Dec 3, 2007

Connecting with The Self

finished reading jose saramago's 'all the names' & loved its simple language, devoid of the heavy duty imagery or phrases that abound in the novels of rushdie or amitava ghosh. there is also none of the intensity of an ishiguro, none of the quiet menace of an ian mcewan, all of whom happen to be my favs. apart from exploring the state of loneliness & man's pet fantasy of finding the perfect soul mate, not simply a romantic or sexual counterpart, but more as someone who will quench the soul's thirst for endless communication & be a source of revelation about ourselves, it also shows how such endeavor makes heroes out of ordinary men; that there are no ordinary men really. it is circumstances that drive us to actions that label us with such tags as mundane, coward, brave, or impulsive. it is simply the drive that pushes us to certain modes of behavior as every individual is intrinsically 'capable' of every kind of behavior. the senor jose we meet at the novels onset is far from the man who eventually forges documents & breaks into school buildings in the dead of the night. i also think it's loneliness & the individual's most urgent & primitive need to establish connection with those of his kind, to seek & find solace in company, that explains the success of internet chats, messengers, blogs & other forms of anonymous communication. what all of them have in common is the need to step out from our private world & seek fulfilment from someone/people whom we have never met, yet have been looking for all our lives.

like senor jose, the hero of saramago's novel, only such search brings us close to our deepest impulses & reveals all that could have escaped us. as kincaid tells francesca in 'the bridges of madison county', " we could have easily passed by each other without having ever met & it is this thought that frightens me so."

Nov 22, 2007

Notes on Blood Diamond

i usually watch a film a good couple of months after the initial hype surrounding it has abated & even when i do, i almost never google it or read reviews cineastes or critics have posted before i've had a chance to watch & decide for myself. 2 of the biggest surprises in recent times were 'munich' & 'blood diamond' - the former because it received many favourable reviews & yet failed to move me at all & the latter coz it has been called everything from 'awkward', 'lukewarm', 'uninvolving' to a 'a public-service announcement masquerading as an adventure story'. for me it' neither.

agreed that the plot relies heavily on the use of typical cliches like the simple native, uncorrupted by the lure of lucre, the greedy white man & the sexy journalist who provides the much needed romantic relief as also the voice of idealism & reason. yet despite these cliches the film works for me. foremost for the brilliant acting by all 3 main actors.

through his efforts to portray the role of solomon vindy, a fisherman from sierra leone who is just another casualty in the civil war that tears the country apart as the world media obsesses whether monica lewdinsky indeed lit the fire in the white house' inner chambers, Djimon Hounsou brings to his performance that rare balance that manages to distinguish the dumb from the uncomplicated, & reflects superbly the process of personal growth that his character undergoes, without losing the intrinsic qualities that endeared him to us. the solomon who seems to exert no choice over his circumstances & is little more than a puppet in the hands of danny archer (leonardo di caprio) realises towards the end that he also holds some cards in his hands & can make archer bend to his will - if only briefly. however, this knowledge does not transform him into a scheming opportunist.

di caprio has been one of my fav actors since i saw 'whats eating gilbert grapes' & his spate of recent performances (aviator, departed) have only strengthed my belief that i possess good taste in men. his is an obsessive thirst that drives archer to seek the big diamond that solomon has buried in a war-torn enemy territory. though he claims the diamond is his passport out of the 'bloody continent', we know better. this is not so much about what the diamond can 'buy ' than about what obtaining it 'signifies' - the ultimate conqueror's dream to lay hands on unsullied, virgin spoils. even when he has revealed parts of his nice guy demeanor to us via his interactions with the journalist maddy bowen (jennifer connelly looking much better & healthier than god ever intended), he insists in his characteristic snarl that the diamond remain with him as solomon, dia (solomon's rescued son) & he trek their way across difficult territory to meet the aircraft that will transport them to safety. the look on his face as he finally unfolds the rag that holds the diamond & beholds it could be that of a serial killer who confronts his helpless victim - one of undiluted lust, power & ownership.

