Monday, December 29, 2008

Wayanad Diary

It takes a trip like this to realize that human beings can only be pale imitators; God’s own country deserves its name for therein lives Mother Nature decked in all her glory. Mortals like us feel overwhelmed when confronted with the abundance of beauty and are left to sing paeans. Indeed, what else can we do??

This trip – my second one to Wayanad – started off quite unexpectedly with Ashish taking the lead earlier by suggesting a vacation and then distancing himself with the initial plans. Deepak and Deepika took the cue and soon, an outline of a plan was ready. When it seemed that things wouldn’t materialize, by a stroke of good fortune, we decided to go ahead, much to the glee of the people who longed for such an outing.

We started off with Ashish and Kumar agreeing to bring their cars. After a quick breakfast in the outskirts of Bangalore, we gathered speed. Due to the bright Sun and partly because it was nearing mid day, when we crossed Bandipur, we were not lucky enough to spot any elephant quenching thirst. Saurabh shared his rosy memories of college days; how FR – Final ragging - scared him and his friends and how later as seniors, hostel life was a heaven.

Check post mania set in just before the state border when Deepak and Saurabh had to find innovative ways to hide the hard drinks we were carrying. We passed one check post after the other that I began to lose count. I had read somewhere that these things sometimes serve only as speed breakers. I am now more than ever inclined to buy this.

At around half past one, we reached the foot of Edakkal Caves following our guide. We were informed by Sunil that “Victoria Garden” where we’ll be spending the next two nights was less than a kilometer away. But the drive belied his claims. We were all taken by surprise at the location of the small house that some of us even wondered if we were being led astray. But, out of nowhere like a phantom metamorphosing, close to huge rocks by the side of a small hill, we saw the place.

The view from one of the huge rocks was breathtaking. Except for a white-red house, all we could see was greenery – here and there, some signs of order in the slopes, due to plantations. The silence was the first thing I noticed. Even in Coorg, since we had stayed close to the road, it was not a deafening silence of this sort that had greeted us. Here, it was a little weird to feel that silence. It was a bit scary at first before we got used to it.

The long drive had drained our energies and the lunch was welcome. As time wore on, we decided to take a walk and have a look at the surroundings. Gopal and I, with Sunil’s help took the shorter route to the parking area to get some CDs for the night. It was like a mini-adventure in itself. The narrow path with all its bends was like traveling inside a dense jungle. We were exhausted once we climbed back but our egos didn’t let us show it.

We found the group lying on the rocks and some eyes were half closed, dreamily. The Sun was about to set. Romance was in the air – nothing like nature to give fodder to the imagination. Ashish, the prankster-in-chief discovered some good shots for our cameras. The expression on the face of the person who was cutting small branches for the late night fire, when Ashish took over his job momentarily would stay with me for some time. It was one of amused disbelief and a playfully faint smile.

The time of the day was an invite to let one’s hair down and indulge to the heart’s content. That was what we did soon after. We started with musical chairs but the merry spirits weren’t quite kindled until Deepak and Vinaya agreed to do some arm flexing. In the midst of all this, we were all rechristened by Gauri!! Then, it was time for some music. Saurabh, Devesh, Vinaya, Kumar and Deepak took turns choosing the songs. We had to make do with the speakers provided and since the place didn’t have electricity supply, we had to rely on generators which added to our problems. But these minor hurdles weren’t allowed to spoil the fun once some peppy numbers came on.

To dance is to be unrestrained and forget to be self-conscious. Some of us made for funny couples while the professional dancers seemed to get tired easily. The first glasses clinked together and thereafter, time flew by. Before we realized, numerous photos had been taken. They make for funny viewing. When one doesn’t realize oneself in some of them, then it really means that one is getting accustomed to different sides of oneself. The majority would agree with me here.

Next morning, an early start was next to impossible. Once all of us got our share of hot water and space, it was nearing ten. I had to take a second bath as I got a most unexpected head massage! The whole group took the shorter route and it turned out to be a most demanding exercise for some.

Our first stop after a long drive was at Pookut Lake. The Christmas crowd meant we had to wait for boat rides and unanimously it was decided to give it a by. View point didn’t impress either with the sun blazing overhead. After lunch at an unassuming place, we reached Soochipara falls.

The last time I was there, we had decided not to venture into the waters. This time however, we got into the water, waded close to the falls and sat on small rocks. Droplets of water splashed on to our faces from the force of the falls. Gauri longed to move further close but Ashish didn’t budge. Deepika was lost for a few seconds. The spectacle before us was nothing short of dwarfing our existence. It seemed to mock at man’s vanity and with its sheer force, was the symbol of pristine Nature.

Reluctantly, we climbed the steps back to the parking. Deepak treated some of us to tasty Amlas on the way. Back at the Victoria Garden, the Sun was setting. As the shadows lengthened, the feeling was something akin to a child’s drawing book pulled away much to her disapproval.

We played Anthakshari. Why do old songs rule when it comes to this particular game remains a mystery to me. Is it because they are ageless and transcend boundaries? Is it because of the meaning in the lyrics? Is it because of the simple but soulful music and playback singing of very fine quality? Is it because they speak about raw emotions in a nuanced fashion that has become obsolete now? One would never know!

Somebody came up with the idea of telling out the first thing that comes to mind about every other person in the group. The air around grew dense with expectation and there was a little palpitation. Who wouldn’t be curious when judgments and first impressions are given a vent? Adjectives were hurled thick and fast ranging from smart and diplomatic to infectious and bold.

In an impromptu recital of songs, without any turns, we started singing. Saurabh seemed to know every song by heart. Kumar joined in with vigor now and then. I learnt later that when I left to sleep, the stage was set for a debate.

On the morning of 26th, I got up early and went for a walk. The Sun had just risen and the gentle first light seemed to impart a color like no other to the leaves and branches of the trees around. Nature was being stirred into activity. The first hours of sunlight are the best hours of the day for when the mind is fresh and the limbs strong, one feels immensely confident and happy in the World around.

After a good amount of stretching and delaying, we left at around 11. A long drive to Sulthan Bathery and a good bye to Vinaya followed. We hit the road to Pulpally on the way to Kuruva Island. It was undoubtedly the best drive in the whole journey. Tall trees lined the narrow road on either side and traffic was minimal. The occasional motorist was lost in reverie and more often than not was driving in the middle of the road.

My first ride in a bamboo raft was exciting. The raft floated innocuously, it seemed to take a life of its own and we felt as if we were being gently carried to the other shore. At the other end, we walked to a small water body. On the way, Ashish ingeniously made each of us pose scandalous and there were clicks.

We waded for a small distance in water that was knee deep in parts. The long stretch was beautiful with branches leaning out in deftly contrived angles. Time seemed to punish us when we had to move on to reach Bangalore before too late. A very late lunch at another unassuming place in Pulpally and the cars were loaded for the final leg of the journey.

