Friday, 31 December 2010

A Resolve against Resolutions

Happy New Year!! It is that time of the year when we spend hours deciding the factual lies we are going to say to ourselves, family members, friends and basically to anyone who cares to listen to the ineffectual lies we generally end up saying at the start of a new year. It's that time when we resolve to make promises, we haven't a hope in hell of being able to keep. Statements such as "I'll lose weight", "I'll put on weight", "I'll not make people wait", "I'll join Alcoholics Anonymous", "I'll stop feeling sorry for myself" etc!

I'm sure you must have realized that I'm talking about the infamous "New Year Resolutions!" All of us make them, break them a few days into the new year. Well, I say, if we have to break them more like an obligation, then why make them in the first place? I can proudly proclaim that I have achieved that very few individuals to have survived on this planet, since time immemorial, have! I have managed to keep up to the last resolution I made--to never make a resolution again. I refuse to set myself boundaries or curb the flow of my destiny by a set of self-imposed shackles!

I know I might sound wounded, pessimistic and wary at the dawn of the new year but maybe because it's because of a constant barrage by various media channels and publications down the years which predictably have the same question to ask us each year which winds up. "What is your new year resolution?" Initially, I was a guinea pig, completely ignorant about the repercussions of innocently stating my resolutions in good faith. But then, I realized that each time a resolution bit the dust, it became subject to ridicule.

It is not that I judge people who make New Year resolutions. I respect them equally for trying to instill discipline into their lives. I wish them best of luck in keeping upto their promises. I wait to welcome them over to the dark sides when they fail. So once more, I have decided I'm not going to make a resolution! Oops... was that a resolution? On that note, Happy New Year!!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Silence as sedition

A true measure of being democratic is not the cycles of elections--it is the dignity given to disagreement, to dissent. Why must we dignify dissent? There are the arguments that we hear everyday: so that the views of the majority cannot silence the voices of a few; so that no one can view or institution may become so dominant as to become authoritarian; and the value of freedom of speech and expression in and of themselves. Any memory of the Indian Emergency in 1975-77 is testimony to why any of these are important. Yet there is a more fundamental reason why dissent is the cornerstone of a democracy: it is the action of a free citizen.

Speech is an action. An action within a democratic framework--an action that simultaneously shows a continuous faith in the polity, the State and the people even as one (often virulently) disagrees with it. An action that keeps a democratic system alive. You dissent as a citizen, in the name of the Constitution. You dissent because you have the freedom to do so--not a freedom you have been "given" but one that you possess because you, as part of the people, are sovereign. This is more important than what we are taught in our school and college textbooks--being able to voice our disagreement is as central as the ability to walk to a ballot box and cast our vote. This is a freedom we give to each other as democratic citizens and that we must protect, especially when we disagree.

There is no more fundamental understanding of what makes and sustains a democracy. Speech and engagement are the antithesis of apathy, of a people who have lost their sensitivity and ethical compass. You don't have to like what people say--indeed it is when what they say makes your blood boil that you must defend their right to speak even as you exercise your right to vocally and fiercely disagree with them.

Dr. Binayak Sen speaks. Through his actions and words, he protests, he engages, he dissents, he disagrees. His weapons are words, ideas and actions. Everything he does represents a strained, challenged but surviving faith and commitment to non-violent, democratic dissent though everyone around him should and must have given him so many reasons to lose that faith. His actions represent what makes India democratic and his conviction shows the deep fragility of our democracy today. If you wish to protect the nation-state, it is Dr. Binayak Sen you must protect.

Dr. Binayak Sen could have remained silent. Like so many of us, he could have been "safe" and not facing a life term in prison today. All he had to do was to shirk his duties as a citizen and an ethical human being and choose the easier way of remaining silent. The rest of us do so everyday in a country that is home to some of the most-entrenched and deepening inequality in the world. In our everyday lives, we stand by multiple exclusions and everyday acts of violence, homelessness, hunger, the removal of social benefits and a new India that measures its growth by its richest rather than its poorest. Why the poor do not revolt in arms is anyone's guess. They have no reason to wage a war against the rest of us who tolerate, sanction and reproduce their exclusion. So when those excluded and those that speak in favour choose to still speak and to engage democratically despite these violent exclusions, there can be nothing more important for our democracy to listen.

Those who (ab)use sedition often claim that the actions of people like Dr. Sen and Arundhati Roy are 'anti-India'. Let's agree to this claim for a moment and think in terms of 'defending India'. When we are silent in the face of rampant press censorship and collusion, when thousands die of hunger though grain rots in granaries, when the country celebrates its miracle growth even as agriculture stagnates and even contracts, when farmers commit suicide, when our own leaders make the word 'scandal' an everyday joke, are we not 'anti-India'? Is our silence not the greatest betrayal of every idea of India worth defending? If sedition is such a crime, is our silence not the greatest enactment of it?

Dr. Sen's conviction represents a crossroads for our democracy. It will no doubt be challenged in court and hopefully overturned but no legal victory can or will be enough. The conviction must be challenged by us as citizens. We must refuse to be silent. We must act--through protests, conversations, petitions, writing and pushing the government, our elected representatives and the media to take a stand. Whether we agree or disagree with Dr. Sen's world-view or his politics, we must speak up to defend not just his freedom to dissent but, crucially, our own right to be democratic.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Scamsters Dictionary

Between A. Raja and Niira Radia, the tapes and the taps, the Tata and the Chandrashekhar, it's become terribly confusing trying to figure out who has done what and when and to whom. It's almost like one of those kids' birthday party games where you try and pin the tail on the donkey while blindfolded. Competitive politics has made it tougher to figure out head from tail.

The reason everyone is totally confused is because the totals are so mind-boggling: Rs. 1.39 trillion is the figure being bandied about and anybody who had that kind of financial spectrum would be giggling hysterically all the way to the nearest bank in Liechtenstein, Switzerland.

It may have been a steep learning curve for someone but it has also been a steep learning curve for the rest of us, trying to figure all those arcane acronyms being bandied about. Try asking the Congress members what the 2G spectrum controversy is all about, most of them will draw a blank expression. They have been conditioned to believe that 2G is short for the two Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul and any other combination is beyond their comprehension. Mention 3G and the plot thickens with Priyanka added to the mix, even though now she's a Vadra. In Congress circles, however, a Gandhi is a Gandhi and will smell just as sweet (with due apologies to Shakespeare).

Back to the learning curve and the acronyms that everyone's so concerned about. Here's the first lesson in the Scamsters Dictionary: 2G led to the CAG which in turn led to the CBI which took it to the DoT. Then, the trail led to the TRAI which, in turn, has led all sorts of connection to the DMK in Chennai and elsewhere, made a sharp U-turn and moved back to the DIAL. Now, we have the ED getting involved, trying to ensure that the PMLA has not been violated. Finally, we are still trying to get to the bottom of how VCCPL carried so much clout in such a short time. That, we're told by the Opposition, can only happen if there is a JPC.

So far, the investigative bandwith is spanning the entire spectrum, from NGOs to chartered accountants, priests and editors, friends and family. Everything is relative. It seems to be like the licence which has something called UAS (Unlimited Access Services). Now we all who had unlimited access to whom and the raids on Niira Radia have given us a new phrase to include in the Scamsters Dictionary, "Economic Terrorist", as contributed by Praful Patel who has been stung by his name popping up in the tapes. It's become a mad race to clear your name as soon as possible.

For the uninitiated, the Scamsters Dictionary begins with DoT, or the Department of Telecommunications, which deals with anything to do with communications, from phones to faxes and everything in between. Then, we have TRAI or The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, a supposedly independent body. Next is VCCPL or Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Private Limited, the company owned by Niira Radia, which is a very independent entity, aka TRAI's former boss, joined after leaving TRAI, raising eyebrows but also VCCPL's bottom line.

