Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MY TAKE



Image Courtesy : Rico, www.gimmefever.com


The American President Barack Obama recently accepted the Nobel Peace Prize under much speculation & debate over a wartime president being awarded such an honor. While Obama was gracious enough to accept that he has not done enough yet to deserve the prestigious award, there is no doubting the President's oratory skills, and might I add, honesty. At his acceptance speech, Obama actually defended war. And honestly, I think he did the right thing. Obama professes to be an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi & civil rights leader Martin Luther King and believes in their principles. However, he confesses that "as a head of state sworn to protect & defend my nation, and in a world where war is sometimes necessary, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. A non-violent movement would not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down arms".



Don't get me wrong on this one though. No one with a head firmly on their shoulders would propagate war. The President doesn't. I don't. What hit me in Obama's statements, however, was that we live in a world where "war is sometimes necessary". And this is not a new phenomenon at all. Indeed, for all our desires of World peace, we cannot deny the unshakeable position war holds in mankind's past, present and future. If we take our own country, India for example, which has been invaded, ravaged, pillaged and ruled over by outsiders for eons, then probably we would realize the worth of this statement, and of war - the necessary evil.



In essence, why are wars waged? Either to protect or to expand. While wars waged on the lofty heights of ambition are the sorriest excuses of megalomania, who can oppose taking up arms in order to defend your land, your people and your dignity? I'm unapologetic if I attract controversy on this, but I've never really understood the principle of Ahimsa so deeply engraved in our history. I, like many Indians, am not a great fan of Mahatma Gandhi. I agree with his peaceful methods, but difficult times need difficult measures. The situation was surely different back then, and since I have only read about it and have not been a witness to the times, it would be easy for me to oppose the overtly peaceful path paved by Gandhi. However, I often ask myself & my friends, would the British have ruled over us for over 200 years if we had systematically taken up arms against them earlier? Would violence have won India its' freedom earlier than non-violence did? Was Subhash Chandra Bose a disillusioned villain- one who was intent on proving Gandhi wrong? Were Rani Laxmi Bai, Shivaji and the like wrong in fighting for their motherland? Sceptics would say that wars waged by rulers of the pre-British era yielded to nothing, but let's not forget that most of those defeats were party to bad organization, false pride, treachery and technological backwardness. If a burglar were to break into your house, would you back off trying to protect your family because he has a gun? If inevitable, you would engage him at the cost of your own life to protect those who're worth more than anything in the world to you. Let's not forget the pockets of violent resistance through the decades that seeded the British paranoia, and for the absence of them would have meant the invaders running roughshod over the motherland. If organized and well thought, they'd have had a far greater impact. Perhaps then, we'd have celebrated our independence much earlier. Perhaps, we were just lucky to have the British rule over us. I would love to know if turning the other cheek would have worked or would we be choking in a gas chamber had the Nazis ruled us - if it would have driven the Chinese away - If it would have deterred the repeat offender, the blood brother...



Then again, history gives us ample evidence that war is not the remedial solution to all of the world's ills. The American troops in Afghanistan have lost more than they've gained. The terrorists are still at large, and the troops' actions (due to depression, loneliness, hopelessness?) have not endeared them to the local populace either. The Heroes have fallen and in many pairs of eyes, have sunk as low as the villains. Simultaneously, several wars around the world have been just that - endless carnage, endless heartbreaks but no solutions. Closer home, Indian history throws up some interesting nuggets of wisdom. King Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty was determined to expand his empire pan-India, but got entrenched in intense soul-searching once he saw the madness of war and the lives that it engulfed unapologetically. The peaceful principles of Buddhism also converted Angulimaal, a dreaded dacoit who had a fetish for adding his victims' fingers to a garland around his neck, into a God fearing man. Why the world is still a peaceful place in spite of all the seemingly anarchic situations around the globe is perhaps because of the seeds of peace sowed by many of our philanthropic leaders, one of them perhaps the one who I am not a great fan of. Perhaps that is why, we as human beings - so uniquely diverse and diversely unique still share our lives in harmony. Small, petty quarrels are acceptable - after all, what is life without a little strife. Wars, however, have far greater implications than a mohalley ka jhagdaa. Can you imagine every man, woman and child across boundaries, cultures, religions, ethnicities and ideologies resorting to violence as a tool to settle their differences? The world would become one big Pandora's box - a domino of miseries and no way to shut it down. Remember, John Lennon's Imagine?