We crossed the border as the Sun was going down. In the car, there was a minor recounting of the experiences in the last few days. It brought some smiles and some time later, Kumar and I found dreamy eyes. Gundulpet and its generous speed breakers drove sleep away.

As the car hit the Mysore-Bangalore highway, Bryan Adams entertained and kept us awake. Ashish seemed to develop wings and we were finding it difficult to keep sight of him around Mandya. Finally, we hit the city close to 11.

As we said our good byes, we knew deep down that this was one trip that would best be remembered for its share of generous fun, laughter, its high moments, its innocence and its success in drawing the curtains on a year of path-breaking events for this team.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Curfewed Night' - Beauty wasted by conflict

For all our nation's shortcomings and deficiencies, it is because of our "freedom of expression", that we are able to read a book like 'Curfewed Night' - an account of the "situation" in Kashmir from a son of the land.

Basharat Peer, born in Kashmir and now based in New York, as the cover of the book says, tells the story of Kashmir in a straightforward, honest fashion. Without taking anybody's side, Peer demonstrates how many of us, thanks to our prejudices and refusal to grasp the complete picture, fail to understand the complexity of the situation. Instead, we read about militants getting caught, civilians getting killed, politics being unabashedly played over land day in and day out. We are reconciled and helpless; forced to believe what we are offered. I am not suggesting that we shouldn't, but merely alluding that we take many things for granted.

For that simple reason, Curfewed Night is a must read - to learn more about how war is not distant and how it is very much a reality in a state which we like to forget except when talking about tourism, deaths and cross-border politics and elections.

Starting from his early childhood when "Nobody had killed a man in our area for decades", he moves on to describe the city thus: "Srinagar is a medieval city dying in a modern war. It is empty streets, locked shops, angry soldiers and boys with stones. It is several thousand military bunkers, four golf courses, and three bookshops. It is wily politicians repeating their lies about war and peace to television cameras...It is staring back or looking away, resigned. Srinagar is never winning and never being defeated."

This is prose at its very non-flamboyant best. The focus is on the ordinary lives of the people of the valley, their unfulfilled dreams, their rebellion, their resignation, their grief, loss and despair. The canvas he has chosen to throw light on is vast. By speaking about his association with his ancestral village, about how Kashmir retained center-stage wherever he went, the reader is drawn to see, empathize and understand with the author.

The rise of militancy in the nineties, how it affected ordinary lives, the role played by the Indian state, the brutalities of the army, the tales of "disappeared" people, the intrusion of the military into the everyday life, the alarming frequency of hartals, deaths and funerals, the influence of cable TV - it is a tumultuous existence. Never once is the author accusing or pointing a finger. He seems to search for that element that has wrecked the lives to a state of misery.

In the influence of Bollywood, in the premium placed on education, one catches glimpses of mainstream society. Otherwise, it is shocking to read the book. The book has moments of sheer beauty, naturally given the subject, they are few and far between.

A child asks the author on his return, "You do not have an identity card! Why? Don't you have police or army in Delhi?" This best sums up the incredulity of the child.

Some passages are chilling:

"Children born just before or after the armed rebellion had become far too intimate with war and fear. My cousin, who was born in the early nineties on a day a gun battle was raging outside the hospital, played a game called 'army-militant'".

"Two words had remained omnipresent in my journeys. Whether it was at a feat or a funeral, a visit to a destroyed shrine or a redeemed torture chamber, a story about a stranger or about my own life, a poem or a painting, two words always made their presence felt: militants and soldiers."

The distinction between Kashmiri militants and the Pakistani Islamist militants, the encounters with people who had suffered unimaginable injuries are both a revelation and a lesson.

With fear, the human longing for support and faith intensifies. "God and his saints seemed to have become the psychiatrists with the largest practice in Kashmir; faith was essentially a support system".

"I heard echoes of Kashmir in the pages of Hemingway, Orwell, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, among others. I wondered if one could write like that about Kashmir but kept the thought to myself." - writes the author. Thankfully, he hasn't kept his experiences to himself.

Rich in detail, the book is an education and a rare glimpse into the troubled lives of ordinary people. The news of a gun battle in Kashmir will never be the same again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Countdown to the Lok Sabha Elections begins...

With the outcome of the recently concluded assembly elections, the countdown has begun well and truly for the Lok Sabha polls around March-April next year. The signs don't augur well at the outset.


Sheila Dikshit was voted back for the third consecutive time - This means that the electorate did not have a better choice and chose the lesser devil of the two. For a person, who has shot herself on the foot through several indiscriminate and unthoughtful public comments, the recent one being after the murder of Soumya Viswanathan, the public clearly felt BJP would be a worse option.


The outgoing CM played with fire while promising reservation in the election campaign and had to face immense public scrutiny and shock over the Gujjar agitation that followed as a result. Anti-incumbency played a role here though not as heavily as many had presumed.

Madhya Pradesh:

It was a vote for populism and people again realized that they would be worse off with the opposition in power - the subsidized rice and promise of bicycles together with the perception of development and the image of the CM played a definite part.


In voting back Raman Singh, people have approved of the strong anti-naxal action image of his.

What is crucial is that BJP was unable to capitalize electorally on the question of terrorism and tough anti-terror laws. But despite our press believing so, I feel that the people have voted smartly - they realized that it is the central Government whose role is critical for strong measures. They have also decisively lessened the impact of anti-incumbency. No analyst worth his salt can henceforth rattle off that jargon. Three states have defied that and quite impressively in at least two!

Introspection time:

It is time for all the key players to introspect which our political parties and their leaders can hardly be expected to do. For the BJP, the sooner it comes to terms with the fact that narrow agendas won't work anymore, the sooner it can hope to make gains. LK Advani as the choice in itself might distance some traditional loyalists who have voted for the lotus because of Vajpayee's image. It needs to tread a cautious path with its known well wishers so that it remains firmly mainstream.

The Congress is by far the gaining party in the equation but not without riders. It should focus during the next three months on the decisive handling of the current mess at the center and in Maharashtra in particular. Economy and diplomacy are the keywords and much depends on our PM and External affairs minister in the current scenario. A strong candidate backed by shrewd strategy management is absolutely necessary for the congress to return to the center next year.

The BSP and its dreams lie shattered. The Left is making some seemingly smart political moves but in doing so, the image of a squeaky clean party is taking a severe beating. Alliance with Mayawati and Jaya can tarnish that in due course. Its influence is confined to pockets of the country and hopes of a third front are still very romantic at best.

With a picture that is delicately poised, it is anybody's guess as to how the Lok Sabha polls might swing. It looks as if the voter is not yet decided. The next 3-4 months are hence all the more critical for all the major political players. Did anybody speak about the nuclear deal by any chance?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Unity in Diversity in divisive times!

Over the last few days, thanks to our news channels and journalist friends who risked their lives to bring us almost live pictures, the lines between private agony and public display of shock and sympathy almost certainly blurred. If not for this kind of coverage, it is hard to think whether world opinion could have been mobilized so much in our favor!

What Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi could not do, Mumbai did this time around. It made the home minister step down and jolted the Government into some make-believe action. It is very difficult to stem a rot that has taken so strong and ugly a root. The people would be closely monitoring the new home minister who has his task cut out.

Stories of personal valor, escape and grief leave very impressionable marks. It is impossible to imagine the effect of these terror attacks on the lives of innocent children who have lost their parents. Our involuntary response would be anger and a desperate need for some revenge. As things stand, neither would help peace.

What we need instead is a reaffirmation of what has always been our nation’s core strength. When Kargil happened, there was a collective support for our army and outpouring of help. The same was the case with the Gujarat Earthquake and more recently the Bihar floods. Natural disasters certainly don’t mark out religion and caste and later hunt the marked. In a sense, even though in their brainwashed minds, the terrorists might have been looking for revenge, there were many Muslim brothers and sisters among the dead.

I am not in any sense suggesting that the public anger should not find any outlet. A colleague of my mother, born and brought up in Mumbai is deeply hurt and sad at the turn of events even though she has been living in Chennai for more than 20 years now. If such is her anguish, what would the Mumbaikar feel? It is instead crucial to canalize our energies on those things to which, we, the public can make a difference. Voting for the right candidates, electing people who’ll stand up and take responsibility and who’ll give a no-nonsense leadership is certainly one of those things!

The Taj, Oberoi and the Gateway of India symbolize the hospitality of this nation that has always welcomed and embraced different cultures. Indeed, Mumbai with its Anglo Indian and Parsi population bears testimony to this fact. The needle of suspicion is extremely dangerous when used inappropriately. The role of the print and the electronic media in times such as these calls for responsibility and certainly not exaggeration and minute by minute tickers of the dead and the injured. Bearing this in mind, we should have our hearts in the right place and not lose our encompassing spirit.

If we as a nation start viewing our brothers and sisters with suspicion and doubt, the terrorist will have won. We should constantly ask ourselves how we can in our small ways usher in a safer atmosphere. Words and terms coined by the minute shock me due to their spewing of venom on communities and sections of people. To call a spade a spade requires courage and it doesn’t help if certain political parties give the impression of protecting perpetrators of atrocities by sitting on judgments and certain others, use different yardsticks for spades of slightly different color!

What we need is a mature political class that doesn’t resort to blame games and which can provide unifying leadership in divisive times. All sections of a society cannot be pleased at the same time. If there are encounters, some sections question the authenticity, if there is a crackdown, some would protest the violation of privacy, if there is a drawn out trial, some would blame the justice delivery system. In short, as the axiom goes, a Government which spends time waiting to take the right decision will end up eventually displeasing some section or the other.

In these times, instead of blaming every Tom, Dick and Harry, let us get behind the central and state Governments, support whatever concrete steps they take, not forget the foundation of our nation and above all act and speak responsibly having the greater common good in mind!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A take on Fashion

When one goes to a multiplex, sorry, to one of those relics of Indian metros, a proper old-fashioned theater to see a movie like Fashion in the first week of its release, it is because of two reasons: 1) One has faith in the director, his reputation and the actors not to let one down and 2) One believes that the subject in question is different and intriguing enough to arouse the curiosity of even a non-multiplex crowd.

Page 3 and Traffic Signal made good profits from multiplexes and Fashion will no doubt continue the trend, certainly by beating some expectations. The obvious expectation at getting a peek into the working of the glamor industry will no doubt be satiated. Madhur Bhandarkar plays to the gallery here by serving expected fare, but in some cases even cliches when delivered in the proper places and in the proper manner and helped by good acting leave a good impact. That is exactly what Fashion does.

There are the expected villians, people at whose whims and fancies, the fashion mills grind. The difference lies in the execution and in the deft handling of a complex subject. The director has extracted Priyanka’s best performance as an actor. When Aishwarya Rai was appreciated for her acting for the first time in Guru, Mani Ratnam deservedly got the credit and so should Madhur Bhandarkar here.

In an effort towards giving out minimal spoilers, the story is about the moral challenges and compromises one is subject to, during the rise to the top of the glamor industry. Again, this might seem a bit of oversimplification. Revenge is recurring with the tactic often misfiring. One can’t take sides easily as the story doesn’t simply let you take sides in the first place.

Kangna Ranaut has to start looking beyond some roles that she revels in. Mugda Godse looks the part and can go places in the future. Other actors play their roles but get overshadowed by the three girls. Music is just about good. The length becomes annoying later in the second half. It can be overlooked.

With gay associations, wardrobe malfunctions, the fall from fame to rags - all sharing screenspace, it is easy to say that recent media stories and happenings have influenced the maker but for the disclaimer in the beginning that any resemblance to real life incidents is purely coincidental. It is not a movie for the weak hearted. Some might end up feeling that certain parts were melodramatic and dragging.

Overall, a very much watchable movie that reaffirms my belief that, Bollywood with its recent string of releases, is breaking some invisible shell and trying to stand proud on its feet.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The White Tiger - A travesty of reality

When a journalist embarks on a novel, he simply cannot shrug it off as pure Fiction and certainly and quite expectedly, Mr. Aravind Adiga hasn't done so. Instead he is quoted as saying that the attempt was to highlight the brutal injustices of Indian society.

The narrator of the novel, Balram Halwai is certainly "half-baked" as he admits because the author never wants him to be anything more than that. He has a laptop, but looks to All India Radio as the source for the latest news, he is ignorant and cunning, sympathetic and ruthless, his emotions and feelings is like the swing of a pendulum. Sounds like a boring cliche? Mr. Adiga has hundreds of such plain comparisons. The best of the lot is "An old man in a brown uniform, which was like an ancient army outfit"! The narrator hails from a region of "darkness" and gets to drive his master around Delhi in Honda City.

The descriptions totally lack in detail and read very naively artificial if there is such an expression. Here is what the narrator says about village shops: "three more or less identical shops, selling more or less identical items of kerosene, incense and rice". Beyond a certain point, they become frustrating and annoying. There is a not a single good word about our country. All the narrator of the novel thinks about our system boils down to hopelessness.

Not even a figment of positivity or goodwill for anybody remotely working for the Government. Ministers can be bribed, politicians make empty promises, Government school teachers "spit paan" endlessly and pilfer money, policemen can be "lubricated".

Some satire is acceptable but not if it deliberately translates into heedless obscene vulgarity without respite:

"Kishan got two weeks to dip his beak into his wife,.."
"That brother's wife was finished off by three men working together."
"this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a Zoo."

Every person is painted with the same brush. There is no discrimination employed. All servants scheme to cheat their masters, the poor suspect the rich and the rich, the poor and every Indian from a landlord to a bus driver has some inherent caste/religion based stereotypes. This is not simply oversimplification, but an obvious attempt to misrepresent or worse falsely and disapprovingly represent a huge chunk of people.