We have another employee who had connections to DIAL, the Delhi International Airport Ltd, but so far he is not named in the CAG which, by the way, is yet another independent body, the Controller and Auditor General of India, the one that originally set the feline among the pigeons. We have now to GAG, which is the type of order issued by the CHC or the Congress High Command, to its spokespersons. Meanwhile, the CWC, the Congress Working Committee, is working overtime to ensure its ties with the DMK don't snap.

Finally, between the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) we hope to untangle some very tangled wires and cross connections. In fact, in all the confusion, the Scamsters Dictionary will be incomplete without one more acronym: QED (Quad Erat Demonstrandum: Marking the end of a logical argument by stating that I have reached the end of the argument and have proven my point).

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Santa Cause

"You better watch, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town!"

The lyrics of a popular Christmas carol act as a time machine transporting many of us to the days when we were young, innocent, lucky and naive enough to believe in the existence of a jolly plump fellow dressed up in a red and white suit, a snowy flowing beard, who went "ho ho ho" and called himself Santa Claus!! As children, most of us have believed in the legend of Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole toils away all year long to fly on his reindeer hauled by the red-nosed Rudolph, who climbs down our chimneys and brings us our Christmas presents!

As we grow older, cynical, too over smart for our own good and lose the innocence we once possessed, we ask the eternal and perennial question which ends up marking the demise of childhood! "Is there really a Santa Claus"? We end up googling his origins like I just did and find out that the basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus is Bishop Nicholas of Symrna (Izmir), in what is now Turkey. The Orthodox Church later raised St. Nicholas, the miracle worker, to a position of great esteem. In the Protestant areas of central and northern Germany, St. Nicholas came to be known as Weinachtsmann.

In England, he came to be called Father Christmas. St. Nicholas made his way to the United States with Dutch immigrants and began to be referred to as Santa Claus! Which brings me to another question. The one which we should be asking ourselves. Weren't we happier when we didn't ask this question? When we didn't google our query? When we blindly believed and strived to be better so that we wouldn't be crossed off Santa's list?

Santa to me represents the ultimate judge between the good and the evil, the foremost protector of our moral values and all in a manner that brings us joy and merriment! Would it be so bad to believe in him if it makes us better people? If it helps us regain some of the innocence of our lost childhood? If it makes us fear wrong doing and inspires us to do good deeds, what's wrong? If you ask me, Santa Claus does exist. Whenever we help the needy, bring a smile onto someone's face or stop ourselves from being selfish or mean, he beams proudly at us from his home in the ice-clad North Pole. Merry Christmas!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Santa Clauses

Santa's bag is again full of baddies. The so-called festive season kicks off with the news of more kickbacks and the hopeless wait for the promise of "tidings of great joy, peace on earth and goodwill towards all men". Women, as ironic as it may sound, never entered the beatific picture. This, despite the fact that it's the women force who now reign over us and the Christmas imagery. Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, like the Biblical shepherds, are watching over their respective flocks by blight and the bright star in the east is undoubtedly Mamata Banerjee.

There is also the Radia-nt star who has been raining fire on all television news channels over these past few weeks, sucking her entire phone book into a black hole. So, let's begin with Niira Radia in our 2010 edition of updated Christmas carols:

Niira, the red-faced Radia,
Had a very itchy phone,
And if it ever scratched you,
You would never think you'd moan.
All the other lobbyists
Used to turn a shade of green.
They never thought smart Radia's
Chats would ever spill the beans.

Then one stormy Delhi night,
The taxmen came to say,
"Radia, with your connections bright,
Won't you let us leak tonight?"
Then all the Open media,
Jumped up and down with glee.
They bared her tapes to glory
And made the powerbrokers his-to-ry!
****
Mingle, bells. Mingle belles.
Jangle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to roll
In the glitzy Page Three hay.
Dashing through the bashes,
On a one-night open slay,
O'er the guests we go,
Bitching all the way.
Belles on Singapore slinging,
Or on others spirits bright.
Oh what fun it is laugh and swing
And bring out all the bling
****
Grief to the world, the scams have come!
Let earth. Receive. Her crooks.
Let e-ve-ree-y agency
Prepare-e-rare their do-oo-oom
And all the accomplices sing
And all the accom-plice-es sing.

Grief to the world, the Raja reigns!
Let PAC. It's force. Let loose.
Let CBI-I-I
Try 2G-ji-ee-ee
And le-et them. Get. The Noose!!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lessons from Mediagate

Many people have asked me in the recent on what are the lessons we need to learn from the recent 2G Spectrum telecom scam and the recent Mediagate. Here is my quick take. An ordinary take? Perhaps...

Firstly, there are no good guys left in politics. Most rob, loot, extort and steal. A few stand by and watch, doing nothing to stop them. If you unfortunately have some favourite politicians which most of us don't, you can check out which category they fall in. The chances of them falling into either of these two aforementioned categories are 100 percent. If you want to know the truth about any scam, keep digging. There is no limit to venality here. No man is a thief alone. All thieves have family, friends, friend, associates, girlfriends and of course, bosses. Everyone of them makes money as they go along. That's what politics is all about: Joint Ventures.

There is nothing you cannot get done here. Anything is possible at the right price, if you have hired the right broker. It doesn't really matter how you designate or define the broker: lobbyist, PR consultant, policy advocate, political secretary, secretary general of an organization or a confederation, peon or pimp. They are the people who get the job done. When you cannot find the right broker, make friends with top journalists. They can provide you all the access you need. Sometimes foolishly, out of some mistaken sense of self-importance. Most times because these journalists themselves are in queue for some return favours from the person in office. They are the new part-time brokers.

You may be the most brilliant guy or girl around but becoming an entrepreneur in India is definitely not easy. It is the same bunch of guys (and their cronies and benamis) who get all the licences and permits and all the accolades in the media for successfully navigating their businesses through the turbulent waters of corruption and ineptitude. So catch on to a coat tail, people.

We have the left the Age of Immaculate Reputations way behind, be it in politics or business. There are brilliant crooks. And there are those who hire these brilliant crooks to get their dirty work done for them so that they can wring their hands in despair and bemoan the corruption all around. You will always find enough clever people to suggest that new laws and regulations should be framed to make businesses run by crooks legitimate. You will also find there are people who can coin the right title for the business to sound legitimate as well. So, a robber becomes a seeker of social justice and a pimp, a campaigner for alternative rights.

There is nothing wrong that some smart bureaucrats cannot explain away as perfectly legal. In fact, most of our laws are constructed in a way such that what's wrong can always be proved right and what's right can be proved wrong. The few laws that are not so ambivalent are being changed by these same clever leech-like bureaucrats to make them so.

There's nothing much one can do to punish a venal politician or a corrupt government officer apart from removing them from their current lucrative jobs so that they can walk into their twilight years, sip champegne on the French Riviera and live la dolce vita of the idle rich while new rascals grab their job to loot ordinary Indians like you and me all over again. To run a stable government, you must be deaf, dumb and blind, all at the same time. If you are not corrupt yourself, that's a plus for the job because then the media can always absolve you of any criminal intent and blame your colleagues instead. You too can occasionally join the blame game and point fingers at everyone around you. Very much like the way our good-for-nothing politicians do. Pointing fingers, it's quite fun in the end.

