Friday, October 29, 2004

Watched "The Hours" with Ima. Lovely film. She remembered the time she could not bring her play Asangba Nongjaabi to a satisfying conclusion. She got up in the middle of the night and put on some music. As she paced the room, she said, my father got up. He was angry with her. He misunderstood me, she said.

She wants to read Virginia Woolf. Maybe I will ask Zette to bring a copy of A Room of One’s Own.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ragini and I went to Tabungkhok Village in Patsoi to look for Mike and my Field of Dreams. I was still wearing a pheijom for Pabung Deben’s son’s wedding. The dusk brought with it an almost full moon. It was lovely. The villagers may donate some land, our guide, a sports fanatic she knows, told us. Mike will like it I think.

I had her drop me off at the Gour Lila near Daoji’s. I don’t think I've ever seen one before. It was a hoot. The kids all in Krishna costume playing out anecdotes from the life of Nimai. The mothers, dressed in saris fake Brajabasi accents. "Bandar jao!" one admonished the monkeys.

Came back to a dinner I had organized to taste some of Imo’s cooking. We tried Chicken Chamthong, plain, simple, steamed chicken, tribal style. The food was not a success but the "sekmai" experiment went well. At least if one can call it that, for my considered conclusion was that adding fresh lime or lime and sugar like cachaca does not work. The hot sekmai will work, but chilled and straight up is best. Like sake. Dhiren, Biki, Joy agreed. I have to figure out the menu soon. Not sure how though.

But I have decided that I will make a modern Manipuri menu. I want all traditional dishes, taken a notch down for chili and fish-bones, but presented Western style. This means putting the meat or fish entrée in the center, rice relegated to a side starch dish, a few veggies, a traditional hot sambal type, and a cooked fruit as a native special touch.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Ima is in a rage. They tore down the old Telegraph Building where Idhou Sanakhya was coronated. They were clearing the squatters to make way for the new Arts Center, we heard from the delegation of evicted women who showed up this morning. She got on the horn with the Director of Arts and the Deputy Chief Minister who apparently is calling the new Minister of Arts over. Some Commie boor apparently.

I am now taking this opportunity to urge her to call for the formation of a Landmarks Commission. Ima likes the info byte that Jackie O started the American one when Grand Central was in danger of being torn down. Was it when she was in the White House?, she asked. I said I didn’t think so; that it was after JFK had died. This insight into Jackie seemed to please her immensely.

Now she will call a press conference. Better to intro with this than Imasi Tombiyaima’s Ward in the Civil Hospital.

On a more savory note, Imo came by and we talked meals for my friends. All traditional dishes presented Western style: protein center stage, on center plate, if you will, and rice as a starch dish. We figured there are 5 basic techniques: phutpa, boiling; nganba, steaming; yaiba, grilling; ngouba, sautéing or stir frying; louba, roasting and taoba, frying. We will offer three of these per meal, with a soup thrown in. Oh and I think cooked fruit is a Meitei specialty. I told Imo we should publish the recipes as a book, or online at the very least.

Too bad Madhur was so rude, not returning my call after all I set up for her retrospective. At her request too. She would have enjoyed the food. But it is just as well or it might become just another regional variety of “Indian” food.

I can’t have Indians with their usual outlook towards Manipur in the group. I know it sounds racist but it would run counter to what I am trying to do with this Field trip: start to get the Meitei to say who they are to the world, with the minimum of some other culture’s interpretation. I am having a helluva time steering the Indiawallahs in the group away from what they already know about India. But how do I get to present the Manipur I want to? Maybe it exists more in my head than in reality. Like what Go Takamine said to Mani and me about his Okinawa: No, it’s not at all like that; my films show the Okinawa of my imagination.

It is so crucial to prep for globalization now – do we have like perhaps 20-30 years for this? I said to Ragini we could do some fun things during our lifetimes. She’s the best.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Met up with Jeannie off the Skytrain stop. She hadn’t called because she had to check her brother into this AIDS hospice. It’s nice when people explain why they dropped the ball. No need to apologize, just an acknowledgment is sufficient.

Maybe well work on Malcolm’s films together. Maybe extend Alan’s project into a multiseries. Whatever. I think I will show my 9/11 tape at the Press Club in December. Wonder if they can handle NTSC.