I had very strong urges to leave the book unfinished but in the end, continued till completion. I won't deny that the book is entirely without any high points. The only genuinely inventive and really good piece of writing that I am able to recall is when Balram imagines two puddles on the road assuming two distinct sides in his mind's eye and starting to argue. The language is not very impressive; it is understandable given the story.

The motive of the driver is not clear and whatever is made obvious is too amateurish and blanketed with references to the White Tiger. ("In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals.."). The narrator here claims "The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced.".

The White Tiger, very sadly is hardly 10-15% baked. It does not deserve any praise. I am appalled that some critics feel it is "seducing" or "an unexpected journey to a new India". All I can say is that, the Booker has given some unworthy readership and credibility to the pages of the most depressing book "supposedly" written on the Indian condition. Mr.Adiga has let his imagination run riot! Chetan Bhagat in his first novel was far better and most importantly he had a clear disclaimer in the beginning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A game waiting to be played!

As one embarks on the professional career path, a lot of things happen at the same time. In many cases, there is the uprooting of an individual be it from his home or hostel and he/she is forced to adjust to the rigors of a new life in a new city. Along with that come certain riders and inevitably certain priorities.

Suddenly, there are a lot of new things to confront. Time, that elusive figment of our lives, which almost always eludes any firm grip, runs its own course come what may. A good realization of this fact coupled with shrewd expectation management is needed to acclimatize and later establish control over one’s new surroundings.

First of all, any narration of events to a fellow human being however close he/she may be is fraught with perceptions and no matter how detailed a person is, in his narrative, it remains a narrative. Facts are never conveyed during communication. They are seen or experienced, never heard. Hence, it is futile to imagine that a person at the other end of a telephone line can visualize and experience every event that we hope we are narrating. It depends to a great deal on the person at the other end and his/her relationship with our friend.

Secondly, one can’t expect to carry on as before and most of us realize it soon enough. Here comes the whole field of expectation Management. Our friends in college may experience a different work culture and their demands may not be the same from their work. At work too, it is important to strike the right chord. One’s immediate supervisor and manager ought to be seen for what they are. Their expectations from us as individuals are driven purely from the spectrum of work. It comes before everything else. Sharing one’s idea of girlfriend or boyfriend might seem ok, but certainly not the idea of how working is so boring or exhilarating relative to your friend’s experiences!

After a period of adjustment, one gets bored. The new city and the surroundings don’t remain new anymore. The mind is always in search of new and fresh experiences. It is subject to a lot of pulls and pressures from numerous quarters. Routine would appear drab and in many cases, there’d be an urge to rebel and seek “different” experiences. It is important to understand the workings of the mind and be aware of the need to canalize one’s energy.

One can’t remain happy without being surrounded by good people who care for you. It is here that investing time into cultivating good relationships and building a good network plays a good part. Since the individual is on his/her own, there is immense freedom of choice. Engaging in activities that utilize one’s passion, forming new friends and remembering that any friendship cannot be built overnight, not expecting too much from people, given that they are subject to the same whims, fancies and vagaries as one is, reciprocating friendly gestures, taking small initiatives at the cost of being laughed at and ridiculed, learning the art of communicating banal niceties, cultivating the knack of seeing through self-serving tendencies, this phase in one’s life is a game that is waiting to be played with a little caution and a lot of freedom!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

When the emotions and feelings are complex, words do a bad job at describing them, for they can more often than not, convey only so much. Communication of deep hurt, intense passion, terrible ache and nagging doubts is difficult and somehow once communicated leave a sense of misrepresentation and falsity. When race is involved, the combination is fearsome and troublesome to the extreme. The reader's sympathy, the sense of right or wrong and the whole consequent question of moral triumph gets mixed up.

Disgrace with its rare prose treads a fine balance and leaves many pertinent questions unanswered.

Words are juxtaposed to convey maximum impact:

"Her temperament is in fact rather quiet, quiet and docile."

"A ready learner, compliant, pliant."

"He recognizes a statement of independence, considered, purposeful."

Such construction heightens the understanding and enables splendid characterization.

David Lurie, a middle-aged twice divorced teacher of Romantic poetry in the technical University of Cape Town, feels that "A woman's beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings to the World. She has a duty to share it". In his own words, on "an ungovernable impulse" he has an affair with a student, and is asked to resign.

Finding himself in the country, to which he discovers that he is ill-suited, he is forced to move in with his daughter, Lucy, who lives in a farm assisted by Petrus ("tall and weathered" is David's first impression) who, as father and daughter discover later, is a villain.

David understands slowly that his daughter is determined and quite happy in her own way. Out of the blue, three men ruthlessly attack them - try to burn David and rape Lucy. When he tries to reason with his daughter by suggesting that her continuing to stay there will be an invitation for them to return, her reply is shocking:

"What if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors,tax collectors. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they tell themselves." After reading this bit, I was stunned for a few minutes. If so much can be conveyed in so frugal a prose, then...

David's gradual reconciliation to his "disgrace" is a continuing theme thereafter. He assists his daughter's woman friend in animal welfare and even starts to transport the bodies of dead dogs till the incinerator and feels "betrayed" if he isn't able to do it .

There are some sentences that are short, but leave an impression so profound that I think I'll remember them for life.

Sample this:

David tries to work on a book about Byron. In a letter, Byron says "I have always looked to thirty as the barrier to any real or fierce delight in the passions". David remembering that feels "How brief the summer, before the autumn and then the winter!"

Byron does not provide any relief and again he goes back to nursing dogs and cats near his daughter . Towards the end of the novel, David is powerless to influence his daughter to change her mind. That is best captured in:

"He seems to be spending a lot of time sighing. Regret: a regrettable note on which to go out."

"One gets used to things getting harder; one ceases to be surprised that what used to be as hard as hard can be grows harder yet".

The political scene is painted almost in a quiet manner with poignancy, the only weapon showing the reader, the shift in the balance of power. A very disturbing, unputdownable, absorbing read that I'd rate as one of the best I have come across in terms of the subject and its handling. The Booker here is little prize for writing of such fine quality and spellbinding effect.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Of stifled feelings and liberation

I sense the first signs of depression,
A feeling of immense boredom threatens
to overwhelm, to eat away any resistance.
There is a tiredness, a weakness in the knees,
thoughts overtake each other hardly allowing
a pause. The being searches for an anchor, a
shoulder to clutch and lean on...

I dial a friend, the call isn't picked,
now there is fear, a fear to return
and face the claustrophobic air. Of
their own incomprehensible will, the limbs
slow down. There are questioning glances and
disapproving stares. The loss and agony
is private; it doesn't transmit itself...

I spill the glass of juice and this time am
rewarded with curses. The phone doesn't ring;
it almost always doesn't, in times of dire
desperation. There is an urge to indulge and to
immerse oneself. I walk the streets,
in search of the unknown, in search of a soothing balm...

The noise and the din disturb the nerves and
gets them on edge. To a bookshop, I take flight
and suddenly there is a hint of impending calm, of
a return to a recognizable refuge. In books, I
immerse myself and forget the walls around...