I am, by nature, a peaceful person. I love harmony in my life and a balance in people around me. I cringe at quarrels and scoff at being party to one. But I also know that when the time comes - when rightfully, my people, my dignity and what i hold dear are endangered, the cheek to be slapped will not be mine. Yes, we do live in a world where war is sometimes necessary.


(This is my take on war & peace, and I would love to hear yours…)


Image courtesy : www.kearnystreet.files.wordpress.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

THE LADY, THE IMAGINARY COW AND I...

Cow by Mondojohn, www.deviantart.com


A return to Mumbai invariably means taking the chaotic rush & traffic head on. It also means that all semblance (or rather, pretense) of road-etiquette inculcated on a foreign trip is lost in the melee of exhaust and human processions. Patiently waiting for the green signal becomes a forgotten memory (in spite of the fact that there isn't really a hurry to get anywhere. One's back to relax, isn't it? Or is it just our innate desire to be ahead at any cost?)

So it comes to be that his unquestioned self-imposed authority on the street takes over and he drives like it's his baap kaa road. However, a Godly wand is waved and speedy justice is delivered. Rash driving is countered by a woman sashaying her ware in a shockingly gaudy sari in the middle of the road, unperturbed by the fact that she's holding up traffic like the Holy Indian Cow. Her rump is all he gets to see (the rest is covered in blingy embellishments) and he could swear that the sway of her hips was not unlike the wag of a cow's tail. Another moment, and she would turn, her mouth full of cud and her eyes full of becalmed disdain.

The cow ambles along. The human in the car zips ahead and still drives like a maniac. The pedestrians continue to saunter on the road like one would in their garden. And hence, the game of retribution continues. Tit-for-tat, how's that?

Now how about working together? How about you use the zebra crossings and I follow the lane system? How about we make being on the street a more pleasurable experience? What? No, it's not mere baap kaa road but can't we just.... Hear me out... But..... I mean...

Ahhhh! Just forget it!!!! Carry on...

Friday, September 04, 2009

EMPTY MIND...


It has oft been stated that an empty mind is the Devil’s workshop.

Come now; let’s not be too negative, for some of the biggest creations & the best ideas crop up in an empty mind. It all boils down to application, will power, and a sense of craving fulfillment.

If, for example, you were sitting at home on a Saturday night, while the supposed “entire” world is out partying, what you do with your free time and empty mind is entirely up to you. You can squander it by doing inane, routine stuff or you can build that castle of ideas. It may not be easy, because in today’s world where everything is so damn convenient, most of us find it difficult to think, and have to actually condition our minds to squeeze out that bouquet of ideas. Of course, if you’re one of those who attach no certain value to your existence then your mind is bound to be a fountainhead of a “time-pass” ideology. Your mental canister is replete with thoughts of mischief, pranks, illogical & unnecessary ideas. But if you’re one whose mind houses both good & bad, then God bless you, because you are one rare breed of mischief & brilliance combined.

You lucky bastard, you!

Monday, July 13, 2009

THE ENDLESS LADDER

Photo courtesy: The Billyllama's Photostream


The ladder never ends. As you climb up rungs and live under the illusion or fallacy that you’ve secured one more victory in life, you look skywards and realize the ladder just got longer, the end somewhere out of sight, beyond the clouds…

All your life you can keep climbing the ladder in the quest to reach the top and never get there! This can be perceived in two ways – the optimist’s dream and the pessimist’s nightmare. The optimist sees this as ambition – a way to push oneself towards achieving more and more. The pessimist knows that this means being insatiable – never satisfied with what one has in life.

While on the way up, a hand may be extended at you for help. Grab it and help, because one good turn deserves another. Once you are higher, you might need a helping hand yourself. It is also true that at every rung scaled, a mad multitude of hands will crop out of nowhere to rip, drag & pummel you down. For just as one person’s manna is another person’s poison, likewise the success of one indeed poisons the minds of many. While many take joy in the success of one, there are others who do not think of how to replicate such success for themselves but plot how to displace the one who’s higher up somewhere on the ladder. Terminally, the seeds of misery are sown & the chalice of woe tipped over. No one emerges a winner. But in the Almighty’s courtyard, there will be justice for all. For one cannot wage a war against one’s destiny, and what is fated to happen shall play itself out.

Is it the need to survive that drives many to entrench self & others in miseries of their own making? A lesson needs to be learnt - Survival is not the sole mantra. Surviving peacefully, with contentment & without malice towards others is! And this will give you what no amount of wealth or fame can provide – adoration & respect of loved ones and the greatest treasure of them all – Happiness.

