Louder Whisper Coded sounds in connecting 'Spokes'

Curated by Meena Vari

¶ The SprachPlug Perambulations

Abhishek Hazra in conversation with Sprach Plug and Meena Vari

As an artist your works are dealing with various subjects, medium and ideas, could you please share your journey so far.

My journey so far has all been on this one road roller that I have inherited from one of my distant granduncles. He was an assistant to the junior seismologist working on the Banihal Tunnel in the early fifties and was awarded this road roller for his exemplary courage in the face of violent dynamite explosions. I have written at length on my granduncle elsewhere [1], so I won’t repeat it here.

But yes, since my abhorrence for well-rounded narratives with the correct amount of perspectival depth, is perhaps as intense as Cayce Pollard’s allergy to big brands, I just adore the peculiarly flattening effect of this particular road roller, which incidentally has a charming name: Jagaddal. Jagaddal however inflates as well as flattens – and since I have been a chronic amnesiac for most of my adult life, it is precisely this unique double gift that helps me both remember and forget time.

The massive pressure of Jagaddal’s oversized wheels ignores time by flattening it out into space. As it rolls over an uneven morass of material originating from vastly different time-periods - for instance, sixth century BC ceramic vases and mid nineteenth century samizdat chapbooks – thereby flattening pottery and typography onto the same physical plane of the asphalt road, I get a curious sensation of simultaneity: of everything happening at the same time, over and over again, in a perpetual loop.

Every time I get this sensation of simultaneity, I become delirious at the erasure of everything temporal, and prepare to delete my entire collection of Trajan and other ‘historical’ fonts. However, just before I press the OK button, I am stopped by the sudden re-appearance of time from a hanging indent on stage-left. You see, for various logistical reasons, Jagaddal still has to operate on ‘normal’ commercial roads and there you can’t ignore its glacially slow rate of progress compared to the superfast four wheel drives. Time, in the guise of its first cousin speed, refuses to let me forget that I have missed the gravy train.

I can fully understand if all this snot-faced rambling on time irritates you. My only apology is that it’s really difficult to describe the experience of journeying with Jagaddal – you have to really feel it yourself. But as you know, my so-called ‘subject position’ has always been an empty driver’s seat – which you are free to occupy any day. In fact, I am not using Jagaddal for the next couple of weeks and you are most welcome to take it out for some slow rotational exercises.

Could you tell us a bit more about the sound diptych that you have contributed for this show?

I first sniffed the smelly earlobe of this work as I was crawling under a musty old table in a forgotten library, deep inside the jail-town of Hijlipur. For the last ten years I have been searching in vain for a crumb of desiccated fat tissue extracted from the last surviving member of the now extinct Amlaki donkeys that flourished in medieval Shundi Nadu. Given your interest in the emergence of phenotypic novelties, I guess you are familiar with the mystery surrounding these extinct donkeys and the lower back fat cushion that suddenly emerged on some of them. However, for the benefit of our other readers, let me try a crude summary of this fascinating history.

Throughout the medieval ages, the legendary music schools of Shundi had produced a steady stream of influential vocalists and instrumentalists celebrated for the sheer dynamism of their sonic range. Understandably enough, the admission process for these music schools was severely competitive. Aspiring musicians who failed to secure a seat, even after repeated attempts, usually ended up as tuning technicians for various provincial orchestras. Now because Shundi’s kings were always acutely aware of its country’s preeminent musical reputation, a royal edict prevented any tuning technician from performing his or her music in public.

However, in the late eighteenth century, there emerged a band of defiant tuning technicians who flouted this ban and organized these very visibly public performances of their own music. Now, in their self-delusional rhapsody, they imagined their tuneless wailings as some great atonal innovation and hoped to mesmerize the public with their radical experiments. Sadly, they had underestimated the musical sophistication of the average Shundi listener. Consequently, they were heavily booed in their gigs and the provincial wall magazines published detailed lists of their musical shortcomings. However, when they continued to inflict their music on everyone, Shundi’s citizens arranged a spontaneous intervention: they dragged these renegade tuning technicians out of their dingy little bedsits, placed them on a bunch of sturdy Amlaki donkeys and drove them out of the official borders of Shundi.

What eventually happened to these tuning technicians is encrusted in alternating layers of enigma and encaustic. They were never spotted back again in Shundi or even in the neighbouring kingdoms. Those Amlaki donkeys however did eventually come back after some years with a strange cushion of fat that seemed to have grown on their lower back. Over the years, multiple theories have attempted to explain the emergence of that strange fat cushion. Theory S, the one that I like most, attributes it to an act of profound inter-species sympathy.

Drawing heavily on the archival telomere work of Sneha Padartha, Theory S suggests that the Amlaki donkeys had a recessive gene (XnP42) for additional lower back fat, which was somehow switched on during the long journey with those tuning technicians. Right from the early set of papers published in Nurture, Sneha and her colleagues have insisted that the sensitive nature of the Amlaki donkeys could have played a strong role in switching on the XnP42 gene. And we do know of various authoritative medieval literary sources that lovingly celebrate these donkeys and their dolphin-like sensitivity to human emotional states. Therefore, Theory S claims that given their sensitivity, these Amlaki donkeys could easily detect the heavy cargo of despair that stifled their passengers riding into a dark future. Spurred on by the sympathy they felt for these hapless tuning technicians, these donkeys tried to make the journey a bit more comfortable by coaxing gene XnP42 to express that cushion of fat. This fat cushion, a great example of pure Sympathetic Epigenetics, was sufficiently thick and it did make the ride significantly less bumpy for the tuning technicians.

While Theory S has been able to explain certain key phenomena related to Amlaki donkeys, it is yet to pass through the hoops of stringent experimental falsification. However, many believe that in her later years, long after she had retired from active scientific life, Sneha had managed to excavate a few grams of Amlaki fat from an obscure archaeological dig and was on the point of resuming her scientific career with a set of detailed spectroscopic analysis of this new found material. Naturally, given my interest in the social history of medieval unskilled amateurs, I was keen to get my hands onto some of that Amlaki fat. However, after Sneha’s death her papers have been in a complete disarray and even her biographer couldn’t help me in locating that rare material trace of inter-species sympathy.
So, you can easily imagine my excitement, when I heard twhat Sneha had stuck some of that Amlaki fat onto the underside of her table at the Hijlipur Public Library where she worked as a part-time archivist shortly before her death. But as you would have guessed, when I made that trip to Hijlipur last year, I didn’t find that elusive piece of fat. But as I searched frantically for it throughout the seven floors of the library, sometimes even crawling on all fours to get into tiny archival grottos, I bumped into Blurmouli and Pareto. And well, as you know now, they have been with me ever since.

What is the context in which you would place this work?

Context? Well, isn’t text always the best placemat for eating your meta-meat? You know, those recursive meat pies that induce meta-textual indigestion and associated hot air? Speaking of which, I have to tell you that since you are in this part of the town, don’t forget to sample the meat pies from that kiosk on Station Road. They were Pareto’s favourite too.

[1] Gyorgy, Mahalanobis. 2009. Grand-A. 256, Uncles. Kaliningrad: Grand-A Publications