Sunday, January 29, 2012

Have you read or watched The Howl?

Every once in a while when I go through a sporadic bout of literary crisis, which is to say I feel utterly devoid of being able to write a piece of fiction or a poem, I watch the film Howl (2010) for inspiration. Based on the life and times of American poet Allen Ginsberg, played by James Franco, on his most famous and controversial poem Howl, the film is a pure celebration of cinema, digital art and poetry.
It also chronicles the 1957 obscenity trial faced by San Francisco poet and City Lights Bookstore co-founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, over the publication of the poem, which is hilarious and ironical as it’s based on actual courtroom records. Adding to this is Jon Hamm from Mad Men, who plays Ferlinghetti’s lawyer, and is sort of vindicating to watch on screen.
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the poem before you watch the film, there are brilliant animation sequences that give a stunning, breathtaking visual interpretation of the poem, and the deftness with which the narrative and the poem are stitched, it quite literally blows your mind. And apart from the censorship and politics of Howl; the historical relevance it had on independent publishing; the film also deals with how Ginsberg comes about expressing his homosexuality and mental health through the poem.
Most of all, the film works for me as an edgy romanticism of writing and poetry that I find lost today in the world of publishing formulas and multi-cultural literary festivals. In faux interviews, Franco-Ginsberg likens the urge to write as a sexual feeling that springs from the pit of a stomach which travels to the mouth and is let out in a sigh in search of words.
Franco’s haunting voice and the rhythmic, tumbling, hallucinogenic howl of the poem is also a fresh introduction to the jazz and psychosis of the literary movement in the 1950s called the beat generation, coined by writer Jack Kerouac. It was Kerouac’s fictional memoir On the Road that set the map for a bunch of writers that came to be regarded as the beats or beatniks.
Howl has the same effect on me today as it did when I was in school after discovering the works of Kerouac and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. They inspired Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and led me to smoke my first chillum at the Pink Floyd Cafe in Pushkar followed by disastrous bus journeys. On YouTube, you can listen to some of the other famous poems by the beats, including Ginsberg’s America and Gregory Corso’s On Marriage in their voice.
On the Road, the film, is finally set to release this year. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame has had the rights for years and has made several attempts to make the film, but failed. It was only after he watched The Motorcycle Diaries (the bike road trip of Che Guevara in his youth), he roped in Brazilian director Walter Salles, and a cast and a script have been put in place. The film was set to release last year, but for some reason has got pushed to this summer. I’m not sure what to expect from it, the few unofficial trailers I’ve seen on YouTube seem strange.
For now, I’ll leave you with the opening lines of The Howl by Allen Ginsberg.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix/angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night/who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz...”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Capital of rape, shame & squalor

Not long ago, a close friend and her elder sister were having a drink at a popular pub in a Gurgaon mall waiting for friends to join, when they attracted some unwanted attention. Few guys on the other table offered to buy them drinks and got refused, they then began to pass snide comments and tried to sit with them, when all hell broke loose. The staff was asked to intervene, the entrance of the pub was sealed from allowing more affiliates of the ruffians in, and the girls were ushered to hide in the kitchen and finally led through the fire exit to their car. As luck would have it, they escaped without harm.
The incident came to mind after reading what happened on New Year’s night when more than 30 men were lathi-charged for attempting to molest and abduct a girl in the parking lot of a Gurgaon mall. The incident got caught on video by the name ‘Delhi gang rape disrupted by police’, which has been doing rounds on the web causing great outrage; newspapers also report that the hooliganism spilled on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road that night. Inebriated men were restrained by the police for halting cars on the highway, causing traffic jams and shattering windshields because they were not allowed entry in nightclubs.
Over the years, I’ve spent living and shuttling between Delhi and Gurgaon, the city has acquired a fierce reputation for crime against women. I don’t know a single girl who hasn’t complained of either being teased, stalked, harassed, or faced some act of molestation. As a journalist, I come across horrific stories of rape in the Capital that often leaves the newsroom cold. It’s a crime that shouts for harsher punishment, no less than castration if it must. Unfortunately, rape cases are not only sensitive in nature, but a majority of them in India are never solved. Years ago, I think, a law was proposed that sought to sentence life term and capital punishment to all accused of rape, but got shot down because of loopholes. The major argument against it was that the accused would now be compelled to start killing their victims after rape — as they’re the main witnesses in the crime — to avoid incarceration.
It doesn’t matter what women wear in Delhi, whether in a bus or bar, there is always someone out there waiting to act weird or funny. This reputation of Delhi men of getting drunk and misbehaving with girls, says a friend now settled in Mumbai, is infuriating as well as hilarious. But what’s worse is that women in the city live in an unspoken spell of fear, one that threatens their every day independence and varies between pronounced and subdued if they aren’t cautious of the time and place, always conscious of being followed by a leering male gaze where ever they go. According to latest Delhi Police records, crime against women, including rapes, is on the rise in the Capital. Statistics show that 568 rape cases (including minors) were reported in 2011, as compared to 507 in 2010. 653 cases of molestation were reported in 2011, while 601 were reported in 2010. What about the incidents that get hushed up to save humiliation?
Something has gone horribly wrong in our attitude towards women, love, sex and dating in recent times. The teeming frustration in young men is seen from largely those hailing from conservative holes where a booming real estate has brought affluence to the rural-set satellite towns and villages; the women here have had no say and been subjected to abuse for generations; the boys here are forgiven for being headstrong and macho, and it’s begun to rebel with the modern (city) ideals where young girls are growing more independent, fashionable and self-assured by day to make it big, be appreciated, and desirable.
Leaving no room for sense and sensibility.
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