I travel to Alaska, scale peaks hitherto
unclimbed, partake in complex emotions,
breathe in untarnished purity, get stirred
by painful travails and overjoyed by minor
accomplishments. Imagination takes control;
it is like a drug transporting the helpless
reader to faraway lands...

It is a journey of remarkable escape from
the immediate present, from the demons
of the mind and the confines of the four walls.
In a sweeping journey of self-discovery
the conscious is barely aware, yet the
registrations are precise, sharp and as there
would be cognizance later spot-on...

The pages run fast now, the heart begins
to beat faster as the slumbering demons show
signs of stirring and wakefulness. This time
though, I am better prepared.
Reality is indeed, harsh!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rock on – A movie that stands apart

Of late, Bollywood is churning out one different movie followed by the next; each one choosing consciously not to tread the beaten path of commercial cinema and at the same time having enough meat to get noticed by critics and masses alike receiving rave reviews and getting the deserved attention. It is a good time to be following Bollywood.

Looking back, Taare Zameen Par started the trend. Aamir, Sarkar Raj, Shaurya, Mumbai Meri Jaan, A Wednesday and Rock on – all of these movies are linked by the fact their heart is in the right place. Not ingratiating, not looking to impress, having a good story, backed by impressive direction, staying out of stereotyped song and dance sequences, they have went on to show that Hindi cinema can indeed rise above the ordinary flock and speak on issues that are contemporary and have resonating relevance world over.

Rock on – It had huge expectations and it has manged to live up to it. Its audience is the predominantly the youth who dreams big, has reasonably achievable aspirations, but gets lost somewhere. Lack of right support, ego altercations, a little hesitancy, failure to compromise at the right moment, other things assuming a more grave priority – the movie links all these beads and weaves together a beautiful thread.

Supported ably by Shankar, Ehsan and Loy, the lyrics are simple, innovative and speak to the young audience like never before. Javed Akhtar has surpassed himself. Just sample these:

Yeh Tumhari Meri Baathein, Hamesha Yuhin Chalti Rahe
Yeh Hamari Mulakate, Hamesha Yuhin Chalti Rahe
Beete Yuhin Apne Saare Din Raat
Baaton Se Nikalti Rahe Nayi Baat

Tum Ho To Raahen Bhi Hai, 
Tum Nahin To Rasthey Kahan
Tum Ho To Yahan Sab Hi Hai, 
Tum Nahin To Kaun Yahan
Tum Ho To Hai Har Ek Pal Meharbaan Yeh Jahaan
Jo Tum Ho To Hawa Mein Bhi Mohabbat Ka Rang Hai
Jo Tum Na Ho To Phir Koi Na Josh Na Umang Hai 
Tum Mile To Mili Yeh Zindagi

Meri Laundry Ka Ek Bill, Ek Aadhi Padi Novel… Ta Ra Ta Ta Ta ….Ta Ra Ta Ta Ta…
Ek Ladki Ka Phone Number, Mere Kaam Ka Ek Paper… Ta Ra Ta Ta Ta ….Ta Ra Ta Ta Ta…
Mere Taash Se Heart Ka King, Mera Ek Chandi Ka Ring
Pichhle Saat Dino Mein Maine Khoya
Kabhi Khud Pe Hansa Main Aur Kabhi Khud Pe Roya

Dil Karta Hai Sadkon Par Zor Se Gaoon
Sab Apne Apne Ghar Ki Khidki Kholen
Phir Main Aise Josheelay Geet Sunaoon
Mere Geeton Ko Sunke Sab Ye Bolen
Rock On… Hai Ye Waqt Ka Ishaara 
Rock On… Har Lamha Pukaara
Rock On….Yuhin Dekhta Hai Kya Tu
Rock On….Zindagi Millegi Na Dobaara…

Aasma Hai Neela Kyun, Paani Geela Geela Kyun
Gol Kyun Hai Zameen, Silk Mein Hai Narmi Kyun
Aag Mein Hai Garmi Kyun, Do Aur Do Paanch Kyun Nahi
Pedd Ho Gaye Kum Kyun, Teen Hain Ye Mausam Kyun
Chaand Do Kyun Nahi, Duniya Mein Hai Jung Kyun
Behta Laal Rang Kyun, Sarhaden Hain Kyun Har Kahin
Socha Hai... Yeh Tumne Kya Kabhi
Socha Hai... Ki Hain Yeh Kya Sabhi
Socha Nahi To Socho Abhi…..

If these don’t strike a chord with the youth, nothing ever can.

Caught in the middle of careers struggling to take off, a reunion gives an opportunity for four friends to come together again, bury their egos, give their lost aspirations another chance at redemption and proclaim to the world that the spark they nourished as youth is alive and kicking.

The movie ends on a note of practical optimism and inspiration. It is an effort that deserves the highest praise.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How I want to live!!

Crushed sugarcane cheek by jowl with fresh cow dung,
Dense concrete that overlooks a grand old tree,
Weak limbs on support bearing a little child all young,
Defeated hopes and misplaced expectations clothed in
fancy brands. Humble and joyous spirits decked in
rags. The world is a strange place where opposites lie

Men yearning for the rosy past and dreaming about
lush futures, Women weighed down with yesterdays
and trying to rise above tomorrows. In the midst, the
careless children digging their heels in the present,
soaring high and breathing in the little pleasures.

If the world is a theater, children are the best actors.
If it is a mammoth canvas, the young are the brightest colors.
Vibrant, joyous with hopes, showing their true spirits,
they march to a tune that is music only to their ears.
In this pendulum of hope and betrayal that life is, little do they
know what waits at the end!

The past is over and the future is yet to unravel; to live
in the present is to experience the finer moments. Blessed
are those that have short memories for the slate can be
wiped clean soon. Like a cloth that absorbs easily, I also
yearn for an unfeeling heart that cares little for the pain
and looks to the next moment in anticipation of gain!

When the World is a testimony to contrasts of every shape and size,
When the only way to forget is to erase and live in the moment, what
better examples to emulate than the young and the tiny? One moment,
happiness and the next moment, sadness, their every breath a comment
on this irony!

Here I come! I know not ego, I know not memory, all I know
is that the next moment is for me to live, not judge and brood!
Ignore me, slight me, curse me, strangle me, betray me, I shall
absorb all and rise again. I shall do only the good for I am incapable
of the bad and the ugly. I know deep down that ignorance of truth
and conscience is the biggest sin and I am not guilty. I am a child!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some books simply overpower us!

"If you say that only what lasts is worthwhile, then nothing is valuable, because everything passes. Isn't it enough that something should have existed, just once? Don't you think it continues to exist in some world where the pettiness of time is not so important? An eternity that is more than just time without ending. A place where time runs in a different way." - Mary says in 'On Green Dolphin Street', a novel of remarkable beauty and exploration of human emotions by Sebastian Faulks.

