Ai Weiwei: ‘This is a battle about the future’
In a post on Instagram, accompanying a picture of a mask from the Ai Weiwei MASK project, you wrote: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis. It challenges our understanding of the 21st century and warns of dangers ahead.” Could you elaborate?
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed some very specific characteristics of this time. First, this is a global issue. It was triggered and spread early on by China and then spread everywhere else. Similar outbreaks have happened before in China and in other regions, such as in Africa and Europe, but never has it spread all over in such a fashion. Second, the disease has locked down the global economy and has put all other discussions aside.
No country has come out with the right or clear response to this disease. The consequences of this global pandemic are still unknown. We are still in the middle of it. We also do not know if it will come back, or whether another similar crisis might occur during or after Covid-19 — what is ongoing in the United States is an example. That is why I say it is a humanitarian crisis, rather than being a simple virus.
George Floyd protests: Could this be the moment of reckoning for leaderless movements?
So many of the images and videos from the people’s protests in cities across the country … frame mostly young, mostly anonymous people who took to the streets mostly peacefully.” This line from The Indian Express’s editorial on December 20, 2019 could also frame the protests happening right now in the US over the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer.
Instagram timelines flooded with videos from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the US — where I was raised — harken to a moment not so long ago here in India. Besides the occasional high-profile speech of young politicians such as Kanhaiya Kumar or Chandrashekhar Azad between December 2019 and February 2020, my memory recalls a sea of anonymous faces on the streets, with no centralised leader in their midst.
As a filmmaker, I feel responsible to tell certain kinds of stories: Director Prashant Nair
The conversation begins the way most of them do these days — “hope you’re at home” — with assurances quickly given over the phone call that connects us from Mumbai to Majorca, Spain, where Prashant Nair lives with his wife and daughter. Though the call has been made to congratulate him and talk about his latest film, Tryst with Destiny, which was awarded Best Screenplay by an online jury of the Tribeca Film Festival, shelved because of COVID-19, the mood is more bittersweet than celebratory. “It’s hard to say when anybody will get to watch it. But there are far bigger issues going on, so getting some recognition has been good for the team and for me, because we’re still putting finishing touches on the film,” says Nair.
Why munias are real charmers
For the last few weeks, I’ve been having guests over for lunch, as many as 15 of them sometimes, enjoying a bajra buffet outside the dining room, courtesy the parakeets upstairs, who seem to spill more than they consume. They’re a group of sweetly-behaved, dusky, scaly-breasted munias (nee spotted munias, or “tilyar” munias) which only really seem to show off their chainmail chests when the sun falls upon them. They feed industriously, cheeping to one another, ever ready to take flight at the slightest signs of trouble. Mostly their feeding manners are impeccable, though I have noticed that even within this group, there seems to be a hierarchy in operation: one or two dominant birds will drive away others in a manner totally unbecoming of otherwise sweet birds.
A Burning, the breakaway novel that everyone is talking about and its Indian-origin author
Days before Safoora Zargar, the Jamia Millia Islamia student in jail for protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, is denied bail for a third time, and while protests against the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, are spreading across the USA, I am on a video call with Megha Majumdar. The buzz around the 32-year-old New Yorker’s debut novel, A Burning (Rs 599, Penguin Hamish Hamilton), that releases tomorrow, has been dizzying long before its publication. Generous blurbs by Amitav Ghosh and Yaa Gyasi have lauded the book as a zeitgeist of our times; James Wood of The New Yorker remarked on its “extraordinary directness and openness to life” that lays out a patchwork of inequalities in which we might recognise the patterns of our communal lives.
‘I want a literature that is not made from literature’
At a time when the entire world is learning the advantages of washing hands repeatedly and obsessively, a new poetry collection by British-Indian poet Bhanu Kapil, 51, aims to teach you how to wash a heart and make visible what is invisible. How to Wash A Heart (Pavilion Poetry, Liverpool University Press) is the sixth book of poetry/prose by Kapil, who is among the eight writers who have won the $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize 2020, one of the worlds most lucrative awards.
How deep is your love
I’m a huge sucker for stories about first love. Who isn’t? If you’re one of those who has experienced the whirlwind of every maddening impulse that goes with the territory — stopping and racing of heart, one moment floating above, the next falling with a thud — you will know just how special it is, like the first time of everything. No matter how many years you add to your slate, that pehla pehla pyaar is unforgettable. Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which came out in 2018, instantly became the byword for the latest teen romance. What made it stand apart from the standard YA novel was the cragginess of its structure, as it grasshopped over time and place, tracking the turbulent relationship of two Irish teenagers, Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan. And in being able to sample the voices of both its principal characters in an unusual sliding back and forth.
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