Therefore, live the optimist’s dream. Keep climbing, irrespective of the hands clawing at you. And while you’re at it, have tones of fun :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

THE GREEN LEAP

“Vishnu Dayal Galeria doesn’t know a solar lamp used for an hour means one kilo less carbon dioxide in the air. But a fortnight ago, when his family bought a couple of solar lanterns, they unknowingly contributed to the global green effort, thus suddenly finding a clean, affordable escape from generations of darkness. Thus, more than 15 million (1.5 crore) families are helping India combat climate change.”

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, June 5th 2009

Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that alternative sources of energy have already made more inroads into India than I had known. Baby steps have been taken and millions across the country are benefitting from these wise decisions. While authorities who hold the reign of our futures in their clammy hands ruminate & debate over what can be done to combat climate change, people in most rural areas are already showing the way. According to various articles, something like a small environmental revolution seems to be underway. That’s definitely something to crow about! Some of the instances mentioned are truly signs of good things to come. Tamil Nadu will soon have a railway coach factory that will run on wind power. Farmers in Kerala are using manure-based gas for cooking, instead of forest wood. Villagers in Orissa are planting trees on barren land. Himachal Pradesh has provided low energy consuming CFLs for free. As I write this, the monsoons have finally arrived in Mumbai and unimaginable respite has swept across the city. The air-conditioners have been unplugged & the humble fan is back in action. Children & adults alike are literally soaking in the weather with unabashed abandon. Still, the rains have been anticipated with a sliver of fear every year since the deluge of 2005, which was one of many disasters across the globe – a small but significant aftereffect of global warming. And the painful memory of that makes these baby steps to combat climate change all the more significant and meaningful

All said & done, these are still remote instances. Can this become a reality ALL over the country? One of my respected professors had once quoted, “Where there is a will, there is a RUNWAY!” Verily, if we will to soar with purpose & enthusiasm, then the mountain shall definitely come to Mohammed. Renewable energy is the new mantra, the manna to help tackle most ills plaguing our climate. Renewable sources of energy like solar energy, wind, biomass et al need to replace the more polluting & redundant coal generated energy and nuclear energy we are so dependent on. India is among the world’s five biggest storehouses of coal and depends heavily on thermal power — a major source of carbon emissions — to generate 70 per cent of its energy. Imagine the sheer curtailment in the amount of greenhouse gases by using renewable energy! But for it to be a successful investment for the future and become the spine of energy generation, it needs to become the main source of energy rather than languish as an alternative. To an extent, this requires renewable energy to be decentralised and be offered at an affordable price. That is something our sarkaar needs to look at. On a mass scale, awareness about the benefits of renewable energy needs to be all-pervasive, consequently catching eyeballs & imaginations of concerned citizens and the government. On this front, the print media and Greenpeace India is doing it’s bit to garner popular opinion & petitions towards the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh to pass a Renewable Energy Law as swiftly as possible to make this fledgling energy revolution an integral part of our future. The Green Idol campaign has already made its’ rounds in Mumbai & Bangalore and is headed countrywide for increased support for the Renewable Energy Law (www.greenidol.in)


Like you, even I am sceptical how gathering petitions alone will solve the crisis that we’re facing today. But if putting in my vote might get our voice & opinion across to those who make the decisions, then I’m all for it. And I’d rather know I’ve tried than sit at home & complain about mundane things. There’s so much YOU can do. Climate change is killing our planet, and consequently killing us. And before you look away, remember that the “US” includes “YOU” as well. Help save the planet for YOURSELF!

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon had quoted a historical statement and it rings true today for every step we will take towards actualizing a cleaner, greener India.

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Go on, take that small step, make that giant leap …


Monday, June 22, 2009

AN EXILE UNTO ITSELF

The Scream by Edward Munch

Apart from the bai-sexual jokes circulating about a shine-less actor these days, the other piece of news grabbing eyeballs has been the racist attacks on Indian students in Australia. Demonstrations were held, memorandums submitted and diplomatic relations rendered awkward. Hopefully, tensions will ease soon and life will go on as usual. Or will it?


In a world already divided by boundaries, language, religious beliefs & ideologies, further division & derision on the basis of color and features is disgusting. For long, many foreigners have taken potshots at us and have literally, made us feel like sh*t. As Indians, fortunately, we have largely been an extremely tolerant lot and forgiven many their trespasses, because as Mahatma Gandhi had wisely quoted, An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” Racism in any form in any part of the world is an unpardonable offense & those who indulge in it are not fit to be called human beings.