jennifer connelly does the best she can of a role that really doesn't have much to it. she exists more as a point of reference for archer, a person to whom he recounts the horrible facts of his early years, so that we gain some understanding of his mercenary heart. somehow, the love scenes, if we can call them that, between archer & maddy remind me of the ones between rahul bose & konkona in mr & mrs iyer. these two are just not meant to be & yet you want them to so badly. they have both met too late & yet the very fact of their meeting almost demands that it be justified by a larger, more favourable fall out.

though we have all read about terrorist camps recruiting children & arming them with guns, the scenes depicting the RUFs ruthless training of these young vulnerable village boys whom it has abducted, is profoundly moving. it is chilling to see how the boys are first indoctrinated into a convenient code of 'hate the white man', 'hate the government', 'hate ur parents for they have failed u', their minds further paralysed by alcohol & cocaine & then made to fire at human targets while they are blindfolded. for the young impressionable mind there is no going back when he sees what he has done after the blindfold is removed. similarly, for the thousands of kids like dia vindy there is no going back to a normal family life of mutual love & shared responsibilities even after he has been rescued from the terrorist camp by his father.

for me such scenes speak no less urgently, no less profoundly than those in 'hotel rwanda'.

Nov 11, 2007

What's Diwali

this seems to be the right time to write this, after all if theres one festival that means as much to us as christmas does for the west, & also arouses similar feelings of goodwill, generosity & good cheer, it is diwali. even without domestic help & the general do-everthing-urself attitude that one has to accept here, most of my friends prepared elaborate diwali snacks & sweets, cleaned & vacuumed their homes with a passion that is sure to evoke the blessings of the goddess laxmi, even if their prayers dont. no, i'm not being sarcastic. there is smthing admirable abt these women who smilingly indulge every whim & fancy their families come up with.

p, one of the women i'm talking abt, has been spending close to 5 hrs everyday in the kitchen, making stuff like laddoos, gujia, chiwada & 4-5 other items i've always relished without even bothering to know the name. she is tired beyond words but beams with a strange glow in the evenings. according to her, her hubby mustn't regret the fact that he's away frm india & miss his mom, who acc. to p is a champion when it comes to whipping up dishes in a flash. another friend's daughter requested her mom to make samosas and the poor gal (mom, not kid) spent almost a day poring over recipe books & websites to find the perfect recipe & finally made the samosas. needless to say, they were yummmmy... whenever we meet these days, conversations abound abt how tired they all are, how they're not gonna cook for the next 3 days, how all that frying & taloing induces waves of nausea, & yet there is no bitterness, no real chagrin at being at the receiving end of such extravagant demands. in fact, all i can detect is immense joy, pride & satisfaction. and yes, strangely enuf, a latent sense of competing & outdoing each other & their m-i-l's. if this isn't limitless generosity - to share oneself, ones resources & time & privacy, then i dont know what is. for sm1 who guards her private self & her time almost as ferociously as cerberus, this is worthy of emulating & learning from.

speaking of generosity brings me to another person without whom this post wud be incomplete. for all the essays & debates i've been privy to, forgiveness is a virtue i haven't fully grasped. in fact, with the exception of our mom, the rest of us r alike. retaliation, a smouldering resolve to get even at a more opportune moment, & vindictiveness r familiar emotions; to let go, forgive & move on, r distant cousins. therefore it is all the more difficult to be married to a person like A who doesn't take insults too seriously, is completely contained & doesn't harbour any desire to climb up in others' estimation & actually needs to be REMINDED when so-&-so behaved abominably with us or abused our hospitality or stole our money or took us for granted ......... this has often been grounds for serious friction in the relationship where i've mistaken his attitude for weakness or an inherent effort to avoid ugly situations & confrontations coz he's afraid. now i know nothing cud b farther from the truth.

