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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

The Age of Irreverence

In art, Love, true enlightenment on March 15, 2020 at 18:43

When I tweeted, “Looking at all the World War memes I am pretty sure the last trace of humanity will be selfies with Mushroom clouds,” someone replied with a meme precisely matching it within 5 minutes. There is a meme for every conceivable kink and emotion. Yet all the memes put together are not enough to fill the void you feel in your heart.

Rebellion has always been celebrated by pop culture. But the irreverence of today is without rhyme or reason or even without any real rage. Nietzsche declared ‘God is dead’ over a hundred years ago. God may not be dead but He is definitely on life support. And there are no worthy successors. Science has proven to be a cold comfort at best. And commerce an auto-immune disease of pandemic proportions.

The result is corona virus memes and suicide jokes. The kind of dryness reserved for the stand-up stage and Monty Python movies is now part of everyone’s feed. Stand-up works because exaggeration is fun in small installments. Comics may relate to each other but seldom make for good friends. If everyone tends towards brazen Godlessness, it would taste like a sliver of sushi in a spoonful of wasabi.

And one cannot assume humor online comes from a nuanced intellect. Many memes, as layered and niche as they may appear are merely the outcome of aggregation, templates built on other templates evened out by the huge churn of social media. It is deceptive in the same way a school of fish appears to be a big creature. It is still better than political and communal content and Bollywood trash. But none of it can give solace they way art and spirituality can.

Seeing the amount of time being butchered in senseless content consumption and gaming, it seems like a miracle that there are still enough people who actually work. Work without distractions so that planes land, internet keeps working and water keeps running in your taps. And it will keep running as automation takes over more and more work freeing up more and more time for SIM and PUBG.

People can eventually find meaning in anything. But number of subscribers and record scores can’t help you sleep at night. Suicide is believed to kill more people than road accidents in the west. Cultures differ widely but human vulnerability remains the same. The extreme isolation and deathly loneliness people live with in Japan is the eventuality of every society with high technology and low social mobility.

If there was a way to calculate the percentage of pure unbridled happiness in the world, it would definitely be in single digits. And it is advertised precisely because it is so rare, not because it is a common and relatable experience. The products and services that claim to sell you happiness are not even cheap imitations. Individuality has sold enough mass-produced t-shirts to clothe the entire world in capitalism. And algorithms may have progressed enough to read your mind but happiness still comes from community, companionship and compassion, all of which are going extinct.

The vast irreverence we see today towards authority, institutions and tradition is not without reason but it is also without purpose. I would rather go down a longer route than have no direction at all. My boss used to say, “If you cannot respect the person, respect the chair.” We can start by respecting ourselves first. In the long run, time is irreverent to everyone and entropy is agnostic to every thing. In the fraction that we are alive and conscious, irreverence should be the least preferred disposition towards life.

In a world hurtling towards chaos as randomly as it emerged from it, the only antidote is prayer. If not to a higher power than to humility itself. Humility that recognizes each breath as a triumph and each unkind thought as a childish mistake.

May we have the humility to get through each day and the grace to appreciate it.

– Punit Pania

10 Years of Blogging

In art, Artist, freelancing, Blogging, creativity, Motivation, SlavesInc on January 1, 2020 at 14:46

I started this blog in January of 2011 during my first job. As a management graduate in New India I was technically living the middle-class dream. In a city 500 KMs from home and an office 30 minutes of rush hour traffic away from my apartment.

Balancing the intrigue of corporate hierarchy with the late bloom of Indian puberty was a heady mix. I fell back on my familiar coping mechanism; writing. I had started writing way back in college circa 2006 AD. Years of relatively anonymous posting never deterred me. Putting things down on paper was cathartic in itself.

With the same motivation, SlavesInc was born in a new era in my life. Initial feedback was that Slaves is too negative a name for something you are so dedicated to. But that is how I saw and still see jobs: modern day slavery. Art; in the very least, has to be unflinching. All other aspects of life are sugar-coated beyond recognition.

