Over a year ago, I saw something in the newspaper about an open forum for poets and other performers of the written word. Intrigued, I roped in a friend and went for the event. It was an Open Mic organized by Bombay Elektrik Projekt. It was held once a month at Café Goa in Bandra on a Monday night.
I listened with rapt attention as people acted out, read out and performed various pieces that they had written. Once I watched a beatboxer, an a capella rendition another time, and a budding guitarist/songwriter on yet another occasion. And that’s over and above the everyday citizens who’d stop by after work to share a piece of their soul in the form of poetry, verse and other original expression. I became a regular, sometimes performing, always enjoying the varied creative output that came from everyday people in this city.
Some time ago, following some unsavoury behaviour by a member of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt team, I decided to stop performing myself. But the other performers (only one of whom is Ashwini, a.k.a. my dear Mr.Everyday) still held charm in my eyes. I’ve always admired people who excel at their chosen art so I continued to attend as a member of the appreciative audience.
A couple of Open Mic sessions ago, a drunk stand-up comedian began a slew of offensives which didn’t amuse me. Ashwini wasn’t impressed either and didn’t crack a smile. The comedian took umbrage at that and started a personal volley of attack on Ashwini and then at the person he was with – me. I let it pass. Ashwini’s turn came up right after that and he settled it in his oh-so-classy way, with a fitting reply and without any personal slurs.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt Open Mic and a competition among the poets. Ashwini was the last on the line-up and getting ready for his characteristic freestyle rapping. The music was yet to come on when one of the audience members offered to beatbox for him. He agreed and they started off. The performance started off a bit shakily as would be natural with two people who were jamming for the first time. But they got into a groove together and the performance was picking up.
Just then, another person leapt up and grabbed the mike from Ashwini. He proceeded to perform (if you can call it that) an expletive-ridden volley of words that didn’t have much to do with the earlier performance that had been interrupted. It stunned most of us into silence and I’m choosing to believe that’s why no one reacted.
When I got home, I tweeted the following:
The response came in the form of a status update on Facebook and on Twitter as follows:
Note their tweets:
After the first couple of tweets, I started retweeting their tweets. That resulted in a number of other people getting into the discussion. Many expressed their dissent over personal attacks in response to negative feedback. At this juncture, the Facebook conversation came alive. The Bombay Elektrik id started on a defensive, even arrogant tack. These were followed by an attempt to soothe the furore down.
Hey Tarun,Ashiwini,Ken,Saurabh and Ramya.. thank you for everything you guys have shared on this wall.. I was present last night and yes, keri did take the mike away from you to add in a rhyme or to as is what he must have felt was just par…t of the performance. it was after all a rap battle of sorts. You did well in your comeback after the mic was snatched from you.
This does no way justify what he did, so if you felt offended then ashwini, i apolgise.
As far as what you said ramya about us not respecting our audience or our regulars, im sorry but that just has not happened. Yes you are entitled to an opinion and i respect that, but if you chose to say that we have no respect for all the people that help make our night, that hasnt happened during the course of the last two years.
For you to say that last night was disappointing is again surprising. Yes there was this one incident but then wheres you talking about the 30 wonderful poets who came and performed, or the smile that everyone walked away with at the end of the night.
We have built a solid reputation over the past two years as being one of the few people at the forefront of the art and culture scene in the city and it hasnt been easy.
May i just add that if you have a problem, then why not just address it and sort it out then and there, im always around so come and talk.. why wait a day to put it up online and then have someone action this.
Understand that people who follow you on a social network would have only a part account of what happened and do you think its fair to get everybody to assume that the entire night was disappointing, which in a sense reflects on all the people participating last night or that we have no respect for our audience or participants.
well, ashwini..again, if you felt keri insulted you in anyway im sorry, but please bring this up more promptly if you feel so strongly about this next time
Ashwini had gotten involved by this juncture (as you can see in the thread). And that thread seemed to end on the happy ‘all’s well that ends well note’.
But wait, the story doesn’t end here! Twitter came alive again. This time the Bombay Elektrik id was tweeting (and I say ‘id’ because I can only assume that the conflicting messages from the same account are because of different people accessing it) but not including my id in their tweets. Instead, they were doing the Twitter version of backbiting and here are some of their tweets:
So much for the facts of the case. As I see it there are two distinct and clear issues. The first, deeper one is the cliquish treatment of the events. These events ask attendees to pay and do not compensate the performers. Bombay Elektrik Projekt also establish themselves are promoters and organizers of cultural meetings and events. With this, they take on the onus of maintaining the integrity of the platform they stand for. If an artist or indeed, a member of the audience is insulted, it definitely is their problem, something that they need to take responsibility for. Interrupting a performance and in such an offensive manner is a serious issue and cannot be written off as one drunken act. These are not small intimate gatherings of close friends in somebody’s house. These are public events, calling to and entertaining a wide network of people, familiar and otherwise. Bombay Elektrik Projekt enjoys the attention and other benefits of being such a wide platform. They cannot then, shrug off the responsibility for things that happen on it.
The second issue is their response to criticism. My tweet was negative but it did not lash out at any one person. It addressed an actual incident that had happened and expressed my disappointment over it. Their response was first to ask me to shut up and then snigger and taunt me over being the only one to think so. I don’t know if they honestly believe that one person’s opinion doesn’t matter or whether they just don’t want my opinion for more personal reasons. Either way, because my making it public brought in a good degree of support for my right to my opinion, I think they backtracked. I would have been happy to let things settle there, since after all an opinion is an opinion and if someone is unable to take it in perspective, well, tough. But their snippy attitude continues, despite other people suggesting that they just let up.
I’ve been receiving some messages asking me to just forget it and let it drop. The point is, that I haven’t actually done anything after that first tweet. Everything after that has just been relaying what they’ve been saying and making it public. If I’m relaying what you said about me and to me, that doesn’t make me an accessory to this ugliness. I’m having to ask for public support on this precisely because of Bombay Elektrik Projekt’s first challenge that my opinion (since I’m the only one expressing it) doesn’t matter. What’s noteworthy is that there haven’t been too many people from yesterday’s event speaking up for their side either. It’s possible that there will be some tomorrow. Since their tweets haven’t gotten them the response they hoped for, I expect them to call in their inner circle members to attack me on the public forum and I say this from an earlier experience with trying to have an adult conversation over a disagreement. (Note – I just checked into the thread and it’s happening already. The same person who lashed out at me last time is now asking me to take lessons in battle rapping).
So, my dear friends who’ve been asking why I’m upset and Twitter followers who’re asking what the big deal is, this is the story. It is about having an opinion and being attacked for it. It is about what constitutes basic respect. It is about claims to artistic appreciation and the farce that actually happens.
Actually let me not say any further. I just checked out their latest tweet. After all this, this is what they have to say. Draw your own conclusions.
Update on 8 December 2010: On the Facebook thread, Kerry (the person who snatched the mic) and Ashwini (the artist who was performing) had the following converation.
Kerry Harwin: Sorry, not being a big social media user, I’m late to this game. I won’t address the facebook/twitter furor, because I don’t know anything about that.
I do want to apologize to Ashwini, though. My intention was just to join in the excitement. I thought it was fantastic to have a rapper close out the night, and wanted to be a part of that. I apologize if my manner of doing so upset people. Everything was meant in good humor and in jest. MNS (wow, I just realized what unfortunate initials Monday Night Slam has) is a very interactive space and some dialog between performers, host, and audience is quite common. If I took that spirit too far, the error was all mine, and I apologize both to Ashwini and to those audience members who had a worse night because of it. I had hoped to add, not to subtract.
Ashwini Mishra: fair enough.apology accepted.just for the record, i have always encouraged collaboration and especially on the spot. But when the mic is snatched in the middle of my rhyme, that irritates the hell out of me. but it’s fine. let’s bury the hatchet. maybe we can battle again sometime. god knows i have enough material now..:)
That’s issue no.1 reached resolution (or at least one incident of it). As for issue no.2, Bombay Elektrik Projekt have not issued any further statements, slanderous, apologetic or otherwise. And there have been a few nasty jibes directed my way, by one of the judges at that event.