Monday, 30 November 2009

A scary ride

Recently, three young women on their way home to Goregaon mall felt it would be unsafe to walk the short stretch, considering that it was almost midnight and, incidentally, they were being followed by two men on a bike. They quickly stopped a rickshaw and asked the driver to take them home which was just at the end of the dark, lonely patch of road. The driver though developed cold feet at the idea.

He refused despite repeated assurances that several other autorickshaws are parked there for the night. The trio though managed to jump inside the rickshaw, unmindful of his protests, "How will I go back from there? What if someone murders me?" The only assurance which eventually gave him some strength came from one of the girls who offered to drop him back to the main road after he dropped the others home. Holding on to this promise, the driver reached the destination and perhaps also a realisation--the road was not as scary as he had imagined.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Remember, Not To Forget

Do you need more words reminding you yet again of 26/11? Hasn't enough been said? YES, I think you do and NO because I don't think enough has been said. Because, in this situation, I realise that it is extremely important to remember.. to never forget the courage and the sacrifice of our martyrs. It is this fact that alone that gave me the courage to pen down my thoughts today a year later.

The events of 26/11 and its after effects have been on my mind for weeks now, brought to the surface by varied comments and conversations and of course the media reporting. I was hesitant, unsure.. what right did I have to share my opinion and thoughts about the tragedy? I was just a mute spectator to the terror that unfolded across my city. I did remember.. I never forgot.. the impact it had on us.

I also realised that as a citizen of India and of Mumbai, it was also my responsibility to keep the memory alive... to remind us of the lessons we learnt over those fateful sixty hours but now have suddenly faded. For me, one of our biggest victories in those trying times was the fact that we stood together. We came together as a nation, setting aside factors such as religion, caste, language, age, strata and uniting the fierce condemnation of this heinous crime. It's time to remember that once again, because we are allowing motivated parties to divide us along caste, religion and the like. We cannot allow that. We must stand together.

What I also found most inspiring at that time was the collective voice of the youth of the country. Again, we came together... strong, loud, clear and committed. We stated our intent--we have a voice, we will be heard and we will participate in getting us through this situation. It was a strong message we sent to the world. It's time to remember that once again, because over the past year, that voice has been muted... our commitment to participating in the change has ebbed. It's time to rise again... lead the charge... lend support... make a change!

There were many other issues that came to light post this situation... and one year down the line there is still so much left untouched or incomplete. We shouldn't wait for an anniversary of an event to wake us up. 26/11 was deliberately brutal and we can't ever forget that. It is time we look ahead... to find ways where we can get involved individually and help bring focus and change. We will always remember those who lost their lives... we will never forget. But now, we need to show that they did not lose their lives in vain and in honour of their memory, the time has come for us to find ways to ensure that it never happens again!

I really want to know what you are thinking. What do you think we need to do as a nation? As citizens of this amazing country, what are the solutions we can provide? How can we participate in the process? Send me your thoughts on akshay3019@gmail.com . The bottom line... we have to participate in any change we want to effect... we have to remember... to never forget.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Culture of Fear

I'm fairly certain that you must be following the news at least on a daily basis, if not on an hourly basis. At least, enough to be aware of the happenings last week; this guy called Loin (I don't think it's his real name, par saara sheher usse yehi naam se jaanta hain) didn't care for Sachin Tendulkar's statement about being "an Indian first", and he said in his own editorial column in a newspaper that he was offended by this kind of broad-minded thinking. Let us leave aside the fact that I cannot understand anyone being offended by anything Sachin could say. Apart from being a genuinely sincere guy, there are only a handful people who have as much as him to make our country proud. I don't think anyone would disagree with me if I were to him as an Indian hero.

But we're an open-minded society. We live in the world's largest democracy, where people are entitled to have their own opinions. The people agreed with Sachin, and they shouted this agreement from the rooftops. The media, naturally, started talking about the issue. Newspapers, TV channels, radio stations... they all talked about what was going on. This angered the Loin's goons so much that one week later they spontaneously erupted, and without any kind of planning or forethought, barged into the offices of news channels in Bombay and Pune at the same time, and proceeded to beat up men and women working there.

