Thinking of Pocket-Size Freedom on Indian Independence Day

A nation gets freedom from foreign yoke. That’s understandably a huge feat. Lot of resilience, persistence, and sacrifice go into making this happen. That’s commendable. Now what does a country do when it is left on its own? Find plenty of other reasons to stay enslaved.

Celebrations at the going away of whites didn’t turn our judgment fair. I wonder whether three centuries of subservience had rendered our minds so servile that we cannot think beyond the 2 km radius encircling us. Limiting outlook is completely of our making, I am sorry to say. After eons of taking orders and bowing down before the loftier lot, we suddenly somersaulted into individuals who cared only for their private victories.

We are so beguiled by the idea of happy hours that even the slightest inconvenience shakes us up. The speed at which our nation is churning out ever-whining individuals, it puts seconds into shame.

Placing freedom in the larger context of things is asking for too much. I am not a white-robed seer who is indifferent to little tragedies. Even I would have enjoyed freedom from garrulous neighbor, suffocating local trains, breath-taking (pun intended) dump yards, so on and so forth. I would have slurped every bit of it. But why would our craving for these pocket-size freedoms forbid us to aim for a larger playing field, a wider canvas perhaps?

Unlike Kahlil Gibran, who had “learnt silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind”, our populace hasn’t learnt to learn from the reproachful and the regressive. On this solemn day of Indian Independence, I have a request. Please enlarge the idea of Freedom, trust me it won’t pixelate.

An Ailing Country Needs To Be Mothered

 I wouldn’t have written this if it were not for those newspaper ads on the Mother’s Day. From apparel manufacturer to jewelry designers, everyone is keen on ‘celebrating motherhood’, or so their words suggested. Don’t shoot me for being a cynic, but the hullabaloo doesn’t fit into the present social fabric. It seemed that mothers have got only one day in a year to themselves. They have just a single date to lead life their way, have their say on literally anything and get everything they couldn’t get the other 364 days. 

In a country such as India, which happens to be the ‘Motherland’ of some 1.2 billion folks, women have been covering much space in social discourse since forever.  Every god fearing Indian dreads the awe of Feminine power as mentioned in our ancient texts and religious parchments.  Every marital joke is centered on dictatorial wives seeking only the best in their husbands.  Indian film industry has penchant for portraying viragoes and quarrelsome monster-in-laws.

But, real women in ‘hard times’ are light years away from myth and reel.  They don’t really find themselves on the altar of power and dominance. Forget dominance, which is hateful hegemony in the eyes of some, basic rights of Indian women are being minced into crumbs and distributed among the lusty landlords of Indian law and order.  For every Mary Kom you see in India, there are hundreds of Irom Sharmilas. India may be quick to recognize women’s triumphs but proves to be a laggard when it comes to empowering them with ideas and initiatives.

Indian media turns euphoric at every title Saina/ Sania wins, when girls surpass boys in competitive exams, and when Indian origin American woman is called good looking by Obama himself.  This ‘attempt’ at showing women on the same pedestal as men actually betrays a sense that perhaps it is still a falsity.  There’s always this sense of being ‘other’ in the way their milestones are morphed into articles, stories and interviews. The questions asked to the women achievers reflect the “how-did-you-dare-to-do” curiosity.  

And then there is selective empathy. The same doctor who refuses to operate an ailing woman for few pennies less gets into ‘concerned’ mode when her mother complains of heavy breathing. How did India master this art of being selectively concerned? You may buy apparels for your mom on that dedicated day but don’t think of offering your seat to a woman who desperately needs it.  The latter costs nothing.  My armchair ire is not directed against any particular section of people, because hot-headed arrogance is all-pervading.  Like Derozio, I just narrated to my fellow countrymen, “the sad story of thy misery!”

Wassup Andheri 2013: My Days of Amusing Musings

Crossing an elegant white portico, I stepped inside a hall and grabbed a place at the corner. My stint with Wassup Andheri 2013 has already started. To begin with, I was served ‘Hot Tea Across India’ – a travel book that was passionately brought to life by its author Rishad Saam Mehta. He talked about the adventurous miles he sauntered and we smiled. He wowed us with the moments he had captured in his lens.

