Monday, February 29, 2016

Neerja - Movie Review

So many good reviews about the movie that we all decided to go see it. The movie is well made and keeps you glued to the seat right till the last of the credits rolls skyward. Not many movies do that.

In 1986 a not-yet-23 year old purser on a Pan Am flight from Bombay to USA via Karachi and Frankfurt, Neerja Bhanot, finds herself handling a hijack on her first day as head purser. Under tremendous pressure as hijackers storm the plane waving weapons, she keeps her head and alerts the pilot and crew who leave the plane through a hatch (as per protocol) and thereby leave the plane stranded on the Karachi airport. As the hijackers get more and more desperate - their original plan was to hijack the plane to Cyprus and use the hostages to negotiate release of their 'brothers' - Neerja finds herself getting more and more defiant and resourceful. Showing exemplary courage and responsibility she uses a cool, thinking head to do what is right for the passengers safety and comfort. Some hostages are killed. Neerja, at great danger to her life somehow manages to hide or get rid of American passports after hearing the intent of the hijackers to kill Americans. Estimate is that she saves 40 Americans through that act. And on and on, she puts her life repeatedly in danger in negotiating space for her passengers at risk to her own life. When the hijackers open fire in a desperate final assault she somehow manages to open the door and the releases the escape chute, and lets passengers escape. 359 survive of the 391 people on board. While trying to save three children, she takes a bullet and yet somehow manages to get off the plane. Neerja does not survive.

Neerja Bhanot remains India's youngest Ashok Chakra recipient - India's highest peacetime award for valor away from the battlefield.

Sonam Kapoor does a fine job. It's very well directed, told in a gripping and taut manner and edited beautifully. The way an incident from the past pops up to make sense at the right time and build her character along the way is shown so well. Deserves to be watched in the theatre.

Ok, this happened as an after thought. The pictures they showed of Neerja from her childhood and youth at the end really kept me hooked. You could see her whole life rolling in front of you, at school, at her modelling assignments, at parties, posing for pictures. Lovely.

Anjali sat through the movie though she was a bit upset at the violence and at one time it looked like I might have to walk out with her. But she braved it. When asked later by her mother on what she liked about the movie she said she liked it when Neerja tells the terrorist - I am doing my job just as you are doing yours. Allow me to do it.

But interestingly her list of what she liked of the performances were - Neerja's mother, Neerja's husband, Neerja and the terrorist. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Diana - Movie Review

Naomi Watts does not look like Princess Diana at all. Despite the hairstyles and clothes. The movie picks up post separation from Prince Charles. It heads into her romance with Dr. Hasnat Khan. The romance is shown well as Hasnat Khan mentors her with his ideas on how one should 'improvise' It's a mature romance but Hasnat Khan realises he will have no future as a surgeon if he marries her and they break it off.

Diana does not take to this kindly. It's said that Dr. Khan was the love of her love. It appears then that she gets into a relationship with Dodi to get back at Hasnat and make him jealous. While doing good work on the removal of land mines and other causes, she also helps some parts of the press to plant her escapades with Dodi. Somehow, the fateful day, she misses a call from Hasnat, and dies in the fatal crash.

The romance between Khan and Diana comes across well. Otherwise its a forgettable movie. Another old people's romance - Khan with a large paunch as well. Must relook my selection of movies now. Why am I watching old people's romances now?

Kabhie Kabhie - Movie Review

I love this poster. It reminds me of the days in the 70s and 80s when Hyderabad had these huge hand painted posters on large hoardings. Most posters were good but some painters entirely distorted the lead actors faces and features (you get a general idea in the pic). But one thing the hand painted posters had was drama. Huge hoardings - I prefer those any day to the new slick printed ones.

Anyway this is one of the few Bachchan movies that slipped past me. Those days we'd watch all his movies religiously. Perhaps because of this movies look as well - old heroes and heroines, mustachioed Amitabh etc. This Yash Chopra was a risk taker and an incurable romantic. I feel he would have liked my story 'If You Love Someone..'

The movie is full of twists and turns. Amit, a poet meets Raakhee in college and they fall in love. Song. Raakhee's parents however get her married to Shashi Kapoor who is a successful architect. Amit, as poets are perhaps wont to do, gives up poetry, withdraws, becomes bitter with life and becomes materialistic and unfeeling. Shashi Kapoor and Raakhee have a daredevil son Rishi Kapoor who falls in love with Neetu Singh. Neetu Singh is the daughter of Parikshit Sahni ji and Simi Garewal ji. Parikshit is Shashi's doctor. While they are all happy at this nice coincidence (Shashi all the more so because he feels he can now flirt with the doctor's wife openly..) Neetu is also told that she is not their real daughter. Neetu Singh is now consumed by the one thought of meeting her real mother. Her real mother turns out to be Waheeda Rehman who is married to Amitabh Bachchan and guess what - they have a girl who is poetically named Sweetie. Now, after hearing that, one can believe that Amit ji is totally cut off from poetry.

While Waheeda knows of her daughter's existence and is shocked at her sudden appearance, Amit and Sweetie do not. For some reason Neetu ji stays back in their house doing secretarial work for Amit ji when she should in fact have been doing kitchen work for Mummy ji and getting bad vibes from Sweetie. Vicky now comes to the scene, exhorted by his dad to follow his love. While following his love he also has to deal with Sweetie who feels that no one loves her - father loves no one, mother loves Neetu ji and Rishi loves Neetu ji.

Shashi ji meanwhile finds that Amit ji and Raakhee ji have a past and is unhappy for a while. Amit ji finds that Waheeda had a past and is even more unhappier than normal. Sweetie finds Rishi ji is having a present and tries to kill herself. In a dramatic climax Sweetie heads off into a dynamite infested land where dynamites keep blowing off every two minutes, on a horse. She is chased by Rishi ji on a horse, Amit ji and Neetu ji in a jeep and Shashi ji on a bike. Sweetie heads into a burning forest and is saved in the nick of time. Neetu and Sweetie reconcile. Amit and Shashi reconcile. Amit and Waheeda reconcile. Everyone reconciles and it ends in a marriage between Rishi and Neetu where all the old flames (save Waheeda's old flame who actually goes up in flames because his plane catches fire) meet, making for a more than interesting sequel. With so many possibilities and such hot blooded old people anything is possible.

