Rudyard Kipling’s ‘We and They’ and the Author’s Dig at Intolerance

On a wintry morning of 2012, I made my way to the front lawn of Diggi Palace. The sun was suave and the place was teeming with a motley crowd in colourful warmers. Like a habitual last-bencher, I chose the corner seat in the last row. There’s something convenient about sitting away from the scene of action. You can be deeply involved in the discourse, yet let your thoughts wander into different territories without getting caught.

Incidentally, it was the Republic Day. While New Delhi was busy showing off India’s military prowess to the world, four wise men on the podium were discussing Rudyard Kipling and his writings on colonial India. The four wise men included three biographers of Kipling — Charles Allen, David Gilmour and Andrew Lycett – and the moderator of the session, Swapan Dasgupta.

I had read the poem ‘If’ during my school days and that was my only rendezvous with the author. Interestingly, none of his works were included in the curriculum for those doing a major in English from Calcutta University. Yet, my limited exposure to his works didn’t deter me from forming an opinion about the author. I really felt that Kipling was a well-intentioned individual who chose not to sermonize but sensitize his readers by assuming a fatherly figure.

What deepened my understanding of the man was the poem ‘We and They’. It took just five minutes to make my very first day at the Jaipur Literature Festival memorable. I distinctly remember the giggles among the audience when Andrew Lycett read out the poem for us.

It was evident that the poet had let the cat out of the bag in the first few lines of the poem.

“FATHER, Mother, and Me

Sister and Auntie say

All the people like us are We,

And everyone else is They”

The entire humanity was split into ‘We’ and ‘They’. Since Kipling knew the pitfalls of being pedantic, he presented the world as seen from the eyes of a kid, the narrator. Although the poem tickles the funny bone and seems to make a social comment on values being taught and ideas indoctrinated at an early age, I discovered its greater relevance only after several reads.

Every time I come back to the poem, I think of Kipling as a man with a more evolved consciousness and empathy. Like Amartya Sen in ‘The Argumentative Indian’, Kipling seemed to ridicule all those who pay reverence to his own sect and disparage the sects of others. The profundity of his thoughts became even more pronounced when I compared them with Kalidasa’s applause for “beauty of varieties of human customs and behavior” and Akbar’s “unequivocal pronouncements on the priority of tolerance.”

A poem, that was written perhaps hundred years ago, was so oracular in its content that it opens the eyes of the 21st century Indian citizenry who are on either side of the debate over growing intolerance in the country. Substance has been replaced by slurs and the idea of holding debates has suffered a jolt. A new wave of intolerance and king-can-do-no-wrong attitude dominates the political discourse.

In this context, Kipling’s poem comes as a whiff of truth. I can’t think of better euphemisms to describe those who show disregard to anything and anyone who doesn’t ascribe to a particular view. One need not be cerebrally superior to understand what Kipling meant in the following lines:

“All good people agree,

And all good people say,

All nice people, like Us, are We

And everyone else is They”

 

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On Returning Home

When you return home before her and look across the drawing room, you notice a certain change in orderliness. On giving a closer look, you realize how she must have struggled to make up for waking up late. There is palpitation in the unfinished bowl of cornflakes and there’s disgust in the haphazardly torn packet of yogurt. The half-wet towel in the washroom was the final surrender before time. Three to four pair of shoes heaped over one another. What does that mean? She must have tried all of them in a mad rush to see which one goes well with her attire.

Why bother about the physical beauty of a shoe? I need time to wonder.

Has it ever happened to you that you return very late at night and since the only member in the family is sleeping away to glory, you try to figure out what has changed in the house ever since you left? The dining table looks half-empty and unusually prim. The nightly silence is often broken by hesitant drops of water on the wash basin. You tiptoe into the bedroom and find her in sleep and with glasses on. My Feudal Lord (by Tehmina Durrani) lies on the bed in abandonment. You are too tired to bother either of them.

Returning home is a strange feeling when the only member is either missing or sleeping. Moral of the story: arrive on time.

Iranian Movie ‘Hush! Girls Don’t Scream’ and the Undercurrent of Helplessness

What happens when society stops looking inward? How do people suffer when they refuse to admit victimisation lest it jeopardises their social standing? The victim is declared the convict and the suffering of the hunted is perpetuated.

After watching ‘Hush! Girls Don’t Scream’ as a part of the FFSI International Film Festival at the Indian Habitat Centre, my faith in Iranian cinema strengthened further. As far as the story goes: A woman gets her hands smeared in blood by murdering a security guard on the day before her marriage. As the fear of capital punishment lurks, the interrogator and the attorney try to unearth the real reason behind this crime, and that too at a least opportune moment for the accused.

