Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Highs and Lows: Unsolicited Opinion

Given how saturated our lives are these days by the omnipresent, ubiquitous in-your-face media it's hard to be restrained in one's own reactions to the goings-on around you. There have been many events, incidents, occurrences and occasions when I have wanted to vent my frustration on this blog. But for some unknown reason I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Perhaps its the feeling that my opinion/observation would be just another shrill voice adding to the cacophony (literally - have you heard the likes of Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai trying to outshout their on-camera victims??) However, some time has passed and after much quiet reflection I have decided that I do want to put my do paise worth of opinion out there.

Brevity will be it though, since many of these happenings have lived out their time in the collective consciousness of the media - if not the people en generale. So here are a few things that have disturbed, enraged, upset and/or reassured me in varying degree. (in no particular order)

1) 26th November 2008: People aren't about to forget this date anytime soon. Many tears have been shed, even more words have been spoken and written. But at the time I felt nothing could heal the wound other than introspection. A serious and solemn look at our history - the parallel history of two nations which used to be one. And that erroneously forgotten human tragedy - the partition. It is said that amputees in the early days sense their missing limb as clearly as when it was still attached to their body. A phantom limb syndrome. Ring a bell does it?

2) Marathi Manoos and the politics of the MNS: An MNS worker said on television in an attempt to justify the Marathi Manoos agenda "In Rome you must do as the Romans do, or else....leave." How absurd. While they quite rightly point out that Mumbai is not Maharashtra they are unable to apply the same logic to their own mandate. For if they had, surely the MNS and Raj Thackeray would have done something for the suffering populace of Vidarbha? Surely his esteemed legions would have asserted their regional identity through Marathi Cinema and Theater....But how can they, when they are driven by nothing more than narrow political gain.

3) Media noise: It has been a while since 24X7 news became as normal as mobile phones. But how does one ignore the constant barrage of images that trivialise and sensationalise all at once. Everything is newsworthy and simultaneously nothing is. As if playing out an Orwellian saga, the camera is everywhere - lingering on every shard of glass, every drop of blood and every wrinkle on every tear stained cheek. All the world's a stage and today, someone is always watching. While the Simi Garewals and Barkha Dutt's of the world pass loud judgement, the rest of us struggle to hear the thoughts in our own head. Wildly gesticulating anchors proclaiming 'an exclusive, live, breaking news' every other minute leave no space for coherent thought. Everything is a premeditated, foregone and foretold. And in the meantime a girl and a man murdered brutally still wait for justice.

4)Mangalore, Kandhamal, Bajrang Dal, Shri Ram Sena, Intolerance INC: It seems in our country economic progress, steady growth rates and 'shining' labels are inversely proportional to tolerance. Every time such an incident occurs I find myself wondering how can one human being do this to another human being? Why is it so hard to live and let live? The musing, I am aware, sounds laughably naive. But no one - no newspaper, no book, no film, no friend or family member, no intellectual - has even brought me close to an answer. And since there is no reassurance from the State that Intolerance will not be tolerated, I believe we are on our own. (with the corporate honchos cheering for Modi, the whole thing has been painted an uglier shade)

5)Sanjay Dutt and his fall from grace: Munnabhai, MCP as he's been aptly christened on this blog has definitely lost favour with me once and for all. During his impending 6 year conviction almost two years ago I had written a semi-sympathetic post on this blog. And now I wish I hadn't. Read Sanju Baba's regressive spiel here.

6) New New Wave: On a slightly positive, uplifting note the arrival of 'Brave New Bollywood' has been such an encouraging development. So many good, heartwarming films have graced the big screen in the recent past. Dibakar Banerjee - without a doubt one of the torchbearers of this new cinema along with a few seasoned others like Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj and Rajat Kapoor. Small stories with great ambition that stay away from those broad brush strokes that Bollywood uses all too often to colour our notions. Just go over to and you will see the child-like wonder with which cinephiles - both known (like Kashyap) and unknown - are talking about this second-coming of mainstream cinema. Here's hoping there are more big-little movies like Aamir, A Wednesday, Mithya, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Khosla Ka Ghosla and Manorama Six Feet Under.