Even though the media may call you corrupt and blame you for all that's wrong with the world, remember it loves the bad. It's the bad that gets them their television rating points (TRPs) soaring. So it's no use doing stuff to change India, make it a better for all of us because no media will actually bother to report it. It took Mother Teresa fifty years to be recognized. It took Dawood Ibrahim three. A. Raja was famous in a fortnight.

When in the Opposition, look stupid and keep yelling at such a loud pitch that no one can hear what you are saying. If they can, they will point out that you did much worse when you were in power yourself. So just be very noisy. Don't allow your voice and yourself to be deciphered. Old crimes will crawl out of the past and knock you off your moral perch.

Surely, there are no lessons learnt. Ever. No one has asked who taped these private conversations and with whose permission. Everyone's so busy settling political scores that they have missed the real point. That people will in the government will one day tap into our telephone conversations and listen to them is the scariest scenario British writers like George Orwell once dreamt of. Today, unfortunately, it's an everyday reality.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The New Guerillas of News

Everything was going fine, just fine. And then suddenly, in the midst of a warm season of 9% GDP growth and a sizzling sensex, when India was the toast of the world, came the shocking Niira Radia tapes and all hell broke loose. No, it's not that one knew about the telecom scam or how vast sums of money had been looted. But till the first stone was cast, no one in the media wanted to pick it up. No one wanted to risk the wrath of the Government and the corporate sector, both prominent players in this ugly scam as well as important stakeholders in the media.

WikiLeaks is the same story. Much of what has emerged till now was known to everyone, including the fact that the US foreign policy has many faces, not all of them very pleasant, as they present it to be, till Julian Assange took the daring step of putting millions of classified cables on the Internet for everyone to see the sheer impact of lies and chicanery that go into it was never that obvious. The next lot of posts, one hears, will relate to US banking and its dark secrets. This again is not new. We all know why the economic recession happened but to see the truth in chilling cold print is another matter. What's protected under the code of secrecy is usually the ugly truth be it in politics, banking, telecom or war. That's precisely why a new journalism is now emerging to combat this.

Some call it citizen journalism. Others call it whistleblower journalism. I think it's simpler to call it the journalism of the eighties. Post the proclamation of the Indian Emergency, when everyone was sick and tired of the lies the Congress had told us, journalism came back on steroids to redefine its role. It's the same mood now. Everyone's fed up with the diversionary tactics employed by the media which has over the past two decades, made food, celebrity quirks, the private lives of movie stars, travel and lifestyle, music and brands, the opiate of a reality-shy generations that prefers reality television instead. So a new, muscular journalism is once again emerging to challenge Bollywood and cricket. Not many agree with Mr. Ratan Tata and now, Deepak Parekh that such journalism cannot trample on privacy and business. The focus right now is on probity. Probity in public life.

The new journalism is actually about self-service. WikiLeaks and the Niira Radia tapes offer you vast amounts of raw data to wade through and come to your own definitive conclusion. After that, you can read or listen to what journalists like Barkha Dutt have to say. You don't have to depend on people like me to tell you what's right or what's wrong. The facts are out there in the open in front of you. It's easier that way and you're less likely to be led astray by manipulative Governments and occasionally compromised journalists.

But doesn't that make the job of the common citizen more oneous, more tiresome? Who has the time to wade through so much raw data? I agree not many. But people like access to unprocessed, uncontaminated data. It gives them a sense of power. It's like going to a party which has a buffet lunch. Most people don't even see the entire array of food on offer, leave alone eat it. But it does give them a huge high to see such a spectacular spread out there, from which they can pick and choose what they want. It's the power that choice offers. It's the same reason why people take so many channels from a DTH menu even though they may watch hardly a few channels. No denying that people love choice. They like access to variety. The bigger the variety, the more empowered they feel. That's what WikiLeaks is all about. That's indeed what the Niira Radia tapes are also about. They make us believe we have insider information available us to make up our own mind. It is about democratizing information. It makes the common man feel he is participating in the process of history. And, as we know, it's the bad stuff that finally makes history. Not Lindsay Lohan's sexual craving or Yana Gupta's missing panties.

So, much as the US Government may try to browbeat WikiLeaks or corporate leaders in India may appeal to the Supreme Court to protect their privacy, the common man loves the anarchy. Every new leak gives him a sense of power. It gives him the access to stuff that's officially denied to him. That's what is important. And that's what journalism is all about: Our right to know what Governments hide from us. We know nothing will ever change. Our good-for-nothing leaders will continue to loot us, cheat us, lie to us, extort us. The only time to celebrate is when we access their darkest secrets and embarrass them. That's why Julian Assange and whoever leaked the Niira Radia tapes are the new heroes. They are the new-age guerrillas of the media. They are the ones empowering us to mock the rich and mighty who have made a mockery out of democracy.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Decoding the Radia tapes and other leaks

Are you confused with the hullaballoo surrounding the recent Niira Radia affair? To help you meet this challenge of our times, my activity partners prepared a few questions. Pick your answers from the multiple choices on offer and SMS them to Wikipedia. (Yes, it's bound to leak to the most important people you want to reach).

1): Who is a lobbyist?
a: She/he is a PR person
b: What's a PR person?
c: Ask Niira Radia.

2): Why does Niira spell her name with two "I"s?
a: She is superstitious
b: She is obsessed with I
c: She cannot spell

3): Why did Niira come to India?
a: To star in a film made by A. Raja titled "Radia--The Fearless"
b: To see the Taj by torchlight
c: To learn making phone calls in Tamil

4): What are Niira's hobbies?
a: Embroidery--of facts and things
b: Collecting stamps--and VIPs
c: Golf--thinking her phones can't be tapped outdoor

5): What do we know about A. Raja?
a: He is not a Raja
b: He doesn't want to be a Raja
c: He wants to be a Maharaja

6): What does 2G provide?
a: 1.1 lakh crores
b: Improved tonal quality of unwanted calls
c: A lot more than 1G

7): What are 2G and 3G?
a: Generations in the Nehru--Gandhi dynasty
b: Codes for secret Swiss bank lockers
c: 4.4 and 6.2 megahertz along with a multi-spectral continuum

8): Why do we have all these GSM, CDMA, G2, G3?
a: So that the argumentative Indian can argue in alphabets
b: To give Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Rajeev Chandrashekhar and Niira Radia something to do.
c: DKDC (Don't know, don't care)

9): What will happen to Niira now?
a: She'll communicate through a carrier pigeon
b: She will get a Padmashri
c: Niira who?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Not a wicked leak

The Outlook magazine has decided to put the mp3 audio files of phone conversations of Niira Radia on its website. For more than a week, any one has been free to download these files and listen to hundreds of conversations between Niira Radia and prominent journalists, politicians and top bureaucrats.

The conversations reveal how a British--Kenyan corporate lobbyist surviving on an Person of Indian Origin tag was trying to influence the nation's Union Cabinet formation. They reveal the amazing reach and power of this new class of "public relations" managers. They also reveal a close relationship between journalists and the subjects they cover. Such proximity is bound to affect objective news coverage. Are the tapes only an aberration, or is this the tip of an iceberg? So far nobody has completely denied the authenticity of the tapes.

Till the time of writing this, there is no court injunction to shut down the website. Simultaneously, there is a global community of volunteers who are furiously helping transcribe all those taped audio files. These conversations were from wire taps conducted by the Income Tax authorities in 2008 and 2009. Only one telephone was tapped, that of Niira Radia. Niira was being investigated for tax evasions and violations of foreign exchange laws.