It turned out that the accused was a victim of child abuse. She has been living in “fear, doubt, and hatred” because she has been repeatedly violated and her honour was decapitated from her existence. Life is one long nightmare for her and she is too afraid to turn off the lights. The childhood trauma graduated into an everlasting phobia that made her do things which are hard to justify.

A nation (read Iran) that treats ‘women’s rights’ as an oxymoron, is still a hostage to a justice system that is incapable of delivering justice. Like all other nations, conclusion is drawn based on proofs and circumstantial evidence. There’s no place for contemplation (or introspection, if you wish). Bodily harm leaves behind traces of crime and the perpetrator faces the noose. But what happens to those offenders who commit crimes against the soul? Their ghastly act doesn’t leave any tangible trace for the court of law to consider.

Director Pouran Derakhshandeh took it upon herself to highlight the inept mechanism in use for delivering social justice. She takes a leaf from the everyday situation wherein the victim is left at the mercy of ‘evidence’ to convince the judges that she is not the hunter, that she is being hunted.

The movie smacks of courage. It doesn’t shy away from raising another grave concern – under-reporting of cases of child molestation. This is rooted in the tacit acceptance of the age-old practice of intimidating the ‘weaker sex’ into silence. The women in the movie didn’t keep mum. They poured out their angst and anger. Yet, they looked as helpless as the judiciary – incapable of safeguarding the tormented.

Manjhi: The ‘Mountain Man’ and his Momentous Journey

A young man sincere in love, a bereaved husband faithful in his yearnings, and a determined soul up against a mountain: this is Dasarath Manjhi for you. From a freewheeling individual who gives himself to the pursuit of love to a resolute ‘mountain man’ who hammers a hillock, Manjhi’s life is a story of persistence.  Director Ketan Mehta’s foremost achievement has to be the idea of casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manjhi. The actor, who is known for going deep into the skin of a character, has outdone himself, once again.

The film is rich in symbolism. While the hillock stood for everything that’s thought to be insurmountable, the poor and lonely Manjhi was the epitome of determination. It’s only he who has the temerity to think that the mountain’s might is just a misconception.

‘Manjhi’ is quite a departure from the contemporary school of thought. Pathos is not exaggerated, the script is not guilty of verbosity, and the screenplay has trodden off the beaten track. While Radhika Aapte looked sensual and sensible as Phaguniya (Dasarath’s wife); Tigmanshu Dhulia seems to have grown even more wicked and detestable since Gangs of Wasseypur.

From the sepia scenes of lovemaking to blue starlit nights and fiery drought-stricken landscapes to a monotonous brown hillock, the cinematographer was given a free run when it comes to balancing desire and despair.  And yes, it does take a brave heart (and a great deal of editing skills) to compress such a long struggle into two hours of cinematic experience.

Music composer Sandesh Shandilya has tried his best to keep the folk flavour of the songs intact. If I am not wrong, the background music did have a generous contribution from sarod, sarangi, ektar and other not-very-frequently-heard instruments.  The song ‘O Rahi’ might remind you of “Aaoge jab tum oh sajna” from the film “Jab We Met”.

The social commentary in the film makes Dasarath’s struggle look even more real, even more unnerving.  While casteism, corruption, and the undercurrent of political inertia during the Indira Gandhi regime actually played out as a Goliath of trouble, the plight of the oppressed looked very real.

I don’t know whether faith can move mountain, but doggedness can surely help you carve a path through a hillock. 21st century audience may not have any inkling of what love consumed the creator of the Taj Mahal, but they can say this with certainty that Dasarath’s love for Phaguniya deserves to be narrated over years and handed down to generations as oral traditions.

This film will remain in our collective memory as a reminder that there’s much power in passion. So, even if you have to walk alone, even if your altruism is misinterpreted, and your sanity is being questioned, don’t wilt and wait for the God’s grace “kyunki kya pata bhagwan hamare bharose baitha ho”.

Dear Religion, How’s the World Treating You?

Your God is mourning, and so is mine

Slow death of humanity is the trademark of our time.

You practice aggression in the name of religion

I preach hatred with same precision.

Your faith is soiled by parochial views;

My belief is smudged with different hues.

My brother, your arrogance and my ignorance make us diffident.

My friend, your skull cap and my last name don’t make us any different.

If Audrey Hepburn Had Tasted Social Shopping With Baggout

It was her first tryst with Indian summer and Audrey Hepburn was ready to go oriental. Won’t I look resplendent in traditional Indian look? She thought. Having a waltz with the seething heat called for some sensible buying and she regretted her decision not to carry flannel trousers or the polka dotted dresses she had worn during her last trip to Mediterranean. One of her confidantes suggested a couple of online retail stores, but who has all the time in the world to spend hours browsing through different sites? Can’t I have a single window to all the fashion stores in India? 