But who says Indians are always at the receiving end? We as Indians need to see beyond ourselves and cock the mirror to be able to witness our own fractured reality and our misdirected ire against fellow Indians just because some of them look like phirangs or follow a religion contrasting that of the National sentiment or speak a language which is not spoken nationwide. Yes, our country does have its differences on the basis of caste, creed, color and religion but that’s another story altogether. My grouse, as of many who do not “look” like Indians is that how do we cope with being branded a ‘foreigner’ after we, our parents & our grandparents have lived all our lives in India? Why is the warm feeling of acceptance always a fleeting illusion? Why does “but I’m an Indian” become an oft-repeated phrase for us? Why do we face & will keep facing taunts all our lives?


Generalization is preposterous. One bad fish does not make for an oceanful, and India absolutely cannot be seen as a subconsciously racist country. I thank all those large-hearted people who’ve accepted people like me as one of their own, but on a countrywide scale, I can’t help but wonder what lies in store for us who are Chinese/ Nepali/ German/ Nigerian / British/ American and the like by blood but Indian by birth, and proudly so . Mutual respect might not stop some around the world from continuing with their disparaging attitude towards us, but the least we can do is honor the Unity in Diversity tag that we so pride ourselves in, to be one in principle and action. Unless we achieve this singular goal, we have more to fear from ourselves than our neighbouring countries.


The statement of a North-eastern character in Chak De India might have gone unnoticed in all the grandeur of the movie, but it strikes a chord with all those who face my predicament. The line went thus – “How would you feel if you were treated like a guest in your own motherland?”


Seriously, how would you feel?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BACK BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

After the pleasantly salubrious South African winter, Mumbai’s fiercely unkind summer came as a rude shock. No two thoughts then, the short sojourn to Pune turns out to be just what the doctor ordered. Setting out in a pal’s swanky new car, foraging through the baleful traffic, I see the vehicles playing a teasing game, coming seductively close to one another but never touching hands, never brushing lips with each other. The swarm soon parts and the long flyover above part of the Arabian sea signals the arrival of the suburbs, or as I like to call it lovingly, the ‘jungles’ – just because it is so damn far away! The pace picks up on the expressway, and a few hours pass by indulging in conversation, some idle and some relevant, tossed with a generous helping of good music, laughter and mischief. Soon enough, we’ve left a hulking city to reach an equally chaotic junior one.

My stay with friends is at the Appointment House, a British era mansion in the Army Cantonment area, extremely reminiscent of school years spent in the lush & tranquil environ of Dehradun. . A mansion of similar architecture in school(since it was started by & for the British elite) , with slanting, thatched roofs meant to let the rain drop by and impossibly high ceilings to keep the house cool, would accommodate 28 boys, with six beds in one dormitory, a shoe room, a changing room & common toilets!!! Let me assure you it never was a tight squeeze. Not when the house was as capacious as this, not when the bathrooms are as big as kitchens and the living room alone as big as my entire house! Add to that a huge lawn and a massive backyard which hosts a servant’s quarter and a potential space for a sports facility. Once beyond the mansion’s gates, the hush becomes our consort and the outraged surroundings are mercifully placated. There in that house, I wish those moments wouldn’t slip away in a hurry and yet, there is never a dull moment, with healthy servings of laughter, cheap jokes, recollections, anecdotes and baatein kuch ankahi si :) And when the conversation threatens to die down, the pitter patter of rain on the roof adds music to an already magical setting.

In the short period of time spent in Pune, I glide dreamily through the simple pleasures of life (which I just can’t stop endorsing of late). Feeling the first rain as it runs down my body, soaking mind & body and rejuvenating the spirit with enthusiasm noveau. Sharing one puny umbrella, resulting in four very wet & cold friends. Chatting up a dear friend with whom exists an unexplainable bond over a cuppa coffee in a proper “coffee house”. Ruining a brand new shoe in a puddle of rain water. Sitting in the lawn on easy chairs, feeling the night rain give you goosebumps as it traces your face & bare arms. Facing power outages gleefully. Wrapping oneself up from head to toe to brave the cold, and still refusing to go indoors when it gets too cold. Seeing shadows where there are none, and noticing with trepidation hunching figures behind the branches, flower pots, chairs, curtains… Letting the imagination run wild, getting scared and scaring others as well.

Wanting a hug.

Wanting to give a hug.

The night in the house is spooky, with the sheer ampleness & the vacuum-like silence adding to it.

(I’m 8 years old again, waking up at abnormal hours in the night and experiencing dread in spite of the reassuring snores of dorm mates around me. My solace is to shut my eyes tight & pull the bedsheet over me, hoping it will be adequate to keep the spirits out).