Office-going men and women were beaten up by thugs and were told that criticism of their party would not be tolerated. Their clothes were ripped off, and they were beaten up with hockey sticks. This from an organization that touts itself as upholding Indian values. Obviously, I've missed something here; it was my understanding that Indian values involved respect and courtesy, particularly to women. But hey, we live in a democracy. People are entitled to have their own opinions, and if it is their opinion that innocent men and women should be beaten and humiliated, and women should be molested, that's their right isn't it?

Just so long as no one speaks out against them that would be bad. In other words, that would be anti-nationalistic.

What I'm wondering now is this: when are we going to get a taste of that great democracy? If terrorists (no, I don't think that's too strong a word) are allowed to roam freely, stirring up unrest and harming innocent people in the name of their freedom of speech, when will the rest of us get to feel as safe as them? I guarantee not one of those louts is even the least bothered about his future. They are quite literally, fearless. They're untouchable. The rest of us, I'm sorry to say, must continue to live in fear of what they will do next. Because it sure as hell ain't coming to an end any time soon.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Movie Review: My Brother Nikhil

My Brother Nikhil boasts of a very unique theme as it is a story not only about an AIDS patient, but also because it delves into the subject of homosexuality, a still debated topic in our culture. The story of My Brother Nikhil unfolds in Goa between the years 1987 and 1994 and tells the story of Nikhil (Sanjay Suri). All the characters in the film introduce themselves to the viewers and narrate the story of the guy they all loved--Nikhil.

Navin Kapoor (Victor Bannerjee), who is Nikhil's father and coach is very proud of his son Nikhil's achievement, since he is a state-level swimming champion. Nikhil is a very adorable guy whom everybody loves and has also won a scholarship from the sports ministry. His life comprises of his family, including his mother Anita Kapoor (Lillette Dubey), his elder sister Anamika (Juhi Chawla), who is his closest pal and confidante, Leena Gomes (Dipannita Sharma), who wants to marry him and boyfriend Nigel (Purab Kohli).

The movie takes a turn when Nikhil is arrested for some reasons. His parents who are unable to face social humiliation abandon him and friends and colleagues shun him too. Life is never the same for Nikhil as he is later sent to a secluded hospital ward and kept in solitary confinement, the reason being that he has been tested HIV Positive. During this time, it is only the love of his sister Anu and the comradeship of his friend Nigel that pulls him through the crisis. The two along with Nikhil fight relentlessly in pursuit of justice and social acceptance.

The theme of My Brother Nikhil is both emotionally compelling and socially relevant backed with some brilliant performances. The entire film has a certain amount of subtleness to it. The fact that the main protagonist Nikhil is a homosexual too has been treated with utmost sensitivity and there is absolutely no vulgarity or grossness about it.

Sanjay Suri, who turns producer with this film has given an extraordinary performance. Very few people can do justice to this unique role with dignity. This only goes to prove that he has immense potential in him, which needs to be nurtured and director Onir has done just that. Juhi Chawla as the endearing, supportive and defiant elder sister has given her career best performance. Purab Kohli as the gay lover is simply marvellous. Victor Bannerjee, as always is tremendous. The other star cast includes Gautam Kapoor, Dipannita Sharma, Shweta Kawatra, Shayan Munshi, Piya Rai Chaudhary and Sujoy Ghosh..

The cinematography by Arvind Kannabiran is striking, especially the locales of Goa and the various emotions of the characters which have been captured well in the camera. The music by Vivek Philip is good and the dialogues by Amitabh Varma are a welcome change from the other movies as this has a very natural appeal.

A must see movie for all those people who love intelligent yet artistic movies. On the ratings scale of one to five, this one gets a three and a half.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Namaste, Everyone?

On a recent nostalgia trip, I just couldn't help but be struck how gradually we lost our national identification mark--the ubiquitous Namaste. On a recent visit to a Japanese cultural programme, I just couldn't help but wonder for their immense respect towards everyone.

There is such charm and inherent grace in the gesture of Namaste that it made me feel quite nostalgic for the times when the Namaste (or the Namaskar) used to be the common way to greet family, friends and even strangers in India. Growing up, whenever we had guests at home, a Namaste was always the standard greeting. Even though as children, we never quite understood what it signified--the word in Sanskrit roughly transliterates as "I bow down to the divinity in you which is also within me"--in retrospect, it was the perfect salutation to bestow upon anyone.