M, a colleague of A's who's been a pain in the butt & given hazaar grief to A in office, has
inevitably run into trouble with other superiors in the comp too & has been politely asked to clear his desk. his demeanor & attitude have been such that even the corridors of the client office r abuzz with rumors of his tantrums & notorious behavior. he called A yday to ask him for recommendations which he'll require nowthat hes job hunting. A heard him out patiently & agreed to oblige, i mean, without any fuss, no attitude shoving down the throat, no gloating or attempts to extend the moment to make M squirm. call me uncharitable or mean or whatever, i know i wud have. two other ppl i'm v.close to have also been in similar situations & i know they wud have also behaved like me. the funny part is, A knows that in an honest internal appraisal, he wudnt rate M very highly. his work ethics suck & he's a poor performer. but since he's very nearly without a job, A didnt even rethink his decision to endorse a favourable letter of recommendation. i'm not going to go into the professionalism or lack thereof in what he's doing. for me, it takes tremendous reserves of love & contentment to be without malice & vindictiveness. again smthing to admire & maybe emulate.

Oct 23, 2007

Rand Shrugged

Post some invigorating discussion about ayn rand’s work & my viewing of the brilliant ‘a man for all seasons’, I am compelled to shrug this strange ennui that seems to have taken over my life recently. Am gonna divide this into two posts – one about rand’s work & why I don’t derive much comfort from it (to put it mildly) & the other about how the most noble of men can also be accused of acting out of absolutely selfish needs.
A few days ago a couple of us had gathered together & one thing led to another & we sat there debating the merits & demerits of ayn rand’s work & philosophy; how much should rand be taken at face value, if at all; how her cult following is so immense that political writers & analysts frm ‘the independent’ credit the triumph of unabashed materialism, celebration of utter selfishness & moral ambiguity in America as a fall out of an all-embracive attitude towards rand & her philosophy of objectivism. Unlike most others I have always been uneasy with rand’s glorification of ‘objectivism’. Part of it I attribute to childhood conditioning when one was always taught that the act of serving others while delegating ones own interests at the very back was the ideal to be striven for; a code to be rigorously adhered too. To this day, ma refuses to entertain any discussion about the trouble I may be encountering from demanding in-laws or ever-cribbing relatives. Her mantra is simple - serve them better & overlook their criticism. Anyway, that’s all about what I was told & still am whenever I start to question my selfhood, or wonder if there is anything I may do that I want to v.badly, knowing it will leave many others’ deeply hurt or at least, dissatisfied.
Even after I’d shaken off this belief in complete & abject selflessness & knew that personal freedom came before all else, rand still evoked a disquieting sense of things left unsaid, of truths only half revealed. If men & women indeed started behaving as she dictates, there is an ugliness that would creep into this world that no amount of economic prosperity, individual blossoming or rational thought could rid.
In my lifetime I have met only two people who cud withstand the peculiar appeal of rand’s writing & over the years, I have lost several arguments & friends in the course of discussing her philosophy. For me it’s quite simple, no person who has read & fully comprehended ‘objectivism’ can seriously embrace it, let alone condone it, for it’s nihilistic, it teaches us to ‘take’ when the world around us cannot function if we don’t ‘give’. I’ve read ‘fountainhead’ & ‘atlas shrugged’ twice & was surprised to find myself even greatly dissatisfied the second time. What do u make of a writer who pronounces with self righteousness, “Don't consider our interests or our desires. You have no duty to anyone but yourself/ What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it.” Though she claims that she outgrew Nietzsche’s influence, her assertions of superiority & the right of the individual to achieve his way through any means, sounds eerily like the older philosopher. What is sad, however, is that there is so much about rand’s thought that came so close to perfection, that celebrated individual freedom & rational self-interest. But it is as if she must veer towards an extreme & in doing so she forsakes positive liberty. Her dictum which she openly declared in her saloon readings, “What is good for me is right”, sounds like the pathetic cry of a sociopath, one who cares only for the preservation & interests of the self, no matter what it costs others. I am sure george bush feels that way too!
Devotees of her writings would do well to remember that rand herself hailed from a wealthy Russian family, who was driven out by the Bolshevik revolution, a mass rising. Small wonder then that she’d nurture a lifelong abhorrence for the will & might of the masses in determining economic principles or parity. (Would mary antoniette ever empathise with the starving & the homeless?) What is sad is that nowhere in rand’s work do we see the kind of celebration of capitalism mixed with altruism that one witnesses in adam smith’s ‘wealth of nations’. Nowhere is there a positive denunciation of collective will & herd instinct that governs the work of Ionesco. If the self is indeed higher than all else, how do we distinguish the hierarchy of needs of individual souls clamoring for fulfillment? Is it correct to pronounce that the stronger should always prevail & why isn’t a similar road to salvation outlined for the weak, the poor, the ordinary? In short, how pertinent is a philosophy that unabashedly claims that it is to do with the leaders, the few who possess the will & strength to shrug all cares & concerns save their own & follow the path of complete self fulfillment?

