Monday, June 23, 2008

A Poetic Evening

It was a Sunday evening. I was tossing and turning beckoning sleep to wash away the lonely feeling that had taken over me. But, to no avail! Giving up, I decided to spend some time reading in the nearby park. No amount of description will ever be enough to get across that moment in the park when, with Jose Saramago in my hand, I willed the time to freeze forever. Certainly, Herculean wishes of this kind are not meant for His ears, He has more important things to attend to if He still glances down occasionally to see whether His creations need Him.

As the evening light began to fade, a cool breeze rustled the leaves and as if on cue, the birds joined each other in shouting their hearts out. It was a mad shout of joy but people in their frantic exercise regime of fast walking below in the park, had ears only for earphones. Whenever one walks in this fashion, a preoccupied look sets in that borders on indifference.

Coming out from the park, I got in to the first bus that stopped and later wondered why. At times, our actions don’t make sense to ourselves especially when we are alone and yearn for some sweet experience.

4th block welcomed me. Now that I was there, I remembered that I had to shop for some necessary items. The heavens were making up their minds to drench the lands and it was only a matter of time before tiny drops would descend. Trying to take in the sights and sounds, I found that strangely enough, I was able to hear only a muted drone. Busy shopping centres often invoke that sensation but it passed soon enough.

Walking along one of the numerous cross streets, I spotted a shop selling Kulfi and all manner of fruit juices. Children were pleading with their parents for Kulfis. A child was trying her best to understand the different ways in which each flavor would taste before making the important decision of choosing one. As she got herself a Kesar Badam, even before taking a first bite, she ran towards her mother – Whether it was genuinely because she wanted to let her mother take the first bite and consequently out of pure affection or selfishly wanting to hear her approval would be hard to tell. But, I was a little sure it is the former, for children don’t act with a motive of clearly concealed guile.

I grabbed a Kulfi and listened to a few boys talking about the boring evenings after IPL. Some were arguing that Euro had filled in but cricket enthusiasts outnumbered…A few steps ahead, I spotted a vendor selling Ice Golas – that mouth watering large piece of ice made into a fanciful shape and dipped into liquid of any flavor you demand. He was trying his best to cater quickly to his increasing customers among whom there was a small group of boys and girls who were obviously meeting each other for the first time. At least, a few in that little group had not been introduced to each other.

I could figure out that Orkut – that social networking phenomenon to which we are more or less addicted to – had once again served to bring people together. Their animated conversation involved much gleeful responses, elated exclamations and exchanges of experiences in Bangalore. With the occasional cry of ‘Orkut Zindabad’, this group was quite a sight. I could hardly suppress a desire to join them and share their happiness.

Surely and firmly, rain drops started teasing the shopping crowd. Some carried on indifferently while some started to look for cover. More than an hour had passed and all I had found worth buying was Chetan Bhagat’s ‘The 3 mistakes of my life’. Entering Pavitra to grab a masala dosa, I found that it had become a refuge for people seeking shelter from rain.

Three girls had gathered around a table and were trying to get one of the hotel boys to clean it. They finally manged to get the attention of a disinterested lad and with appreciable disdain, he barely used the cloth on the table. The result was a bigger mess and one of the girls contorted her features to best convey her disapproval. It was comical at best for the lad didn’t bother squarely.

At another table, a family was struggling with their little son. As with most families, the mother was trying to feed him Rice Bath. He was teasing her and watching her reactions. He would let her bring a mouthful near his lips and at the last second, firmly close them prohibiting any entry. This continued in the same vein for nearly 10 times before the father took it upon himself to cajole and feed his son. If the mother fails, can the father triumph? The kid started to show signs of wailing but never once opened his mouth.

Nearby, a girl was helping her younger sister wear her shoes. They appeared a size too large for her little feet but nevertheless were cute ones.

Outside, the rain had increased in ferocity and I somehow managed to catch a bus back. I couldn’t help hold a contented smile for all the little experiences I had had in that one evening. Through the windows of the speeding bus, I was able to spot two girls walking on the pavement. They were both sharing a dupatta to escape the rain, one was engaged on a call and the other was struggling to eat her ice cream in the cramped space!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Will India become a super power? - An essay by Ramachandra Guha

Will India become a superpower? This is one question to which every Indian would love to answer: “Yes”. But Ramachandra Guha in an essay in outlook presents seven reasons that categorically convey why India can’t!