After a long time, reading a novel of such intensity in a prose that should at best be termed as superior, not to exaggerate, I felt overpowered. Some books evoke in us such feelings of utter helplessness and fleeting moments of total incomprehension that gradually and without realization turn to the most sublime clarity. In one moment, we think we don't get it, the next moment is one of profound joy as what we read sinks in and gets digested.

Books can indeed be a person's true friends. Some command a degree of authority breaking which we struggle to extricate ourselves till we complete them. In that brief period, we forget to breathe, we get overwhelmed by a passion so strong that it seems untrammeled and without shackles of any kind.

Days spent in a haze, in vivid imagination of our favorite characters' plight as they are followed by spies, as they conquer their lives, as they experience emotions that we yearn and pine for, as they endure agonies that we wouldn't have imagined in our wildest dreams are ones of boundless joy and self-discovery. We discover different shades of ourselves as we journey in the paths of our favorite heroes and heroines.

Its a world that doesn't tie our imagination. Indeed as a person remarked in the shuttle today, the difference between novels and their movie adaptation is very simple: One is our perception where we are bound only by the limits of our imagination, the other is another person's perception that limits our freedom to think wild. How true! To me, any day a book by a cozy setting than any acclaimed movie!

What books can do to shape a man's character and a nation's intellect can be little matched by any other medium.

To quote my father who remembers a speech written for him by his geography teacher:
"The literature of future India would speak about the ordeal of the society born out of the interaction between beautifully wise and dangerously silly, generous beyond measure and mean beyond all examples." How true again! We need more good books and plenty of hungry readers for that to happen...we need to be overpowered by the good world of books and their wisdom!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan - Among the very best!

The title suggests that the movie is all about Mumbai and its people – it’s a misnomer; the movie is about the issues that the nation struggles to grapple with; issues that threaten the fabric of unity and come dangerously close to dividing us into a myriad pieces that cannot be tied together again!

Vulgar display of wealth, creeping suspicions directed at particular groups and communities, corruption in the police force, tragedies being exploited by media for their own TRP-driven ends…the helplessness in the face of all these of the city dweller, of the ordinary citizen…this is what the movie speaks about and at the end of a masala-less, thought-provoking two hours and fifteen minutes, all one feels is elation at the ability of a Indian film maker, surprise at the genuineness and earnestness of his work, appreciation for the actors - a motley bunch of strongly under-rated men and women who have given some of their best performances and gratitude to the whole crew!

This is a movie that draws its strength from the reality it depicts on screen – the about-to-retire policeman - played by Paresh Rawal - personifying defeat and reconciliation and being able to crack jokes despite his plight, the poor Madrasi - played by Irfan Khan - with his cycle-shop who struggles to come to terms with his poverty and envies the rich at the same time cursing their abominable display of wealth, the successful journalist – played by Soha Ali Khan - who comes up with television friendly sound bytes in the midst of chaos and loss during the train blasts, the cash-deprived youth – played by Kay Kay Menon - who doubts every Muslim youth and sees them as bomb makers and architects of blasts and finally the IT employed gentleman – played by Madhavan – who prefers the city’s trains to travel for the comfort they provide and who advises a vendor not to use cheap plastic covers since they pollute the environs.

The movie is about these men and women whom we encounter every day in our lives. Bombs that go off in Mumbai’s trains affect these people in different ways and each of them emerges better from the blasts with some small but significant alterations in their convictions, in their belief of what is right and what is wrong.

Throughout the movie, one gets the feeling of “The world moving on”, indifferent to a man’s everyday concerns forcing the people to change and to adapt to the altering scenarios. This is the movie’s strength. The story by Vinayak Joshi is brilliant as the common man can relate to it and the direction by NishiKant kamat is excellent, the end result being a movie that signifies yet again the maturity towards which Hindi cinema appears to be moving. The end is touching with the song “Yeh dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke zara bachke yeh hai Bombay meri jaan” playing as the city observes silence.

Hats off!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

India gets the NSG waiver - At last!!!

In the recent past, no foreign policy decision would have got so much reams of newsprint and media coverage than the nuclear deal that has at last managed to get the NSG waiver.

The UPA Government had staked its very own survival on this issue and it has paid off.

What were the hurdles?

Non – Proliferation lobby in the US Congress and some members of the NSG that needed convincing.
India’s chief opposition party – BJP
Our comrades – Left Parties
Some key intellectuals – N Ram and V R Krishna Iyer to name a few.

What worked for us?

Risk taking – PM going for the trust vote and breaking off with the Left.
Some very focused diplomacy on the part of Shyam Saran, Pranab Mukherjee and M K Narayanan among others.
The commerce behind the deal leading some journalists to comment that it’s a Indo-International community deal and not Indo-US alone.
People in the know-how like Anil Kakodkar throwing their weight behind the deal.
The facilitation by the big brother in the form of the USA.
Some last minute announcements on commitment to non-proliferation and voluntary moratorium on testing.
The inexplicable U turn by the SP, long term interests in UP being the driver.

What next?

Some anxious moments before the US Congress give the green signal.

Lessons learnt:

Political opposition parties in India cannot be expected to rise above petty politics and put national interest ahead, the examples of Orissa and Kashmir lending further weight to this argument.
The skewed understanding of some parties like the Left on what constitutes India’s national interest is truly shocking.
Indian media can after all do their bit towards building consensus among the citizens of this nation on the merits of the deal.

Its time to celebrate this historic day!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Indian ODI team begins a new chapter

Winning against Sri Lanka at home is no easy task. They are essentially a team that has some crafty spinners who can roll their arms, in what has over a long period of time, appeared to the touring nations, as pitches tailor-made to suit the home team!

Statistics don’t lie – this is the first time an Indian ODI team has won a bilateral series in the island nation. It’s all the more remarkable given the circumstances in which the team achieved the series victory.

Crushed in the test series, appearing to have no clues to the wily turn of Mendis, one thought the team would take the road that our countrymen are so well aware of! But in a surprising turnaround, apart from wining three matches on the trot, every win was progressively decisive and for once it wasn’t individual brilliance but collective effort that did the trick.

Playing without Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag, when world attention was focused on the erstwhile unimaginable joy that we were witness to in Beijing where we managed to grab one gold and two bronze, when television channels and newspapers amazingly commented that Olympics is getting more viewer ship than cricket, this series victory is all the more sweet.

We can take heart from the fact that after a long time, our team has a prospective and potentially dangerous bunch of youngsters who are raring to go and who thankfully don’t find themselves limited by a captain who has to please his peers and hence finds his choices limited.

The media has also pretty much found Kirsten a difficult customer for the gossip and rumor mills. He has been allowed to focus on his job and fortunately got a young side that features almost none of his contemporaries. Hence the question of ego clashes did not arise.