When the bedsheet is pulled down, the sun has risen and it’s time to go back. The feet are dragging and the mind is unwilling to return. A hearty breakfast, a merry conversation and hugs & goodbyes later, the road is our domain again. The drive back is punctuated with more rain, a hilly landscape dotted by grey clouds, and a honeyed, dulcet voice singing sweet nothings in my ear :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

KIMBERLY - THE GHOST TOWN

Another week in the Rainbow country draws to an end. There have been memorable ones before this, and before the eraser of time limits my recollection of the week past, I put virtual pen to paper and recount it, although honestly, memories are one paradise we can never be expelled from.

Last night was spent in mirthful, mischievous banter with a friend, keeping me up late. When the sun peeped into my room this morning, the eyes were unwilling to open and the mind and body slow to action. Lack of sleep, the bane of billions! Whilst on a jog on the deserted Kimberly streets, I begin to wonder whether the ghosts of yore really do dwell in this sleepy town. The town wears a desolate, haunted look for the most part, with the streets devoid of humans, pets and even insects! The clean air is heavenly manna for my lungs, and the silence ... well, as Christina Rossetti puts it, the "Silence is more musical than any song." Museums, monuments, art galleries and cemeteries dot my immediate surroundings. The regular market place IS abuzz with activity and human traffic, but I avoid that in my quest for peaceful solitude. After spending the previous day in this city famous for it’s' diamonds, I had shuddered at the thought of staying longer in this place where time has stood still. Where, in some crazy, impossible way, the time line followed is that of the eighties and the night comes much before sunset. The pubs hold high spirited, friendly fellas and mateys, but few, and far in between. The fear of 'death by boredom' loomed large. But I needn't have lost sleep. The city, as if responding to my fear, embraced me and bared her secrets to me...

The Big Hole, they call it. A lava spewing volcano millions of years ago, which, post-dormancy would see a rush of miners in the quest for the ultimate prize - Diamonds! The lust for the stone would create rivers of sweat & blood and erode the hill over the next one hundred & fifty years to leave behind its namesake - A Big Hole in the ground! A mining site is something I'm familiar with, having seen coal mines in my hometown Dhanbad, but this place brings something novel - the outer facade of the mining site is maintained as it was decades ago. It stands there, a husk of a settlement straight out of an old Western, toting the gun in your face and daring you to be the faster draw. The mine was shut down in 1914, by which time it had already yielded 2472 kgs of diamonds. Now, hulks of defunct machinery, a museum, a replica of an underground mine and the hole itself remain. Inexplicably, I find this quaint, laid-back journey down the lane of history as fascinating as my spine chilling shark-dive in Capetown or the adrenaline-pumping quad-biking adventure in Port Elizabeth
A quick drive to the suburb takes me through war-fields, testimony to the ravages of the Anglo-Boer wars. Memorials have been erected in the city to honor the valor of the brave soldiers, their lives forfeit before their time. As is often said about Kimberly, this place is seeped in history, and this history is soaked in blood. Once past the battlefields, a common-sight railway line is racing us on our left. Only, something beautiful lies beyond these lines.... The Lesser Flamingos

They come to breed at the suburbs of Kimberly - the largest flamingo breeding ground in South Africa, established by a concerned conservationist and his colleagues. A bit of roughing it through knee-high grass as fiery as a lion's mane, getting stung by poison ivy & riddled with nettles, coming too close to deadly spiders and their tenacious webs, and crossing the fence around the lines gives access to the islands where the flamingos flock. They are noisy birds - a cacophony gone horribly wrong, but to watch them in flight is a sight to behold. If watching fish in an aquarium be your idea of therapy, I suggest watching flamingos in flight instead :)

Paying a visit to the flamingos also gives me an opportunity to do something I haven't done in a long time, and probably cannot do back home. I walk far and long on the railway tracks, unmindful of the overly bright sun, grateful for the gentle breeze and the fact that there is not a soul for miles around. I find my peace there in my solitude, walking, skipping, hopping across the lines and reminiscing my childhood.

(I'm running on railway lines outside my house in Dhanbad with a dear friend. We're chasing one other, stopping to put one ear to the track to determine the arrival of the next train. A child's game of leaving a coin on the track and the amazement of seeing it flattened shapeless & featureless ensues. We make faces at the passengers as the train whizzes by inches from our bodies. We trouble the buffalos and shoot rockets into the farmer's land. I watch the doodhwala adulterating the milk and do not realise whether it is right or wrong. The age of innocence. The age of Black and White. It seems like not so long ago...)