What a movie. What songs. What fun.

But seriously - the movie is all about four oldies with a past. One young couple - ok one and a half. Takes something to make a movie like that. Question for readers: Who is the only person not addressed as ji in this whole blog? What is her real name? Why was she named Sweetie? Who named her? Also, why was Neetu ji named Pinky?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Selma - Movie Review

Selma is a town in Alabama. The story is set in 1964 when African Americans were legally allowed to vote but were, in many devious ways, kept from voting. For example they constituted 50% of the population but less than 2% of them were registered to vote. Reasons for non-registry as voters include stuff like them having to provide all kinds of documentary evidence followed by an interview with questions like - what's the preamble of our constitution, how many justices are there in Alabama and then the killer, name them all. Oprah Winfrey who plays the role of Cooper gets a chance to get her registration denied. Or a voter has to be introduced by another voter but then no one really is a registered voter so they cannot get registered. Many such Catch 22 situations were created to keep them away from voting and thereby being subject to white rule which was cruel and discriminatory. Martin Luther King who has just won a Nobel Peace Prize tells president Lyndon Johnson that he must allow the African Americans to vote. The President however wants time.

The peaceful protests, demonstration and requests are part of the strategy by Dr. King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and they plan a peaceful protest walk from Selma to Montgomery. However the governor does not give permission and the courts seek to hear the case on a date beyond what is set - but the walk takes place. Police use excessive force on unarmed protesters which is watched by the entire nation. On the next march many white Americans join the march. The police allow them to walk but for some reason King does not continue the walk. After a couple more deaths, the judge allows them their walk. Recognising the gravity of the situation President Johnson pushes through a bill to eliminate restrictions on voting. The walk continues and ends in Montgomery. Finally they get to vote. Through their vote they get to elect people who represent them and their aspirations socially, politically and economically none of which are possible otherwise.

The troubles the African Americans face to get their due is shown clearly. The white population does not want them on equal footing and as governor Wallace says - next they will want to occupy the parks, then they will want to vote, then they will want stuff free without working. His main grouse is that they are never happy so we should keep them at a distance by hook or by crook. Johnson does not share his view but one can see the deep biases that run through. Similar biases run here in India too and all one has to do is run through a few fb pages to know the extent of bias we carry. The law provides them a vote but the administration retains a set of rules that makes it next to impossible for anyone to register as a voter. The idea is to keep all the power concentrated in the whites so they can keep the African Americans away. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King is powerful, Wilkinson as Johnson is perfect, Tim Roth does a great job as always. Small roles by Cuba Gooding Jr, Oprah Winfrey

Some lines are very poignant. King's wife Coretta meets Malcolm X when King is in jail and is not sure if she is prepared to handle him. Her friend tells her - that the blood of her ancestors who have sailed the seas, who have borne the atrocities of all these years, flows through her and that she needs no more preparation than that. I also believe that to be true - at the point of action we must back ourselves to be fully prepared. If we were not, we would not be there.

Another line is said by King's friend who tells a depressed King who is worried that they will finish this fight, this people - that birds fly free in the skies and they do so because they have god's grace on them. So too will we find that justice, that right. He says it so well and comforts a defeated King. The same hope must also hopefully echo in those who feel let down - tomorrow is another day. In the end, justice will prevail.

One thing comes through. Power makes monsters of people. I am sure of all people, almost. Those who do not have or crave power will always find themselves seeking justice at the hands of those who do not want to give any justice. Now they do not want to give justice because they feel superior and also feel insecure. This leads to extraordinary situations. The restraint King urges and shows is what takes their movement through. Just sheer perseverance, resilience and grit against all odds. These are the movies that need to be made so the stories are not forgotten. They may not be fashionable, but they are the truth. If we wish to retain our glorious stories, we must also retain these stories.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Simple Test - Nationalism

I am inspired by a scene in the movie 'Selma' where the white official asks Oprah Winfrey, who goes to him to register for voting rights certain questions (before denying it). I thought we should also ask some basic questions to check where we stand.

Level 1
1) Sing the national anthem 'Jana Gana Mana' (if possible explain what it means)

2) Sing the national song 'Vande Mataram' (same as above)

3) Recite the Pledge (as above)

4) What's the difference between Independence Day and the Republic Day?

Level 2
5) Explain what the Consitution of India is to an Indian in two lines.

6) What does the preamble of the Constitution say?

7) Explain what the following words mean - sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity,

8) What are the fundamental rights that the Constitution grants every citizen?

A couple more questions should round it off for this weekend.

Dhoom 3- Movie Review

Finally caught the whole movie at one go. It's about two circus kids whose father, Jackie Shroff (the most uncircus like man I have ever seen and the owner of 'The Great Indian Circus' in the USA), and how banks cause financial ruin thereby causing Shroff to shoot himself. This despite the fact that he shows the bankers his best act to date - a disappearing kid from box coming back from back of aisle. Why did that act not impress the bankers? I did not impress me too - its as old as the hills.

Anyway the young kid grows up to be a young and muscular Aamir Khan who performs these circus stunts with Katrina Kaif and on occasion - robs banks and throws the money over the roof. He runs down the walls of skyscrapers, races bikes that turn into cars, boats, helicopters (not really and makes life miserable for two Indian cops Jai and Ali. We don't know why the cops are in the US but then Jai very ingeniously finds out the truth about the other twin - one who is not so fast as the other, has trouble tying his shoes, and is in love with Katrina too. After some brilliant psychological games Jai befriends the slightly off twin (the kamzor twin) and somehow tries to trap the twins before their final act - to ruin the about to shut bank that ruined their father and their lives. After some more stunts they find cops at both ends of the bridge and jump off a huge dam. Hopefully they will have some gadgets to fly off to some far away place where they can live happily ever after minus Jai, Katrina (who keeps the legacy going by herself, talk of loyalty) and their like.