Which is why it makes me so sad to see that we--the proud citizens of urban India--have jettisoned the Namaste in both our personal and professional lives. We have cheerfully abandoned the traditional greeting in favour of the more modern Hi or Hello. The poor, forgotten Namaste is only pulled out on rare occasions like a family wedding when you have to greet the in-laws. In the world of business, we now prefer to shake hands with the person we are meeting instead of folding our hands together in the more traditional way.

The only people who still diligently use the Namaste on a regular basis are our politicians and the employees of airlines and the employees of five star hotels. I have a sneaking suspicion that both groups embrace the gesture as a nod to political correctness--and will happily junk it once they are no longer in public display.

I, for one, cannot think of a more gracious, or even graceful way to greet people. The gesture has a certain old-world charm to it. So, rather than restrict the use of the Namaste to the most formal occasions, wouldn't it be great if we used it routinely in our lives as a way to reclaim our Indian identity? In fact, now that I think about it, there are several other 'Indian' traits that I would love to see make a comeback. The first among those is our tradition of taking our shoes off whenever we enter someone's house so that we don't carry the dirt and the muck of the outside indoors. Nobody does that anymore and how I wish they would!

Sometimes when the scent of aromatic candles tends to overwhelm me in the drawing rooms of my resolutely trendy friends, I wonder what happened to our love for the home-grown agarbattis. It has been pretty much relegated to the pooja room, its use being considered somewhat infra-dig in the rest of the house. But hey, it can perfume a room just as well, and sometimes even more effectively.

Then there's the small matter of flowers. For someone reason, our traditional Indian blooms are quite out of fashion these days. Never mind the humble marigold, nobody is even interested in the aromatic chameli which can scent the very air we breathe with its subtle fragrance. Instead, we flood our rooms with exotic flowers flown in from foreign shores, even if they don't look or smell half as good.

Over the years, we have abandoned many of our Indian traditions and ways as we tried to embrace the modern world and conquer it. But now that we have established ourselves as full-fledged citizens of a global superpower, there can be no shame in reclaiming our Indian heritage as our own.

So, how about we start with the humble Namaste and then take it from there? Please, no letters about this is a ''Hindu'' greeting and we shouldn't impose it on other religions. The Namaste may have its origins in Sanskrit but it is now a cultural rather than religious construct. It is universally recognized as an Indian greeting and there is no reason why all of us cannot embrace it.

After all, when it comes to recognizing the divinity that lies within each one of us, why should it matter which God we pray to?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Photographer in the city

A photographer from Delhi recently had a shocking experience while travelling from Churchgate to Bandra. As her cab waited at a traffic signal, her cellphone was snatched from her hand. She asked the cabbie to wait and started following the man in the narrow bylanes of Bandra, as it happens in the movies. As expected, the man managed to disappear.

Dejected, she headed back. The next morning, when she went to lodge a complaint at the Khar police station, she was pleasantly surprised by the treatment she got. The cop on duty turned out to be a lover of photography, who too had done a course at the J.J. School of Arts. After chatting with him for a while, she stepped out with a happy feeling, "The city is not so bad after all," she told one of my friends.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Harbour Darshan

It was the day when television channels were trying to desperately rhyme their breaking news headline with two words: lifeline and pipeline.

Last week, when a bridge fell on a Kalyan bound train, Central Railway passengers cursed their fate as the rare Thane train threatened to run till Kurla and then jump over to the Harbour Line and take them to Vashi, before returning to Thane. But the happy-go-lucky Dombivli bound crowd of aunties, young bankers and others who had met each other for the first time, chose to make the most of this 100 minute journey. They volunteered to share seats and hold bags, laughed at the crowd in the First Class compartment at 7 pm, tried hard to pronounce Ghansoli and even celebrated their rare view of the ''awesome'' Vashi station.

"It looks better than an airport," the most vocal of the aunties remarked and everyone followed it up with praises for the "lighting" , "highway" and the "lack of people" . One of them, a 20- something, leaned on the window and thanked her stars, "I got to see Vashi station on my birthday. My day is made," before managing to distribute one melting chocolate bar among at least 25 strangers. There was even some discussion on a possible water crisis that would follow the pipeline burst. But the women found humour in that as well. "Thank God, it's a Saturday. If there were no water at my place on a weekday, my colleagues would have suffered," the birthday girl said and promptly giggled.