Yes. She can have the best of all the virtual stores under one platform. Baggout was the answer popped up by the shopping enthusiasts, when she floated the question on one of the social networking sites.  The rest was nothing less than a gratifying experience. What excited her was the ease with which she could get access to best of the two worlds. From fitted pants to spaghetti tops and anarkali suit to linen kurta, her shopping could go on and on.

A 10-minute encounter with Baggout made her realize that she won’t miss out on anything worthy.

Hepburn was in a mood to experiment, the way she does whenever she is in Broadway or Piccadilly. She was ready to keep her ballet slippers aside and gift herself a pair of comfortable yet classy footwear. Clicking on the shoes section was like a cakewalk for her. With so many brands competing to get her attention, she wished she could get at least a dozen of them.  She felt as if she was virtually visiting every reputed store, trying every product and coming out with a fine catch.

She couldn’t have been happier. To add to her elation she discovered that she was eligible to get discount coupons on the listed products and make use of the cashback option on majority of the products she had added to her wish list.

While trawling the products section it struck her that she has lost her favorite wide-brimmed hat and compromising on that was never an option. Her wish turned out to be Baggout’s command. Umpteen numbers of brands showed up for her to choose from.

 Just when she thought she can call it an end, it chanced upon her that she is without sunglasses.  She doubted whether she would get something similar to what she wore during the shooting of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Baggout not only proved her wrong but also dished out a diverse collection of shades. As she navigated through those exclusive designer wears, one should have seen the sparkle in her eyes.

Although she was a newbie, her debut in online shopping was perfect. It wasn’t long before Baggout became her habit.  It pampered her and she was made to feel like the Queen of all she surveyed. More than the short sojourn to India, it’s the discovery of this ecommerce platform that did add a versatile touch to every style statement this beautiful diva made.

It’s Time You Took The Pledge To Protect Children From Sex Abuse

Honestly, the fact that child sex abuse (CSA) is spreading its fangs with alacrity was not something that I was aware of till I attended the pre-launch of Payal Shah Karwa’s book “The Bad Touch” on Saturday the 5th.  The event was real; it was disturbing; it was motivating. I walked in after the discussion had moved beyond the introductory phase and the speakers were pulling out anecdotes from their experience of dealing with the victims.

The first thing that registered in me is the simplicity with which one of the panelists explained why the victims of CSA often become the perpetrators and they are later haunted by the guilt and shame associate with the act. According to Pooja Taparia (Founder & CEO of Arpan), a child has to be sensitized enough to know whether she is receiving a playful cuddle or is it some menacing design in disguise. And that’s clearly not easy.  Kids don’t have the vocabulary to explain what he/ she experienced. ‘No’, ‘Stop’ and ‘I will tell’ are the catchphrases that could be taught to the kids as a first step towards self-defense.

Sometimes, it takes years to teach a child how to sense danger in the touch. That’s precisely what Pooja posited as I firmed up my seat for more such observations. Situational trauma at times is so overwhelming for the children that they tend to restrain themselves from letting the secret out and inform their parents. In such cases, as she pointed out, parents should look for signs. Reluctance to go out; play with other kids; erratic eating habit; and frequent urinary and stomach infections are some of the signs.”

On this note, the author Payal Shah Karwa affirmed how dreadful superstitious practices encourage people to have incest to ward off ill luck and make fortune smile on them.  Now you see, it’s not always the liftman or the watchman who are the usual suspects, but even someone from the family is a potential perpetrator.

Harish Iyer, an Equal Rights Activist,  cited some real-life cases that came as an eye-opener for the motley crowd attending the session.  For him, it’s our duty to intervene whenever we see something wrong happening with children. Being a renowned rebel in his own way, Harish urged the audience to come out of their comfort zone and protest any form of physical abuse.

As the discussion steered towards introducing sex education in schools and the detractors trying to stonewall the initiative, Pooja did some tough talking. Much to our dismay, the truth was served. Political entities and religious groups have been opposing education pertaining to CSA as immoral and against our cultural values.  Quite befuddled by the fact that their noble attempt is facing resistance from all quarters, she emphasized that parents themselves are not comfortable about explaining the issue to their children. Hence, they don’t want their kids to know anything about it.

Suggestions made a beeline before the speakers. Someone rightly pointed out that having a curriculum on child safety is not enough and the teachers have to be equipped well enough to impart the education to the children. One of them proposed to invite doctors for conducting sex education classes for the children, if teachers are not competent enough to take up the challenge.

The session did bring us face-to-face with some uncomfortable truths and I am looking forward to read “The Bad Touch”, which is a collection of true stories of CSA survivors.  I won’t hold you any longer. You can now think and motivate others to think of ways to combat this demon.

Anguish As Seen From Tagore’s Eyes

What never ceases to stimulate me is the way Tagore has always sprinkled profundity in his verses. He takes you through difficult terrains and wants you to give that effort to walk with him on the same road.