Nothing about it made sense really. But what does? Jai and Ali need a makeover. They look jaded. Its almost like the focus was so much on AK that the rest of the main team faded into the background. Actually if you see the poster you know who the hero is. Also there are two heroes - the twin is hiding behind this chap, next to Katrina.

Interesting article - More Stuff

Why indeed are they not producing the ones who shouted the slogans? Why has it become about Mahisashura?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thought for the Day - Why We Should Not Believe Authorities Without Proof

Credibility must be built by consistent behavior. We believe those whom we think behave responsibly. Or because we know they are in responsible positions. We tend to erroneously think that responsibility and responsible positions go together.

This is where we may be making the biggest mistake of our lives.

In cases related to people in power, like say political leaders in the government, the police, the bureacracy, the judiciary, the media etc, we somehow seem to think that whatever they say has some clear evidence backing their claim and we tend to believe them. Or at least we give them more credibility than anyone else, however genuine the other voice may be. But this is something that can be used michievously especially by people who do not display responsibility with power or authority.

In such cases people with no responsibility can make others out to be irresponsible and get them into trouble or behind bars and walk away with the accolades. Now everyone will believe the leader with his or her dramatics and one sided and totally irrelevant arguments, or a policeman who makes completely disconnected things as evidence, or a good looking and English sepaking media person who can spice up the TV with some helpful slogans, banners, ticker tapes and equally loud and sinister sounding music and a repeated version of the offensive clip and in many cases doctored tapes. We believe them and we miss out on the truth.

But who is bothered about the truth? Or about justice? As long as we get our name on social media and have our five minutes of fame.

Case 1:
It's a local case. A friend of mine is a bike maniac. He is late 40s, but loves his bikes. He and his brother and a group of friends with similar likes, go for rides on Sundays on their expensive bikes (red flag). They go to Suryapet or Medchal or someplace far enough to ride their bikes on good and open roads, eat breakfast and return. To go with these powerful bikes they have jackets, helmets and riding gear and shoes etc (red flags) because the bikes are powerful and may cause injury if the right gear is not worn.

Enter Authority:
Last week the gang was returning after a leisurely ride to Medchal when they were accosted by the police. Charges were slapped on them - they were indulging in racing (no proof), they were wearing racing clothes (no law against it), they all carried money for betting (no proof that they did and not likely because among 15 bikers an amount of 1 lakh or so was seized - still not relevant how much). The group said that they go on long rides every Sunday. Police said they did not believe them because they are wearing riding clothes and they are carrying money for betting. Their parents had to be called and reported about this. Challans were raised and money paid. Even better, the media was called.

After the main gang was harassed and 'arrested', two bikes came by - a girl and a boy - riding Bullets. They were also apprehended on charges of wearing jackets, logos and racing and perhaps betting. Now with a girl in the picture, many other charges might have also appeared in the minds of the authorities but they restricted them to racing and betting etc. The Bullet couple shouted themselves hoarse that unlike the superbikes that can race, the Bullets barely touch 100 kmph which every other 100 cc bike does. But, they were also 'arrested'.

Enter media:
TV channels and some other print media gathered at a signal by the policeman who returned in uniform for the TV. The cameras panned the faces of the rich, spoilt, racing, law breaking, betting gang. The bikes were shown to show how depraved these bikers were. Questions were raised on why it would in all likelihood be racing because they are wearing jackets and 'racing clothes'. Questions were also raised by the anchors on how people go for long rides 'alone' and not in groups of '15'.  

Much talk focussed on the young woman. The report said that the police counselled the young woman (why her specifically and not the young men one can only venture a guess). After further pondering over how the police are gearing up  for more such raids and arrests, the report wound up on a sinister and self-righteous note. Look what the brats are doing to our society seems to be the gist.

Proof of crime:
Nothing. Except that they were riding powerful bikes (no crime), wearing jackets (no crime), carrying some money (no crime).

In all likelihood the policeman involved would get noticed by his superiors for this extra work. How the police are safeguarding us from these bikers. Its a case where the one who does the injustice, in this case the cop, by harassing and penalising and invading their privacy by calling the media, becomes the hero. The innocent, despite their jackets and helmets, are the villains. Who can they speak to? Who will listen? Already everyone must have made up their minds about immoral activities etc.

Traumatised citizens who cannot live and do freely. Normally these are the soft targets. Try touching a hard target. No way. TV happy. Cop happy. All of us self-righteous people at home happy.

Show me proof - and what's the law?
The danger is how we believe the cop and the media guy and their slant. We can never get the real picture. Unless the cop or the media guy shows proof. Don't make up your mind till then. Don't believe them blindly.

Now extrapolate this idea into all that is happening around you. Aarushi Talwar. HCU. JNU.

Where is the proof? What does your proof mean? Is there a law against your proof or are you still talking of 'public sentiment' (if selective parts of your evidence are leaked) and treating mob insanity as the law? Are you not a bigger culprit - you have shown your 'proof' to a million people who can misread the situation, your position and your emotion?

Who is the bigger culprit? The cop? Or the bikers? Or more so, the young woman?

Proof. Always proof. Always first principles. If we do not have first principles, the mask will fall. If not now, after sometime. But by then, for all of us who go by without asking for irrefutable proof, it may be too late.

Ask for proof. If there is no proof, it is plain goondagiri. Whether at the Centre or in a University or a police station.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ratatouille - Movie Review

This is one of the most delightful animated movies I have seen. Remy the rat is a passionate cook and he is inspired by the cookery shows of the great Gustaeu who claims that 'Anyone can cook'. Remy is inspired and starts cooking and discovers that he has a passion and a flair for it. However while watching TV in one of the homes he frequents he is discovered by the cranky old lady who shoots at him. Remy escapes in the river and ends up in Paris.

Shortly he finds himself in Gustaeu's restaurant (who is sadly dead) and who is now succeeded by a man who has no real talent nor passion. This man is also keeping the real heir out of the restaurant. Remy teams up with the young lad and whips up some fabulous dishes as they reclaim all that Gustaeu believed in - including the high ratings from the tough critic Anton Ego. Peter O' Tool speaks and the animation looks exactly like a gentleman I used to know.

