Reverb 10.7: Citizen Of The Community

It feels really odd to address this Reverb10 prompt, fresh on the heels of yesterday’s events. I’m really tempted to pass it up. But I’m plagued by the nagging suspicion that I’ll feel incomplete, like I didn’t give the exercise my best shot. And since I am all about being 100% present in the moment, right now, I’m going to try it. Bear with me on this one, I have a feeling it’ll be a rough ride.

December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

I’ve always been a community-builder. I like people, that is for sure. I am also intrigued by the complexities that are added to human interaction when the numbers increase. I am fascinated by how different people, from different places unite on a common interest or belief and how their differences impact what unites them. Where best to observe and participate in each of these than in a community?

What I loved most about the internet, when I came to it back in 1995, was how much access it gave me to other people. It was really about moving computers from the age of computation to connection.

I started with creating address book lists. I’d frequently send out mailers to different groups, initiating discussions, asking questions. These were the predecessors of what we now call discussion threads. Newsletters have always been around and I tried a version of that in my online space too. Soon enough, I was writing pieces of my own and sending it out to people I thought would be interested. Can’t you already tell that I would love blogging, when it did happen a few years later?

Egroups was the next step (later on called Yahoogroups) and I united my colony friends, my college cronies, my school batch and my extended cousins in various groups. Blogging. Twitter. Facebook. And here we are, now.

After I quit my job, I gravitated to groups of people who shared my interests and my ideologies. These included creative fora, writers groups, literary circles and cultural gatherings. As with every group of people, eventually individual agendas and petty politicking start to eat away the fabric of what originally united people. I’ve learnt that much now but it never gets any easier to deal with.

The events of yesterday had less to do with my standing up for someone close to me and much more to do with being a member of the creative community. A few years ago, I was singing on stage when someone in the audience drenched me in a shower of beer. Following an outbreak of behaviour, the band packed up and refused to perform any more. That was the solidarity of the group. I am disappointed that no one else in the creative community felt the need to speak up or back me up on day before yesterday’s incident, except for the artist who was affected.

A few years earlier, I started facing harassment targetted at my blogging persona. A lot of people then told me to ignore it. And I felt humiliated and let down back then. What was interesting about yesterday is how things have changed. I expressed an opinion and got slammed for it. This included personal attacks and a taunt that my opinion didn’t matter. The Twitterverse rose up in a mighty show of support. There were people I didn’t know very well and some that I did but didn’t even get along with. It was my community stepping up to back me, even if they did not have a direct interest vested in the episode. It was about protecting the rights (to an opinion) of a member of the community.

I am personally very happy to see bloggers and tweeters getting a collective voice and spine in protecting our own. That’s a strong community, in my mind. It keeps us connected and stronger. I am proud to be a part of this community and occasionally have the opportunity to speak for it.

I wish other artists, performers and writers would also band together in a similar manner to uphold and protect our ideals. Perhaps they already do; I just have to discover those specific communities.

Okay that’s the end of it. I warned you it’d be awkward and clumsy. *Sigh* Bear with me, the next one will be better, I promise!

Reverb10.6: The Creative Flow

I actually like the Reverb 10 prompt on this one because I instantly had an answer and it also ties in to one of the most useful insights a friend brought my way earlier this year.

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

I’m going to take this question to exclude the creation of writing. Other that writing, how have my creative ideas been expressed? Let’s see. I discovered a spark of an interest in the kitchen. Instead of falling back on the system, in my case my mother’s teachings and many cookbooks, I went online. I explored a cuisine I knew nothing about (and that my mother knew nothing about). And I experimented. The advantage was that my mother couldn’t stand over me correcting every little action. It freed me up to explore the art of cooking for myself. Full expression and mastery of a creative field does require privacy and the freedom to make your own mistakes. I think my mother doesn’t quite get that and her total and complete control over whatever I do in the kitchen, kills whatever spark I might have. I managed to break free of that by trying this. I made pesto, moussaka, Greek salad and a cake. :-) Tummy happy and mummy happy too!

The other thing that I did do is pick up fabric-painting again. Seven years ago, I used it as an escape from a difficult situation I was in. That time it was a bad relationship. This time, it was the anxiety and pressure I felt over my book. Surprisingly it really helped. It was such a comfort to be able to create something that I felt confident about. Alternately it was very relaxing to be able to mess around without anything really invested in the result. I also picked up the Ideart series again. What’s more, in a very funny way, it acted as a lubricant for my then-stuck writing. I guess creative expression through different outlets keeps things moving for an artist.

Of the many things I’d like to create, I’ll narrow down to the same two I’ve spoken of here. I would like to learn cooking further. I already have the basics of vegetarian South-Indian cooking. I identified non-vegetarian cooking and baking as two things I’d like to explore. It’s not entirely a coincidence that my mother does neither of these. She’s a wonder in the kitchen with her South-Indian vegetarian cooking. And somehow, there is just no room for me to experiment or indeed, prove myself there. It feels too much like a competition and one that I’d never win. On the other hand, in non-vegetarian cooking and baking, there’s no question of competition. I’d feel free to just be myself and mess about, confident that whatever turned out would be right and fine. Takes the pressure so very much off but retains all the fun and satisfaction of creation!

