Thursday, November 28, 2013

That dream. Those plans. Surprises.
The best birthday present.
Couldn't have asked for anything more.
Thank you!

Monday, November 25, 2013

What a Sunset it was!

The sun setting on the evening of November 22. There. Under the same sky. The journey, the journeys. Right. What a beautiful night and day and night it was.

Friday, November 15, 2013

About a 3D Print Party: In Open magazine this week

Some times you merely write. Some times you really write. There is a difference. This edges towards the former. Read a story about German artist Fabian Hesse's work in Open magazine here. Or see below.

First, You Print the Shot Glass
Art and technology, material and digital, real and virtual, all come together to drink vodka at a 3D printing party in Bangalore

Geeksville would cheer.
I am invited to a party called ‘3D Print Party Flux Assemble Open-Hardware Kathe UM%hack*’. I don’t understand what that means, though I suppose I can tell you what 3D printing is. A meeting with artist Fabian Hesse, the party’s host, has given me an understanding of his line of practice, but I still can’t pronounce the whole name of this party. Let’s stick to calling it the 3D print party.
Fabian Hesse is a visual artist from Germany, and is in Bangalore as a Goethe bangaloREsident@Jaaga, an artist-in-residence program that the Goethe Institut organizes in the city in association with local cultural spaces and arts organisations. His interest lies chiefly in the many layers of the Web world and his works explore the fundamental changes that occur in the world and society through information technology and ‘digitalisation’. One of the ways Hesse engages with the process of this ‘digitalisation’ is through 3D printing, using freely available open source software and hardware.
At the 3D print party in Bangalore’s Max Mueller Bhavan on a light winter evening, the room is illuminated by the shivering lines and patterns on a laptop screen, magnified and projected onto a wall. There is tea in a steel can, and some biscuits. All the action is around the printer on the floor, behind which sits surreptitiously a tall bottle of vodka, waiting to become part of a ritual traditional among 3D print artists. A work week is only just ending outside the glass windows of the building and the party indoors won’t heat up for a few hours yet. A few people trickle in and art talk begins.
The printer, the party’s reason for being, sits in the middle of the room. It is a square box, open on all sides. There is a lot going on with it. A little screen tells you how much printing has been done already, what the temperature is like and other numbers. The nozzle of the machine is whirring back and forth, outlining a form in green—the only colour Hesse has added to the printer. Before the event, he had invited people to send in images of things they’d like to have printed; what’s being printed now, he tells me, is a sort of mini-bust, based on a photograph of a friend’s head and shoulders.
The way it works is that Hesse takes an image, uses open source software to convert it into a format printable in 3D, puts it on an SD card and feeds it to the printer, which then prints a figure based on the image. Even a small file takes hours to print; Hesse’s own works take between nine and forty-something hours each.
The droning noise of the printer at work silences the conversations of those that mill around it, peering in. There is something about the monotony and the repetitive movement of the nozzle that, like a micro-trance, holds your attention for several minutes—until you have taken a photo on your camera phone, until someone you know walks in, until your back hurts from bending over.
Walking by the printer every few minutes to check on its progress, I overhear the conversation continuing:
“I can’t get my head around these things. I am too old. I am fascinated by it but I can’t understand it,” an observer says.
“Oh, neither can I,” replies another, “I just like what it is doing.”
Hesse is explaining to someone that the printer, which he has brought with him from Germany, costs about 1,200 Euros. Across a long table are pieces of plastic, metal, nuts and bolts and tape that will make another such printer. With the help of some technical people from Electronic City, Bangalore, Hesse will assemble the second 3D printer right here. He hopes it will work; he and the people from Electronic City have reworked the nozzle a little.
Just then, the machine halts. Hesse doesn’t know why. The project in progress can’t be finished.Once the printer stops, it can’t begin again mid-project—the file would have to be printed again from scratch. Hesse uses a spatula to remove the half-formed figure from the surface of the printer. In its place, he loads an image of an iPhone cover. The girl who sent it in is mighty excited. The printer is restarted.The pattern printing now is intricate and the nozzle moves fast. As the cover begins to take shape, more people mill around the machine, including a man and his little daughter. While he seems delighted at all the technology, she doesn’t look too impressed.
An artist standing by is paying attention to the percentage of the printing already done, looking at the little monitor where the numbers are on display. It is at 12 per cent. Hesse is telling someone that he uses polylactic acid (PLA), a kind of bio-degradable plastic that comes in all colours, transparent and otherwise. Today’s shade is green.
“What is with the boxer shorts?” I ask, referring to a pair of printed boxers hanging from a hook against a red surface on one wall in the gallery.
Hesse explains that the shorts, printed with the alphabet—a jumble of letters layered over each other—are intended as “a nod to data security patterns that prevent transparency and by turn, data theft. Boxer shorts are a piece of private clothing; very few people see [them]. So this explores the idea of whether to have transparency or not. In this museum, institution-like set up, this was like a joke to me.”
Someone in the background is talking about being an artist, another responding about not being one, but being in awe of art. Mutual acquaintances are being invoked after new introductions. Hesse is going back and forth between two laptops, saving files and tweaking things in each. On one sits a small white rabbit figurine, printed in 3D. A few other oddly-shaped 3D objects stand around, standing out in green against the red boards that cover the walls.
It isn’t time yet for the vodka bottle to be put to its use.
 The day before the party, I meet Hesse at the cozy Courtyard CafĂ© at Jaaga, a space which describes itself as an ‘evolving community sculpture’, a sort of creative common ground that is hosting him.  He speaks about how he started out as a graffiti artist in his teens. In small town Germany, he and friends would stay out nights to “make the city ours”. That got him in trouble, but not before putting him on a path of art practice. He emphasises that he cannot make high end decorative pieces of art.
Through his practice and his work with Fablab, an artist collective in Germany where members pool together resources and exchange know-how, Hesse explores the role of data as a new currency. The materiality of data and its physical attributes are what he seeks to combine and highlight through his 3D pieces. He once got hold of passwords of hacked Twitter accounts and printed them out in 3D. That work and many of his others are hard to transport around the world when he travels—the threads are fragile—but his emails go around the world several times in a matter of seconds. The irony of this, the contrast between his work and the ideas that he conveys through it, isn’t lost on Hesse.
He is a 1980s child; we spend some time talking of those days, of growing up without emails and internet. Hesse doesn’t allow himself to be nostalgic of a simpler era, though: “you make the best of what you have.” For all his interest in the internet and how it blurs the lines between virtual and real, he says he was left speechless by the NSA spying scandal in the US. “There was a moment when the internet was seen as Utopia. But it’s no longer ‘our internet’ anymore, and that makes me sad. I am an advocate of freedom of expression.”
The conversation drifts to Facebook and emails—the virtual that crowds real lives. He says he finds himself exercising reserve in his emails these days, after the spying scandal broke. “Not that I have anything to hide, but still.”
At the party the next evening, his Twitter password work lies in a corner. Hesse told me the night before that it is tradition among artists who work with 3D printing to print a small glass and drink a shot of vodka from it. That is the ‘party’ part of the evening. The ritual is observed in due course. Printing happens too.