I rarely find interest in essays but this topic caught my attention and Outlook is one magazine that is a little different – one has to see only the “Letters” section in it to like it. For, even though I hardly listen to/like Vinod Mehta on TV debates, the magazine has some very good columns and cover stories are also a little different from the run of the mill ones.

In this essay, Mr. Guha has drawn from history, taken a very balanced stand, doesn’t criticize anybody too much, presents strong reasons for his argument and in a clear prose emphasizes his points. It is certainly a compelling read for any citizen of this land to understand a little more clearly the problems that we as a nation battle with and the probable solutions that we have.

From 1948, when the West was ready to write our obituary to this day when we are viewed as a formidable rising power, Guha charts our progress through the seemingly insurmountable threats to our “institutions” and towards the end offers India little hope.

“The challenge of the naxalites; the insidious presence of the Hindutvawadis; the degradation of the once liberal and upright centre; the increasing gap between the rich and the power; the trivialization of the media; the unsustainability, in an environmental sense of present patterns of resource consumption; the instability and policy incoherence caused by multi-party coalition Governments – these are the seven reasons why India will not become a superpower.”

Naxalite challenge:

We read about this menace day in and day out in the national dailies but go about our lives as it hardly affects us. If we are to move towards an inclusive and just society, this menace needs to be addressed at its roots but state policies like Salwa Judum, as we know today, have miserably failed. Mr. Guha seems to summarize the state’s ineptitude in handling this internal security threat when he writes:

“In the next decade, thousands of lives will be lost, some of policemen, others of naxalites, the majority perhaps of adivasis caught in the crossfire”.

Right wing religious fundamentalism:

Terming the philosophy of Hindutva as “a form of petty and at times vindictive chauvinism”, he traces the current state of affairs back to 1948 in VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar.

In our country, we only see the changing colors of our politicians. They are a species who don’t seem to have true colors; it is only the masks that the electorate sees and is taken in by! On one side, we have the BJP which seems unsure with respect to which card to play in every election and at the other end, we have the congress which is confused as a result of which it is neither able to beat Narendra Modi nor combat terrorism effectively. All we hear is “vote bank”. The voter is also equally confused as a result-

“Many others naively hope that the mask will in time become the real face, and that with economic modernization the BJP will be able to successfully distance itself from the RSS.”

Degradation of the once liberal and upright centre:

With the advent of coalition politics and rampant corruption, politicians and civil servants care very little for the very people whom they are supposed to serve. The congress party and several other regional parties are filled with sycophants who feel that their full time job is ingratiating themselves into the good books of the high command.

“Now, the Government of India is run by men and women of limited intelligence and dubious integrity, who know little about and care less for the ideals on which the republic was founded.”

The widening divide:

The Indian state has failed to initiate concrete steps to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Basic primary education and health care, equality of opportunity – these are some areas of grave concern that our politicians love to pay lip service to. Mr. Guha praises the work of numerous social workers but as he says, the state cannot be substituted. He cites his own experience briefly –

“The school my children go to in Bangalore is world-class; the school run by the state a few yards down the road is worse than third rate. I can avail of top quality healthcare; my house help must go to the local quack instead.”

Trivialization of the media:

Celebrities and “Breaking news” in news channels rarely make sense these days. While gruesome murders and the private lives of celebrities get the lion’s share of coverage, environmental issues are relegated to the occasional and stereotyped special reports.

“In the eyes of the new, excessively market-friendly media, the environment is only about pretty trees and tigers. They wish their readers to have their cake and eat it too; to live resource-intensive lifestyles and yet be able to glory in the beauties of the wild.”

Unsustainability in the environmental sense:

In our greed to consume, we are becoming blind to the enormous amount of constraint on our environment. I never cease to be amazed at the number of new cars that are registered in Bangalore every day. Driving them has become status symbols. Who cares about their carbon emissions and the rising fuel costs? The self is inflated; the common good and concern for fellow living things is almost absent!

“With India, China too is trying to ape the west, attempting to create a mass consumer society whose members can all drive their own cars, live in their own air-conditioned homes, eat in fancy restaurants and travel to the ends of the earth for their family holidays. Will these Chinese and Indian consumers collectively strip the world bare like locusts? Between them, they have set off a new scramble for Africa, stripping or at least strip-mining that unhappy continent to fuel their ever growing appetite for resources.”