Sep 24, 2007

Notes on My Own Private Idaho

Watched ‘my own private idaho’ today. Like other films like fight club, trainspotting, mulhollands drive, apocalypse now, this film too has a cult following & I’d wanted to watch it since ages. My decision to order it frm netflix was clinched the moment I saw its name on the criterion collection list.
Mopi is dark, disturbing, funny, poignant, evocative and achingly tender. Two things make this movie stand out – the fact that it succeeds in creating a mood of dreamlike utter helplessness; evokes tenderness without spiraling towards any overt sentimentality. Second, is the brilliant depiction of the theme of loneliness that resonates throughout the film without the slightest effort. And therein lies its universal appeal methinks. there r parts of it all of us will identify with despite the absol bizarre & alien way of life & chars depicted here. Btw, did I say 2 things? Was wrong. Add river phoenix whose mike is the protagonist of the film and who’s brazenly loose, clumsy, crazy behavior seems neither odd nor forced as he essays the role of a young gay male hustler, suffering frm narcolepsy that leaves him often at the mercy of absol strangers, who is always very, very hungry for love. In mike’s world nothing is permanent, so nothing is real. He is searching for his mother yet we don’t know whether his memories of her are real or imaginary. Narcolepsy makes him fall asleep at some of the most interesting & imp moments of his life but it doesn’t seem to bother him. After all, for mike, the only thing that matters is finding a home at the end of the road to Idaho where we see him at the beginning & end of the film. Hell, he isn’t even bothered when his best friend scott (Keanu reeves), whom he also happens to b in love with, abandons him in the middle of italy & takes off with a girl & later completely turns his back on him.
So accustomed is mike to the idea of being abandoned, never finding reciprocation, that one senses a strange spirituality abt him. In the true manner of the Buddha, mike actually expects nothing & is thus never disappointed. There is no anger, no resentment, only the gentle appeal of a meandering soul who is journeying forever on a long road and looks for a home, a place to stop. Whether he will ever find this is anybody’s guess. Though we see him being helped & carried away by a stranger in his car away frm the road to Idaho at the end of the film, we don’t know that he wont return to the same spot again. That’s what he’s been doing & like he says, “I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.”
The strange thing is, mopi is strangely therapeutic. After the events of the past few days & esp in the light of what I’ve been feeling, it worked like a balm. Its ok to feel lonely, be lonely, it’s a universal condition, no escaping frm it. And like mike, I still don’t know whats at the end of the road. It needn’t lead to anger. Theres probably a comic side to everything that we take so seriously in life and get wrked up abt.

