a certain melancholy – partly because we Bengalis tend to be melancholic. The response to the environment is not always a happy one”.
Born in West Bengal in 1940 to Bengali and American parents, Menon straddles multiple cultures— the eastern sonority of Bengal, the cutting edge of America, the classicism of Europe and the exotic Southern Indian subjects from where she often draws her inspiration for figures. The artist is married to strategic analyst and former Navy admiral Raja Menon, a Malayali from Kerala— her window to the culturally ancient southern states of the country.
 The foremost among the experimental group of contemporary Indian artists Anjolie Ela Menon has not changed much as an expressionist from her 1970s heydays of “liberation through colours” - when her bold style often raised eyebrows among conservative Indian viewers bred on conventional figures, landscapes and colourful abstractions. She had transformed the genre of nude to a rare artistic finesse and beauty like her idol  Amrita Shergil. The nude as a subject has haunted Menon’s psyche since 1957.
The boldness of the early years has matured into meditation and depth in the last five decades. Gravitas is  reflected in the serenity on the canvas, the enhanced layers of existence in her human figures and in the larger scale works in public spaces — an oeuvre of art that has earned her a formidable fan following across the world. One of the largest public art works hangs in Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. 
Menon is a name to reckon with in bridging the gap between high and low art with her engagement with kitsch, street art and calendar art.  This has led to a vast following and a new school in Indian art. Having perfected her skill in the ancient glassworks of Murano Italy her sculptures in art glass broke new ground,  combining  techniques from the west with sacred Indian iconography.
Women are central to Menon’s expression and artistic journey. “The role of women in society touches me. I have a studio at Nizamuddin Basti – a Muslim dominated historical neighbourhood in the heart of New Delhi. I have witnessed at close quarters to what extent women in India have to suffer – how they nurture their families against all odds. Many Indian women lead a life of sacrifice,” Menon said. Several of her paintings are juxtaposed between this habit of sacrifice and the joy of living.
Menon belongs a generation of women artists of the 1970s, who broke away from convention to chart a new course of freedom and empowerment in the arts. Critics often describe it as the first phase of feminism in modern Indian art – after Amrita Shergil – when the woman at home took up the paintbrush and  painted “between the kitchen and the kids”, portraying a woman’s innermost longing for freedom on canvas. Menon was part of a coterie of artists like Nilima Sheikh, Arpana Caur, Arpita Singh, Nalini Malani and Zarina Hashmi and others, who established their signatures on the art scene - on par with their male counterparts – with avant garde contemporary art practices. “Between Amrita Shergil and our generation of artists, the intervening wave of women painters were a little amateurish and tended to give up early. We were the first generation to approach art professionally,” Menon said. The artist ascribes this professionalism to the fact that her generation of painters was trained in good art schools.
Menon’s tryst with art as a commercial vocation dates back to her school days at The Lawrence School at Lovedale in Otacamund. By the time, she left school, she had sold 15 paintings. Menon recalled that she sold her first painting, a boat, to Dr. Zakir Husain, the Vice President of India. He  had  visited the artist’s school at Lovedale when Menon was 14.     
Menon then moved to the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai and later studied English literature in Delhi University. At this point, the French government offered her a scholarship to the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris where she opted for fresco. Menon travelled extensively around Europe and West Asia while in Paris, to study Romanesque and Byzantine art- a genre that influenced her throughout her career. Later, Menon lived in Russia, UK and Germany with her husband — the diverse cultural influences seeped into her work gradually.
Menon has been a trendsetter in contemporary art by introducing new innovations in her practice. The artist says she has had the luxury of “being somewhat self-indulgent” in her creative processes. “My work is purely expressionist and I don’t believe in art as a medium of message. We have more ubiquitous and powerful media today in television and print which addresses many more people. I have never been keen on didacticism  but  young contemporary artists today progressively incorporate didactic messages in their artistic endeavours on social, political or gender related issues,” Menon said.
The artist still cannot predict the future sources of inspiration. “There are no specific wellsprings. It is very personal. Each day, inspiration awaits, sometime it is the crow sitting outside my window or at other times, perhaps, the vision from a moving train… I am open to events, situations and other stimuli ” she mused. This unexpected nature of inspiration lends an element of shock value to her paintings — like the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 which was a “drenched in blood” on Menon’s canvas or the Naga sadhus who leapt from their chariots at the last Kumbh Mela  trailing their dreadlocks behind them. Throughout the 1990s, windows, nudes, chairs and junk recurred on her canvas with icons of women, discarded objects, juxtaposed with humans in a strange mélange of regeneration, life, decay.
“My figures are transmuted from reality and the dream state,” the artist said, “I conducted a 10-year experiment which led many  new trends in Indian art.  My engagement with kitsch  gave me a global following. It became a new school of art. I was the first to use junk in my work — today a lot of artists work with junk,”. Menon says she was the  first in India to experiment with computer art. “My computer-enabled art show, ‘Mutations’, in New York City was in  sync there at the turn of the last century but the show was not understood in India as it was far ahead of its times. But now many  young Indian artists are using photographs,  Photoshop  and technology to create new images,” Menon said.
The artist regretted that as an avant garde, her work gets appropriated as she moves on. “I hate looking back but I would like to go back to making  Murano glass sculpture. But I wonder who would guide me at the glass blowers now that the Italian meister Antonio De Ros, with whom I worked, is not around to help me anymore. Language is also a problem,” she said.
Menon is one of the highest price–pullers in the Indian contemporary art market— with the likes of M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta and Ram Kumar, but she remains ambivalent about the commerce of art. “Art does not have to be commercial. Unfortunately, the presence of countless galleries , dealers  and auction houses has commodified art, which helped artists during the boom. But after the boom, there has been the crash. The boom was fuelled by fake promises by dealers to investors. Investors are different from collectors – they ramp up the market, but do not hang or cherish the work” Menon said.
The artist is seeking more public space for her works— and is eager to connect to a younger generation of viewers. Two of her large murals in pubic spaces — one gifted to the Kolkata Metro and a mural on the LIC Building — were vandalized. “Only when someone pays a huge sum of money  a work of art is valued. In Shantiniketan, I have seen students parking their bikes against a great mural by  the late Benode Bihari Mukherjee,” Menon said on a sad note. “I want to do more work in public spaces but public art requires care and promotion in India, which is at the moment sadly lacking”.   
“I have had two major retrospective exhibitions and one mini retrospective show. Collectors have been generous in lending their paintings. Recently in Mumbai, my old collectors came up with works from the 1970s that I had forgotten about. There is a  whole generation who does not know my work.” Menon said.
The artist at the moment is working on a series of large paintings for an exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery in early 2014.