One of his songs struck me today and I thought it would be unmerited to leave my thoughts go unscripted. I would like to quote a couplet from the song that overwhelmed me at the first hearing.

Aaro bedona, aaro bedona/ prabhu daao morey aaro chetona”  (“More anguish, more anguish / O Lord grant me more sentience”)

Tagore himself was pain’s favourite child. His frequent rendezvous with mental agony is known to the world.  In fact, most of his creations emerged out of the chasms of irreparable distress and the above couplet vindicates this truth.

He pleads before his master to test him with more pain and torment him even further. In the same breath, he prays his Lord to fill him with consciousness. With consciousness comes the maturity to create.

Isn’t this one of the most inspiring messages one can expect to receive in centuries to come? Those who are dogged by life’s prejudice and its ruthlessness, these words of Tagore come as a nor’wester that sweeps away the discomfort of a muggy summer afternoon.

This thought of his actually changes our perspective towards pain and misery. Instead of looking at them as speed-breakers in our lives, we can think of them as the necessary therapy that purges us of our frailty and makes us too strong to retreat.

Platinum Day of Love: A Chance Meeting With Desire

You don’t need the entire day to feel loved or to bask in the embrace of romantic eulogies. A well stolen evening by the seaside with the wind unsettling our frozen moments… a setting of that sort is long etched in my mind. Since there is much pleasure in randomness, my dream day of love would be an unscheduled coming together and melting of two hearts.

I picture my day of love beginning after a chance meeting with someone who is ceaselessly charismatic and takes up quite a huge space of my sophomore heart.  The very sight of her and her very presence create certain inexplicable longing. It is one such moment when I fumble to move beyond the regular weather talks and the pauses come loaded with meanings. In between the short pauses, Abida Parveen plays the perfect sorceress and deep inside I listen to her magical rendition, “Tere Ishq Nachaya, Karke Thaiya Thaiya.”

Sitting next to each other and watching the sun go orange to scarlet, we exchange glances and giggles. Her poise and poetry come back to me as gift not unwrapped for long. I wish the evening can prolong its stay and allow us the privilege of unpretentious outpouring. Walking along the boulevards of memories, we pick up anecdotes. Her platinum ring touches me as our hands get locked like the daffodils’ embrace. It was like taking the known route, which was less travelled.

As the twilight arrives, her elegance became even more striking. The white metal on her slender ears and the touch of platinum leaves on her finger make her even more irresistible. Don Williams and his words crowd my mind, “She was the most beautiful thing that cowboy had ever seen; sent down straight from heaven.”

It was me who gives her a glance now and then and the twilight makes way for the ebony moments. We find ourselves well-guarded by togetherness. Few light years pass in a jiffy as I sit observing my girl with her ‘sentimental ornament’ on. While I silently admire the white tint of her graceful countenance and the spotless purity of her platinum accessories, the waves in front of us roar on by breaking on to the shore in an endless exercise.

 I look forward to such a Platinum Day of Love.

The Lunchbox: Bollywood Movie Leaves A Lasting Impression

A woman and a man. They both want to take leave from loneliness. While the woman wants to retire from the role of an unloved wife, the widower plans an early retirement from his professional responsibilities. In the midst of all these, the aroma of love promises a change in the course of life.

Lunchbox is the journey of two individuals on the same track of consciousness. The contentment of being heard, anticipation of getting an answer, and the hope of being understood is what propels them to carry on with their communications. As letter-exchanging exercise turned into a habit, the sense of belonging started to surface.

The screenwriter needs a pat at the back for a wonderfully touching narrative. The chiseled words of Sajan (Irfan Khan) seemed so unlike, yet familiar with the vernacular of vacuity found in Ila’s (Nimrat Kaur) notes. Their exchanges were interplay of recollections, regrets, and moment of revelries. Every time Sajan opens the lunchbox, the fragrance of affection and bonding between the two comes alive. Although the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but in this case, it’s the mutual desire to row over to the other side of boredom that gave this story a stimulating facet.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an erring apprentice under Sajan is another delicious item on the menu. He cajoles, he pleads, demands forgiveness, and encroaches privacy – all with an artistic ease. Nirmat Kaur nailed it with her unpretentious portrayal of a character trying to wade through stifling domesticity. Watching her stand by the French window and contemplate what future has in store is like reliving the metropolitan dilemma of where are we heading? Lilette Dubey’s cameo seemed to say, “I have not lost my mojo.”

Mumbaikars would find this journey even more real as the city is not just a backdrop of the movie – it’s a strong character that binds its inhabitants to rigmarole and restlessness. And yes, this epistolary masterpiece creates a strong case for the hand-written letters to be back in vogue.