Jul 29, 2007

Place of Pride

i discovered this pic. tucked away at a remote corner of the UN’s visitor’s lobby, nesting un-praised, unsung beside several other pictures of the peacekeeping forces that the UN deploys across the globe. This is the only pic. of an Indian peacekeeping force; more notably, the caption informs that this is the first all-woman patrol team to be deployed by the UN. Formed on Jan 2007, the Indian team is stationed at Liberia.
I am not naively patriotic & like everyone else, am skeptical of the UN’s role in really providing aid, support & succor to an increasingly fragmented & divided world. In fact, it was disquieting to see our guide mouth a stream of banalities justifying the existence of the UN as an international organization that looks out for every nations’ best interests. I really wasn’t in the mood to get into any political debate but her continuous “Pls feel free to ask me any questions that u may have” finally broke any sense of political correctness I was striving to exhibit. In ans. to my query regarding the absol. breakdown of peacekeeping & lack of UN intervention in countries like Rwanda & earlier during Amin’s rule in Uganda, I was primly informed that the “UN has to work within the parameters set out by member nations & also follow a democratically approved manner of operation that imposes several restrictions on it, which may not be immediately apparent to outsiders.” I realized then what wonderful cover the English language provides for covert operations that ppl like me r to dense to comprehend!
Anyway, as I saw this pic, i wasn’t aware of any conscious sense of pride. However, happy I was at finding this small token of India & indianess in a place thousands of miles away from home. Also, an overwhelming feeling of being connected to India, of being strangely moved, of gratitude that it is thru. the efforts of these men & women that nations write off international debts & any political party who attempts to arrogate such credit to its share shud be kicked. My camera was acting up & despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to keep the flash from exploding. Yet, I wanted to share it with those who visit my blog.
This is seemingly unrelated but made me happy. Just read about Prez Kalam’s pan-African E-Network Project. If Africa has to progress with the rest of the world, this is the manner in which it must be done – by linking commercial interests with progress. For India, this is a magnificent opportunity to foray into the dark continent's ICT development before China sets shop. India will have a ready market to sell its telecom apparatus, IT services & peddle its expertise in long distance education & tele-medicine. For Africa, this is a unique opportunity to connect its 53 countries thru. a fiber optic network to enable better access to healthcare, education & technology at supremely affordable costs.
With the traditional concept of armchair charity being replaced by a more healthy & competitive idea of charity generating revenue for both the recipient & the giver, the E-Network Project seems a much better alternative to Africa’s woes rather than the UN’s doling of aid to the starving masses of sub-Saharan Africa.

Jul 25, 2007

Notes on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind y’day again & was surprised by how much it still appealed to me. Most films that offer a twist in the narrative seem tedious on second viewing (a beautiful mind, memento, fight club, the usual suspects). Add to this the fact that Eternal Sunshine belongs to the ‘maze film’ tradition where seemingly disparate & random set of events r connected by either the characters or incidentals that change their life. While I enjoy taxing my grey cells occasionally, for me films like ‘memento’ r better understood than experienced, more interesting than appealing; Eternal Sunshine is both.
Jim Carey as Joel Barish, an introspective, shy guy who is more at home penning his thots in his journal than voicing them, who believes that Valentine’s Day is “a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap”, who falls for the wild & completely unpredictable Clemetine (Kate Winslet), is a surprise to all those who remb. him as Ace Ventura or a dumb moron. He decides to have memories of Clementine erased after he learns that she has had enuf of their tumultuous relatnship & has erased him from her mind. His doubts, fears & irritations r all our own as is his desperate endeavor to reverse the process of erasing memories, once he realizes that tho. it all ended badly, memories are all he has of Clementine, that even her memory is better than losing her completely. And that lends some meaning to life, for Barish at least.
In an age of fast divorces and the even faster need to move on, one wonders if totally erasing all memories of failed romances wud really make us happy? Isn’t acknowledgement of these memories essential for us to grow, evolve and accept?
Kate Winslet is spectacular & it’s a wonder that she comes across as refreshing and as alive as she does here. She is that lil girl who wants the candy, the daisies & a prince charming who will stand up for her, no matter what. She wants to be loved for her blue hair, bizarre clothes, outrageous comments, and the fact that Joel often finds her pedestrian, hurts her. She loves Joel but is frustrated by his avuncular bearing and dull lifestyle. I especially loved her in this scene where Joel says, “I don’t see anything I don’t like about you” & she replies, “But you will! You will, and I'll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that's what happens with me.”
Rarely has a love story been more tenderly told or in a wittier, racier manner. The pain of relationships ending forms the core of all great romances (love story, brief encounter bridges of madison county) & yet Gondry uses none of the stock motifs that abound in these films. No death-bed monologues, no teary farewells at the railway station & hysterical outpourings of a mind ravaged by the lover’s separation. There r even times when u do feel that Joel is better off without Clemetine, that he’s too much of a stuck-up prick for a woman as vivacious & uninhibited as she is. Not once does Gondry suggest that these 2 r perfect for each other, comprise 2 incomplete halves of a whole, yada yada….. They have as much reason to stay tog or part ways as any of us & it’s the film's peculiar genius that it lets them make that choice without resorting to the usual ploys of romantic comedy. After all, Clementine does erase Joel frm her mind & both are unaware (at least initially) of their shared past & its joys & pains. There is no apparent reason for the 2 of them to be together, they even decide not to, & yet, inexplicably, try again. To look for reason in matters of the heart wud be a travesty of love. Love isn't built on reason, just like Russel Crowe says at the end of ‘A Beautiful Mind’:
“I've always believed in numbers and the equations and logics that lead to reason. But after a lifetime of such pursuits, I ask, ‘What truly is logic? Who decides reason?’ My quest has taken me through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional -- and back. And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life: It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reason can be found. I'm only here tonight because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”