Next hour, I was taken to the world of Chanakya, Pataliputra and script writing. Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi sounded the clarion bell, requesting artists and audience not to blindly emulate history as it is being presented on screen. He rued the fact that anachronisms in TV serials on mythology and historical figures are because of our habit of typecasting every era. Being a script writer and a director himself he adroitly took us through the transformations that words go through when an actor takes over. You must mark his words: “Shabdon ko sambhalke istemaal karo kyunki unh mein jaan hoti hai” (Spend words judiciously because they have a life)

What came to my plate next was equally stimulating. It was a mere stroke of luck to catch Sukant Panigrahy live. Although world calls him an Art Director, he is into almost all forms of art and more importantly, he excels in all of them. From art direction in movies to making sculptures with a message of ecological and social wellbeing, Sukant is doing it all. And Gladly. With an unassuming tone and humility he presented a wide spectrum of work that keeps him joyfully busy. I retreated for the day with his last words running through my mind, “Art Direction is all about detailing no matter how unorganized people around you are”. I could sniff the relevance.

Next day was sunny Sunday, and what could have been a better way to start it than Rajat Kapoor (dapper he looked) talking to you. What was meant to be a workshop on acting, turned into a lesson on looking at life and deriving joy out of its uncertainties. He affirmed, “If you know where you are going, there’s no joy at all.” A 20-minute video on his making of King Lear (drama) looked such a heart-felt effort. Vinay Pathak’s masterly act as a clown who speaks gibberish language and Rajat Kapoor’s faith in experiments were most pleasing to audience’s palate.

What followed this hearty session is a poignant panel discussion on LGBT community. Gay Rights activist Ashok Row Kavi set the tone with a hard-hitting comment, “In India, you are always assumed what you are not.” A touch of optimism was sensed in Shobhna S. Kumar (publisher of Queer Ink) as she delivered on a prophetic note: “Books with gay and transgender protagonists are going to find more publishers in the coming days.” However, the session betrayed a pessimistic mood with the final touch by one of the panelists: “India is a closely monitored police society. One can’t choose one’s sexuality unless the individual becomes financially independent.

The day came to a wholesome end as filmmaker Sudhir Mishra opened his bag of wisecracks making the entire hall go berserk. As audience and the moderator questioned the stature of contemporary movies, he forthrightly posited, “We are not ready to take risks needed to make a great film. Our superstructure doesn’t allow us to take risks.” However, he didn’t forget to mention: “As a filmmaker, my job is to confront times”.  The discussion that bordered on the limitations of Bollywood filmmakers, ended on a promising note as the director made a candid confession: “I’m not sure of my intelligence but I know that I am most alive when I am making a film.” That perhaps said it all.

Till We Meet Again!

In Defense of ‘Overt’ Sexuality

How would you react on watching a blood smudged girl running for a safe hideout after being raped several times? Do you see her circumstantial nudity or is it her terrible ordeal that makes your heart heavy? Now replicate that situation in a film. You may go one step ahead and say, “I condemn forced sex”, but that does not answer my question. You may condemn the act but make lot of noise about the ‘gross’ depiction of the act in a movie. But my dear critic, why should an honest artist (film director, in this case) prevent oneself from portraying savage acts the way they actually happen.

Meir Zarchi film ‘I spit on your grave’ (1978) had to face rough weather due to ‘overt sexuality’. After an uninterrupted watching, I can assure my readers that the director has deliberately chosen to expose the American way in late 1970s – few unemployed sex maniacs feasting on a girl as vultures do on carcass.

It was a long 18-minute scene where the camera zooms in on the pervert masochism of those men who wanted “total submission” from the girl. The men slapped and brutally thrashed the young girl at every hint of resistance. Violent physical abuse along with deafening groans of the girl can shake many a stone-hearted.

If you have qualms about the explicit rape scenes, think about the purpose, find out the connotation. Don’t just see what is being shown; try to visualize the overtone of the scene. Instead of making a fuss about prolonged nudity; be a vigilant watcher and respect the thoughts behind every single scene. Here, Zarchi dealt with small town guys  who didn’t know how to utilize their piled up energy and needed an outlet for their repressed sexual desire.  It is a long vicious chain with one leading to the other. The barbarism and chauvinistic beating throughout the film indicated an element of decadence in social fabric.