Friday, November 08, 2013

How Old is November Anyway?

Late one night in early November, we asked this question, many others. The attempt to answer overwhelmed me then, as it continues to now. I had a special feeling about this year, and I was right. 2013, a landmark year in many ways that I will tell you about in a post later this month, has been a crazy year, mostly in good ways. A year after the November question, we don't have answers. I'm not sure we want any.

Poetry, smiles, worries, love, intelligent wine on the table where we talk, cherry trees and spring air and beautiful-ness has been in season all year around. And I discover everyday that miracles do exist in my sometimes cynical world. Some miracles happen in a day, in a text message, in a single all night long phone call. Some are not marked by the exact time, some happen over 18 days. Some last that minute, some every day of every week.

This November, I cannot shake off this smile from my face. And that is all you need to know.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Telangana: Few Thoughts - Filter Coffee column in Kindle this month

I try not to write opinion pieces or commentary on trending issues. Not just because there are always too many of both out there, what with people given the free rein by the w.w.w. to scream and shout at the sound of a cough. But in the November issue of Kindle, it was Andhra Pradesh's turn to be written about. I spent many days trying to waddle through the different arguments for and against Telangana. Old friends came to the rescue and helped me understand the tapestry of politics, hopes and history that lends grey shades to the issue. No news can be black and white. This piece has also been tinted with some grey.

Read the story here. Or see below.