I kept typing away week after week based on experiences which were very personal yet a treatment that was global. And the blog did develop an audience that was across continents and numbers that were not underwhelming by the standards of those times. We even made it to the WordPress homepage a couple of times.

9th September, 2011

Quarters rolled into years and years into a decade. My writing evolved from terse prose to lucid poetry to now an easy conversation. The daily corporate grind is gone and so are the small impetuses to explain idiosyncrasies of cubicular life. But the big questions remain, they always do.

I now write for a living through stand-up. An Olympian dream at the time of starting this blog. The mind is much more at ease but the spirit is still aching to know more and topple over more whys.

But there is no ultimate resting place. The world is inherently unfair and humans are tragically unworthy of justice. A perpetual feedback loop. The artist suffers more because he sees more in every cublice and every street corner.

That he gets to address it by expression in whatever form is the only blessing that keeps him from going insane. Whatever audience she gets for it is a bonus. Everything beyond that is business and vanity.

If you dear reader have even for a moment felt connected to a piece of my writing, know that we have shared something fleetingly beautiful, even by RomCom standards.

Writing saved me and it is the only ideal I am gladly slave to.

Peace.

– Punit Pania

Nightlife and Daydreams

In art, Holidays, Motivation, Retirement, Wage Slaves, work life balance, work stress on October 5, 2019 at 17:26

How many more traffic jams before we realize that fast city life is the worst way to die slowly? Days, weeks, months and ultimately decades spent in a state of mild to moderate agitation. On constant alert from noise, crowds and smells. A compounding cluster-fuck of short-shortsightedness and macroeconomics. Every day, thousands of people alight at Mumbai Central station in search of a better livelihood even as existing city dwellers dream of a quiet life.


I have always been a Mumbai boy. Since my family migrated from Karachi during partition we were left with no real hometown. A fact I was reminded of every summer vacation when the entire class came back with farm stories and I had only seen wrestling and played cricket with myself for two months. I am thankful though that my family landed in Mumbai in ’47. Had they gone to say…Raipur, I would have been working in a call center right now and been grateful for the opportunity. On weekends I would probably be making TikTok videos or attending RSS rallies.


In our country, if you are already in Mumbai, the only bigger thing to aspire to is moving abroad. One could also aspire to move to town from the suburbs within Mumbai. But getting into Harvard is easier than moving to Colaba. I wonder if the real estate prices will remain as high after the city is permanently submerged 10 years from now. Yet we power on.

Most of us know we can’t do this all our lives. And if every TCS employee’s retirement plan came through, Goa would become an extended suburb of Mumbai. Thankfully, after the second baby and third mortgage, most people give up any hope for salvation.You keep postponing your prison break: after another promotion, after I buy a bigger house, after my kid goes to college…until mortality catches up with you. If you dwell on your regrets long enough you can convince yourself that they were sacrifices. It is tragic but at least it helps you live with yourself.

Romanticization of country life is also not without its pitfalls.  If you think the uncle selling Maggie by himself over a view of the Himalayas is the happiest person in the world then you have read one self-help book too many. If you have never left the country side you probably cannot appreciate the clean air and solitude. Which is why city dwellers are at a vantage point. Having seen the breadth of what modern civilization has to offer you can now seek depth. You would miss creature comforts for a while but eventually you realize that you do not need 54 varieties of waffles for life to be meaningful.

I spent years daydreaming of being a published author who would send his profoundly sexy books out into the world and the world would send enough dollars back to my dream home in Goa. I also spent some years trying to make this happen. But ultimately a profession has to be close to where the action is. So I have entered a new kind of rat race, a higher level of the Matrix. The cost is always too high though. Cities are oppressive at all levels. The ugliness of its structures, the ridiculous lack of space and the constant fight or flight. Very often, I have to remind myself to look up at the sky. Not much is visible now but it helps put your life’s struggle to scale. At one level we all know that neither our deepest sorrows nor our greatest joys are unique. But the competition does not let you dwell on it. It is like we are living under a dome of haze that cuts us off from the humbling experience of space and our place in it. Even within the dome we increasingly move from one air conditioned bubble to another not able to stand ambient temperature or ambient thoughts for more than a few minutes.