The remarkable thing is that discussion about the recent Mediagate is that it came into Indian mainstream media (television, magazines and radio) only after a gap of more than ten days since the day these tapes became public. In the days of cutthroat competition for "breaking news", it is odd that this news did not break for ten days. Conspiracy? There was a deafening silence as if there was a tacit consensus that pirated unauthenticated stuff should not be published. But on the Internet, on Facebook and on Twitter, it was a raging topic, even becoming one of the top ten most discussed "trending topics". News about the Mediagate started appearing even in international dailies and journals like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Even then the news did not break here. What seems to have finally precipated matters is the recent whistleblower website WikiLeaks. By a curious coincidence the global media was happily reporting the latest installment of WikiLeaks, while our media was silent on Radia Leaks. The silence became unsustainable. The WikiLeaks documents are much more incendiary stuff, even though "stolen". They are extremely embarrassing to the authorities, the US government. They were sought to be suppressed on grounds that they would lead to endangering lives. Some people in the US are trying to have their government declare WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization. One particular person, a University professor no less, has asked that the founder Julian Assange be assasinated, like the leaders of Al-Qaeda!

So with such fierce opposition and government threats, if WikiLeaks could still be published, why not the Niira Radia tapes, which were equally incendiary? As a democracy, we already are committed to a citizen's right to information. Secrecy can never be a weapon to be used against the people. The US is also trying to promote open governments and transparency around the globe. So, it cannot be seen suppressing its own transcripts, even if they are obtained illegally. And if the US does prosecute WikiLekas, it would be by using its own laws, not by brute force or "goonda raj".

The Niira Radia tapes raise many issues and right to privacy is one of them. But just as we often weight tradeoffs between collective welfare and individual rights (as in land acquisition for a highway or metro), so also an individual's right to privacy must be weighed against the public interest. The revelation of the Niira Radia tapes throws immense light on behind the scenes workings of our government, news gatherers, opinion makers, power brokers and lobbyists. This sunshine on the tapes and information openly released into the Ganges of public opinion can only strengthen our democracy, not weaken it.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dangerous Liaisons

Journalism, a former editor-in-chief of the Time magazine once said, can never be silent. That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. "It must speak and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air".

At a time when the Indian media are a shining a light on some of the darkened crevices of our society, the journalism fraternity are accussed of having fallen unconsciously silent, as the fraternity suddenly finds their own dealings forced out of the shadows, as they become the story, as their faults are revealed and virtues reduced. The chances are you have either read the transcripts or heard the audio of the phone taps involving thirty journalists, including NDTV's group editor Barkha Dutt; Vir Sanghvi and the editor (languages) of the India Today group Prabhu Chawla; former managing editor Shankkar Aiyar; managing editor of The Financial Express MK Venu and The Economic Times assistant editor Ganapathy Subramaniam. There are indirect references to the editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times Sanjoy Narayan.

Income Tax authorities probing possible tax evasions recorded these conversations over six months in 2008 and 2009 from the phone of powerful Bombay corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, whose clients include India's biggest corporate names, the Tata group and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries. The backdrop is the so-called "2G scam", a much larger-and-ever widening scandal involving the dubious sale of telecommunication airwaves, or spectrum, for the second generation (2G) mobile phone networks. The sale, engineered by former Telecom Minister A Raja--whose appointment Niira Radia lobbied for--led to notional losses of more than Rs. 1 lakh to the Indian exchequer.

I see two immediate positives from the recent Mediagate. One, there appears to be more moral wrongdoing and silly talk than outright corruption; there is no evidence of payments. Two, the media have not stayed completely silent. The magazines Open and Outlook first published the raw transcripts and tapes, obtained they say from a petition filed before the Supreme Court by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who asked for an investigation into Niira Radia's role in the 2G scandal.

The government has now ordered investigators to find out who leaked the Niira Radia tapes, some of which were first delivered earlier this year as anonymous envelopes to many editors. Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, whose conversations with Niira Radia also feature in the tapes, has moved the Supreme Court, calling the tapes an invasion of his privacy. These tapes, all high-quality recordings, are certainly not fake. Were the phone taps legal? Yes. They were authorized by the home secretary of India after a request from the income tax authorities.

Phones are routinely tapped in India, perhaps more than in any serious democracy. A range of government authorities listen, legally and illegaly, to phone conversations, as do corporate spies, illegally. I doubt whether if my mobile or my landline at home is significant enough to be tapped, but my local telephone authority at the exchange could do it--with or without my permission. It is rare, though, for transcripts to become public. Legal phone taps fall under the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951 and any leak is a serious violation of the law and of privacy, as Ratan Tata rightly argues. These are leaks motivated by a noble purpose but to push as-yet unclear corporate or political agendas.

Yet, I am glad these conversations came to light. The liaisons between journalism, business and politics are not new, but the extent of these connections, the blurring of lines and the violation of public trust were certainly unknown to the public at large and unclear even to many of us who have chosen to steer clear of this cozy, make-believe world. I say make-believe because journalists delude themselves in thinking they can influence political choices, as they appear to be trying in some of the recordings. No minister has ever been picked or dropped on a journalist's recommendation. Many journalists had no qualms discussing a range of other murky business with Niira Radia--from story placements to "managing" a High Court judge.

It is always hardest to look within and acknowledge one's failings. That process has begun. This does not mean journalism will clean up it's image tomorrow morning. The era of what we call the "gifted journalist"-- who accepts gifts of silver, gold, land, preference shares and more from politicians and business--has been evident for years but still remains hidden from the public eye.

More of us are now writing about the recent Mediagate, confronting our compromises and the larger question of the compromised profession. On Wednesday night, NDTV's Barkha Dutt--a Padmashri awardee and a role model for many young people--subjected herself to grilling by her peers but did not acknowledge faults beyond "an error of judgment". We flinch now, as we should, from the taunts over Mediagate, I only hope it will push to cleanse, correct--at the very least, never stay silent again.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

India is not corrupt

Scams, scams, scams. Wherever you look, there are scams. So many in fact that people are losing faith in everything. Unless of course, you are a cynic and say, as many do, that corruption rules India with a firmer hand than any Government, you must disgusted to see how everyone in power has been looting india. A report on Global Financial Integrity last week mentioned $462 billion has been siphoned out since independence, most of it derived from corruption and kickbacks.

Now, I am the kind of person who cannot even figure out how many zeroes exist in $462 billion but it certainly looks like an astonishingly large figure. In the mid-eighties, journalists went behind Rajiv Gandhi for the Rs. 64 crore Bofors scam and even though, we knew the actual amount purloined was much more, it was never in the league of today's scams. The Commonwealth Games scam alone is approximately Rs. 70,000 crores and growing. The 2G Spectrum scam is Rs. 170,000 crore. Yes, I am learning how to count but Maths isn't the issue here. It's probity. Has it finally deserted us? Is everyone a chor, as an unknown Indian tweeted the other day? His exact words were: Is khel mein, sab chor hain.

Now that's something I find hard to believe. I personally feel it is not true. India by and large is not a corrupt nation. The ordinary Indians are not corrupt people. No, this is not wishful thinking. This is established on the basis of people we meet daily. Most Indians are honest, hard-working. They try really hard to live out their lives in difficult circumstances; whatever our GDP growth may be and the stock market indices may show. Life is certainly not easy for most of them. Yet, they demonstrate exemplary courage, dignity and faith.

What lets the ordinary Indian is the ruling elite, the 10% of India which grabs all the loot. They are the ones in control everywhere and they are so supremely networked that is almost impossible for the rest of us to break into the club of bandits and robber barons. So much so that we have literally come to believe that corruption is a way of life today. Look around you and you will see it prevalent everywhere. It's this 10% of India that manipulates the foundation of politics and policy and protects each other when the chips are down. They are connected to each other as in a feudal protectorate. Even in rare cases where they are not, there are enough pimps around to help them schmooze. That's the reason why parties change, leaders change, voting patterns change but no one can break the nexus of the supremely corrupt. They are all partners in crime even as they throw much at each other in the Parliament. Occasionally, when they are caught with their hand in the till, they are allowed to melt away. They are never punished.