Lovely movie. Can watch again.

Lawyers On Tape - India Today

The much maligned media hopefully (if this is not doctored) pulls one back. Catches lawyers on tape. I am wondering if there might be a case to ban all law colleges too.

Question to ask  - Is it the colleges? Or is it us?

The Good Dinosaur - Movie Review

Arlo is a timid dinosaur who can't say boo to a goose. The youngest in a family of three Arlo is at the receiving end from his brother always. Arlo also lets go of a fierce critter, a young and combative human named Spot.

Arlo's father's death, his separation from the family, his long and deep friendship with Spot and many adventures they have together before a happy ending for all concerned. It's a visual treat.  

Anjali - Teamwork and the Varna System, Humanity, Unfairness and Racism

We were listening to 'To Sir With Love' in the car. I told eight year old Anjali that it was a lovely movie about a black teacher in a white school. Then I realised I had to tell her why a 'black teacher'
in a 'white school' was different.

I told her briefly how the Europeans conquered most of the countries across the world and ruled over them. How slavery was practiced in America and some other colonies. How blacks did not have rights and were treated like animals. How they were not allowed education. In that context 'To Sir With Love' made some sense to her.

The look on her face was an indication about where it should go next.

So I told her that India also practiced a form of a system where people did different things - one sect was knowledgeable, one was to fight, one to do business and trade and one to do menial jobs. (I did not have the heart to tell her that there was another sect which was not part of these four - an untouchable, unseeable sect of people.) I however told her that though people lived together and did what they were best at, it did become at some point that only somebody's child would do that job and not any other who was equally good enough. Many were again denied rights in this system too. People were treated like animals again.

Anjali rose in indignation.

'That's team work. It does not mean that any one is less or different. Everybody is doing their job. If someone can do another job well he should do it.'

I nodded and continued. I told her that many were denied education and basic rights by a twisted interpretation of these ancient laws.

Anjali was rightfully indignant again.

'That's unfair. It's what anyone does. Everyone has red blood only, right.'

Ah, how difficult it must be for someone to understand that it is another human being, another life. That everyone has red blood only. Glad Anjali has a different perspective - an equal opportunity, just perspective.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How I wish! - Delhi Walks

How I wish I could go on all these walks. But soon, soon.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

Delightful reading all over again. It's not a children's story as Twain insists, it's everyone's story. I was so happy to discover the many facets of Tom Sawyer, beyond the painting incident and the tooth extraction event that I studied in school. His friendship with Huck Finn, his love with Becky, his nobleness, his courage and bravery, his ambition and his desire to do the right thing all spring from an innate large hearted soul with a curious and questioning mind. Tom is against the establishment but that does not make him a criminal - nor does it make someone who follows rules the ideal. Because when it comes to standing up when the stakes are against you, when you can be silent and let an innocent man hang, he does - and none can beat Tom Sawyer at that. He stands up and says he was there when the young doctor was murdered in the graveyard by Injun Joe (who was readily sacrificng the drunk Porter) at great danger to his life. He takes Becky's blame on himself and gets badly beaten up by the headmaster. He swims all the way back from the island to let Aunt Polly know he is alive.

He breaks rules. He goes off on midnight jaunts with Huck. He plans to become a pirate and a robber (throw him in jail for thinking like that). He even plans on orgies though he does not know what they mean but he remembers reading about them in some robber book. He takes Becky into a lonely tunnel where they get lost and almost die but where he finds a treasure that makes him the richest man in that town. He takes  Joe and Huck on an escape to an island and everyone thinks they are dead.

But for all that, Tom is right in the head. He is way better than most others who sit at their homes doing the right things and commenting on how wrong everyone else is. Tom questions the establishment, explores his paths and returns a hero. (Today, for doing all that, Tom Sawyer would be in jail for waging war against the country.)

Mark Twain, a man whose history is as interesting as Tom's brings out human nature in all its glory and shows us that what we think we see is not what is. Tom's love story is also beautifully shown and you realise that its a tale of a noble and wonderful person - he was as honest and great in his friendship as in his love.

What a character. Wonderful reading.

Sad But True - You Should Have Lied! (as most of us do everyday)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Kanhaiya and Kans - Act II

I had no clue about what really happened when I first heard of the JNU issue. Why are students of an elite university called anti-national?

Our own students. Our children. our future. What are they doing?

One of the first things I heard was a 20 minute speech by the arrested JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar before his arrest on serious charges of sedition - charges of waging a war against the country. I heard an idealistic, honest and patriotic voice in that speech that was clear on its first principles. Faith in constitution, against the communal and caste system, against division of people etc. A voice that was articulate, convincing and presented a clear line of his thinking which is that he believes in the constitution as envisioned by Ambedkar and that he is against all that is undemocratic, unconstitutional and anti-national. Kanhaiya's speech (that was thankfully recorded by someone on the steps at JNU) however questions the methods and intent of the BJP and the RSS and he clearly says he has no faith in their methods - in their views on education, women, Muslims. He questions what equality really means. He says he wants to destroy communal culture, Manuvaad culture. The speech is worth a watch.

(Here is the text of the speech in case you do not understand Kanhaiya's Hindi that appeared in the Telegraph.)

I wondered if it was possible for any person who speaks with such clarity and idealism and even maturity - because he speaks of going to the root of the problem which not many senior or elderly leaders are able to do - to ask the pertinent questions. Why are 'they' doing this? Why is terror existing? Who are these terrorists? What drives them to do these suicidal acts?

Kanhaiya Kumar hails from a poor family from a village near Begusarai, Bihar. He is a bright young man full of ideals. Is there any proof yet that he has done anything anti-national?

So far, nothing.

Then - Why is he in jail on charges of sedition? Where is the evidence? More importantly, if he has not, then who are the sloganeers who shouted those anti-national slogans?

Power, Position and Responsibility
In such situations all one expects is that justice is done by those who are vested with the power. That constitutional procedures are followed. Tact and patience and maturity take precedence and all voices heard. Instead we read reports from the media - from the Home Minister himself who said something as serious as saying that these students were backed by LeT.