Instability and policy incoherence:

When the current UPA Government hangs in the balance thanks to the whims and fancies of the left and the opportunistic policies of the opposition, need one comment more on this?

In all, Ramachandra Guha takes the reader through a short and compelling journey in his essay but doesn’t offer any “super” hope and rightly so!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sarkar Raj – When good acting and strong writing meet…

Touted as one of the best sequels to have been made in Hindi cinema, Sarkar Raj deserves each and every bit of the appreciation it is getting from critics and movie goers alike. Breathtaking and astounding is how I would describe the performances of the lead actors – Amitabh, Abhishek and Aishwarya. They have not put a foot wrong and one can feel that this will be one of their best movies together. Dilip Prabhawalkar and Sayaji Shinde have excelled in their roles and good actors don’t need lengthy screen spaces to do that. Do they?

The dialogue is so good that even if it is mostly short, every line comes out as a punch line. Amitabh and Abhishek especially use these dialogues to create a strong impact and their curt replies together with their display of emotions in the roles of Sarkar and Junior Sarkar is power packed. Aishwarya Rai has truly come of age with respect to her acting skills and she reveals her true potential. Ram Gopal Verma has handled these three lead characters with appreciable deftness and has managed to extract the very best from them.

The background score is brilliant. Without being too loud and irritating or serving to lessen the impact of the dialogues mouthed, it enhances the emotions felt by the viewer. Without the kind of writing we witness here, this movie would have become predictable. Thankfully and most importantly for good box office returns, the script is impeccable.

There are no distracting songs. The power struggle and the extent of ruthlessness on display will keep the audience glued. There isn’t a single scene that can be deemed unnecessary. Tanisha looks the part and scores in the brief time she gets. To portray Cult following, leader worship, deception, back stabbing and strong determination calls for powerful acting and good direction. The movie delivers on both these counts. It is a must watch for people who appreciate good movies and who don’t need to always see the lead pair running around trees.

Hindi cinema moves one step ahead!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dasavatharam – A long and loud assault on one’s sensibilities!

In the recent past, I don’t regret seeing any movie as badly as Dasavatharam. Skeptical about the movie after its review in TOI, but nevertheless curious to see it for all its hype, we couldn’t have felt more disappointment. For, Dasavatharam in one word is “crap” and in one phrase is “an assault on one’s sensibilities”.

There is nothing whatsoever in the story to hold together all the chasing and running. The dialogues are “loud” and ridiculous and evoke no emotion at all from the majority of the audience. The 10 roles that Kamal Hassan has chosen to play are desperate attempts to make up the number and nothing else.

While the conflict as portrayed between two sects in the 12th century may be best left to the historians to comment on the authenticity, there is no reason at all to bring it up now let alone link it to the happenings later in the movie. The methodical and careless manner in which a section of Hindus have been singled out and ridiculed in the most obnoxious and derogatory manner is becoming a sad trend in Tamil cinema that hardly appears to cease. If one expected better sense from a supposedly intelligent filmmaker and actor in Kamal, he squarely lets us down.

Asin as the loud character ever trying to possess her object of devotion exasperates the viewer and comes across as irritating and extremely loud. Some roles as I said earlier are just to add up to 10 and it shows quite obviously. A ‘bits and patches’ movie that has been knit together in a vain attempt to serve some humor and versatility on the part of the lead actor ends up with a section of the audience leaving the theatres after the movie in shocked disbelief and wondering if it is the same actor who once played unforgettable roles in movies like Nayagan and Kuruthipunal!

Music never impresses; Mallika Sherawat has just been added to provide the oomph! In all, it was 100 bucks that went down the drain!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Influential authors - J Krishnamurti: Part 1

In the first of a series, I start with J Krishnamurti. You can look forward to many more such authors in this space in the days ahead!

A popular writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects is how he is described in Wikipedia. To me and without doubt to many other book lovers, his books continue to remain a source of deep wealth. His writings don’t read like other people who write in the same genre. They have something about them that is certainly quite hard to describe easily and consequentially difficult to capture with a limited vocabulary like mine.

In college, going through a difficult phase of time, I happened to notice one of his many works in the British Council and I thank my stars that I picked it up. It threw open a whole new way of looking at things and my perspective of life in general. To this day, I remember that evening when I took that book to the nearest chair to have a closer look!

Since then, reading him has always led me to question the prevalent ways of thinking and the societal stereotypes in a broader sense. His style is very different and one can realize it quite immediately.