Cut to the present. I'm high up in the air, hovering above the Big Hole, over war-fields, over the Kimberly cricket stadium in a police chopper with friendly cops and a cameraman who I've grown fond of - a brusque man, rough around the edges but with glimpses of the goodness within. As the sun plays hide & seek from behind the clouds, the pilot does a sideway flip and suddenly the horizon is a vertical line. I reorient myself and soak in the view. Fireworks are going off in the stadium below. The team in yellow is celebrating a wicket. A thousand feet above, I'm celebrating my freedom, celebrating God for sharing this sight with me.

Back on ground, I go through the motions of a Presenter. Questions, anecdotes, packages, interviews, presentation, the usual. Even through the mundane, I thank God for granting me the good fortune of working with some fine human beings here, each a "diamond" in their own right. Meanwhile, the team in yellow has won and my eyes are roving for it's captain, a person I've longed to meet. The man with the genuine smile, he now leads the National Cricket Team, is from my state and is for me, as for many people, an inspiration. I sight him, and an easy conversation follows, with him reminiscing the days when he'd travel fromRanchi to Dhanbad to play cricket matches, and how the coal dust of my hometown would turn his white uniform to a peppered one in no time. A brief chat later, I find it difficult to contain my glee at having finally met one of my favorite people :)

It's late now. The stadium is empty, with the floodlights still illuminating every corner of The Oval. Tomorrow is another day, another city. Kimberly, a "boring, sleepy" city has exposed me to an unexpected fulfillment. In all it's simplicity, it has given me a sense of belonging, and I carry that warm feeling with me as I travel to a new city, a new experience....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

THE 70 mm DREAM

This post is for Jolene, who introduced me to Saawariya and its timeless story. Although I have attempted to put my interpretation of Saawariya across in words as best as I can, I feel I have not been able to do complete justice to this masterpiece. Nevertheless, the words are heartfelt and I hope you like it Jo …

In a well kept archive, the 70 mm larger-than-life dreams of many a director and visionary find abode. Year after year, they add to an already Himalayan stack of film reels. Some are taken out time& again, and the dream relived. The others are banished to the quoted realm of failure, nestling spiders and their intricate webs. In this banished realm of dust, cobwebs & anonymity there may lie a masterpiece, which was never recognized as one. But the haze will fail to mask its sheer brilliance from one who has the ‘eye’ for it. Saawariya turns out to be one such ethereal dream, an amalgamation of madness & brilliance. 

The world of Saawariya is dark& gloomy, yet light & mirthful. It is multicolored in its vibrancy yet monochromatic in its hue. This is a place you know cannot exist, a place ever changing, crackling with energy and at the same time static & still, just like the fantastical possibilities our dreams throw up. And yet, there it is, with its other-worldly-yet familiar magical mood. In this ephemeral world live two ordinary-yet-extraordinary people. 

One, the delinquent, fun-loving, philanthropic Raj, who believes in making everyone smile. He spreads joy to one and all irrespective of who or what they are. Everyone is an equal in his mind and he’s blessed with the silken voice that makes your heart ache for more. The second is the confused, alternately scared & fearless lissome lass Sakina. She has madness seeping through her laughter, and cries at the sound of a drop from the faucet joining the water in the fountain.  Her smile can light a thousand lamps, her tears can melt a million resolves. She has literally “fallen” in love with a stranger she met merely for a few nights and is in a hopeless abyss she does not wish to emerge from. She’s all that and more, and yet, you never know what she has on her arsenal next.
The peals of Sakina’s laughter & the melancholy of her sobs claw at Raj’s heart. Friendship brings them together and soon he falls in love with her, well knowing she’s one with another. He is the quintessential good guy, one you would want to adore and at the same time chide for being naive in love. He is innocence & charm personified, and  serenades Sakina with his honest-to-goodness voice. Masha Allah! Still, he’s human, and in a moment of weakness when he realizes his affections might go unreciprocated, he burns the letter from Sakina to her lover and sabotages her hopes of ever meeting her ‘stranger’ again. 

Lost on umeed, she turns to Raj for support, and in the bargain, maybe even starts loving him.