But so far no further substantiation happened on that. Now after so many days I am wondering if such a case exists at all and why the Minister remains quiet on that statement. Or why the police chief of Delhi who earlier said he had adequate evidence to convict Kanhaiya of sedition now says he will let his bail plea go unopposed.

Is KK anti-national or not? (I have another question from the recent past - is Rohith Vemula a dalit or not?)

What if KK is not?
If in case Kanhaiya Kumar, is not guilty of shouting anti-national slogans or of any other such acts, and instead is found to be a true patriot and 'national' (whatever that means and which looks like the case form the latest developments), what would the government do to undo the damage done to him? In case he is innocent, why has he been made the face of this anti-national university? Who are the sloganeers then and what must be done with them? What does it make of those who tried to implicate a patriot in an anti-national case and who beat him up?

Left alone KK's acts or non-acts would have died. The excessive force used here has made the issue what is. Just as it did with Rohith Vemula. A student meeting has now become a debate on everyone's nationalism and patriotism. It has divided many people on what they believe is nationalism and how it should be practiced - whether the constitution agrees with those views or not.

Why are students now part of 'them'?
If his speech is any indication, Kanhaiya is someone with clear views and greater clarity on the concept of patriotism (he is bound by the Constitution he says) than most political leaders I have heard. If he is innocent of these charges, Kanhaiya Kumar, appears more patriotic than many others - he is talking of inclusivity, of the true meaning of democracy, of equality, of justice, of the law of the land and of the oppressed or the 80% he wishes to represent. He appears to have come this far despite ordinary circumstances, much like Rohith Vemula. Why then, we should ask ourselves, are students from such ordinary backgrounds, those who seem to have high calibre, in the limelight for the wrong reasons? Why are they fighting an entire system filled with powerful Ministers, police, VCs? If they are guilty of asking questions, why can we not give them answers? Why should be die? Why should they be thrown in jail for asking questions?

All progress comes from asking questions. If we beat people who ask questions it only means we don't have the answers. Be patient with our children. They are also our own. If they are straying, sit back and wonder how to counsel them, how to address their questions and insecurities. But do not disown them and malign them because they ask questions or have a point of view.

There are many voices in a society. In a country. You must represent the voices, not your own group. As elected representatives you are leading the country and not those who speak your language only.

But they are anti-national
Will we excuse anti-nationals? No. They must face the due course of the law.

Is a debate or a dissenting thought or view anti-national? Not in my book.

Will we excuse injustice? No. It is injustice and it cannot be condoned. Either give evidence of the boy's complicity and proceed against him or accept that you made a mistake and hold those responsible accountable.

Justice must be equal for all. In this case it is not. There is one rule for those who beat up people in the court premises and one rule for those who speak their views on campuses.

As we go beyond ministers, lawyers, police, and as we see the Delhi police commissioner now saying he will not oppose KK's bail plea, one wonders what changed. Who will now be hanged for all this polarisation and misinformation?

Questions - always questions, aid progress
And then I saw again videos of speeches from the JNU teachers and professors. I like their idealism, their right to dissent. It does appear that the JNU has a culture of questioning everything - which is fine. We owe answers to our youth. If we cannot give answers to the youth, is we cannot sit across the table and discuss their fears and apprehensions, what future are we building for them?

What I found interesting in those speeches by the Professors is the rapt attention on the faces of the students, of all participants. I always wished that the youth of the country are more politically conscious - and in these days of the Internet they can easily access information and form opinions better. I am even more happier when these bright sparks come out of nowhere. From Guntur. From Begusarai.

If, in the end the system does find these students anti-national, what then becomes our responsibility? Why have we made them so? That is the next question.

A JNU student's view of it all.

The witch hunting against Umar Khalid is also interesting. He is a Muslim. He was branded a Kashmiri and a JeM sympathiser and a terrorist when it appears that he is in fact from Aurangabad, an atheist and has views on Kashmir.

Is there any law that says that the media cannot give out any story they wish without proof? Or like the Minister who avers without giving the basis that Rohith Vemula was not a Dalit? Or another minister who calls a student anti-national and casteist? Or another minister who says its not a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue when clearly it is? Or a minister who says student politics in an elite university are backed by a terror group? Or a police chief saying he has adequate evidence one day to convict the young man of sedition and on another days says he will not oppose bail?

If he is anti-national and guilty of sedition why are you not opposing bail? If he is not, why have you slapped such serious charges against him without proper evidence?

What can the leadership do? Use power with responsibility. Use it, like the Taoists says, gently. Lead everyone, not just some. Be kind to your children whether they speak your language or another. Make those harsh eyes and voices gentler. Show love in your hearts. Show more tolerance and patience with your children. Include the bright sparks in the marginalised sectors who are struggling to find the equality that they have been promised on paper - don't marginalise them further by pushing them to suicides and to jail on charges of sedition.

The story unfolds yet and much information is not out there but from what is coming, one can guess where it is heading. At this point my respect for our leadership is not high. All has not been said yet, so I will still wait to see what the government has to say about all that it has said and done so far. The final act of the play is yet to play out. But so far, it does not look too good for us and our leaders if we treat our dissenting youth with suspicion and anger. Such an attitude will only distance them further.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sindbad the Sailor - Book Review

These are fantastic tales! Sindbad the beggar meets Sindbad the sailor by chance as he sings a lovely song about poverty and fate. Sindbad the sailor, a wealthy man who hears the song, invites the beggar inside and tells him some amazing stories of how he courted danger in search of fortune and how  he managed to come home richer from the experience. But the experiences are so scary that one wonders why he went back again. Surely Sindbad the beggar would have understood that riches do not court the weak and fearful. They court those who are enterprising.

In the first adventure called the 'Valley of Diamonds' Sindbad the sailor sets off to do trade in a ship. Somewhere along the route he gets off at an island where the ship has stopped and gets left behind. It's a lush island with fruits and fresh water. There is a huge dome of white that puzzles him. Sindbad realises that its the egg of a rukh bird, a bird so huge that it can cover the sun. He ties himself to the leg of the rukh, which flies off to an island, full of huge snakes. This is the valley of diamonds from which no man has ever come out alive. Those in search of diamonds throw carcasses into the valley and when birds of prey pick up that flesh, they hope to get some diamonds that get stuck on the flesh. Sindbad ties himself to the carcass but not before he gets a huge haul of diamonds for himself and then returns home a rich man.

