my brother's eater

cutting labels

so we sit
and throw our tantrums
crying like spoiled children;
for justice.

while the mai-baap* government
plods steadily on
grand as a sunset
and inevitable
as death.

My sister and I can't have been very old when we started cutting the labels off our jeans. While it may seem like teenage defiance, I have graduated to cutting (visible) labels off my shirts, and recently, a new pair of shoes. We liked the quality of the denim, but damned if we were going to wear someone else's name on our butts. In the years since I left Shillong, I have been mistaken for South American, Malaysian, Indonesian, and more recently Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and South African. In the light of the recent actions of the Indian government with relation to the Bhopal Gas tragedy and the fiasco of the court passing judgement, the war on tribal land for bauxite and coal, and now the repulsive Civil Nuclear Liability Bill...I am almost glad I do not wear my Indian identity on my face.

Bhopal is the classic story of corporate cost-cutting gone wrong, though it has only really gone wrong for the people who were and are being affected by the terrible gas leaks of 2-3 December, 1984. Warren Anderson is free to enjoy his millions, safe in the knowledge that neither the Indian nor the american governments have the balls to go after him. And with Dow Chemicals taking over the assets (but *not the responsibilities) of Union Carbide the shareholders were taken care of too. I, for one, would have been stunned if the courts had actually made anything more than a token effort at justice, seeing how the CBI has been trying to get poor Anderson off the hook for years, and how it was the Indian Government that let the bastard leave the country in the first place, after they had arrested him for manslaughter.

And then comes the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. As if it were not enough to demonstrate that large American Corporations would have no real trouble from our police or judiciary, the government (by the people, of the people, for the people) has decided that this might as well be made law. The insurability of an American Corporation, you see, is SO much more important than putting in realistic controls to make sure they are not over-burdened with financial claims should the equipment screw up. Capitalist exploitation at its beautiful best, the profits without the responsibility.

I have little understanding of politics, much less of economics. However it doesn't take a degree in biology to realise you are being raped; by the same government (by the people, of the people, for the people) that is supposed to protect you. I wish the stranglehold of corporates and national governments over our lives was as easily removed as the labels from our clothes. But here we stand, in the curious position of a person sold into slavery, not knowing whom to hate more- the bastards that sold you, or the bastards that bought.

NB: Cut a label...sign the petition against this bill.

*mai-baap=father-mother, a role many see the government as playing, particulary in the imperialistic scheme of things.

thinking aloud@read raw

we went, at a friend’s suggestion, to a theatre event called Read raw. i know little about theatre, and have gone to half a dozen plays in my life, most of which i enjoyed. Read raw was definitely a ‘different’ experience though, and one that’s really got me thinking.

the format is simple enough- a play’s script *read to an audience, not acted. from what i understood, the actors have the freedom to decide whether they would like to do a bit of ‘acting’ instead of just reading the plays aloud. while it is a ‘public’ event, open to anyone, the audience is small- last night must have had about 30 people. there is no ‘stage’ as such, just some empty space at the front of the room, and no mics. the play is read/performed, and the playwright and director and actors have a bit of a conversation with the audience.

i really enjoyed this format for two reasons. for one, this further breaks down the dividing wall between the writer and the audience, with many comments from the audience being on the lines of ‘you should have done it *this way’, or even ‘i don’t think that character/event was believable’. encouraged by the playwright, these comments acted as feedback, and i had a very strong sense that some of the comments were being incorporated into how the play would be staged next time. it was like watching a play half-written or half-rehearsed, and being able to actually contribute to the continued making of it.

the second reason i really liked this format was the simplicity and cost effectiveness. there were no sound systems or expensive setups. it was held in the foyer of a theatre building, but i imagine any largish room would do, as long as the actors can be heard. it was free for the audience, and i think this event has some funding, though it seems possible to do something similar without the funding too.

the plays were well worth a watch, and though we didn’t participate vocally in the discussion, it gave us much talk material for later. and while i do not feel ‘qualified’ to critique the plays, the discussions were an interesting insight to how people think, particularly how we ask questions.