Jul 12, 2007

Shrink-ing Self

The guys @ blaugh are getting better day by day. This one's a real howler. Enjoy!

Big Apple Difficult to Digest

Just back from a rather exhausting east coast trip. A lot to see, absorb, learn & be shocked at. In retrospect, California seems rather laid back & a far friendlier place. From downright rudeness, unfriendly demeanor, uncooperativeness (Holiday Inn, Queens), to unabashed racism (Madame Tussauds, River Inn (Niagara), I think we glimpsed all this in the last 10 days.

Of course, it’d be absol unfair if I didn’t mention the M42 bus drivers & pedestrians who helped us with directions; the sweet young couple at central park who wanted to gift a ‘free’ balloon to my daughter & whom I unwittingly refused (rather primly), driven by my suspicious mind that there had to be more to their apparent friendliness; the kind old lady at the airport who offered snacks to my lil one after AA deigned to let on that our flight was cancelled (without as much as an apology!)

Thing is, NY left me angry & I can’t shake off the feeling of resentment at the hostility that I sensed there. It’s akin to what one might feel in a city like bombay/delhi if one were accustomed to the genteel & refined ethos of a Bhopal or a Calcutta. I remb how i'd shudder, when I’d 1st arrived in bby, at the way women in crowded local trains behaved for a wee bit of space. Forget kindness, they lacked basic etiquette's & decency. They’d even jostle & push a blind kerchief seller to get to their ‘reserved’ seats. Much later I realized, when ur commuting close to 4 hrs daily, chopping vegetables in the train to save time at home, working ur mind crazy trying to figure out ways to book that 1-BHK at kalyan & wondering whether ur teenaged daughter is hanging out again with the shady guy on the chawl verandah, things like etiquette & kindness take a backseat.

I sensed the same desperation, anger & mind-numbing fatigue in the rush hour NY subway & streets. A walk down canal street on Bronx which is lined with shops & itinerant vendors selling everything from smuggled electronic goods to perfumes & purses, where pimps, beggars & hawkers will accost u every 2 ft, where pedestrians r forced to walk on the streets (which causes an eternal traffic jam) as the pavements r clogged with hawkers & their small stalls, will take u readily back to good ol’ gariahat in Calcutta or lokhandwala market in bombay & give all those who wax eloquent abt Times Square & Lexington avenue a much-needed reality check.

Take away the mid-west with its vast open spaces, multiply the black population in Bronx a good 10 times & sprinkle them across the country & US wud not be entirely different from any other crowded city in India. What irks me is when ppl behave as if traffic snarls & dirty streets r relics of starving, developing nations & have no place in the higher order of things that exists in civilized places like NY, London, etc.

Jun 12, 2007

Immoral Policing

Click here to read original piece.