In the second adventure titled 'The Black Giant' Sindbad sets off again and his ship is caught in a storm. They land on an island full of ape men who make off with the ship. From the ape men some of them escape and land in a place full of bones and a huge pot which belongs to the black giant. So huge is he that the earth shook when he walked. The black giant is a cannibal and he eats one of them - roasting them over a spit - right in front of the others. After three of the juiciest men are eaten, the others decide that they must make a break for it and they pierce the sleeping giants eyes and make off in a makeshift boat. On the next island the other two men with Sindbad are eaten by huge snakes. Sindbad makes himself a box of wood and survives the snakes. He somehow  makes his way to a ship. It's the same ship that the ape men had taken away and the captain is alive. Sindbad recovers his material and then uses his tradesmanship to make money before he returns home.

In the last adventure called 'The Cannibal King' Sindbad sets off to trade and his ship is wrecked. He lands in a dangerous tribe of Magians that feed people with food and oil that makes their bellies swell so the Magians can eat them. However Sindbad does not eat their food and stays away. He remains emaciated but sane while the other lose their senses. The Magians lose interest in him. Sindbad escapes and reaches a new land where he wins the favor of the king by making him saddles for his horses. The grateful king makes Sindbad marry a local girl and asks him to settle down. However the wife dies and the local custom is to bury the spouse with the dead spouse. Sindbad is buried in a cave full of corpses and he survives by killing all the live spouses who come down the cave with their dead ones and eating their food. In time he discovers an animal route to get out, takes all the belongings of the dead and escapes on a passing ship.

In all stories Sindbad survives by the skin of his teeth and by keeping his wits about him, He not only survives but makes a fortune as well because he takes brave initiatives when his existence is threatened, Sindbad is from Baghdad and his travels normally are form Baghdad to Basra. The story comes from the Arabian Tales. Fantastic stuff and full of gore and wonder.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Serious Men - Manu Joseph

The story is set in an Institute of High Science with an impressive name in Mumbai - researching astronomy and black holes, time and extra terrestrial stuff. Serious men work there and try to promote their  pet causes and interests and projects. Led by the eccentric and brilliant Arvind Acharya the Institute is bumbling along mainly in pursuit of his Balloon Mission. But there is opposition for him in Namboodri of the astronomer group. To complicate matters Oparna Goshmalik enters the scene and messes with everyone's head with her youth and beauty.
A dalit clerk with an IQ of 148 and who had cracked the Mensa, Ayyan Mani, works as PS to Acharya. He is unhappy that his lot will never get into the Brahminical positions that the top scientists occupy how much ever brilliant they are. He uses his intelligence and his devious mind to falsely promote his son as a genius and also to find out all the secrets at the institute. Meanwhile Arvind Acharya stumbles into an affair with the desperate Oparna who is fatally attracted to him (she is fatally attracted to males in general). Acharya withdraws as quickly. Oparna is a woman scorned and she writes to the Ministry that Acharya made her forge the samples in his test project and there was no trace of extra terrestria life as claimed. Acharya is dismissed and Namboodri and his cronies occupy his place.

But Ayyan, who likes Acharya, has an ace up his sleeve - a recording of a private conversation between Acharya and Oparna that exonerates Acharya from the crime. Acharya is back. Namboodri is also caught on tape saying bad things about dalits and gets beaten up. Ayyan and his son continue cheating the system (why he would do that instead of getting his son to study all that is something I could not understand but perhaps Ayyan had his own experience before him).

Interesting the way the Brahminical society and the intelligent and devious dalit are pitted against one another in a scientific environment. The brahmin gets the girl and the top post. the dalit plays the sidekick and is happy in his place. Though a lot has been written about it as being funny and real, I found the novel an okay read. It is well written and the story is nice - just that it moves rather slowly and the characters are too low key. But the issues are real and that way, funny.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Meeting Dilip D' Souza - Author, Activist, Free Spirit and a Gentleman

I met Dilip quite by chance a couple of years ago. He was in town to deliver a TED talk. My friend Anita Nair was in town to deliver a talk at the same event. She had an event to promote her book ‘Cut Like Wound’ as well. I was in conversation with her at the event and it was there that I met Dilip. The rest of the city had gone to a more high profile event with Amitav Ghosh or Gurcharan Das or someone else, so it was more like a bunch of friends that got together that day. Dilip formally launched the book that day and we stayed in touch since.
Dilip and Me

At the recent Non-Fiction festival in Mumbai we were both on a panel discussing cricket writing. That evening Miskil and I spent a delightful evening at his home in Bandra, bang opposite Sachin Tendulkar's house (Dilip's 'Final Test' is a critical evaluation of the Little Master's last test match), with his family.His other books include Branded by Law (about India's denotified tribes), Narmada Dammed (politics of development), Roadrunner (an Indian quest in America), The Curious Case of Binayak Sen and now, The Final Test.

For someone who is so unassuming Dilip is a much accomplished man with many awards to his credit (too many to mention here) and does many wonderful things. A BITS Pilani alumnus and an MS Computer Science from Brown University He writes mainly on social and political causes. Currently he writes a column for Mint on Mathematics and for other publications on sports and several other topics. Dilip is also described as an activist on his Wikipedia page - he is a member of the Managing Committee of Citizens for Peace in Mumbai, has worked with People's Union for Civil Liberties, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Ekta, was a member of Pakistan-India People's Forum, was on editorial board of the Consumer Guidance Society of India etc  He also supports Ummeed, an organisation that is engaged in child development - and as part of their fund raising walks the beaches in Goa - 55 kms a day every year.