it seems a pity to me that we seem to need to constantly compare the world of the play to our ‘expectations’ of life and our surroundings. for instance, there was some discussion about whether a manic-depressive would behave the way one of the actors did, a comment about a doctor’s assertiveness etc. i personally feel that the internal logic to the piece is primary, and not so much whether it conforms to ‘reality’ as we think we know it.

there was also this odd need to label, and therefore pin down the ‘what’ of something. while the playwright in one play had written in some behaviours for a character, the actor needed to label it ‘manic-depressive’ to understand and so to communicate the character. another instance was a discussion about whether the play should be a farce or a comedy. while i do understand (and appreciate) the value of labels as indicators and as comprehensible and therefore communicative symbols, i’m not sure either of these helped (me at least) in any way.

all in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening, thanks to everyone involved!

of late i've been doing a lot more reading-watching, all of which was made possible by my new-found and much-loved job at onehunga community library. here are some of my favourites:

black like me ~ set in the 50s, this is the journal of john griffin, a white man who turns his skin temporarilly black so that he can travel in the southern states of the US as a "negro". with a very engaging writing style, he brings home the horror of what it meant to be a black person in a white dominated world. interestingly, he also documents the irony of how he feels almost completely alienated from his 'white' self while in his black skin, while not adressing the questions that raises. a fascinating read, and one that raises questions not just about race issues, but even about our own identities and how that is linked to the visual images we have of ourselves and our world. the title is taken from a langston hughes poem.

embroideries ~ from marjane satrapi, authour of persepolis, this graphic novel is a
lot more personal, reducing the volume of the politics from the loud protests of persepolis to a low background (but definitely there) hum. a quieter tale/tell all around, it is 'women talking', in an iranian context. while i loved persepolis 1 and 2, i must say i like this better somehow, maybe because there are more perspectives available, only one of which is (obviously) the authour's. the artwork is also much less dramatic, and seems more focused on facial expressions than the icon-ish images (i loved) in persepolis. the (general) direction of the discussion: bastard men.

ten canoes ~ if you do watch this, be prepared for a pace of story telling that is
more 'grandfather around the fire' than 'bourne identity'. it is a story within a story, set in australia before white people came. i loved the story telling style in this- unhurried, but not lazy or uncertain. it also subtly seems to defy our (science inflicted?) need to differentiate real from not real, while at the same time illustrating the dangers of acting on an incomplete understanding of the facts. this is also the first time i have seen on-screen nudity without any sexual undertones.
the cave of the yellow dog ~ set in mongolia, this is another quiet story, about a little girl who finds a dog and wants to keep it, but who is not allowed to. shot in documentary style, the camera is quite unobtrusive, and manages to pull the whole story through without any obvious acting. while i have an affection for visuals of the mongolian landscape, this movie uses the landscape without it degenerating into a tourism department advert. all of it seems 'authentic' somehow, though honestly, i have little basis for comparison. but authentic or not, this is a well told story, again in no blockbuster style, but with a lot of warmth and some quiet humour.

protest graffiti mexico: oaxaca~ this book is a collection of the graffiti on the walls that accompanied the protests in oxaca, mexico, against the government of ulises ruiz ortiz. the protests started from the regular ritual of teacher's protests, but grew into something bigger. there is no deliberate distinction drawn between 'art' graffiti and 'tagging', and seems to function as a record of how people felt/feel. a lot of the work was done by street artist group arte jaguar. there are timelines and essays to give the context of the protests, though the images are (mostly) left open to interpretation. 

i guess one of the things that ties all of these together for me is, to steal a title, the 'ways of seeing' each of these represent. at a time when the capitalists, the socialists and the religious are constantly telling us how we are all 'essentially the same', it is fascinating to see so many different perspectives, from so many different points in time. i cannot but cheer for wade davis' eloquent plea for a 'cultural diversity' that is as important as an ecological one.interestingly, 'authenticity' and 'identity' are also a questions that have dogged all of these works.

i'll leave you to draw your own connections though!