Supporting this exclusive club in politics is bunch of indolent, leech-like bureaucrats. They have no political affiliations. They switch sides in a blink. They sense where power lies and they inveigle their way there, to make their own fortunes as well as the fortunes of their Teflon-clad political bosses. Sure, there are many bureaucrats who are honest, upright and impossible to corrupt. But most of them live a difficult life. Some suffer silently, waiting for retirement or better postings. Others quit the service.

The same is true for businessmen. A large number of Indian businessmen may not exactly be models of great rectitude that the society can emulate but the exact opposite is also true. There are many hardworking enterpreneurs, many amazing professionals who have created world-class companies that do make us feel proud. But the tragedy is that the system, the netas, the babus compel them to make compromises that they could otherwise avoid. Some are brave enough to refuse and bear the consequences. Others succumb citing political pressure. Scared, many squirrel away their money overseas because they don't know when the next bolt from the blue may strike. As a result, illicit outflows from India today account for nearly 72% of the underground economy.

Everyone knows that if we bring the money back, every Indian will have a job, no one will starve, no one will have to pay taxes and not just MPs, we would get free medical facilities and pension. But the tragedy is unfortunately, this will never happen because the entire money is secretly banked overseas which belongs to that 10% of India that rules over us and they see no risk in keeping it there.

While we, the 90% of India may keep protesting and raising our voices against corruption, there is no clear road map as yet emerging on how to take on this 10% of India and seize back what is rightfully ours. After all, Mahatma Gandhi fought and died for us. So did Subhash Chandra Bose and many others. Why must we allow a tiny bunch of fellow Indians to take this nation from us? Why should we live with the disgusting monikers, who allegedly representing the common man of India?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Inspiration

The word "inspiration" evokes so many definitions. There is inspiration to be absorbed from every individual. May it be from the way they carry themselves to the way they speak to the way they lead their lives. Some people lead very carefree, laid-back lives and some have an almost "to-hell-with-the-devil" approach to life. They face problems as they come, never stress and smile even in the face of adversity. It is an amazing trait in my opinion to see people emanating a positive side even in difficult times. Some people push their luck to the best possible limit, burn the midnight oil and personify the basic essence of "hard work".

One such story that never fails to amaze me is by the leaps and bounds of Sudha Chandran. The much-acclaimed dancer who later became an accomplished actress who had not just a humble beginning, but a very tragic one. At the age of fourteen, when most of us were riding cycles or daydreaming of making our parents proud, Sudha lost her leg. Picking up the pieces of her life as much as she could, she plunged on and battled it out with every living day and nightmarish night. She definitely isn't the type to lose hope and remained steadfast in her capabilities as a survivor, Sudha took life by the horns and swung it around.

Sudha resumed her career as a dancer after she got her a prosthetic foot which was highly appreciated. You can call it luck, but to have got to the point where she actually collided headfirst with luck was her own doing. She stood by her beliefs, most essentially her belief in herself and she had it in her to make a point to the world. Her story of willpower went on to inspire a Telugu movie by the name "Mayuri".

Now with almost half of a decade of emotionally connecting with not just Indians but all of the film industry, Sudha Chandran is a force to reckon with. She's the ideal woman--capable, inspiring, strong, morally sound and above everything else--an icon, a role model. Her work ethics which border obsessively on a virtuous and truthful establishment is something that we can seek to instill in our daily lives. Fame and luck are transitory. What you do to stay up there, is the real story, the grit in the grime and the one factor that will take you a cut above the rest.

Rose-tinted glasses are a thing of the past! Take them off and look into the sunshine! I have multiple role models--people whom I look up to and they are not the same person. Look for people who inspire you and if you cannot connect with anyone, look within. Your own strength and your own abilities are inspiration enough!

Movie Review: Vaaranam Aayiram

I am not a very big fan of Tamil movies since most of them defy the concept of logic. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I came across filmmaker Gautham Menon's Vaaranam Aayiram. In English, the title of the film means "a thousand elephants". It is an ancient verse in Tamil written by saint-poetess Andal denoting the love between her and Lord Krishna. Vaaranam Aayiram is definitely one of those few movies that have the ability to touch your heart.

The story begins with a 63 year old Krishnan (Surya Sivakumar), getting his hair trimmed at a local saloon. He dies due to throat cancer on reaching home. The news is conveyed to his son, Major Surya Krishnan (Surya Sivakumar) who is on his way on a rescue mission. Remembering his father's advice that life should go on irrespective of whatever happens, Surya decides to go ahead with his mission but he is overwhelmed by emotions.

In a flashback Surya goes down memory lane. He reflects on his metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood. Constantly moving back and forth from the past to the present, the film is a compelling look at the forces that guide one's life and how one eventually plays the game of life. Right from his childhood, Surya (Surya Sivakumar) derives his inspiration from his father Krishnan. He wants to emulate his father in all walks of life.

His father Krishnan, without being too preachy, imparts important human values to his son. As Surya grows up, Krishnan plays a meaningful and an important role--making his son Surya a man of character and courage. Surya's rise comes not as a result of a grand plan or ambition but as a result of his responses to a series of challenging circumstances that arise as his life unfolds, his father being the guiding force.

His real test is when Surya meets Meghna (Sameera Reddy) on a night train and falls madly in love with her. In his efforts to woo her, he follows her to the US and eventually wins her heart. Life takes a 360 degree turn when Meghna dies in the Oklahoma City Bombings. Surya goes wayward and takes to drugs and drinking.

How he overcomes his problems and finds his true self and life's charm are narrated in the remaining part of the story. Surya successfully bears the burden of the story's emotional and psychological baggage. As an adolescent, he bubbles with energy and as an adult, he portrays the inner scars beneath the tough guy with sensitivity and as a father he turns in a mature performance.

Simran as the mother/wife is an absolute delight. Her younger days are like watching a Shammi Kapoor movie of the 1960s and the heroines in them. On the technical side, the cinematography by Ratnavel and the music by Harris Jayaraj are of very high standards. The editing by Anthony and art direction by Rajeevan take the film ahead. The locales, the army flight, the dual roles, special effects, the painful sets like the interior of a train compartment, everything is very well-projected.

The movie is definitely for people who seek plain entertainment since most of the characters freely speak in English during their conversation. The length of the film is a deterrent but it could have been cropped up further considering many scenes are really long. On the whole, it's worth a watch and on the ratings scale, three out of five.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Master Dialogue

An enterprising urchin caught the attention of female commuters on a Churchgate-bound local recently when he started mouthing Bollywood dialogues each time someone to spoke to him. When a commuter asked the boy to alight, as "men" aren't allowed in the compartment, he announced, "Abhi toh mere khelne-kudne ke din hain. Bada ho jaaunga tab rok tok lagana" (These are my days to have fun. Stop me when I grow up)."

As commuters giggled, he looked around when smiled like a veteran actor. When someone threatened to report him to the authorities and warned that he could get beaten up by cops, the boy dramatically stood with one hand firmly on his waist and said, "Waise mard ko dard nahin hota (Men don't cry)."

The final gem tumbled out as the train was leaving a station and a commuter had to run some distance to catch it. Our young hero cried out, "Aise toh aadmi life mein doich time bhaagta hain. Olympic ka race ho, ya phir police ka case ho (A man only runs twice in his life--during an Olympics race or police chase)."