7) Slumdog Millionaire: Fact or Fiction or Who-Cares-As-Long-As-It's-Fun? I'm on the fence with this one. Do I take issue with the word 'Slumdog' -No. I think it has more to do with the word "underdog" than it has to do with the more Indian "gali ka kutta". (although in one of the sub-titles the hindi word kutta is replaced by the word slumdog) Do I have an issue with it as a film made by a foreigner who has little or no understanding of the complexities of India - Erm. Yes and No. The outsider argument does not seem relevant when you take into consideration that Danny Boyle has made the film primarily for a Western audience. Therefore the reliance on tiresome cliches like the Taj Mahal and the very Lonely Planet-ish image of the child-god Rama encountered in the scene where Jamal and Salim are running away from a riotous mob. The narrative structure too is fairly straightforward and formulaic at times, building up to a predictable yet exhilirating end. I thoroughly enjoyed the parts played by the youngest three - who were in my own personal view let down by the older actors who took over. The characters of Jamal, Salim and Latika outlined quite poignantly by them were somewhat abandoned by Dev Patel and the others. The tumble from the train, into the future was where it started going downhill for me.

An oversimplification of otherwise complex issues could have been ignored because one is so used to this lumping together of themes in a most superficial fashion in mainstream Bollywood. So while slums, squalour and even the rags-to-riches tale are fact, it is the telling of the tale that gives it away as pure fiction. So let all discussion stop at that. It is not refined social commentary. We know that. Does Danny Boyle know? I'm not sure. In the meantime....let's root for A.R because it's irrelevant whether he deserves recognition for the music in this film. The point is that he does.

8)Obama! : The world took notice as one man stepped up. What a moment. Forget whether he will be good for India or not and just revel in that most positive message of the year "yes we can!"

There. I said it. Now I can move on.

Cest la vie.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Winter in Delhi is many things. Bitterly cold, sun-less and bleak for the most part it can be an unhappy time for many. For me though, the city shrouded in mist is a happier place. Happier than the Delhi of April and May – when bathing defeats its own purpose and the tarred roads melting in protest, stick to your shoes. Happier than the city in monsoon when complaints are rife of potholes and puddles. No. Winter is relief.

And what an entrance it makes! Easing its way into our lives with a shudder here and a shiver there. Not like spring that reminds of the oppressive summer heat lurking ahead. Long hot days give way ever so gently to shorter days when the cool air brings goosebumps on bare arms. Night sneaks up on the day and the light fades dutifully. The sun doesn’t hurt anymore – its warmth spreading deliciously over skin bare now but soon to be hidden under warm layers. Soon instead of the once-a-week Chocobar, it’s warm smoky peanuts and seeking out the un-earthly pleasure of cracking their crunchy shell under thumb and forefinger. The city is changes its hues – Tilak Marg will be flanked by a skeletal army of trees. Trees that jealously kept out the sun, now filter its rays and create winter ephemera.

Like I said winter in Delhi is many things.

It is the billowing white mist from my mouth. It is layers of wooly pleasure – scarves, gloves, multi-coloured socks, shawls, sweaters, stockings and neck warmers. It is going to lodhi garden to watch the dogs play and laze around in the fickle sun - just like everyone else. It is huddling in an auto sharing a shawl while the wind makes light of your chattering teeth. It is waking up in the dark (when we were young) to go to school. It is a bonfire of dry leaves that dies out almost as soon as it is lit. It is the haze that hangs low on the empty streets at night and the halo that crowns the tall lights along the way. It is dahlias and chrysanthemums. It is lumpy quilts wrap around frigid toes and a frosty nose. It is sun-kissed mornings and plump oranges with tangerine jewels. It is the smell of freshly washed woolens and their fuzzy warmth baking in the sun. It is fallen leaves crackling underfoot and the smell of wood smoke.

To me winter in this city will always smell of burning leaves. Perhaps it is because until a few years ago these autumnal-discards were burnt in neat little piles along the roadside. The pungent acrid smell tickled the back of my throat. But mixed with the winter air, it felt cold but smelt of warmth. A warm woody fragrance that would get into my clothes if I got close enough to these winter pyres.

R shares my joy for the cold season. And though hers is a sartorial obsession we were equally excited about the steadily dipping mercury. One evening as we sat in auto speeding down Siri Fort road, considering the nip in the air with apt concentration R said something…..wonderful.

Don’t you think people seem a lot friendlier in winter?

Hmm. Why do you say that?

All this road rage and rabblerousing….it’s because in the summer everyone is so hot and bothered. But in winter…it’s so cold that people can’t be bothered about sticking their noses out of their monkey caps, let alone open their mouths to say something vile.

….I think you’re on to something.

I can’t wait for it to get so cold that my knuckles get jammed! says R here eyes the size of saucers. Hey, move over so I can get under your shawl. My nose is cold.

As we cowered in oner corner of the auto almost cheek-to-cheek with bare chested Sallu bhai, I caught a whiff of wood-smoke from a park nearby. Winter had warmed my heart yet again.