Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Venus Flytrap: Son of a Sun

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Dear Sun God (aka Papa),

I hope you don’t mind if I hang around a bit more after my daily prayers today. After all, it’s not like you have very much to do. There’s a couple of things I’d like to talk to you about. I’ll pause for a minute and see if there’s an apocalypse – if there is, I’ll take that as a no.

Oh good. You’re still shining, the birds are still singing, and my poor mortal feet are still earthbound. Also, kind of scorched (temperature check, please?).

You know, I realise that most people would consider themselves lucky to not have a daddy who gives them a complex and messes with their complexion. But I’m aware that being the son of the sun has its perks. Like bragging rights (not that anyone believes me or anything, but I noticed the droughts in Hastinapura, so thanks Pops). And the perpetually radiant glow of my skin, and positively smouldering good looks. Also, not to forget glory, splendour and hypersensitive poetesses composing verses in my name thousands of years from now and all that.

Still, don’t get me wrong – but waiting around for posthumous vindication is a bit of a drag. I’m not asking you to, you know, revolve around me or anything. But I figured that since you’re the source of all life, and we in Bharat are really into procreation, and somewhere down the line you might “inspire” another divine birth or two, it might be good to offer a few suggestions for future consideration.

Firstly, do you need to dispel darkness quite so often? Barely a night goes by before you pop out again. This constant presence stuff is a bit hard to take. Don’t glare like that. Lighten up, man. Look on the bright side: it’s not like I’m immortal or something. No sweat.

I mean, to tell you the truth, in these times of religion and rampant slaughter, it might have been nice to have been a girl instead. Less bloody. Like that Draupadi chick – though I guess she kind of overcompensates for the lack of gore. Talk about a monopoly on the menfolk! (By the way, she thinks you’re hot. Particularly this year). Plus, you would have given me a metal bra, I suppose. All I’d have to do to get rid of my enemies would be to sit behind them on a nervous horse.

And – ah, father, this is the worse of it – this armour is awfully spiffy and all that. Good for blinding people using your reflection, finger-drumming and paper frottage with crayons (love the detail work!). But I don’t know how else to say it – it’s kind of hard to… hug other people. I’m also a little bit worried about whether or not I have any nipples, not having ever seen them.

Also, I would really like to change my earrings from time to time. They itch.

If you have any ideas how I can rescue my existence from such epic boredom and irritation, please do illuminate me.

I send you my warmest. Well, the warmest I can muster. If you feel a cold patch somewhere on your vast corpus, consider it a dart of love from your long lost, most devoted and extremely eclipsed son.

Yours,

Karna

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

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The Venus Flytrap: Constant Clicking

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It used to be that the self-portrait was a revolutionary thing, a means of staking out the claim of the individual in a world where the common and communal ruled roost. In the birthday week of Frida Kahlo, the high priestess of exactly such behaviour, it might be nice to remember this – the power of the personal story and the documentation of the personal journey in an impersonal world. But people-watching at a tapas joint sometime last week, as a trio of girls passed their digicam repeatedly to the waiter and pursed their lips in that unsmiling expression popularly known as “sexyface”, I began to wonder: has the era of self portraiture as a genuine milestone marker made way for the era of self portraiture as farce?

There are photographs in which the beauty of the work lies almost entirely in the anonymity of the subject – devoid of name, stripped to only their appearance at the exact moment of capture – faces and bodies become illuminated with the pathos of multiple interpretations. But not so, in the age of having images of yourself tagged on social networking sites almost before you get home from the event. Almost as if to make up for all the unidentified faces ever caught on film, we snap, label and overshare with a vengeance.

The photograph as object in itself? Rarely. The photograph as proof, as social lubricant, as currency, as device? Constantly.

Why are we so obsessed with this constant clicking? Perhaps it’s the novelty of it – a camera is no longer a luxury in the average middle class home, and the virtual obsoleteness of film rolls empowers one with endless retakes, easy editing and instant gratification, every time. It’s no longer just special occasions that are recorded, but more often than not, the truly mundane. Take the phenomenon of photographing food – you’ve surely observed groups order large portions of food, take pictures of and with the dishes, and then leave most of them uneaten. I wonder sometimes if people really go on holiday just for fun anymore, or for the sake of the Facebook album (or three) that might result. The experience no longer seems to count, only the evidence of it.

I won’t lie – I’m as narcissistic as the next person, and cam-whoring is terrific fun. But it might pay to remember that in the early days of photography, some cultures mistrusted the camera, believing it to be a soul-sucking device. Just watch how a less than cozy bunch will transform for the flash – embracing, kissing or posing with a passion which, if it truly existed, would be very unlikely to occur with all eyes turned to the camera. I don’t know about an absence of soul – but a faking of spirit is obvious.

In our hurry to archive our daily doings, and even to engineer our visual catalogs to give the impression of a certain kind of life or personality, I wonder what happens to the symbolic value of the photograph as preservation. With so extensive a catalog of memories, will we stop cherishing images as we once used to? How long will it be before we reach a point of saturation where if something has not been recorded, it almost seems not to have happened at all in any significant way?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.