Dilip was at the University of Hyderabad this week delivering a 3 day workshop on writing to the students of the Department of Mass Communications. On the last day of the workshop I stole him away for a few moments to speak to my students at the Department of Dance. It was an interesting question and answer session – why did you choose to write after a degree from BITS Pilani and Brown University and a lucrative career in software, how do you balance writing and money, how should we go about with our careers. Dilip told them that its about the journey. Though he is not trained as a writer he was drawn to it and enjoys the process. He’d like to be on the road if he wants to achieve something in this field.

We spent that evening at home chatting about this and that (including old girl friends and cricket). The next day I asked him if I could formally do an interview. Dilip graciously agreed.

Me: What is your average day like?
D: I try to wake up by 530 or 6 in the morning and get in an hour of work. Then the usual hustle and bustle as we get the kids ready to go to school. Then I get back to work again from 9 am to 12 am. Lunch. Back to work again from 2 pm to 5 pm. Some days I go to the Bandra Gym to play tennis. By now the kids are back home and hopefully before I hit the bed I try and get another hour of work.

Me: What are your hobbies? How else do you spend your time?
D: I read. Anything really. Non-fiction. Crime books. I enjoy reading Dennis Lehane the author of ‘Mystic River’. I am currently reading ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller. I enjoy listening to music. Older rock and roll and a few select Hindi songs. I love ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ and ‘Jaaneman Jaaneman’ which I remember singing with Vibha once. I have lots of music at home but don’t get time to listen to it. I was learning the piano and stopped. Want to start again. Want to explore jazz. I enjoy watching the odd film – the rare Bollywood film and more frequently Hollywood films. Then there is tennis and I am constantly on Twitter.

Me: Do you think your writing career is panning out that way you want it to?
D: Yes and No. I feel I’ve got to a stage where there is an audience that will accept what I write. But what's unsettling me right now is that I am not settling down to write my next book. I am not comfortable with that. I have written a novel – unfinished. I wrote 50000 words and then I got distracted and lost momentum. Need to get back to it.

Me: How has your progression been as a writer?
D: When I read my older pieces I see a naivety about it. But now I think I have become more nuanced. I feel when I read my older pieces that I was more angry. Now, I am angry but I can still put it across gently and in a better way.

Me: Do you think you found your voice?
D: Over the years I feel more like I found my voice. For long I think I copied the way my Dad wrote. But I think I write the way people speak so when people compliment me and say "I wish I could write like you etc" it feels good.

Me: How do you think you write?
D: I think I write clearly. With logic and reason. It's more about clarity. Style should serve the purpose.

Me: What advise would you give to any youngster on writing?
D: That 1)  Anything you write is about telling a story so find that story first 2) Look after the details 3) Flesh out the characters, observe people for little ticks that make your characters believable 4)  Provide a sense of place i.e. tell us about the place 5) Make connections, when thoughts come to you at tangents use them. Don’t dismiss them.

Me: Who are your favorite authors?
D: Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild), Pico Iyer, Dennis Lehane. And I absolutely love John McEnroe’s autobiography.

Me: And among Indian authors?
D: Naresh Fernandes (Taj Mahal Foxtrot, City Adrift), Suketu Mehta, Arundathi Roy

Me: Do you think there is a gap between foreign writers and Indian writers?
D: I don’t think there is a gap.

We ran out of time then so we wound up. But it was great talking to Dilip. We promised to catch up the next time I was in Mumbai and do a reality tour of Dharavi slums. That sounds interesting. In fact many things that Dilip does sound interesting like his campaigning for Ummeed and one gets the feeling that just by walking beside him and about him you will experience life at a whole new plane. Its an angle I like and admire. There is also a sense of balance about it all as he goes about it - his fine sense of humour and his firm, nonjudgmental and critical eye surely goes a long way into making it all fit into the same frame and coexist. So its easy to talk of my own superficial experiences with life and know he will listen with no judgment while I know that if I do scratch the surface of the subject matter of any of his books we would need days to even get to the heart of the matter be it denotified tribes or Narmada Bachao or Binayak Sen or Sachin Tendulkar or Mathematics or John McEnroe or Jazz music. Explosive stuff. I know nothing about most of the above. I will save that all for another interview (my excuse to ask stupid questions really!

Thanks Dilip. See you soon.

Friday, February 5, 2016

And some more stories

It's a part of our history. No wonder no one talks much about this secret - of caste. This is but one story.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Asterix - The Mansions of the Gods

The heroes from the one tiny village in Gaul that the mighty Roman empire could not conquer are back. Caesar is brooding as usual as he watches the games at the Arena. He hatches a plan to entice the simple people of the village with the pleasures of the Roman life. He sends an architect Squareonhypotenuse to build lovely Roman mansions near the village. Then he sends Roman civilians to occupy the mansions knowing that the Gauls would not hurt civilians. All this is not easily done because Dogmatix is not fond of people cutting down trees. But the architect with the long name is not one to give up easily either.

The Roman civilians come in droves and infect the peaceful countryside. They cause prices to go up and pollute the minds of the villagers. Caesar's plan seems to be working when the entire village moves to the mansions. Getafix the druid and Obelix are captured (Obelix is tasting hunger for the first time!). Asterix is the last surviving warrior guarding the village against the might of the Roman empire and he does not have a drop of magic potion left. All he has is his courage and his wits until he can get some help. And help he gets when Caesar unwittingly aids them by throwing away all the food in the dungeons where a hungry Obelix is waiting for a morsel.

The 3D effects are great. It started well for me, seemed to lose energy a bit but ended up well enough again. Anjali loved it and laughed out loud many times. But what made it most interesting were the whispers in the beginning when grown people kept saying - Dogmatix, Obelix, Asterix, Vitalstatistix etc. Popular bunch they are. If you've liked them, must see.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rohith Vemula - What We Have Made of a Dead Man's Last Wish

So with great alacrity and care, everyone from the Union Home Minister to the Education Minister to all sorts of high powers have established that Rohith is not a Dalit (apparently intelligence reports have reached them!). I don't know if his family should celebrate this elevation given by the government - something they might have liked it to do, even if it a symbol of equality, when he was alive. The powers that be, the media have also found out that his mother is a liar (though she claims otherwise that she is a Dalit). That Rohith himself could be a liar (for having claimed SC as his caste) which is a much smaller offense than the other things they have found out. That he is also anti-national and is casteist (all concerns shown by esteemed ministers).
(a fine report by Sudipto Mondal, someone who made the effort to go beyond and find out more)

So thanks to the government's ceaseless efforts, all of us are now absolved - it is not a Dalit suicide! Especially those who may have faced repercussions if Rohith was established to be a Dalit. All efforts have been made and will be made to ensure he is not a Dalit. (Surprisingly now he is not a Dalit, does he still have to bear the 'casteist' sigma or will that be expunged from the record?)