Dhoni has emerged as a leader who leads by example. Indeed, but for his crucial knock of 35+ in the low scoring second one dayer, we would have lost that too after the dispirited performance from our batsmen in the first game. Raina and Kohli have risen up to the big occasion and have demonstrated that they belong in the big stage. Raina has been performing consistently well right from the IPL. Rohit Sharma after his IPL exploits has disappointed a little, but given his temperament and technique, he’ll be back among the thick of things. Only Yuvraj has let us down with this shaky footwork but again he is turning into a batting all rounder with this left arm slow bowling.

The bowlers, especially Zaheer and Munaf have shown lot of promise. The former in particular has used his experience to good effect and helped the side with early breakthroughs.

Lastly, the umpires for once did not think too much before ruling batsmen out LBW. This was much needed as cricket after IPL was turning out to be more favoring the batsmen. Bravo, Billy Doctrove!

Finally, a few words for the losing side - Jayawardene with his never-say-die attitude in the third one dayer almost took his side home after a disastrous start. Hats off to him! Sangakkara and Dilshan thankfully for the Indians did not exhibit their special liking for the Indian bowlers.

Way to go, India and Dhoni!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bangalore wakes up...

An old man picks flowers with unsteady hands,

Dogs stretch, yawn, scratch and doze,

A woman sees off her beloved,

Dry leaves fall on to the washed streets.

Sweepers discuss matters of heart,

Birds call out to each other in sweet tones.

A proud father smiles in joy even as his

Little girl holds his hand and looks up at him.

The sky is a clear white like a sea of milk.

A gentle breeze gathers strength and dies.

Parks wait for the young to jog around,

Bangalore wakes up to another pleasant day!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bachna Ae Haseeno – When every wish comes true!!

This is what one would feel after watching ‘Bachna Ae Haseeno’, indeed everything that Raj - played by Ranbir Kapoor - wants in life comes true as if life was trying to accommodate every whim and fancy of the initially babe-hungry rich Raj and later after much journeying, the mature Raj who finally learns to respect and above all ceases to see the opposite gender as Shikar!

Of the three ladies, Deepika looks ravishing as the B School student in Australia who drives a taxi and mans a grocery store; Manisha Lamba struggles to act (more than struggling to act, I feel the role demanded her to look a little dumb which was difficult for herJ) in the first half but more than compensates in the second half in a befitting costume with looks that kill; Bipasha fits her role completely and comes up with a performance that at times makes the viewer wonder at her near subservience in the first half and daring in the second!

Ranbir has a very good presence throughout and acts well too. This movie had a range of emotions to showcase and he does it with aplomb. For a second movie, he looks convincing romancing in the snow and crying after his love rejects his hand. He is a good dancer too though he reminds one of Hrithik.

The story is patchy and dragging even before intermission when Raj meets all the three ladies, rejects the courtship of two (Manisha and Bipasha) and gets snubbed by the third to whom he proposes (Deepika). The best part of the movie is the first 25 minutes post interval when realisation dawns on our hero!

The locales are excellent and two songs captivate the viewer for that simple reason. Music is just above average. The audience in the theater clapped at all the right places. When Raj is threatened by Manisha’s husband and despised as personal assistant by Bipasha, there was applause.

This movie reinforces a lot of stereotypes though it tries to salvage something by showing a successful model and an aspiring manager. No girl would write letter after letter everyday for 6 months longing for a guy she had rejected firmly. But then, this is cinema and that is how things are!

This is a good entertainer. If only conventional Bollywood cinema looks beyond the traditional woman dialogues and realizes that with movies like this, it is only perpetuating stereotypes that have to be done away with!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Amu - On the 1984 Riots

While Parzania is more famous today because it dealt with the complicity of the state machinery in Gujarat, that is still fresh in public memory thanks to the media, our politicians, the state Government in question and the terrorists who seem to draw revenge from it much similar to how a leech sucks blood, this movie “Amu” got lost somewhere amid the chaos.

I remember hearing about this movie when I was in college and making a mental note to see it. That wish got fulfilled the day after our 62nd independence day. This focuses on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the epicenter of which was Delhi and the then central Government is widely held as aiding the abettors of genocide.

Konkona Sen Sharma playing the lead role shines throughout - be it in her American accent or the helplessness with which she struggles to come to terms with her identity. Helping her find her real parents is Kabir played by Ankur Khanna. Having grown up in America, Konkona returns to the place of her birth and chances upon a conversation about the 1984 riots and gets curious only to discover that her real parents were the victims.

Shonali Bose, the director has navigated a very delicate territory and in the end has made a beautiful movie that one would long remember. Having seen Parzania, the level of gory detail here is relatively less but the effect is the same and therein lays the impact.

The supporting cast is subtle in its roles and never goes overboard with detail. Sympathy, understanding and realization of the enormity of the crime and empathy with the lead protagonist are all essayed with subdued élan. Brinda Karat, one of the faces of the left until recently when the party made some serious miscalculation plays the mother who adopts Konkona and ultimately spills the beans about her childhood and her real parents.

The first half establishes the environment and the second half is riveting in its portrayal of suffering and Governmental negligence. I can’t help but feel that only in a democracy like ours and only because of a watchful media and a robust freedom of expression, movies like this get made by bold men and women and history, however strong, the saying “The winner writes the history books” is at least not easily forgotten!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Despite the system??

Today’s headline (13/8/2008) in Times of India puts it succinctly: “Bindra won despite the system”. This could not have come at a better time for though leaders brag about economic growth, reality is depressing to put it mildly. Inflation is shooting up, though it isn’t entirely of the Government’s making, the public is disillusioned with the politics at all levels, corruption in public sector seems to be setting new standards, blame game and lack of accountability best define our elected representatives, taxes are collected in myriad ways to fund corrupt schemes and supposedly affirmative actions…the list is endless.

61 years after India’s independence, traffic in India’s premier IT destination moves at 10-15 km/hr during peak hours. It just takes one hour of rain for the streets to get waterlogged and traffic to grind to a halt.

To take a scenario, consider the condition of roads and public transport system in Bangalore. The state government wants to encourage the public to use BMTC buses, yet even the boards are not in English in a city nearly half of whose working population is drawn from non-native background. BMTC plans to expand its fleet. Where are the roads to run the buses?

Soon after the BJP assumed office, routes within the city have become increasingly confusing. IPS officers are transferred by the dozen; a please-all budget is announced. Is the Junta pleased? Not at all! There is a pathetic shortage of traffic policemen. 2 in 10 drivers openly flout traffic rules. Some cops stand mute witness; some get busy with their collections. BMTC needs to recruit more people if it is to avoid drivers issuing tickets with the bus right in the middle of the road. The government is not focusing on the basics. We instead have photo of the transport minister using the Volvo to travel to BIA. As if that is what we want to see!!!

We want to see regulated traffic and more taxes on people buying cars and two wheelers. I hate it when people speak about getting a second car or two-wheeler. Aren’t they part of the system?

How long can we progress “despite” the system? Will it ever be with the aid of the system? Can it ever be?

Friday, August 8, 2008

A call for action!