This part is about his writings in ‘Commentaries on Living – From the notebooks of J Krishnamurti’, edited by D Rajagopal.

Some of the themes are recurrent in many of his works and one such theme is fear. Whenever, I fear anything, if I remember JK, my fear would appear pointless. Here, he takes an example…

“Fear is caused, not by the fact of being inwardly or outwardly alone, but by anticipation of the feeling of being alone. We are afraid not of the fact, but of the anticipated effect of the fact. The mind foresees and is afraid of what might be…there is no fear of the past; but fear is caused by the thought of what the effects of that past might be.”

Yes, more often than not, we feel fear by thinking about either some events of the past or by anticipation of the effects of an action or occurrence in the future, don’t we?

On Habit: “Habit is formed when there is pleasure and the demand for the continuation of the pleasure. Habit is based on pleasure and the memory of it…when the mind indulges in sensation, stimulated by thoughts and pictures, then surely the formation of habit is set going. Food is necessary but the demand for a particular taste in food is based on habit. Finding pleasure in certain thoughts and acts, subtle or crude, the mind insists on their continuance, thereby breeding habit. A repetitive act like brushing one’s teeth in the morning becomes a habit when attention is not given to it. Attention frees the mind from habit.”

The above holds true for all habits. What we think of as bad habits certainly form in this manner and if one realizes this, one can surely work towards getting rid of them?

On seeking God: “How can you seek that which you do not know? You know, or think you know, what God is, and you know according to your own experience which is based on your conditioning; so, having formulated what God is, you proceed to ‘discover’, that which your mind has projected. This is obviously not search; you are merely pursuing what you already know. Search ceases when you know, because knowing is a process of recognition, and to recognize is an action of the past, of the known.”

How often I think of this and wonder how simply he has managed to construct such an argument that is so very strong? People who say, they “seek” God, do they have an answer?

Related to the above, he goes on to write in another part of this book: “The unknown is not to be pursued or sought after. Is he serious, who pursues a projection of his own mind, even when that projection is called God?”

On conventional methods: “A mind that has been made silent is not a silent mind. It is a dead mind. Anything that has been brought to finality by force has to be conquered again and again; there’s no end to it.”

On resistance and conflict: “Have you ever tried listening to noise? Listening to it as you would listen to music... How do you look at a tree, at a beautiful garden, at the sun on the water, or at a leaf fluttering in the wind? Are you conscious when you look at something in that manner? Every form of resistance intensifies conflict, and conflict makes for insensitivity; and when the mind is insensitive, then beauty is an escape from ugliness. If beauty is merely an opposite, it is not beauty. Love is not the opposite of hate.”

To practice this, try listening to a dog barking (noise) “as you would listen to music”, when you are desperately trying to get some sleep. As JK says, don’t try to resist the sound. It will result in conflict. You’ll stop feeling irritated and you’ll doze off!

Together with the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, Krishnamurti was declared by Time magazine to be one of the five saints of the 20th century.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

IPL – A smartly packaged and spicily served drama!

It is a little difficult to accept the emergence of sudden change and the shattering of conventionally understood cricket. IPL has forced both cricket followers and non followers in huge numbers to acknowledge the changing trends in mass demands. We as a nation were desperately in need of quality evening entertainment. We were bored and fed up with ill-dressed television anchors, over confident and under prepared news anchors, reality shows of every hue and color and scheming, decked up mother in laws and their bedfellows.

Package and spice:

IPL, Lalit Modi and BCCI’s s version of ICL saw and exploited this opportunity with a win-win formula for all stakeholders – franchises, organizers and players. It played to the average Indian’s need for change and has emerged indubitably successful. Players who had never in their lives played a single test match got a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of stalwarts like Shane Warne, Muralitharan, McGrath, Kallis, Dravid and Ganguly.

A three hour match scheduled in the evenings after office hours with the assured presence of bollywood personalities and energetic cheerleaders is some spice! In a country where actors and cricket stars enjoy cult status, the combination with the added prospect of witnessing the foreign players sharing the dressing room and their strategies with local city boys was bound to be a success story.

Speculative impact:

This kind of club invasion of cricket will no doubt increase the reach of the sport and cultivate new audiences as we witnessed this season. But experts and columnists, players and the odd cricket fan are still unable to predict what impact this will have on the future of cricket as a sport. Is the auction of players vulgar or should it be accepted as the arrival of professionalism in cricket? Are cheerleaders and their antics obscene or are they just the addition of a welcome menu item to the 3 hour course?