You want to scold Raj for trying to woo the girl of his dreams by such nefarious means, but his sincerity & true love pull your raised hand back. Saawariya becomes the story of two youngsters with their own interpretations of love and how far they are willing to go to win that love. In this play of emotions, your sympathy starts drifting towards Raj. In spite of what he’s done, you wish he would become one with Sakina. He almost does, until Sakina’s past comes back to catch up with her. And in that one penultimate moment, Raj is wiped clean from her memory and left there, heartbroken, watching the boat sail away with her & her ‘stranger’ in it. In that instant, your heart breaks too. You hate Sakina for having left someone as pure as Raj, who but committed only one folly to save his love. The pain of losing it is felt not in Raj’s words which he does not utter, but in his silence - pleading, begging, cajoling her to stay. A moment’s hesistation, and she’s gone. He’s alone once more and his life becomes clouded by the hue pervading the landscape – blue. You feel the sadness dragging you down. But you know that Raj is a good chap – ek Allah ka banda, and that he will be back soon, with his guitar, his soulful voice, his carefree dance and his unmatchable love. In that moment of emptiness, a smile comes across your face knowing that he’ll be all right…

Doli mein bithaake

Sitaaro se sajaake

Zamaane se churaake

Le jaayega ek roz tera udaa ke jiya

Saawariya

Saturday, February 21, 2009

THE PALETTE OF THE GODS

Image courtesy : pinkpanther27, www.deviantart.com

After having savored the little joys of the railways, road travels and towns recently, it is another day at the airport. Ho-hum, I think. Flights have become so drearingly monotonous that my foolproof POA is usually to sleep through the hours - before I know it, I’m at my destination. However, this particular flight turns out to be neo-exciting, thanks to the pilots who are generous enough to invite me in the cockpit & make me feel at home in the cramped environ. 

The setup is imposing!  There are switches, flip panels, lights, gears, dials, radar displays everywhere. The cockpit resembles a war room straight out of the dozen Hollywood movies I’ve watched. I am instantly impressed by these charming & sophisticated pilots- these brave, well-informed & focused men, who carry a great responsibility on their shoulders every single day, and who face everything, even the possibility of the loss of their lives with a smile & a to-die-for attitude.  They explain how the entire system works – the auto pilot, the navigation, the de-pressurization etcetra and I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can. The icing on the cake is the view from the cockpit. . I wonder, if God would ever sit on the clouds and look down upon his creation, this is probably how the world would look to him, tranquil and peaceful (and I wonder, how, of all days, do I forget to bring my camera along on this fateful day!!!). I preposterously attempt to explain in words what my eyes witness that evening. It looks like the palette of Gods, with colors so appealing and the mergers so heavenly- It reinforces my belief that there is definitely a higher power which has created the beautiful world that belies description by the greatest of wordsmiths & philosophers. When the plane turns, so does the horizon, as if slipping off the slant of a table. The loss of orientation is unnerving and for a while, the definitions of up and the down do not apply anymore. 

The clouds part way as we descend slowly, and the millions of city lights lay scattered across the landscape like tiny pieces of crushed glass. The descent creates a plummeting sensation which brings a lump to my throat. I recall a similar dread while on a Ferris wheel as a child. I buckle up & grab whatever I can to prevent myself from tumbling over, and the pilots reassure me with a calm voice & a charming demeanor. Once on terra-firma I’m the last passenger to leave, and I take away with me fond memories and smiles for miles & miles.

Friday, January 30, 2009

BACK ON TRACK: BACK ON THE ROAD

After spanning continents and touring big city after big city in aero-planes, I never realized how much I missed the small-town feel until I travelled to a few, including my own hometown recently. Some of the yawning distances have to be covered by air, but fortunately I am spared the monotony of air travel with some movement on roads and tracks. There's something about travelling in a train that shifts me into an overdrive & a slumber at the same time. In an aero-plane, the suffocating silence & formality are so restraining that I long for emancipation. In a train, there is a perpetual buzz around you - the constant whirring of the fan, the slightly shifting, slightly adjusting movement of people around the compartments, the incessant chatter of people from all walks of life – discussing wives, politics, TV shows, terrorism - literally anything & everything under the sun. Some of it is relevant, most of it "time-pass". Foods from different households packed in the definitive style of that family do the rounds. The freedom to strike a conversation with the most myriad group of strangers around is liberating. One may walk about with royal indifference and get a glimpse of the REAL people of India.
The stations are hubs of activity, with its characteristic sounds & smells - the chai wallah with his shrill, monotonous drone, the chaat wallah loudly promoting his ware, the vendors selling a variety of sweetmeats, fruits, books and the like. Book stalls are stocked with the best and the inane. The toilet is filthy and I nevertheless still get charged for using it. In the meanwhile, I rest assured I'll bump into every kind of person, and observation suddenly becomes my endearing past-time. Many stations pass by, and finally I alight at my destination. Porters charge towards me, and I charge away from them. They haggle, quarrel amongst each other and I walk away with my meager baggage and an indifferent attitude. The car is waiting, and I get in for another less-frequented mode of long distance transport – by road