Needless to say, the women in the compartment roared with laughter. Some even offered him goodies, which he readily wolfed down. This time, without uttering a word.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Celebrations

I was walking home last night on a dark night and suddenly it dawned on me that the otherwise dark lanes were brightly lit. Though most of the shops were shut owing to the time I was returning home, the trees at the end of the roads were wrapped up with string lights. My first thought to this--what's happening? Is someone getting married? I continued to walk and noticed all lanes were beautifully done and lit up. Finally, I realized it is the Deepavali week!

As a child, this was the week I used to look forward to throughout the year. Back then, it was all buying clothes, firecrackers, meeting the family and extended family, prostrating at the feet of all elders in the hope of getting Rs. 100 from them. Festivals such as Deepavali used to be the only excuses where we got opportunities to meet my extended family.

Being born in a typical Tamil Brahmin family, we had days planned for specific rituals. The first day starts with the holy oil bath meant to commemorate the triumph over evil associated with the battle between the demon Narakasur and Lord Krishna. Being the only son, I was woken up at 5 am and made to sit on a platform and my grandmother used to oil my hair and give me a bath in cold water.

After I completed my bath, my grandmother would come with a puja thali and put vibhuti on my forehead and shoulders. As the day progressed, it would graduate to be more of a show-off because I had the habit of flaunting my clothes and bursting crackers. My grandmother used to feel no matter which coloured clothes I used to wear, I was still like a clown. I realized it very late that she was right.

Afternoons used to be a big family lunch along with the members of the extended family being together. It would be an event as all the members sat together laughing and eating. Nights used to be most eventful--lighting up the "diyas" all over the place and bursting firecrackers and eating to the fullest. This is what a typical Deepavali used to be in my childhood.

In 2005, after the demise of my cousin brother, I lost interest in bursting firecrackers and then the craze for them wore off as the environmental aspect became more obvious. Finally, I dedicated myself for celebrating Deepavali at the local temple organizing a "Deepolsavam" where we used to switch off tubelights and light the temple with diyas so as to spread the light.

Happiness is where your heart and family is. Wishing you a very Happy Deepavali. Remember, safety first!!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Movie Review: Gandha

I have always believed that some of the country's best stories are written and are found in regional cinema. Unfortunately, most of them remain imprisoned within their geographic and linguistic boundaries, flowering and withering away unnoticed or get overshadowed by Hindi cinema. Hence, it is necessary to look beyond Hindi cinema and capture the essence of regional cinema.

The Marathi film "Gandha" (Smell) directed by Sachin Kundalkar is strong on visual detailing, the perspective in which the stories unfold, the connect you feel with its character. After Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "Naalu Pennungal", this film comes closest to having a familiar plot with an originality and path-breaking in its own sense.

Gandha encompasses three simple stories about a bride-to-be who wants to fall in love and finds herself rejecting every suitor her parents find. Until one day, she meets a man to whom she is attracted to because of the way he smells. There is a stunning episode from the life of an HIV-affected man and his wife who are struggling to cut themselves away from each other. Lastly, there is a simple but engrossing slice of four days of a woman's life as she sits separated from her family because she is having her periods.

Sachin Kundalkar unfolds each story with utmost mastery and confidence of a veteran filmmaker. The dialogues are real and the actors are real that you can identify someone you know with them. The performances are endearing and impactful. A seemingly mundane episode of a woman having her periods, sitting out for four days doing nothing is so interestingly mounted on screen that one never bothers about where the story is heading. One gets the sense of the smell of that rain, the smell of the sheera the old lady is cooking downstairs, the smell of the book the lady reads poetry from. It is visual detailing at its simplest yet most exquisite.

With equal elan, the director manages to create the disturbing life of Sarang, the HIV-affected man's apartment. A claustrophobic individual in swanky surroundings, Milind Soman is a pleasant surprise. The story of the bride-to-be who sets out to find her own groom is as endearing and lovable as Sarang's story is disturbing.

"Gandha" is elegantly paced within its 1 hour 40 minutes running time. Abhijit Deshpande's editing deserves special kudos for its confident, placid style. There is so much faith in the material and the actos that there never seems any pressure to cut away for the sake of hurrying the pace. Rarely does one get to experience a film that has been edited for value than correction, gimmickry or pacing. Ditto for the camerawork by Amalendu Choudhary. The rain soaked village, the claustrophobia of Sarang moving through his apartment, or the lovely mystery accompanying Veena as she follows the smell of the man she is attracted to, images such as these remain etched in the mind.

Ably supported by some expressive production design, this film is an example of how craft and vision have the power to overcome small budgets. "Gandha" is the kind of film that soaks you in itself completely. It's the kind of film one as a viewer is happy being with. It's the kind of film one wishes never ends. And it never really ends because after involving us from three sporadic episodes from three random people's lives, Sachin Kundalkar chooses to exit those very lives with seemingly small resolutions, leaving it with a very open end.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In black and yellow

So much of Mumbai and its typical "isms" be discovered in those black-bodied, yellow-topped moving things. Just like India lives in its villages, some part of Mumbai definitely lives in its taxis. Savour this.


On a trip from Churchgate to CST, you ask the cabbie to turn left before Flora Fountain. But he tells you, "No, the Flora Fountain route is shorter. I have done the ARD." I wondered what ARD meant. The pace of Mumbai is such, it doesn't take long to decipher that he means R&D.


Then, another day, you are returning from a gastronomic journey to Mohammed Ali Road. And, there's this one cabbie who wants to go home. Nevertheless, he will drop you at CST first. High on kebabs and nihari, a friend gets chatting with the cabbie. Asks him if it's his girlfriend who called when his mobile rings. On being told that they are waiting for him at home, the cabbie wants to know what he will eat for dinner. "Whatever has been cooked."


When we reached CST, and the meter clocks Rs. 30, midnight charges included, the friend tells the cabbie, "Arre, you're a friend, take Rs. 20, not 30." The taxiwallah understands friendship. "If you're a friend, pay me Rs. 10 more instead. Give me 40," he says with a smile.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Strangers In The Night

It was Wednesday, the thirteenth of February, which marked the eleventh anniversary of Mahesh and Divya. Since morning, Divya had been extremely busy at home so much so that she didn't even have time to pause and wipe off the perspiration from her face. Divya, dressed in a modest maroon night gown, her hair tied up like a bun, her make-up all smudged was busy ticking off items in a long list clipped on the door of the refrigerator.

By five, she had succeeded in putting some kind of order into the arrangements. Chairs, tables, napkins, flowers, they were all there on the verandah, neatly arranged. Mahesh had come home much earlier than usual and was pleasantly surprised to see the arrangements she had made for their eleventh anniversary.

It was nearing nine when Divya started laying the table for dinner. As she was laying the table, there was a sudden power cut. She rushed to the kitchen and got a packet of birthday candles lying in between the Bru coffee packets above the refrigerator. Planting a red candle in the middle of the dining table, she sat down to have dinner. Every year, they followed a pattern of talking about their previous distractions. It wasn't a matter of concern as they had been very candid about these things. Thus, this year it was her turn to reveal her distraction.

She began her story after taking a deep breath. It was when she was a young college girl who was returning home after a classical music concert. She reached the station shortly after the last commuter train had departed from the station and there were no trains till morning. Dejected, she proceeded to the waiting room.

In the waiting room, she was approached by a young twenty something tall, gentle, charismatic, smart Muslim man asking her for a favour. She was so bored that she came down to doing anything for him. She kissed the man's fingers and also planted a kiss on his cheek. Meanwhile, Mahesh started taking deep breaths and his expressions were washed away by flares of jealousy. He asked her how she could even attempt such a thing despite being the daughter of conservative parents.