Just read this juicy piece on about shiv sena activists going on a rampage against cyber cafes in kalyan as a protest against certain anti-shivaji & anti-thackeray forums that have sprung up on the popular site orkut. what is it with these shiv sainiks? despite balasaheb's bravado, the party continues to reel under the defection of royal sena guards like raj thackeray and narayan rane and has also lost its stronghold in traditional areas like the konkan belt. seems it'll go to any extent to stay in the news and like any wounded, aging tiger, assert its existence with the occasional roar.

leila aboulela in her debut novel 'the translator' writes that according to one of the sacred
hadiths "the best jihad is when a person speaks the truth before a tyrant ruler." in an age of rampant fundamentalism there is a special lesson is this for all of us. it is interesting to note that aboulela writes that such liberal hadiths were seldom printed or taught by the islamic clergy. the reasons are obvious.

the tyrant has been the same in all the ages - ignorance, vested interests and the power to suppress the voice of dissent. it is important that we fight all such forces of tyranny who attempt to take away from us our right to feel and express what we believe in.

May 18, 2007

YouTube's Bachelorette?

Where's old fashioned romance gone I wonder? Hanging around the phone for hrs, darting surreptitious glances to check if mom was watching, feeling on top of the world when he complimented ur essay or hair, whichever was tolerable .. is THIS what technology has enabled?

May 16, 2007

On Nandigram

Disclaimer: Supporters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project and all those who believe that beauty pageants are actually hunting grounds for goodwill ambassadors, kindly read no further.
For the past couple of years, my ears have been regularly assaulted with phrases like ‘outsourcing hub’, India shining’, ‘fastest growing economy’ & other similar hopeful prophecies that almost convince me that 50 years from now, unmetalled roads will be a thing of the past and TB and malnutrition will not be the biggest cause of infant mortality in India. Hubby being a part of the dollar-churning IT industry, I am forever privy to discussions about how rapid economic development is only a few steps away & that times are indeed a changing. Setting up of SEZs, attracting foreign investment from Singapore and UK and a growing base of skilled knowledge workers will be the weapons that will finally realise our dreams of achieving 10 per cent GDP.

And then …March 14th happened, the Red letter day that marked a tipping point in the history of West Bengal.

This blog is by no means a defence against the killing of the protesting Nandigram farmers by a militant police force who followed the dictate of the state’s political machinery. This is merely an attempt to rationally analyse that such incidents & the media reports that follow in their aftermath, are usually the machinations of opposition parties (read Trinamool Congress) & an increasingly irresponsible media who will go to any lengths to milk any story to emerge as winners in the weekly TRP war.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen recently voiced his tacit support for the measures CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has taken in driving the state forward in its path of economic revival. Speaking to the The Hindu in an exclusive interview he advised journalists against reading too much into the Singur & Nandigram protests, dismissing them as “politically motivated”.

What was alarming for me was to witness the baseless slander and blame game that was levelled at Buddhadeb Babu. He was made out to be one of the greedy, land-grabbing thakurs that abound in most Prakash Jha films, who didn’t stop to think twice before resorting to any level of murder & mayhem to get what he wanted. For all those like me who grew up watching the CP(I)M sweep election after election with resounding victory & yet offer little by way of employment opportunities or economic development, Buddhadeb babu offered the much needed oxygen to the people of the state, most impotantly, its youth, who had begun to realize that there had to be something beyond the Centre’s discriminatory & fractious polices that had brought WB to its present level of economic destitution and industrial doom.

Most of us who are sitting away from the place where the Nandigram saga unfolded are quick to condemn the ‘shedding of innocent blood’ and the ‘depravity of a state who wishes to undo decades of irresponsibility in a few hasty steps’. Blog sites are replete with conscientious citizens quoting Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that upholds the power of individual citizens in a democracy. Scores have expressed outrage and some myopic, ill informed & truly demented souls have even given the example of our friendly neighbor China & said that if Communist China could develop its SEZs without resorting to such violence, (laugh riot) why can’t we? I have a few things to say to these guardians of our democracy and pundits who laud china but would nary take a single leaf out of that nation’s march towards rapid industrialization.