In the small towns I visit, I notice that in spite of the evidently newly constructed dividers & buildings, nothing takes the inherent charm away. The lanes are small & congested with a handful of boys & girls – the boys boisterously loud & cheeky, the girls shy & reticent. The children pedal away furiously on their bicycles, attempting a poor but exhilarating mimicry of the fast life of the cities. Their bodies are agile, even if slightly arched by the burden of the schoolbag on their backs. The trees are playfully teased by the wind, and I could've never imagined that mere rustling of leaves could become a heavenly form of music. The koels are cooing and the melodious sound reverberates in my memory long after the sound's gone. Over-the-top posters of various local & "imported" brands dot the landscape & the greenery acts as a sharp contrast to the dusty & dry town limits. It is heartening to see how many things that city dwellers take for granted are such joy-imparting bonuses in towns. The idyllic setting, the slowness of life draws me towards it. The city of Mumbai where I live is so crowded it looks like a mass parade, a disjointed march-past between people who are surging ahead, purposefully or aimlessly. The constant chatter of Mumbai changes to a lazy silence here. And I realize my observation begins to peak. I hear the squirrels twittering in the tree, hiding in the most impossible of thickets and branches, with their tails jerking with every twitter, as if the sound were emanating not from their tiny mouths but from their tails. Were these continuous shrill twitters mating calls? Perhaps, because in another instant, another one joins our furry friend and both disappear high up in the tree. I see colorful kites entangled in the trees – neglected souvenirs of the just concluded Kite festival. The thrill of seeing the distant hills in just the moon light with nothing in between to obstruct the view reminds of the rush I felt with my first kiss.

I spend time with my family and look at all the people gathered to see me, proclaiming to be my friends. My friends left these towns long ago, in search of greener pastures. And in celebrity starved regions, privacy comes with great difficulty. The roads in parts are a nightmare & it takes more than a warm bath & a massage to recover from it. I am a guest with the Deputy Chief Minister and he's a good host. However, the overt lavishness of the evening is in sharp contrast to the crumbling town outside – a town that is beautiful but is also falling apart at the seams, its spirit broken but not defeated, trundling towards the faintest of flickers of hope. The wastefulness of personnel, food and monies inside those walls but not beyond appalls me. What good it could do if put in for the right purpose & in the right direction… Very soon, it is time to leave by road to catch my next flight. The journey from the town to the city is long and throws up more interesting sights. The massive chimneys at the outskirts of the city spew thick, white smoke, not unlike angry, billowing dragons. I notice conical thatched huts which are epitomes of beauty in all their simplicity. The exteriors of such huts are replicated in many resorts where one must pay a fortune to use them. Here, the simple village folk make it for themselves and live in what eludes most of us. For the first time, I see flocks of birds perched asleep in dried up trees. To be honest, the sight set against a darkened sky frightens me. There are patches of dark clouds and the moon is obscured. I fall into the clutches of a deep sleep and the unforgiving cold...

The first rays of the sun pry my eyes open for what lies ahead. The brightness of the greenery is a sight to behold for a person weary of living in a concrete jungle. I instantly crave to break free of the confines of my vehicle and gallivant into the lush green fields. My dreams have always been made of such open spaces, spaces symbolizing freedom and greatness. Spaces in the manner God made them – unbridled, untouched. Suddenly, I want to be the man herding the cows scattered all over like a child's toys. I want to be the boy bathing with complete abandon in the village pond. I want to be the woman leaning forward to work the rice in the fields. I want to be the men sitting on their haunches, sipping on their tea and indulging in morning banter. I want to be the boy frolicking in a puddle of rain water with his nervous grandfather. I want to be the girls riding their bicycles to school in their crisp, blue uniforms. I want to be the lad sitting around doing nothing. I want to be the family of gulls perched on the wall, side by side like wise old men looking towards the horizon. I want to be the train chugging along with its trademark coo, taking me forward in space and back in time. A barely 5 foot high mesh separates me from my desires. What hold me back are barriers of time and barriers set in my mind. The grass is literally greener on the other side, but it's not easy to cross over. I watch sudden drops of rain slide down the car windows as I stare outside in childlike wonder. The music playing is mellifluous, with Pankaj Udhas' "Aur ahista" slowly melting inside me and making me wish that things would really go more "ahista". Fuzon's "Mora saiyyan" blurs memories of a face long lost in the recesses of the mind. Richard Marx croons "Can't help fallin' in love with you" and "Aao na" gifts me memories of a year back and tears of the now, which surprise me…