It was only when Mahesh quizzed her about this did she actually reply. She did this to protect the Muslim man's five year old kid who was being lured to join a terrorist organization as the city was burning due to communal violence.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Silently, She Cried...

Ritika Narayanan

Her shuddering frame, collapsed on the chair,
Numb, disbelieving.
She couldn't bear to see that villain
The matrimonial columns, again
Nearly all that was asked for,
She had.

Beautiful girl, from cultured family,
Well educated.

She had that and more.
Her degrees, all of five years old,
Her career, the envy of her peers,
Her demure manner,
Her practical thinking,
Her compassionate heart,
All, all reduced to the background
For the one thing she lacked.


Silently, she turned to the mirror and saw
Herself in all her dusky, Indian glory.
Yet sadly, she could not answer to the foremost requirement:

Fair, beautiful girl, from cultured family
Well educated.

A last sigh let loose,
And she became herself again.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Mumbai's Answer to Tokyo

A rush hour is generally that part of the day when traffic congestion on roads and crowding in public transport is at its highest. The rush hour in Tokyo, Japan has about 3000 passengers packed in a 10-car train and about 100,000 passengers generally transported in an hour, which makes it one of the most congested railway networks in the world.

It is a slice of Tokyo's rush hour that is played out in Thane for a few hours every morning and evening. A row of young railway policemen and women queue up along the narrow foot overbridge that lies at the Kalyan-end of Thane station, virtually splitting up the bridge into two.

As soon as a train chugs in (in the morning, trains from Kalyan and in the evenings, those arriving from CST), the policemen and women brace themselves for their task: Pushing the crowds to the exit. It made me wonder whether if these policemen knew that their task has been derived from the famed "pushers" of Tokyo's overcrowded underground railway stations.

Of course, I do realize that even if someone in the crowd finds it dehumanizing to be thus "channelized" towards the exit; frankly, there is no time or space to protest. Most in the milling crowds rushing for a bus or a rickshaw home, it would appear, have been immunized by years of being jostled around (or even felt up) in the narrow foot overbridge.

It is time that the oldest railway station in the country caught up with the changing times--and broadened its bridges.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Movie Review: Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa

"Ae rehbar-e-mulq-o-qaum zara,
Aankhen na chura, nazrein toh mila
Kuch hum bhi sunein, humko bhi bata
Yeh kiska lahu hain... yeh kaun mara?"

The much acclaimed film "Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa" is a narration of Sujata Chatterjee's (Jaya Bachchan) discovery of her son's Brati Chatterjee (Joy Sengupta) life. Made in the backdrop of the Naxalite uprising in West Bengal's Naxalbari, the film mostly deals with Sujata's quest for understanding her deceased son's ideologies and outlook towards life. Starting off with a mere corpse number ''1084" (which lends the film it's name), she establishes her son's identity, despite the social barriers surrounding her.

Sujata's character has been defined as a simple-minded mother whose love for her son gave her the strength to not only discover his pursuit in life, but also to find meaning in her own. Adapted from the short story of the same name by Mahaswetha Devi, Govind Nihalani's screenplay brings out a nice diagnosis of the varying ideologies of an entire generation--how a protected and almost shrouded environment can co-exist with an uprising that seeks to change the very foundation of society. The film explodes at a point where Sujata questions this very oddity, thus marking a moment of change in her own life.

The film has some rather intense moments with Nandini (Nandita Das). In almost a monologue, Nandini converses with Sujata where she not only brings to light a revolutionary and romantic episode of Brati's life but also rescues a mother dwelling amidst ignorance and compromises. A stark contrast to the dignified and contained Sujata, is Brati's friend Somu's mother (Seema Biswas) who despite her troubles, has seen more meaning and truth in her motherhood.

Joy Sengupta in a very minimal but crucial role captures the essence of human imagination. He plays with the emotions effortlessly. Seema Biswas in an important role is earnest but still manages to leave an indelible mark in her scenes. The role of an ignorant poor unfortunate woman has been tuned to a finesse by her. Nandita Das manages to bring an aura of dignity to her role. Not only does she enact the role with panache, but also, brings into broad relief the aspirations of the Naxalites and the reasons for their policies and principles. Milind Gunaji portrays his role with admirable restraint and ensures that the character heightens the drama.

On the whole, the movie is a broad swash on the canvas of our times and can indeed be considered as a landmark movie both in terms of the period it highlights and the inner turmoils of the characters it highlights. Socially, the film gains more relevance due to the fact that we are still struggling to eradicate the Naxal menace.

To end the review, one returns from the cinema with Sahir Ludhianvi's sher:

"Yeh hungama bida-e-shab hain, ae zulmat ke farzandon;

Saher ki dosh par gulnar parcham hum bhi dekhenge

Tumhein bhi dekhna hoga yeh alam; hum bhi dekhenge."

Friday, 10 September 2010

Kabhi Kabhie

आती हैं तेरी याद हमको कभी कभी

होती हैं ख़्वाबों में भी मुलाकात कभी कभी

कुछ अपना होश रहता हैं न दुनिया का हमें

जब होती हैं आँखों से बरसात कभी कभी

होता तो होगा तुझे हमारी चाहत का एहसास

होता तो होगा दिल भी बेताब कभी कभी

यह अलग बात हैं मुझे आदत हैं मुस्कुराने की

गुज़र जाती हैं मगर आंसुओं में रात कभी कभी

किस कम्बक्त को ज़रुरत हैं तेरी तस्वीर की?

आंसुओं से बन जाती हैं तेरी तस्वीर कभी कभी

दुनिया कहने लगेगी काफिर हमें भी

तेरे ताखौल को किया हैं सजदा कभी कभी

न पा सकी वो सुकून-इ-दिल तेरे साथ भी

जो मिल जाता हैं तेरे बाद कभी कभी

लिख तो लेता हूँ मैं हाल-इ-दिल मगर फिर भी

होती हैं लफ़्ज़ों की करनी महसूस कभी कभी

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A French Toast

When two male French tourists unknowingly accompanied their two women counterparts inside the ladies' compartment of the CST bound local the previous Tuesday, an Indian woman politely pointed out to one of the white women, "Excuse me, this is ladies".

To which, the female tourist, who couldn't comprehend the statement was indirectly meant for her male friends, shot back, in heavily accented English, "But I am lady, right?" The Indian passenger then had to point towards the men who were hanging out near the door and blissfully taking in the wet landscape. "Next station, that side", she said this time, stressing on every word as if she herself were French.

Of course, it worked. While the men got off, the women stayed back, making the otherwise sluggish "slow" journey to CST quite a memorable one. For starters, they had almost every female passenger in the compartment, including the one who got rid of their friends, blushing when they started taking pictures of them.

"Bictoria Station?" they enquired and when someone answered "last" perhaps decided they had enough time to subside their hunger pangs. So, from their shopping bag, out came a packet of Indian ginger cookies and pasteurized milk, which, to the amazement of Indian co-passengers, the duo drank directly from the plastic pack.

A rubber-band, fresh from supporting a pony tail, was then used to fasten the remaining milk, securing it for future use. They also watched in awe as women passengers "booked" seats in advance and everytime someone impatiently pushed them while alighting, one of these uninitiated women would say, "Wait, senora", step behind and add, "Now go".

Finally at Dadar, when they were blessed with a seat, it started raining. The always open doors were immediately shut, but what amused the French women was the fact that water found its way to their seats from the window, despite it being shut. They laughed at the sight and this time, the Indian co-passengers surprisingly joined in the laughter. "India, India" they chorused happily, staring at the gaps that were perhaps too obviously symbolic of the loopholes in our system.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Driving Blues

A short fifteen minute drive in any direction will show an individual that if Mumbai's carriageways were better managed, half of Mumbai's flyovers would be unnecessary.