Manuel and she got on great. She thinks she might rent a house from him in Chiangmai for R&R writing. I am getting more and more serious about living part of the year in Chiangmai. Though my preference would be Chiangrai. That I have not been to either matters not a whit. Home is New York and somewhere else, as that article in the NY Times last week said.

But this should become a locus of activity in the region that is more arts friendly than Bangkok. Right next to Yunnan, Manipur, Laos, the Golden Triangle, with flights in from Chittagong - well, what more could one ask for. Plus I do like the Thais. Manuel says their smiles are meant to keep you at bay and their anger is intimate. Bay or no bay, I like their smiles.

Nice dinner with Manuel at this place off Soi Cowboy. Wonder what the effect being America’s R&R for 30 years has had on Thailand?

Friday, October 15, 2004

21h 00 EST. On the way to Seoul. What that time is in Korea I am not sure; my recent adoption of the Euro way of writing times does not help.

I am writing my first PowerPoint presentation for the folks in Manipur. Too bad they won’t have the Internet connections for me to tweak my website I prepared for the American side. Just additional work, says the lazy side of me. But PP is fun to use.

So how do I feel about this whole venture I am flying into? T was perceptive and touching. I talk junk with him most of the time: dating, annoying friends etc. Went by to pick up that convoluted anti-Bush T-shirt he had made; as convoluted as his speech... hehe.

Anyway he things it is a job long overdue, bringing as it does two halves of me, two parts of my history, two cultures. And this from a guy I rarely talk work with so I was grateful he saw what it was I was trying to do. He thinks it is a good investment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Don't quite know what to make of M. This was our recent exchange - maybe the last if he gets too pissed off at my being so pissy.

From M: "I found the discussion too dull to sit out. What did you think of the movie? I'd love to see the performances in a theater but they didn't do much for me on screen despite some very nice camera work. Unusually, I think the film would really have benefited from some narration. To me the film got terribly repetitive and didn't seem to have any forward movement -- an object lesson in bad directing. Too harsh?"

From me: "I was disappointed and a little surprised that you left. I didn't even get a chance to give you the film.

I don't know about your comments being harsh but I think they are a bit beside the point. My intention in inviting you was to offer you a bit more exposure to M to add to your three days, introduce you to some more M'is and to some people, like you, who are interested in some aspect of M. At the risk of becoming repetitive myself, my involvement with your project will have to put the people of M as the first audience of the film, for reasons we have discussed that range from the aesthetic to the political to the personal. As you will have gathered from since our initial conversation in Central Park and subsequently from my Field trip website, the artists going with me are not do-gooders; they are not the usual development/religious missionaries coming to look at the all-too-evident ills of M'i society; nor are they coming to do the usual culture-shopping. I have asked them to give as equals to their peers. In the same vein, I would like to be involved in a project that strives to go beyond reportage on a compartmentalized problem. This is merely my POV; I am sure there are M'is you will meet who think differently."

Yeah the film on R was just OK and the discussion was dull and incomprehensible. R is so much better as a director. Where he is struggling with, I realized, is that no one else is trying to define his culture for the world-stage that he has to be on. I think I can help him. Amazingly he went along with the whole Natya Shastra thing. Is it that I simply don't know enough or is my mission of re-defining a cultural identity (ta-da!) going to be harder than I ever imagined?

M's film on HIV/Heroin/AIDS is not the first subject of choice for me. But how many people are interested in M to make a film? I would like to work with him if possible. Yoshiko thinks he is a little weird and that M is too interested in war. That was what we talked about sitting in that god-awful Whole Foods in that new AOL/Time Warner building. We could have been in Hong Kong.

Vic helped me pick out a book on genes for Pabung Macha. I would have preferred "Plants of the Gods" but it's hard to get.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

My project with A is developing nicely. He wrote up my draft to send on to cultural Pooh-Bah. A is the quintessential Nice Jewish Boy.

"We met in July at Barbes for the Roy Smeck tribute featuring Elliott Sharp and a screening of my documentary film, "The Wizard of the Strings." You may recall that we spoke briefly on the phone about a week or so ago about a project SR and have recently begun work on.

