Towards Other Possibilities…

Memory is myth. And one of the most powerful myths that I constructed about my life was about the moment when I realized that I had become stuck in New York, and that my life was simply drifting along without my really being aware of how or why. Don’t get me wrong – New York was and remains my favorite city. There wasn’t a moment in the day that I wasn’t busy either with work or friends or exploring its different neighborhoods and possibilities. I loved it for its unpredictability, its complexity and its infinite surprises. I felt more alive and involved while living there than anywhere else. But it wasn’t until the moment that I read Benjamin Kunkel’s first novel Indecision that I realized that I had gotten it so wrong. Its actually not even a great novel, but nevertheless, it was a fun read. I read for distraction, and remember basically getting bored of the work somewhere half way through. Regardless, it was funny, incisive and deliciously celebratory of the delinquent lifestyle. It was one of the first of many novels I was to read where the protagonist is simply rebelling against his assigned responsibilities in life and choosing instead to waste his days and ambitions lounging around, getting high, and contemplating nothing. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s hilarious English, August remains one of my favorite in this particular genre of literature.

What remains unique for me personally about Kunkel’s Indecision was a line that struck me so hard that it made me question my entire presence in New York City. It came from the main character’s mother, who, witnessing her son’s aimlessness and lackadaisical attitude towards life, comments that in the city…

…you can become more inert than you notice. You can mistake the city’s commotion for your own.

That line struck me hard. It was like a thunderclap that woke me up from a daydream. Of course, this is a part of the myth that I have constructed into a memory. The impact of the line was most likely a slow creeping into my soul than an immediate shock. But the fact is that this line, from what was basically quite a simple and ordinary novel, has stayed with me all these years, and is one I think of when I try to remember the moment I decided that I was going to leave New York and to stop confusing the city’s commotion as my own.

Until then, according to my myth / memory, I had stopped paying attention to the possibilities of life and simply gotten seduced by the noise of the city and its chaos. I was doing so many things, but I was actually doing nothing at all. Like a swimmer caught in a strong current he can no longer swim against, I was being pushed along in life, but without the freedom to decide where and towards what. In fact, I would rarely even think about where things were heading. I just went along wherever the commotion took me. It looked and felt like I was making life when in fact I was simply allowing it to happen. Between the demands of the job, the drinks with friends over weekends, the morning brunch get togethers, the shopping in Soho, the frivolous and rather infantile pursuit of the next fashionable bar or dining site, nearly a decade went by. I had done nothing. Without paying attention I had lost my own self, surrendered my agency, and forgotten my own dreams and sense of imagination. I had allowed the city to do all that for me, and confused its largely consumerist, and professional demands to be the idea of life, and its most significant meaning. When I finally managed to extricate myself from the city and its seductions I was finally able to re-connect with the broader world around me. I was finally able to listen and hear my own voice once the noise had died down. This is not to suggest that it was a better voice, but it was at least my own.

I thought of all this as I listened to David Foster Wallace’s famous This Is Water speech. I have quoted from this speech before, and one of my favorite sections is this:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you….Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.…And the world will not discourage you from [this form of worship], because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation

It has been transformed into a short movie here and is worth listening to again for no other reason than to remind ourselves that so much of our life is spent simply drowning under the banal, the unthinking. and simply losing sight of what really matters, what to pay attention to….and what to choose. For life lived in the commotion of a city is a life lived without making choices that matter, and paying attention to the things that matter. It was Wallace’s desperate plea to a younger generation to open its eyes, to see that each day, at each moment, we are called to make choices or to remain unthinking and hence remain unconscious, and convinced that you – the individual, are the center of the world, and then think no more beyond that. That life takes will and effort, and if you are aware, you can see this banality in a new way, and find new possibilities. It takes work, its not easy, but it is in the end a choice we must make. I am not sure I ever found my new possibilities, but I do remember that I tried to pay greater attention to the water around me. I want to believe – as any creation of a myth requires, that I did at least manage to extricate myself from what was not the life I wanted to live. I did change things. I can’t say for the better, but certainly for the more individual and chosen.

I was reminded of all this as I watched this video – I had previously only read the text. So I share it with you here.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

Details »

Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

Details »

Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

Details »

Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

Details »

Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

Details »

%d bloggers like this: