Minority Report | The date roll


Minority Report | The date roll

Why would you need a calendar on your wall or your desk if every gizmo you own has one? Isn’t digital life about having everything in your bag and pocket? Isn’t life anyway about replacing the old with the new?

Some such scattered dwellings on calendars and calendar art felt worth examining until last week. Going through a bunch of old and new calendars, beyond the Impressionist art series picked up from museum stores abroad, I got engrossed in new calendar concepts. How could a digital calendar, however efficient and handy, compete with glamourous swimsuit divas, the world’s top chefs, glimpses of nature’s extraordinary beauty or the most popular celebrities that we choose as our riveting idea of the year?

What is a riveting idea, though, could just be one answer on a widely variant graph. The photo of the happy Indian god Ganesha, the symbol of auspicious beginnings, waiting to be propitiated is one of the highest selling calendar images, a street vendor in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar Market told me. Other gods sell swiftly, too—lord Krishna and goddess Laxmi are unquestioned best-sellers, followed by the ideal trio of Indian mythology—Ram, Sita and Laxman. Goddess Saraswati sells good but not as much. Hanuman and other assorted religious beings are perched somewhere on that saleability index. Most calendars sold on the streets don’t have 12 or 13 images; you just rip out the page of the month gone by. “Madam, don’t worry, here is one with all Hindu gods and goddesses,” said the vendor, showing me a wall calendar with some deities I recognized and some that I didn’t. “All Hindu gods?” I repeated, keen to figure out which ones had been shortlisted from the hundreds Hinduism is supposed to have.

Well-known sociologist Patricia Uberoi’s study called Unity in Diversity? Dilemmas of Nationhood in Indian Calendar Art and an even older work by her from 1990 (I read it a few years ago) on Feminine Identity and National Ethos in Indian Calendar Art have remained etched in my mind.

As journalists exposed to corporate promotions through the PR industry, we find dozens of calendars and diaries on our desks around New Year every time. It is not astute to make an absolute statement but barely is a calendar able to extend the thought of contemporary nationhood for those of us seeking visual commentary.

Calendars of gods and goddesses double up as worship-worthy deities in small shops across the country, from paan corners to hair salons. But besides religion, which other idea of nationhood do new calendars of photoshopped sunsets or boats sailing in tranquil waters offer? I have been trying to connect the dots through images of the economically underprivileged on calendars produced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but I haven’t found a lurking narrative commentary yet.

At the same time, it is easy to say that globally known photographer Steven Meisel’s images for Pirelli’s 2015 calendar is more plastic pornography than art. American model Gigi Hadid looks like a bomb but most images, frontal nudity notwithstanding, are a cold serve. I had a rushed conversation recently with Atul Kasbekar, India’s popular fashion photographer who has been shooting the Kingfisher swimsuit calendar for years. His 2015 edition has models of mixed origin (Indian blood is a must to be considered for this calendar) including Nepalese model Aastha Pokharel, winner of the Kingfisher Supermodels 2, a reality talent show telecast by NDTV Good Times. Kasbekar is mighty pleased with Turkey as a destination, where he has shot this calendar, and said this is his best edition ever. While Pokharel’s unhurried sexiness is enchanting, I think smoking hot female glamour is passé as an artsy calendar idea.

So it was with growing admiration and curiosity that I clicked the forward sign on coffee company Lavazza’s 2015 calendar. Shot by the much awarded photographer Steve McCurry, titled The Earth Defenders, and produced in partnership with the Slow Food Movement, the calendar honours African citizens who protect their traditions and local industries. The calendar is tinged with irony. It shows ethnicity, rusticity, tradition, nature, nurture, calamity, brown-ness (colour can also be an adjective after all), fire, wood, wheat and African life. There are a few strong images but my favourite is of Andrew Wanyonyi Sikanga, a salt producer from western Kenya. Sikanga, an activist, is a member of the Nabuyole self-help group that produces salt from an aquatic plant, the wild reeds found on the banks of the Nzoia river. Each image has a story. Each story has a reason. Each reason has relevance. Relevance with a global echo. It is my calendar idea of the year.

PS: If you must surf, do look at despair.com which plays up its Demotivators Calendar, an inverted, pessimistic take on date rolls of the year.