Unemployment in the US was forcing youth to go berserk and befriending anything that is inhuman and immoral. The movie dealt on the disease in the US society. The frequent shooting incidents in the US that we hear are modern day manifestations of the muddle that stains pluralistic and tolerant culture of the country.

You must give it to Camille Keaton, the victim, who took the hunter’s whip and dared those who had hounded her. A girl taking on 4 men one after the other is a strong statement the film makes. She was down but not out, wounded but not won over. Unlike many Hollywood horror movies, where priests and Holy Cross come as saviors against demons, the victim in the movie slays real-life demons – and all with the help of will power. No mediator, no blood pounding sermons and no Good-Evil skirmish. She has taught every guy a lesson – not every bikini woman lying in a canoe is bait.

Remove the grey areas in thought process. Remind yourself every time that art and life are Siamese twins. If one is hurt, the wounds are bound to develop as scars on the other. If life is jubilant in patches, the art has to be cheerful at times. While “I Spit on your Grave” can be deservingly interpreted as explicit and truthful, antagonists think of it as one unabashedly made movie.

A Movie and A Tale of Turbulence

One generation of hot-blooded and cold-hearted clan leaves behind its legacy for successors to dust it and keep it shinning. Hence, the pandemonium refuses to take a break. Gangs of Wassseypur 2 deals with preponderance of hooliganism turning it into a vivid biopic of betrayal, goriness, love, fear and death. 

Stretching the line that part 1 had drawn, its sequel harps on the theme of revenge, counter-revenge and the fatality of it. Afzal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddique), the eldest son of Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai), learns about his father’s death and plunges into bloodfest.  After making a belated debut in the business of bloody hands, sounds of bullets and red smudged clothes, Afzal makes a rapid rise, almost to the level of stardom.  He was on the wrong side of law, but on the right side of love. His tenure as a love-stricken lampooner ended with a wedlock with Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The breezy romance between them was sidelined by the overbearing presence of factional hostilities. The film asserts what is considered as an open secret – smaller players decide the fate of crime syndicates. Ganglords are but ceremonial heads who can be toppled if men around them start showing their fangs. Trust deficit and easy virtue make the foundation of entire criminal brotherhood flimsy. Every member of the gang (at least as narrated about Dhanbad) fans self-interest and quick to seize opportunity to elevate.  

Afzal is a ganglord who loves his wife, hugs his mother in resolute affection and decides death of every ‘chu####’. The first step to become a remorseless shooter is to imbibe the quality of selective sympathy. The plot reeks of irony. Those who dole out terror, remain under the shadow of fear. You can expect them to empty entire magazine on a ‘mada#####’, but not to safeguard lives of their close ones.

Gangs of Wasseypur 2 is full of symbols for the viewers to identify. The movie represents a society ready to be devoured by the mad hunger for power, for becoming the object of terror, the hunger for seeing others in submission. The story is an unequivocal essay of how society fans the idea of avenging death and how the entire herd perceives it as life’s greatest errand.

The film, in the process of catching up with the past of Dhanbad, has reinstated the fact that backbone of law and order is not as strong as it appears. System of policing cries for help and greed soils the social fabric.

When most of the characters mostly divide their time between doing crass and chasing nautch girls, you can expect some titillating folk songs. Piyush Mishra’s well-etched lyrics coupled with powerful singing bring out the other facet of Dhanbad. The songs are a happy digression from regular dose of gun shots and grenade blasts.

Prolific cinematography is evident in the form of rustic frame that fits the film so very well. The fire pot on the backdrop of blue evening sky and dimly lit alleys on wintry nights add to the aesthetic appeal of this 160-minute film.

Each character had a dream – the dream to become the ruler. However, their hidden craving was to arrive at a juncture when “Ik bagal mein chand hoga” and “Ik bagal mein rotiyan”. Their errand was not spiteful altogether, but the path they chose was beset with viciousness. Untimely end of their lives makes the case for universal prudence and balanced morality.

Discourse on Democracy

“Jab dil bhara ho aur dimaag khaali ho, toh charchey mein ruchi kaise aayegi” (When your heart is heavy and mind is blank, how will you have the appetite to engage in discourse?”). That was the crux of the evening well-spent under the aegis of Arun Shourie and eminent panelists. If you were plain unlucky to have missed the discussion on Shourie’s books at Indian Habitat Centre, I can lend you what I have gathered:

Indian democracy needs to be ‘spirited’. It needs to have the vigor and vivacity to get the momentum going.