P, my friend from the University days, always gets me Karachi biscuits from Hyderabad when she visits. Sometimes over pasta and wine, we talk of old times and giggle like the way we did the first day we met in class. We don’t talk politics or ideologies, our borrowed time is expended on what the rest of the boys and girls from college are up to. I have never met her husband J, we have only said our hi-hellos over the phone. A few days ago I had a long conversation with them, about politics, perceptions, the larger picture and the audacity of hope – not the book. We also considered making plans to rob a bank. Skipping that part, this is how the conversation went.

J has lived in Hyderabad for 14 years now, P for six. He is an economist, a professor. She is in public relations. Both are from different states, but speak the same language, and English, with each other. I am interested in what they think of the whole Telangana issue, whether they are affected at all, if they have an opinion, if it matters, because they are urban migrants who have ‘homes’, families elsewhere. I ask them to explain and J does, with a professor’s rigour, breaking down the issue for me, giving me an insider-outsider’s POV.

Most of his students are from outside the state, very few are invested in the regionism, and its many other tentacles, that is leading to the creation of India’s latest state. But he has friends who come from both coastal Andhra and the Telangana districts. The issue is all about Hyderabad, J tells me. It is the land of opportunity, the glitzy metropolis where everyone wants to be, to work, to live. Everyone’s favourite city will go to one state, not the other, though it will be the joint capital for the first ten years after AP breaks up. J wonders whether the new capital, whichever city it is, cannot become just as good, just as golden as Hyderabad. There are many perceptions at play here, many politics, fractured parties, history and its violations, clever people’s manipulations, emotions, the regular drama.

It would have remained regular drama if not for how the state machineries have been paralyzed because of it. There are politicians from the coastal Andhra region and there are politicians from the Telangana region. Both sides will not stop shouting the House to a standstill. The possibility of a government that might transcend this issue and attempt to run a state is absent, for there are too many emotions and precious vote banks at stake.

To make it a little easier, J gives me the analogy of two friends. One wants to remain friends, remain best friends even, while the other does not want to have anything to do with him. Draw this line further and you arrive at the state of AP where a traditional oppressor is uncomfortable with change and would rather have the status quo, ignoring demands and denying rights. The traditionally oppressed want to finally have control over their land, their resources, their rights. The first group demands a united Andhra Pradesh, it is the second group that will get the new state to itself.

To J and to my friend P, the strikes, the agitation and the whiff of trouble brewing doesn’t make them stop and take notice. But every other person they meet will bring up the issue and substantiate why they think the way they do. When P hires a taxi and goes out on work, the taxi driver will tell her why he is happy there will be a Telangana state, she tells me. Other colleagues, friends, think otherwise. Many don’t have, or want to share, an opinion. Both agree that if Hyderabad was taken out of the equation, no one would shout so much.

I ask them if normal life is affected at all in the city, whether they see, hear, read anything. J tells me they know only as much as I, in Bangalore, would read in the papers. News channels show the opinions of their rich political owners. But really, he tells me, the people from both the regions are in a way punishing themselves. In smaller towns and nerve centres of the whole issue, life came to a standstill. Not many of those living in the city could go back home for the festivals last week.

J has an idea for how the agitation might be deflected. The Centre ought to announce which city will be the capital of the new state, he thinks. People there would stop agitating, those elsewhere will argue for and against the proposed name, moving on from the bifurcation issue. There are many rumours and no favourites for the new capital. I ask him what cities figures in his list. There is Kurnool, Vijayawada, Ongole and the region within the triangle area of Guntur, Tenali and Vijayawada, each with cases for and against them that J points out for me. The final name will of course be more politically motivated than chosen on a strictly practical basis, we both agree.

J and I have been talking for an hour by now. Given the history of the issue, the cold facts, I know which side I will lean toward, but for arguments sake, I ask him if there is a case for a united state. The only one he has for me is a scenario where there will be more demands for non-linguistic division of regions. Where would that end, he mulls. But then, that is for the Centre to deal with, he says, for, a person sitting in a backward village in a corner of Telangana should not have to bother with this larger picture; he might not understand the greater question, he need not be expected to care.

For now, the mood of the people is one of hope, J tells me. The idea and attraction of two different states is driven by money. It is laden with the hope that magically things will change and that a new golden land will emerge. Practical souls understand that golden lands aren’t created overnight, that dreams don’t always turn hopelessness on its head. Disillusionment, carrying old cracks under its arms, usually walks behind hope. But that’s the thing about hope, isn’t it? It is audacious, not always practical. Hope though is nearly the only thing that most people got.

This piece has been inspired by a real conversation with real people.