So what does that make him? A non-Dalit?

More importantly what does it make us, whom he left behind?

What it does make him is someone who is not a Dalit, as per the government. But whatever little I have read about his life is not different from one. He came from a broken home (hopefully no contention on that), who struggled through his life and achieved what he did with high ideals and surely effort (hopefully no contention on that because he seems to have got the admission on his own).

He somehow seems to have believed that he was a Dalit which is sad because now the government says he is not Dalit. He did not secure admission by using that now 'privileged' card. And certainly he seems to be a Dalit sympathiser being part of the ASA (Ambedkar Sudents Union, which is nowhere as fashionable as ABVP or any other student bodies because this simply represents 'those' unfashionable people). So this boy who believed he was a Dalit died perhaps for being a Dalit sympathiser which seems to be bad enough to warrant it.

So who owns Rohith? The non-Dalits? The ones who were quick to point out that he is not a Dalit? If a non-Dalit died then, should they not be mourning that a bit more? Or is their hatred towards the sympathy Dalits were getting in the ensuing political frenzy even more than the mourning they must do for one of their own?

Truth is no one will now own Rohith. Perhaps the Dalits will own him even if it is proven that he is not a Dalit. After all he did more for their cause than anyone else's. Than his own certainly.

What have our authorities done in their quest for the truth? They have shredded and torn and maligned the gentle, almost fearful words that Rohith wrote in his last letter. It was almost an apology cum a plea to leave his friends and enemies alone. Unfortunately he forgot to include himself and his family in the list of people to be left alone. Look what we have done for that careless mistake young man - we have just ripped your whole life apart - in your death.

So the memory of the boy with no caste (taken away by the government and a higher status deemed perhaps), now remains that of an anti national because he protested against Yakub Memon's hanging. Is there a law against that? (I wonder what then happens to all those people in Bollywood and outside who show great sympathy to Sanjay Dutt? To those who have deals with Dawood and the like? Are they also anti national?)

To say we, as a society, operate in an ocean of hypocrisy would be an understatement. But we have climbed another rung lower now. That we have no respect for the living is a known fact. But we have lost all our respect for the dead as well. There is little hope for a society if its leaders cannot put things into perspective. If it cannot be kind and understanding of its own children. If it has no qualms in dancing over the graves of those who could not bear it any longer.

My friend said - he does not deserve to be there. If he is so weak he should not get into activism. He should study.

How harsh is that. How hard. What have we become?

Let's consider another scenario.

Forget for a moment that two groups fight on the campus and one of them ends up getting bruised. Let's say two boys within the ABVP had fought among themselves. Would the Minister have taken up the issue and written to the Education Ministry? Would the education ministry have written to the VC? Would the VC have banned those?

Not likely.

In the end - if one were to take the government stand - it is a case where a non-Dalit boy died because he sympathised with Dalits perhaps. He probably had other reasons leading to his suicide (someone suggested that surely). Meanwhile the honorable and esteemed ministers and vice chancellors were merely writing routine letters to one another accusing students and campuses 'routinely' of having become dens harbouring anti nationals and casteist groups. And since it is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue, we are fine. (But if anyone talks in support of the other viewpoint we may include you in the anti-national and casteist list too.)

Rohith was very close to the truth when he said we are reduced to a vote. He got no justice while alive. Worse, even when dead. Whatever identity he claimed (do we have any charges that we can press against the family for that?) has now been taken away. Now he belongs neither here nor there. Like Manto's Tek Singh, Rohith dies in no man's land. Hopefully now, he will find peace there. His family has been stripped of whatever dignity they had and have been branded as liars and what not.

This is what we have achieved in the end. Other than the VC going on leave. And the acting VC going on leave.

This is what we can do to our youth if they open a dissenting thought.

This is what Avirook Sen calls - how India looks from the ground. Surprisingly in starkly different ways the cases of Rohith and Aarushi Talwar are also similar - of bias, incompetence and inefficiency. Of not respecting the dead.

In retrospect, the 'anti national' young man displayed far more grace, responsibility and forgiveness in his death note than what the collective powers are doing. It does not paint a pretty picture at all.

There is a universal principle however that we cannot escape from - what we give, we get. So beware our actions, our thoughts and our intent. They will come back to bite.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Anjali - Accentuate the Positive

Anjali 's dog phase extends to Max, my brother's beagle, who lives upstairs. Once in a while she goes up to play with Max and enjoys her time there.

The other day she came back with a triumphant look on her face.
'I taught Max how to sit,' she said.
Wow! A trainer!
'How?' I asked. Max is a tough fellow, rather obstinate.

'I showed Max a piece of food and he came running. I told him to sit. He still came for the food. But I insisted that he sit. After some time he understood and sat. Then I gave him the food. Now when I tell him to sit, he sits down first, and then I give him the food,' she said.

Very nice. I know from personal experience that she can be a ruthless teacher or facilitator - she does not give me a whiff of a chocolate on my non-chocolate days (The entire week save Sunday as decreed by her). My most heartfelt pleas are brushed aside until the desired behavior is displayed.

'Sometimes he sits even when I don't have food,' she said.

I read Ken Blanchard's 'Whale Done' and he talks exactly the same thing - about how they train whales to perform at the Sea World by 'accentuating the positive' behavior so trainees repeat that behavior. The whales are given a reward after they perform the actions that the trainers seek.

I am trying to get a couple of organisations to see the wisdom of this. I can understand how difficult it is for managers to see the wisdom of investing time and training behaviors. Glad Anjali got it right.