The film is a timely one, as it addresses issues about ethnic identity and religious belief that, especially in the post-9/11 world, are truly urgent. To be specific, we are shaping our work around the following questions: Who are the Mz of the eastern Himalayas and why are they converting to Judaism? Are these tribes, found on both sides of the Indian-Myanmar border, really the Menashe, the long-presumed lost Twelfth Tribe of Israel? Are the oral ballads of Mz memory, which tell of migrations across Central Asia proof enough or are DNA analyses necessary? Surely the similarities of crossing the Sabbath River could just as well be another archetypal story, a constructed memory.

Or it could be the familiar conflation of religious and ethnic identities when a people convert, and the need for new stories to tell about oneself.

But why are highly intelligent people, both among the Israelis and the Mz, so passionate about the conversion to Judaism among a people who had but only recently converted to Christianity. Does the Biblical injunction to gather together all the tribes for the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem serve the desire of impoverished tribal people to migrate to a more prosperous Westernized country? If so, why leave the battle-scarred armed conflicts of India and Burma only to be settled in the middle of yet another war in the occupied West Bank? Ultimately, what are both sides in search of?

A collaboration between an American Jew and a native of the Indian state of
M has the potential to add another layer to an already rich topic. SR is a filmmaker and a film and media curator specializing in exhibitions in
Asian, Asian American and nonfiction films. He is currently developing
international media projects with Appalshop, the Appalachian arts collective in Kentucky. The projects are on regional filmmaking and local cultures in the age of globalization and new technologies...."

And then he goes on an on with more blather about me and him. But you get the picture. But I was truly impressed by his polishing up my draft and adding more.

This is the latest from B. I am enjying this immensely:

"I find it fascinating that both our peoples are (more often than not)
wrongly referred to as "Indians". There is something to that, it's not
a coincidence. Yes, a media conference would be wonderful. I'm very
interested in generating our own dialogue, there's been so much written
and said by others about my people especially (Northern Cheyennes are
the favorite of historians the world over). The connections between
indigenous peoples must be kept alive and nurtured by Indigenous
people, in a uniquely Indigenous way. But we have to discover what
that is by interactions that we control, we need others to help
facilitate our interactions, but folks who can place ego aside and
allow interactions to take place as they should. Anyway, yes, lets
move forward on this as a global interaction, I'm all ears. I'm fed
xing you 3 dvds today, you will get them tomorrow. Also, a paper I
published a few years ago that still rings true for me. Sorry, been
having some health problems lately (diagnosed as a hernia) and it has
slowed me down, but I'm taking care of it right away so I'll be good as
new in no time. Take care and have a great trip."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My response to B. I call this "Becoming Indian" or "Faking It":

"It's the different modes of invisibilities once these identities are enforced or adopted. It is not as if the day-to-day does not exist any more. They are submerged identities. When I think of Scotland demanding and getting their Parliament after 300 years, I know that national feelings run deep and have little to do with economic development or democracy. Yes, there are forces that wish to obliterate these nationhoods. And yes, nationalism has produced a lot of wars.

"When my people, the M, were converted to Hinduism by Indian missionaries 300 years ago, our texts were burned. Our tribal roots run deep and need to be rediscovered after all these years. Neighboring people such as the N and M are closer to their indigenous identities but the Baptist Church has been successfully launching a conversion program o them for the last 50 years. So much is being lost today and at an alarming rate.

"The definition of indigenous needs to be defined by ourselves. My friend B was at the indigenous peoples conference at the UN and there were conflicts instead of linkages. Which is what I am interested in having with you.

I have been talking my Saami project and lately about our conversation with the Natural History Museum and the Ford Foundation. Maybe a media conference - triangulating between Native America, the Saami and the Uplands of NEI. Maybe look at state policy, non-state responses, strategies of survival, conflict. With culture being the field and convergent media being the tool. I think that by looking at very diverse histories, and geographical regions, we may see some common elements. Would these then be core or fundamental?

We are planning to meet after I get back - which may put us into the New Year. Do you have any plans to be in NYC any time in the next few months?

I leave for M on the 15th to prep for my Field Trip. I have one DVD from you earlier which I will take with me.

I burden you with much reading material to wade through. May I send you another? This is a brief I wrote year ago on the M:Saami project which may dovetail into the larger meet.

PS Derek B D and I tried our utmost to meet up. I did see his mother's show but not him."