Will club culture take too long a time to evolve or have the crowds started cheering for the cities already? Will senior cricketers whose fitness was always under the hammer be able to adapt to this shortened version quickly? Some of these questions came up even after the success of the T20 world cup but never so strongly.

Smart captains and team work:

T20 matches hardly give the players time to breathe and try out new strategies. It is all about shrewd and smart captaincy and team work. Teams like Chennai and Rajasthan wouldn’t have come to the finals but for the presence of able leaders of men in Shane Warne and Dhoni. Agility, good reflexes, strong arms, innovative captaincy, quick counter attacks fetched Rajasthan the trophy. Jadeja, Asnodkar, Pathan, Warne and the rest of the team though not winners on individual merit succeeded because they adapted to any demanding situation better than other teams.

An action packed thriller:

Seeing the inconsequential Mumbai V Bangalore match at the end of the league stage live in the stadium at Bangalore, one could easily feel that the tournament had managed to strike a chord with the populace. Braving the rains, a sizeable crowd had turned out even fully aware that the result would hardly change the course of the tournament.

Colorful cheerleaders, Hindi and Kannada songs blaring form the sound systems in between overs, players who were always looking for runs meant a charged up atmosphere that kept the expectation levels high. The crowd cheered for Jayasuriya, Sachin, Dravid and Kumble alike. Loyalties were forgotten and compromised in the heat of the moment. It was all part of a new spectacle that the game seems to have embraced quickly taking with it the average Indian citizen.

IPL is here to stay; big money is here to stay and cheerleaders are here to stay for contrary to aesthetics, sensibilities and supposed threats to the future of the true gentleman’s game, it is the crowds that will dictate what they want and rightly so!

We can after all enjoy both carnatic music rendered by respectable veterans of nuances as well as pop music rendered by overconfident bold youngsters, can’t we, as Mukul Kesavan seems to ask?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Can THE HINDU explain?

At times blogs offer extremely good insights and analysis that even the print and electronic media fail to provide. After coming to Bangalore, my biggest disappointment has been with the newspaper I used to cherish for six years everyday in Chennai! Sadly, I am perplexed at its obstinate bias for all things “left”. Reading some blogs and seeing for myself, I find that I am no longer able to appreciate the daily that once made me proud!

This blog puts it best:

“Today, when the paper lands at my doorstep, I wonder if it is the same publication that professors used to goad us to read for its English; if it is the same publication that parliamentarians used to cut and quote; if it is the same publication that our parents used to say was the last word in correctness and credibility.”

A news paper shapes the views of its readers and moulds them. Hence, it was very difficult to grapple with the realization that struck me here. Yes, I agree when the reader’s editor responded to my mail in which I had said:

“…of late the editorials unabashedly seem to proclaim the daily's leaning towards the left. I have read your response in the column claiming that it is the prerogative of the editor to decide the editorial policy. It is fine with me, but imagine the public who feel let down.”

And the response was:

“…It has definite views on issues and this may be left-leaning depending on the editor. This is what I called editorial prerogative. But it has to be objective in the news columns. “


A few days back TOI columnist, Jug Suraiya in an amazingly candid article ‘Paper tigers, tiger papers’ wrote:

Why does the CPM persist in foiling the Indo-US nuclear deal when everyone, including China -- particularly including China -- knows that the deal would be hugely advantageous for India? Why does it stall all economic reform at the Centre, when in Bengal's Nandigram Big Business is welcomed with a carpet red with the blood of uprooted farmers? No one knows. Except the Hindu.

To paraphrase Housman: The Hindu does more than Karat can/ To explain the ways of Marx to man. And a great job of it it's doing too. Just one small problem. With all its profundity and gravitas, who's going to explain the Hindu to Comrade Karat and Co? Hey Ram”

Can Mr. Ram answer?

If Chennai was struck with only HINDU alongside a rather in-your-face DC, things have changed with the entry of TOI. I wonder if it is one of the reasons for this column. Anyway, Mr. Suraiya is right.

I personally feel that if the paper continues in this manner, it will not be long before TOI becomes market leader in Chennai also. As the reader’s editor himself admitted, people in this age of Web 2.0 have access to multiple sources of information and can’t be taken for a ride!

Also read my other related post