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     Volume 10 |Issue 07 | February 18, 2011 |


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Writing the Wrong

The Interlopers


The gate- crashing Salahis at the White House.

A while back President Obama hosted his first state dinner for the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh. Curry derivatives were served under a shamiana--that's tent for you non-Subcontinentals. Lilting sitar music was played softly in the background (I am assuming), with a sudden burst of Bhangra perhaps. I am spitballing here about the music as no one thought to invite me. Colourful saris and sari like outfits were on display. One woman, Michaele Salahi, wore a bright vermilion sari with silver spangles all over it. When she posed next to the former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the spangles on her sari caught the streaks of silver in his hair.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition for an interloper is: one that intrudes in a place or sphere of activity. At that first pivotal state dinner Mrs Salahi and her husband became the ultimate party crashers. I found the whole thing pathetic and at the same time, admired their audacity, namely because it is the kind of audacity I simply do not possess. How did they just waltz through security and down the reception line, without breaking a sweat? I wondered, in awe. I mean it's the President of the United States! The desperation of the act is sad and lame, but the action itself is chock full of moxy*. Moxy is what one needs to lead an artful life, I have discovered. I realised that I do not have that kind of moxy. Though this kind of gutsiness almost landed the Salahis in jail.

I returned to Dhaka recently to work on yet another artistic endeavour. When I left last time, I left in emotional turmoil for various reasons, most of which were of my own making. Now I return with far more clarity on many things. The veil has been lifted (thank God) and a slight embarrassment at what I directed my energies towards has taken its place. My precious energy. But more discomfiting I realised, at a party last Friday, that I am an interloper in this town. Well, I felt like one. It could be my imagination. Most likely it is, but so what? For a moment (a fleeting moment) I stood around awkwardly at the party thinking, what in God's name possessed me to come here? We have all had those moments. What is most unfortunate is that, for some, it is actually their normal state--the very definition of who they are, intruders in their own lives! That occurred to me as I watched the goings on of the social set. Some people always feel the way I was feeling at that moment. What a terrible state to be in! If Dante had thought about it, he would have added it as a circle in his Inferno. The 12th level: the perpetual unwanted party crasher! One would be condemned to wander around a hellish cocktail party, adjusting their top, and feeling awkward for all eternity. Worse still, it would be filled with people who have it in for one and whisper (indiscreetly, so the condemned is fully aware of what is happening) about how despicable they are. Wait, this sounds suspiciously like high school--or a party in Gulshan, as it were (insert wink).

How many of you have just walked down a familiar street and still felt like an alien (legal) in a foreign land? You have the words to describe the scene around you, like street lamp, petrol station, dog peeing, yet do not possess the language to efficiently navigate the social politics of said environment. On the first attempt you realise that you do not belong. Or have bought into the illusion that you do not belong. This is where ignorance is so helpful. The kind of self deluded idea of one's own significance the Salahis possess. Incidentally, the Mrs in the equation actually landed her own reality show, thus being financially rewarded for being utterly narcissistic. It's the American way!

I think it was ultimately a healthy self-regulating moment when I felt like the new kid in school at the party. The danger to Dhaka is that one can really fall into the trap of thinking that they are really special. More special than every one else because, in some ways, Bangladesh is virgin territory, especially when it comes to the arts, like film, music and literature that has a basis in the West or is pushing the cultural envelope in some way. Therefore, anything new is hyped to the point of dementia, even if it is mediocre because, frankly, the benchmark is non-existent. I have seen this happen many times here and to be utterly truthful have benefited from it as an artist myself, and benefited greatly. It is a double edged sword for me as an artist because I am so grateful for the support and attention but then worry at times it is not truly merited because of the reasons I have stated above. I believe, however, that this uncertainty keeps one humble. Once an artist loses humility, it is pretty much down hill from there, especially where one's art is concerned. Because all creativity is divine and not being humble in the face of the divine will land one on the 12th level, eternally trying to join various conversations only to be shut out and left standing near the punch bowl, trying really hard to look nonchalant. Egads!

* Moxy- backbone, grit, guts, gumption.



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