A cry of anguish

Soon we will be celebrating 61 years of our independence. But are we really independent? Are we free in the sense that, do we experience the sense of freedom? Aren’t we feeling insecure when we think of the political class of this country? Don’t we shudder when we contemplate where our politicians will lead us to? Are we able to exercise our choice properly?

These are some questions that strike me when I think of the recent events. Somewhere, I feel that the urban educated youth or for that matter, the average educated citizen of this country is constrained and helpless when faced with the political situation in this country. He is always asked to choose between the worse and the worst, between the devil and the deep sea, between despair and misery. He feels that he has chosen the lesser devil but soon discovers that his choice is no better in the long run.

Ideology is probably the most misused word in our country today. Tossed about carelessly, the word has shred its real meaning and people no longer remember if it had one in the first place.

Who would have thought that the left would vote with the right?

Who would have thought that political compulsions would force Mayawati and Prakash Karat to come together and discuss ways to topple a “secular” Government at the centre?

If anybody had said that, the BJP would oppose the nuclear deal and vote against it 5-6 years earlier, it would have passed off as a good joke!

When J&K is struggling to limp to normalcy and when terrorist attacks are on the rise indiscriminately, we have our politicians discussing the veracity of a sting operation.

There is a discord between the voter and the voted. How should it be bridged? Are we getting the politicians we deserve? Are we failing to see the real face behind the mask? Are we fools really to be deceived very convincingly election after election? Is the behavior of the politician symbolic of the urge for power and authority that is inherent in all of us? Is it an omen of darker times? Is there any hope after the new lows to which we are continually witness?

Time alone can answer these questions. But, deep down, I flinch when I think of the future of this country in the hands of leaders who have no concern for anything that doesn’t propel them towards that step that would lead them a shade closer to the throne!!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An evening with Ramachandra Guha

Life in Bangalore continues to offer new experiences that more often than not turn out to be surprisingly rewarding to the spirit. So, when I got a mail from Ram about a project that he is involved in that aims at creating intellectual capital of experts in arts, culture and history of India, I read it with interest. The mail went on to say that, as part of this project, a group of twenty five attendees will be getting an opportunity to interact with Dr. Ramachandra Guha in a discussion, the theme of which would be the esteemed historian’s recent essay ‘Will India become a superpower?' This discussion would be later available as part of course material so that the masses would be benefiting directly from an acclaimed expert with the help of media and technology. This leverages Group collaborative learning technique so that the physical presence of the expert isn’t always necessary.

We went to the venue and came across a mixed group in the audience – some entrepreneurs to youngsters curious to know Mr. Guha’s perspective on a wide range of issues. “Biographer. Cricket-writer. Essayist. Historian. Guha likes working in several genres” – writes Anita Nair in her profile of Ramachandra Guha. As he started talking about his essay that was the theme for the evening, we listened in rapt attention. One by one, he listed out the reasons that would make India’s superpower dream a tall order and elaborated on them. When he was done, the discussion was open for Q and A.

I list here some of the questions from the group of attendees and his responses to them, not produced verbatim.

He made a very pointed observation that when bomb blasts like the recent ones happen, some people in the fringes of fundamentalism view it as justification of their ideology and violence. For example, when Bangalore and Ahmedabad happened, some extreme right Hindu elements view it as justification of their ideology and violence and similarly, the Islamic jehadists think the same way when Iraq is bombed.

On the origin of the essay: I got a chance to be part of a meet in March 2008 in Bangalore where there were a lot of Indian entrepreneurs and a foreign diplomat. There was so much hope and expectation then that we’d one day become a superpower. Being a historian, I went back to March 1948 when Gandhi had just been assassinated and made myself a part of imaginary conversation in such a group as had assembled in 2008. Then, the mood would have been somber, our existence was in question…but thinking hard, I felt that the situation now is not any different. We are facing the same threats from the extreme left wing naxalites and the right wing fundamentalists. That is how the essay formed itself…

Q: Have you come across a similar debate in the US?

Guha: Yes, people in the US are pretty much sure that they belong there.

Q: What do you think of Barack Obama?

Guha: I don’t think he’ll win. But if he does, it will give a boost to the world’s opinion of America as a land of dreams.

Q: There are some parts in India that by virtue of being geographically close form part of India. For example, the Nicobar…

Guha: Yes. In fact, TN and Punjab shared very little with the rest of the territories when they became a part of India. We are diverse and we should be celebrating that. A large number of princely states were integrated during independence. No nation was born in such extraordinary circumstances as ours.

Q: Do you see any relation between the Dalit movement and the Mandal movement? Your thoughts on how TN is cited as an example for how rich the benefits of affirmative action are?

Guha: Affirmative actions benefiting dalits was because they have been oppressed in the past and deserve it to climb the social ladder but the reservation for OBCs is because of balance of power. As we became independent, there was a need for a unifying force to hold the diverse sections of people together. But as we entered the 70s and 80s, regional, caste based parties began to assert themselves. In some cases, their evolution was desirable and necessary too. I am not an opponent of affirmative action but it is overdone. 30 – 35% is acceptable but 50% is certainly not.

Q: What will the young minds think when they get to learn this from you. Shouldn’t we let them have their fantasy that we can become a superpower?

Guha: Let them have! I am saying that “Let us celebrate what we have done. Let us not celebrate the wrong things”.

Q: Why do you expect that the rich man be philanthropic? He is paying his taxes. Doesn’t he have the right to spend his money as he sees fit. Why shouldn’t he build a super large house and gift a jet to his wife?

Guha: To you, it may be “ok”. My view is that such display of wealth is vulgar.

Q: On the AFSPA, the opposition to it in the north east?

Guha: I feel that the AFSPA should not be used. When the PM traveled there, he didn’t make that announcement. I feel that when one loves someone, one should love them whole heartedly.

Q: When India is doing so well on the economic front, when we are extremely competent in many areas, when the youth see the potential for us to become a superpower, why can’t…

Guha: The youth of today are characterized by a quick impatience. Unless we are vigilant, we’d not be able to feel the hope…

Q: What do you think we should take away when we leave this room? This meeting has given a lot of food for thought. We can’t affect corruption in the centre, but surely, we can do some change to impact these issues?

Guha: You can affect your immediate vicinity – personally, professionally, the people and society in which you are in…

Q: Can’t the market address the disparity between the rich and the poor, the inequality?

Guha: The market can only do so much. It can’t address this…

Q: You say that the middle class is to some extent responsible for the trivialization of the media. When did this happen?

Guha: The media is giving too much attention to entertainment and glamour. It always pits the extremes against the extremes and thereby the middle ground doesn’t merit much thought especially when a lot of Indians would fall in that space.

By way of conclusion, Mr. Guha said, we should be setting our own terms and be proud of what we have done. Then it was time for the organizers to thank Mr. Guha for giving so much of his time.

This being our first exposure to such a personality and such a coming together of diverse people and thoughts, we came away excited, with a lot of food for thought thinking that the evening would shape and mold our perceptions of this vast nation and the various issues it faces.

Also read my post on the essay...