The other thing I’d like to do relates to visual art. I would love to paint a mural in my room or on the outer wall of my building. Currently I don’t see that being possible, since a lot of paints spark up my allergies. Having them in my bedroom would be condemning myself to months of allergy attacks. But it’s something that bears thinking about and maybe I’ll revisit it, in the weeks ahead.

I just realized my insight from this prompt was that result-orientedness could kill creativity. It’s a little too Zen to advocate not caring about results at all. But perhaps switching to something else, at least temporarily, can help take one’s mind off the pressure of doing well.

Bombay Elektrik Projekt (Open Mic) Gets Personal When The Feedback Gets Negative

Over a year ago, I saw something in the newspaper about an open forum for poets and other performers of the written word. Intrigued, I roped in a friend and went for the event. It was an Open Mic organized by Bombay Elektrik Projekt. It was held once a month at Café Goa in Bandra on a Monday night.

I listened with rapt attention as people acted out, read out and performed various pieces that they had written. Once I watched a beatboxer, an a capella rendition another time, and a budding guitarist/songwriter on yet another occasion. And that’s over and above the everyday citizens who’d stop by after work to share a piece of their soul in the form of poetry, verse and other original expression. I became a regular, sometimes performing, always enjoying the varied creative output that came from everyday people in this city.

Some time ago, following some unsavoury behaviour by a member of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt team, I decided to stop performing myself. But the other performers (only one of whom is Ashwini, a.k.a. my dear Mr.Everyday) still held charm in my eyes. I’ve always admired people who excel at their chosen art so I continued to attend as a member of the appreciative audience.

A couple of Open Mic sessions ago, a drunk stand-up comedian began a slew of offensives which didn’t amuse me. Ashwini wasn’t impressed either and didn’t crack a smile. The comedian took umbrage at that and started a personal volley of attack on Ashwini and then at the person he was with – me. I let it pass. Ashwini’s turn came up right after that and he settled it in his oh-so-classy way, with a fitting reply and without any personal slurs.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt Open Mic and a competition among the poets. Ashwini was the last on the line-up and getting ready for his characteristic freestyle rapping. The music was yet to come on when one of the audience members offered to beatbox for him. He agreed and they started off. The performance started off a bit shakily as would be natural with two people who were jamming for the first time. But they got into a groove together and the performance was picking up.

Just then, another person leapt up and grabbed the mike from Ashwini. He proceeded to perform (if you can call it that) an expletive-ridden volley of words that didn’t have much to do with the earlier performance that had been interrupted. It stunned most of us into silence and I’m choosing to believe that’s why no one reacted.

When I got home, I tweeted the following:

Quite disappointed by Bombay Elektrik Projekt 2nd anniv Open Mic. Disrespect to ur artists & ur regulars is bad form and bad business.

The response came in the form of a status update on Facebook and on Twitter as follows:

@ideasmithy well ramya,you seem to be the only one disappointed with last night. i suggest you speak for yourself… http://fb.me/Ln6P4qM7

What followed was a rather vicious fight across Twitter (me, Bombay Elektrik Projekt) and Facebook, which I reproduce as follows:

Note their tweets:

@ideasmithy @spitphyre I’m sorry its always petty with u ramya but you’re exaggerations of last nights events are misleading, misdirecting

@ideasmithy @Finelychopped its funny how you only always tweet when it concerns ashwini, whom we’ve still to hear from

@ideasmithy would be nice to see how many people agree with ur misdirected angst ‘clique-y kids playing at being cool. you’ve lost the plot.

After the first couple of tweets, I started retweeting their tweets. That resulted in a number of other people getting into the discussion. Many expressed their dissent over personal attacks in response to negative feedback. At this juncture, the Facebook conversation came alive. The Bombay Elektrik id started on a defensive, even arrogant tack. These were followed by an attempt to soothe the furore down.

The Bombay Elektrik Projekt

Hey Tarun,Ashiwini,Ken,Saurabh and Ramya.. thank you for everything you guys have shared on this wall.. I was present last night and yes, keri did take the mike away from you to add in a rhyme or to as is what he must have felt was just par…t of the performance. it was after all a rap battle of sorts. You did well in your comeback after the mic was snatched from you.

This does no way justify what he did, so if you felt offended then ashwini, i apolgise.

As far as what you said ramya about us not respecting our audience or our regulars, im sorry but that just has not happened. Yes you are entitled to an opinion and i respect that, but if you chose to say that we have no respect for all the people that help make our night, that hasnt happened during the course of the last two years.

For you to say that last night was disappointing is again surprising. Yes there was this one incident but then wheres you talking about the 30 wonderful poets who came and performed, or the smile that everyone walked away with at the end of the night.

We have built a solid reputation over the past two years as being one of the few people at the forefront of the art and culture scene in the city and it hasnt been easy.

May i just add that if you have a problem, then why not just address it and sort it out then and there, im always around so come and talk.. why wait a day to put it up online and then have someone action this.