Free speech is democracy’s consummate partner, but not ‘frank’ speech. Elaborating on the need for encouraging frank speech, Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggested that politically correct statements muffle the genuine voice and suppress truth. We need to be told what we ought to know and not what we would love to know. Only free speech can’t dust ambiguity from democracy’s fabric. Someone had rightly coined the term ‘political spine’ to assert the need for gumption on the leaders’ part to speak their mind regardless of ideology supported and position held.

In democracy, political leaders must bear the burden of justifying their stance. Indian polity has been about fast-changing dynamics where leaders shuttle from one affiliation to another, and this is where public needs to be informed. Every major shift in policies and views should be substantiated with facts.

Bureaucracy should emit good faith and credibility. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, we often bump into intelligent analyses and logical discourse when fine minds huddle together. However, the outcome of those discussions seldom sees the light of the day. Lack of credibility stands tall between ideas and their implementations. Why should Dalits trust us? Why is not a single political leader seen protesting Khap Panchayat’s (caste council) dictum? Pratap Bhanu Mehta also asked other aligned questions. He has a point. These are manifestations of authority-erosion among top echelons of Indian polity.

This brings to us a frequently ignored facet of democracy- gross disconnect between public and public servants. Politicians are far from understanding the root of malaise. They don’t seek reason behind people with heavy hearts. No diligence is seen in getting to know why they are doing what they are doing? True democracy realizes the inherent and political apprehensions shaping outlook and conclusions of billions. It’s democracy’s duty to evolve a healthy discourse to counter straight-jacketed views born of pandering to opinion leaders.

According to Arun Shourie, media have also made the water brackish. Instead of purging the political environment and holding a mirror to the on-goings, media agreed to be led by vested interests. Regretting the fact that news channels are losing a sense of proportion, Shourie added that sound bytes have degenerated public discourse. The fast-paced frenzy and breaking news psychosis are doing no good to the profession and its practitioners.

The tall claims flashed by news channels are often based on surface knowledge leaving vacuity unattended. Shourie felt, media should devote more time to fact-finding mission, look into the still water and be probing in its approach.

Taking a dig at vandalism and mob mentality, Shourie recollected attacks hurled at him on several occasions as protests over his books. Borrowing BJP leader L.K. Advani’s words, “The answer to a book is an even better book”, Shourie wished some sections of Indian populace learn to voice protest in a more civil way and not by rising up in arms.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Ask a dog what it takes to show unwavering loyalty. And ask him how it feels to go unnoticed. There is not one tragedy that befriends a dog; at least a flotilla of miseries hounds him to death.

Being born with a curiously short life, a canine takes brevity in its stride. They have only handful of days to bask in jubilant youth. Between growing up and growing old is just a short summer siesta

Leave aside the agonies they unknowingly inherit, and bring their daily struggle to the fore. The ones who find a foster family and embrace a life of buckles and codified domesticity, lead a ‘well behaved’ life with their masters flaunting their cowed down existence.  And the one who is born on the streets and doesn’t experiment much with a cornered life grows up to become a ‘stray’ dog.

Theirs is a dog’s life – a royal ruin. Living at the mercy of others and keeping one’s largesse ready for anyone and everyone is a dual despair for the tribe.

From shooing away suspected burglars to protecting the hoards and sniffing dangers to awarding death to rodents; they do it all. Theirs is a multi-faceted role with each distinctly crucial.

It is not the call of the moon that turns them lunatic. Their vindictive growl and frantic attacks are all symptoms of a deeper malaise – victimhood.  Kids are not taught to refrain from targeting street dogs; grownups don’t mind showing all-weather indifference and official caretakers of this hapless lot shirk duties.  When I see three-legged dogs limping its way to a safe place, I know a rash driver has scripted his slow end. The dogs without the tails are one sign of how grossly bitter we have become.

Be grateful to their happy wagging of tail, affectionate slurps and moist eyes when you are not around. Be mindful of their fleeting days on earth.

It doesn’t even cost a dime to reciprocate. More so, when you don’t have many who wish you well. Don’t be a man of ugly hues. Show the dogkind that we are still friends with empathy.

