Monday, December 07, 2009

A Counterview on Preservation

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, an award winning Malayalam film director, in one of his interviews talks about improvisation and contextualisation of performances in the context of Kerala's art forms. According to him no performance is a repetition of an earlier performance regardless of the sameness of its theme. He adds that the modern obsession with preservation (recording, documenting, etc.) is a western import.

This can be rubbished as the romantic view of an artist steeped in nostalgia. But there is some merit in this argument even in the context of education. At a time when one section of the e-learning fraternity is constantly arguing against the repetition of live lectures and replacing them with recorded ones, we tend to forget the fact that a great lecturer is also a great performer. She improvises and works on her argument each time she talks about the same concepts. Being a great fan of the TED lectures, I'm obviously in favour of recording, too; it's just that recording is not a replacement for a live lecture.

Excerpts from the Adoor interview:

“The problem with recording is that it would be taken for the norm. One of the great qualities of our culture is that nothing is staged or performed with a view to be preserved. Every performance is for that evening. Tomorrow it will be created again.

Once I went to Kadammanitta to watch Padayani. In the late evening they were all busy painting makeshift masks and making the costumes and those huge and spectacular headgears. All that is done on fresh arecanut sheaths and tender coconut leaves lending the make-up a certain ethnic authenticity. They take on a special glow in the light of the oil torches. Once the performance is over, those headgears and perishables are simply discarded. That night, when I came away I brought some of the masks with me. But after a day or two, they just withered and shrank. A Padayani performer doesn't have to create anything for preservation. He is confident that he can always create it anew, anytime, and always afresh. It is a great concept. Take our 'kalamezhuthu' for instance. We draw this colourful and wonderfully intricate Kalam only to erase it at the end of the ritual. This obsession with preservation is totally western--this idea of plucking something from its natural context and keeping it. For us it is part of a continuum. Our climate is not quite kind to the idea of preservation either. These torrential rains and sultry summers don't allow any kind of preservation. It destroys and in turn replenishes too. A summer would dry up everything. But rains would give everything a rebirth.”


Blogger Geeta Bose said...

Hey Mammen, so true! Reminds me of the wonderful TED presentation by Devdutt Pattnaik on TED. I was watching it yesterday and could not agree more!

Currently, am fending off all queries about my passive state with the explanation that my life denominator is infinity!!

1:32 AM  
Blogger Anil Mammen said...

Thanks for the response, Geeta. I’m mostly skeptical of any kind of west vs. east debate especially when the cultures are defined in a monolithic sense. What interests me more is the local vs. the so called artificially termed global. Global most often denotes a singularity in approach to truth and knowledge subsuming local knowledge forms. For instance, if you ask anyone working in the e-learning field in India what the term” international” signifies, you most probably wouldn’t find Sudan or Yemen or Bangladesh in what they identify as international. International to them largely means the United States and Europe because—besides other reasons—that’s where their market is. So, you realize that the market becomes a dominant force in the way we consume knowledge. We flock to “knowledges” that have a saleable value.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Geeta Bose said...

Interesting. But is'nt it true for all? Whether it is intra-culture or inter-culture, isn't there a natural tendency to flock to power centers and interpret things accordingly?

For instance, if we ask a schoolboy which is the center of India - he may say Madhya Pradesh vs. if we ask an adult office goer - he may say Delhi. The perspectives are defined by their interpretation of the 'power centers' - for a child its his knowledge of geography, for an adult its his knowledge of the economy.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Vineesh said...

Adoor is so right in his assessment of our culture. This may be the reason why there are so few written records about Kerala's history. The habit of preserving the past was simply not there.

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Bhakti said...

Interesting point this...I also think that traditionally, Indians have been brought up to work hard for things, delaying gratification for the goal...this also contributes to us doing things from scratch rather than re-using them...

but all that is changing now...we all now believe in "working smart", not necessarily "working hard", to get what we want...this means cutting down on so-called unnecessary tasks that can be instead be done once and preserved...

Does this make sense?? Not sure if I am putting it across correctly...but I do remember that when I was a kid, there was a distinct difference in the way I approached a thing, and how my Grandmother did it...she did things painstakingly, slowly, the very act of "doing" the thing was a thing to look forward to...whereas, for me, things needed to be done quickly so I could get to the fruit/results of it...

these days, however, I find myself increasingly favouring her methods! there is something to the poem "what is this life, full of care..."

the rush to get things done is increasingly getting out-of-control and near-neurotic, imho...

11:45 PM  

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