Understand that people who follow you on a social network would have only a part account of what happened and do you think its fair to get everybody to assume that the entire night was disappointing, which in a sense reflects on all the people participating last night or that we have no respect for our audience or participants.

well, ashwini..again, if you felt keri insulted you in anyway im sorry, but please bring this up more promptly if you feel so strongly about this next time

Regards
Sudeip

Ashwini had gotten involved by this juncture (as you can see in the thread). And that thread seemed to end on the happy ‘all’s well that ends well note’.

But wait, the story doesn’t end here! Twitter came alive again. This time the Bombay Elektrik id was tweeting (and I say ‘id’ because I can only assume that the conflicting messages from the same account are because of different people accessing it) but not including my id in their tweets. Instead, they were doing the Twitter version of backbiting and here are some of their tweets:

@wanderblah @priyal no,what’s weird was why she didn’t dm or msg us.again @sudeipv reply not bizzare but a correction of the facts

@priyal @wanderblah @sudeipv I agree but then why give ramya berth on twitter #ideasmithydeepfried

@angadc thanks angad, but were covered. if she chooses to rant, well that’s her choice and right. we have nothing more to say to her

So much for the facts of the case. As I see it there are two distinct and clear issues. The first, deeper one is the cliquish treatment of the events. These events ask attendees to pay and do not compensate the performers. Bombay Elektrik Projekt also establish themselves are promoters and organizers of cultural meetings and events. With this, they take on the onus of maintaining the integrity of the platform they stand for. If an artist or indeed, a member of the audience is insulted, it definitely is their problem, something that they need to take responsibility for. Interrupting a performance and in such an offensive manner is a serious issue and cannot be written off as one drunken act. These are not small intimate gatherings of close friends in somebody’s house. These are public events, calling to and entertaining a wide network of people, familiar and otherwise. Bombay Elektrik Projekt enjoys the attention and other benefits of being such a wide platform. They cannot then, shrug off the responsibility for things that happen on it.

The second issue is their response to criticism. My tweet was negative but it did not lash out at any one person. It addressed an actual incident that had happened and expressed my disappointment over it. Their response was first to ask me to shut up and then snigger and taunt me over being the only one to think so. I don’t know if they honestly believe that one person’s opinion doesn’t matter or whether they just don’t want my opinion for more personal reasons. Either way, because my making it public brought in a good degree of support for my right to my opinion, I think they backtracked. I would have been happy to let things settle there, since after all an opinion is an opinion and if someone is unable to take it in perspective, well, tough. But their snippy attitude continues, despite other people suggesting that they just let up.

I’ve been receiving some messages asking me to just forget it and let it drop. The point is, that I haven’t actually done anything after that first tweet. Everything after that has just been relaying what they’ve been saying and making it public. If I’m relaying what you said about me and to me, that doesn’t make me an accessory to this ugliness. I’m having to ask for public support on this precisely because of Bombay Elektrik Projekt’s first challenge that my opinion (since I’m the only one expressing it) doesn’t matter. What’s noteworthy is that there haven’t been too many people from yesterday’s event speaking up for their side either. It’s possible that there will be some tomorrow. Since their tweets haven’t gotten them the response they hoped for, I expect them to call in their inner circle members to attack me on the public forum and I say this from an earlier experience with trying to have an adult conversation over a disagreement. (Note – I just checked into the thread and it’s happening already. The same person who lashed out at me last time is now asking me to take lessons in battle rapping).

So, my dear friends who’ve been asking why I’m upset and Twitter followers who’re asking what the big deal is, this is the story. It is about having an opinion and being attacked for it. It is about what constitutes basic respect. It is about claims to artistic appreciation and the farce that actually happens.

Actually let me not say any further. I just checked out their latest tweet. After all this, this is what they have to say. Draw your own conclusions.

@angadc but angadc we’re used to calling a spade a spade. public or otherwise. does this mean we face public ire

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Update on 8 December 2010: On the Facebook thread, Kerry (the person who snatched the mic) and Ashwini (the artist who was performing) had the following converation.

Kerry Harwin: Sorry, not being a big social media user, I’m late to this game. I won’t address the facebook/twitter furor, because I don’t know anything about that.

I do want to apologize to Ashwini, though. My intention was just to join in the excitement. I thought it was fantastic to have a rapper close out the night, and wanted to be a part of that. I apologize if my manner of doing so upset people. Everything was meant in good humor and in jest. MNS (wow, I just realized what unfortunate initials Monday Night Slam has) is a very interactive space and some dialog between performers, host, and audience is quite common. If I took that spirit too far, the error was all mine, and I apologize both to Ashwini and to those audience members who had a worse night because of it. I had hoped to add, not to subtract.

Ashwini Mishra: fair enough.apology accepted.just for the record, i have always encouraged collaboration and especially on the spot. But when the mic is snatched in the middle of my rhyme, that irritates the hell out of me. but it’s fine. let’s bury the hatchet. maybe we can battle again sometime. god knows i have enough material now..:)

That’s issue no.1 reached resolution (or at least one incident of it). As for issue no.2, Bombay Elektrik Projekt have not issued any further statements, slanderous, apologetic or otherwise. And there have been a few nasty jibes directed my way, by one of the judges at that event.

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