Bengal: An Afterthought

While reading Sagarika Ghose’ piece on Bengal in HT, her one idea hit me: “Bengal is still destroying the one resource it was famous for: the mind”

My stint with Bengal has taught me that the state at large treads the middle path. Its disgust at rusty governance is muffled even though it is among the first to sound dissent. The state takes light years to turn criticism against reforms into acceptance. In the din of bandhs and protest walks, no one has realized that the development clock has stopped ticking.

Wind the clock, reset its time and take note of the movement of small and long hands.

The people are selectively ‘progressive’ forcing pace to set up cultural edifice, even though other societal foundations suffer a quake.  It will take million of Spartans to boost sagging will of the people who are preoccupied with ritual obligations. The state suffers from hyperactivity- only in terms of festivities. Crores go into building make-shift structures to welcome Goddess Durga and the half-starved pregnant women in Nandigram languish in ugly corner of their derelict nests.  The prolonged festivities witness companies lightening their wallet for spending on ads. No one listens to cries of corporate social responsibility.

The arm-chair critics of govt policies will shrug at the idea of facing nagging humidity and don the role of public servant.  Fault finders outweigh problem solvers and individual comfort ignores collective convenience. The ones who wear the cloak of intellect are no experts at niceties of governance but their attempts (albeit on the surface) at putting things back on track have fallen on deaf ears.

Reasons are more than one. Lack of strong representation of intellectuals in state legislature is one of them. West Bengal is sadly losing the distinction of being a good listener. Debate turns into mudslinging, critical analyses camouflage into propaganda and statements from stalwarts come loaded with snide remarks. People are turning bitter.

The state has never been one of the most industrious ones but recently it has surrendered to ‘delicious sloth’. Much of this boorish mindset has its origin in pseudo-social wave lashing against the fragile castles of illiteracy and ignorance. The political workers act as opinion leaders and public opinion on imperative issues are formed on flimsy grounds. The imprudence spreads like an epidemic leaving the city with few ‘healthy’ souls.

The way Bengal thinks needs a serious rebuke. Bengal’s overly critical genes need to be wiped off and enterprising blood needs to be inoculated. Send the state to a reformatory. The state should be charged for cultural snobbery, unbridled retrospection and keeping future in dark.

The highly paid optimists in Bengal must be busy using their credentials to design a new ‘Under Construction’ template for the world to see.

Bengal has surely seen better days.

Crime and Punish-meant

I think Tolstoy would have forgiven me for stealing the crux of his novel.

I wasn’t aware that fangs of Bhopal gas tragedy have transcended a limited periphery to carry on’legacy of death’ until the day I attended Dr Suroopa Mukherjee’s presentation. The title of her note “Oral History and Monstrous Memories: The Case of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy” took me to IIC as both History and Memories are close to my heart.

She uncorked the suppressed fact how government punished the victims of crime and not the perpetrators. As a one who has been spearheading the errand of seeking truth, Dr Mukherjee deftly put it how ‘profit comes before people’ for the ones at the top.

Recollecting her stint as a researcher and sustained engagement with the Bhopal victims, she narrated anecdotes, which qualify as testimonies to deliberate suppression on bureaucracy’s part. Her research on women’s ordeal was not a fact-finding mission. It was rather an attempt to delve deep into the abysmal loss and unearthing what we should have known and not what government wanted us to know.

As Aaron Levenstein once took a dig at efficacy of statistics and quantitative methodology he said “what it (statistics) reveals is suggestive, what it conceals is vital”. It is this ‘vital’ that Dr Mukherjee said was crucial in understanding magnitude of loss and earnestly considering a barrage of emotions which generally go unnoticed.

While explaining the voluminous recollections that came out of the interviews, she admitted that compiling them in a cogent manner was not easy. Listening to the gripe of the women survivors from a novelist (Dr Mukherjee had two books in her ‘kitty’ prior to her involvement with Bhopal victims) was moving to say the least. It was unnerving to know the crafty modalities of both state and centre. Strange, they didn’t manifest even a tincture of repentance.

As a listener, the feeling was that of disgust. It was crystal clear that our leaders quantify immediate and tangible loss without probing into the humanitarian crisis and the impact that won’t leave its footprints for eons. Being the power holder the least a government is expected to do is defend people’s rights and not suffocate them with regressive policies and alienate them from the mainstream. It needs to overcome its indifference towards those women living with ‘monstrous memories’.