First, all those who are after the CMs ass should keep in mind that the villagers were armed & not as innocent as the media & the opposition (led by the histrionic and eternal saviour of the underdog, Mamata Banerjee) would like us to believe. The villagers attacked the police and those of you who believe that the police should have turned the other cheek or met this violence by Gandhian principles of ahimsa, better head for the Himalayas, or closer still, Ranchi.

I want to ask all those who expressed their anguish at the March 14 incident, how outraged are you when you learn that the number of registered unemployed in WB is over 10 million? How are we going to address the fact that the state is crippled by a fierce Naxalite movement & large scale infiltration from Bangladesh that further debilitates its already toppling economy? How many of us even know that when China shot innocent students in 1989 for staging their peaceful protest at Tiananmen Square, they charged the cost of the bullets from the victims’ families? With savage will and force, China has uprooted, starved and killed its own people to build its SEZs and further its commercial interests. Not only that, its media is largely state controlled and quick to crush any dissent or criticism. Even the Internet is a victim of its obsessive watch dog policy.

We are grateful that we live in a nation where such informed debate is possible, & therefore, I think we should be that much more responsible & aware of facts before passing judgement on such stray incidents.

Given the size of our bourgeoning population, to speak in numbers is often misleading. There are a billion people in our country. Even the most efficiently & harmoniously executed projects inconvenience at least 0.001 per cent of the total population. This entails putting 10,000 people at a disadvantage. Readily human rights activists and NGOs will denounce such projects (ahem! Ms Patkar) & try & put an end to them despite the fact that lakhs of people actually benefit from them. Bottom line is, in a democracy you cannot please everybody & only the most vote currying government will stop from taking unpleasant measures that ultimately promise a better future.

It's time to wake up & smell the coffee. Its one thing for the illiterate farmers to fall for Mamata di’s rabble rousing techniques and quite another when we, who have glimpsed a better world and believe in equal opportunities for everyone, who know that this is what true democracy is really all about, demand the CMs resignation and condemn the setting up of the small-car factory at Singur.

Ode to Joy

In 'Immortal Beloved', when the young Schindler is asked by Beethoven, ‘What does music do?’, he ans, ‘It exalts the soul’, only to be scoffed & dismissed by the maestro. Beethoven retorts, 'Utter nonsense. If you hear a marching band, is your soul exalted? No, you march. If you hear a waltz, you dance. If you hear a mass, you take communion. It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism.' And it is hypnotism indeed that the film achieves. To say that the music is brilliant would be banal – but of course. What's imp is that the pieces are not chosen simply because they happen to be famous. The always complement the action & emotions on screen. Both haunt the viewer long after the film has ended.

There’s no particular reason to blog abt IM save to talk abt a scene that seems to depict for me all that is best, worth striving for & rare in a man-woman relationship. During one of his recitals, a completely deaf Beethoven is confused & gives wrong instructions to his orchestra. The music turns discordant & as the audience starts to laugh & jeer at him, we can see the rage, anguish & terrible helplessness that were Beethoven’s lifelong companions, qualities which, frankly speaking, disabled & distanced him further away from his fellow men than his deafness. Openly ridiculed, he shouts repeated instructions to the accompanists who have now abandoned any attempts at playing & are equally disappointed.

From amidst this jeering, laughing crowd, arises the Countess Anna Maria Erdody (played with remarkable restraint by Isabella Rossellini). Using a cane, she limps her way to Beethoven, takes his arm & gently leads him away. This is the first time the 2 have set eyes on each other & no words r required.

Her thoughtful understanding of the composer’s torment & decision to risk the ire of the others present there, are for me the most sustainable basis of any understanding b/w two human beings. In a world, where all women claim to be Beethovens IM after his death, she is the only one who openly admits, he never loved her though she ‘loved him with all my heart’. She is that perfect friend who provides him with a home, a peaceful environment in which to compose again after deafness, debt, a broken heart & public scorn have all but driven him to the edge of madness. And she asks for nothing in return. But mind you, this is no weak woman. She lives through Napolean's invasion, the loss of her son & stands up to Beethoven when he deprives another mother of her son. After all, true love is never afraid to lose the object of its affection.