I have spent more than 90 days outside home this year across 20 different towns and cities for stand-up and personal work. And while the experiences have been varying and enriching, none was as unique as the few days I spent in Himachal, alone and without a plan. It reminded me that there is the quiet life to be lived too with nothing to fight for and nothing to prove. Away from clocks, deadlines and anxieties. When I came back down to 2019, I couldn’t perform with full gusto for the first couple of shows. I just didn’t have the aggression in me to impose my jokes and my thoughts on the audience. A lot of what we accomplish is only possible in the pressure cooker of the cities. But there are millions of people living the quiet life, without leaving a carbon footprint. They may not consider themselves successful but they are content. We just don’t hear about them because they are not on Instagram. On a geological timescale, they are the real heroes. We in our vain attempts at leaving a mark only end up hurting others and the environment. 

One can still practice art for art’s sake but any produced entertainment is essentially slave to the same economics and corruption that make perpetual growth a religion. Saying ‘no’ and ‘enough’ is therefore the most important thing to learn. Happiness is for uneducated people, contentment is a more wholesome goal.   


 – Punit Pania

Burning Babies

In art, comedy on March 25, 2019 at 18:48

Dark comedy; like dark chocolate, is an acquired taste. Once you learn to appreciate it, regular chocolate tastes like a conspiracy. But if all of art is subjective, what is considered dark; or not, is also relative. 

Genre-defining and genre-defying are the two most popular uses of the word genre because squarely within the genre there is only mediocrity. Categories and classifications are for critics, historians and Wikipedia admins. An artist creates what is burning him up the most. What segment of the market the work falls in depends on the prevailing Zeitgeist and dominant market forces.

Yet this fascination persists with dark and abstract forms of art largely among the more privileged sections of the audience while the market still continues to reward basic Mom and wife jokes. What is most regularly or visually identified as dark jokes are what I call the ‘Burning Baby jokes’. A childish vulgarity dressed as irreverence. Topics of violence, sexual perversion and plain death presented without provocation and usually also without nuance and temperament. The fact that the irreverence of the performer also extends to response from the audience or lack thereof explains why Burning Babies will remain the domain of those who are neither interested in serious art nor serious business. But the babies will continue to burn, sometimes after a Priest has raped them, sometimes before.

The very fact that Burning Babies is considered dark indicates that its practitioners or voyeurs are deconstructionists without knowing basic creation first. Off course, this is merely an academic discussion. For the foreseeable future; if not in perpetuity, art that reaffirms or simply acknowledges the idiosyncrasies of mundane life or validates the most basic depravities will sell. It is important then to classify *content* as being separate from art. The pursuit of wisdom should have some demarcation from the pursuit of brand deals. The very term ‘Art Films’ implies that regular films are anything but.

Some self-styled rebels dream of a Utopian future where audience’s taste will improve or more suspiciously, evolve…enough to ask for dark chocolate to go with their keto-shakes. But this is just day dreaming. With time what is considered progressive also shifts further so that the rich kids can continue to feel special about themselves and the babies continue to burn.

Buddha basically said that life is hopeless to the point that even wanting to live it well leads to further strife. All of existence is pain and the best one can do is detach the mind to the extreme of a cosmic coma popularized as ‘Nirvana’. Other wise it is only EAT-SLEEP-REBIRTH-REPEAT! Yet he never gets accused of being depressingly pessimistic. That is; in layman’s terms. In academic terms, it is pessimism 101.

Hence, work that is timeless is free of even the most basic classification. It cuts through an ocean of content, apathy and subversion surviving purely on its inherent brilliance. To call it dark or otherwise remains a Reddit formality. There is no dark comedy. There is only great comedy…and whatever else sells.

So when my writing or stand-up gets labelled as ‘dark’ or ‘mirror to society’ I take it not as a compliment but as feedback that my work is still years away from being truly great!

  • Punit Pania