One badly/wrongly/double-parked tempo or taxi throws the brake on a whole line of fast-moving traffic. A garbage bin jutting out an angle, or a foot away from the sidewalk, instead of being flush with the kerbside, creates the same obstruction and gives trucks and cabs to use the "cordoned off" space as legitimate parking. A temporary BMC shed for repair or construction is soon joined by a snaking line of corrugated iron, which becames permanently long after the municipal gangs have moved out, leaving a pile of never-removed debris in their wake.

And now, they saw off monsoon-precarious branches of roadside trees and leave them to rot on the carriageway, creating a literal logjam. I am not even going to mention the potholes, because I have fallen into them a long while ago. How easy it would be to smoothen traffic. And how naive of us to think that this is the primary purpose of sanctioning infrastructure projects.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Movie Review: Oru Pennum Randaanum

Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "Oru Pennum Randaanum" is a compilation of four separate short stories, written by prominent Malayali writer Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. The film has been set in the 1940s and it succeeds in taking the viewer to those times, which we all know about from the history books, old movies and of course, from the anecdotes of those who lived then.



The stories have been titled "Kallante Makan", "Niyavum Neethiyum", "Oru Koottukaran" and "Pankiyamma". The anguish of a young kid, who has to bear the brunt of living as the son of a robber (M.R. Gopakumar), is the theme of Kallante Makan. Niyamavum Neeyathium zooms in on an old police station where two corrupt constables (played by Nedumudi Venu and Jagannathan) finds some easy ways to solve certain cases.



"Oru Koottukaran" says the story of a lawyer (Jagadeesh) who is trying to help his friend (Sudheesh), a student to get rid of his secret lover's unwanted pregnancy. "Pankiyamma" narrates the story of a young, beautiful woman who has some men dancing to her tunes, fighting each other for her love. Her middle-aged husband (Ravi Vallathol), is besotted with the ample charms of Pankiyamma (Praveena) and she loves him as well. But at the same time, Pankiyamma has a secret lover (Manoj K. Jayan), who also believes that she loves him the most.

One of the highlights of Oru Pennum Randaanum is that Adoor narrates the stories, which handles complex emotions, in a simple way. It works perfectly well without the characteristic slow pace, silence or the overtone of philosophy. The actors have come up with fine some performances and the director has used mainstream actors including comedians in an intelligent manner.

Of all the performances, perhaps it is Praveena, who stands out with a stellar performance. She has performed the complex character of Pankiyamma with an amazing finesse and confidence. During these times when female characters are often limited to the kind where they have to look pretty and dance to the tunes of the hero, her character is remarkably strong.

M.J. Radhakrishnan's camera work has done wonders, while the music by Issac Thomas suits the mood of the film quite well. Adoor Gopalakrishnan has always been known to maintain high standards in technical aspects, like sounds and costumes for instance, which is very evident in the film.

The four stories are independent in nature and have only been related by its genre, crime. Oru Pennum Randaanum is certainly a genuine attempt that takes new-age Malayalam cinema to a different level. Watch it to appreciate the sincerity that has gone into its making! On the ratings scale, four out of five.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sister's Day Out...

With Raksha Bandhan coming up, I thought the most natural topic for this week would be my young cousin sister Nikita Subramani! Nikita and I are seven years apart and though we don't live in the city we are perhaps even closer now that she is occupied with her studies and other things.

To begin with, we have never been very close since we meet each other annually. I'd like to believe that fate brought us closer. I remember as kids we used to fight over such silly and worthless issues like Bombay v/s Bangalore. Typically, we would meet whenever there were outings or family functions and I would make sure that I pampered and troubled her thoroughly and her group of friends!

Eventually, we started growing more and more distant but it was Nikita who first took the initiative of calling me up every weekend. She has always been a great sister and a huge support structure to fall back on. I have always been exacting and have high standards that I judge myself and it's Nikita who always steps in and told me to "just be". Her biggest complaint is that I'm too harsh on myself! Point accepted.

As kids, we were particularly fascinated with this song "So Ja Chanda" from Mission Kashmir. I was mainly fascinated by the singer and she because of the lullaby-like melodyIt still makes me smile with the innocence she used to come and ask me to play the song on the tape-recorder so that she could fall asleep as she was the younger one. I still remember the smile on her face which used to reflect on her face as a baby.

There are two passions we indulge together, the first love being our craze for samosas and chocolates. We both run like kids when it comes to samosas and chocolates whenever we get an opportunity. All things said and done, there's nothing as amazing as having a sister although we're not the best examples of siblings. I'm proud to have Nikita as my sister :).

P.S.: The girl in question is my cousin sister Nikita :)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Be A Freedom Fighter

"It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you." Any person who has lived through the traumatic two years between 1975 and 1977, when the Indian Emergency was imposed by the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi will mention this point.

Today, as we celebrate our sixty-third year of Independence, something occured to me. Most of us have no clue what it means to not be independent. We were born free and have always been fortunate enough to take it for granted. We don't know what it's like to live with tyranny and we've never felt the frustration and despair that comes attached with it.

In school and my junior college years, I had the opportunity to study history. I wasn't the topper or anything of the sort but I was pretty interested in the subject. I remember the way I used to feel when I read about the struggle for independence from the British Raj. The laws and taxes imposed by the British in our country were nothing short of discriminatory and insane. It was plain for all to see. All except the people who were in power. I'm sure you are aware that salt was taxed. Just imagine eating food without salt. It used to drive me into a tizzy just merely imagining about it, so, would you be able to imagine what it was like for the people who actually lived in that era? No wonder, the entire nation united as one and rebelled. They were pushed to the breaking point.

The entire country consisting of ordinary middle-class people like you and me, stood up and fought for their rights and even though we don't exactly how many of them actually contributed to the freedom struggle as no statues or monuments were built to honour them, they were ultimately freedom fighters. Each one is responsible for the freedom we enjoy today. These people fought and died for the chance to do something that we can do today: choose the candidates who will lead India by voting thus ensuring we will have a better tomorrow.

I'm afraid that we have forgotten the sacrifices made not so long ago. By our grandparents and our parents. We lived free for all our lives and have never had to defend our freedom from anyone. Thus, we have lost the value for it. It no longer seems like something that needs to be cherished or even maintained. But the truth is, it must be maintained.

We do have to stand up and take responsibility for the state of our country today and the state it will be in years from now. Whether you realize it or not, that power is divided equally amongst every single one of us. It's really up to you; are you going to continue sitting back and be content with what we have? Or will you uphold the tradition of those nameless freedom fighters who fought for something larger themselves: their country? On that note, here's wishing you: Happy Independence Day!!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Left, right or centre?

You are full of questions in a distant land. But one question that haunts you in the first few days in a new place is 'right or left?' No, it's not about your political leanings.

It is a simple question that a cabbie might ask you once he senses that you are new to the place and wants to test his instinct by asking if he needs to turn right or left to reach your destination. You would try and say, "take the shortest possible route", confirming the taxiwallahs doubts and making his day.

My sister made an interesting observation about how to tackle this question. "When a taxiwallah in Bombay asks 'left or right', always choose the left," she advised.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

You've Got To Find What You Love

Steven Paul Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers, delivered this commencement address to the graduates of Stanford University, USA.

Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months before I really called it quits. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the 5 cents deposits to buy food with, and I would walk seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Here's one example: Reed College offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about what makes great typography great.

Ten years later, when we were designing the first Mackintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. If I had never dropped in on that course in college the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or for that matter even proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied Mac, it's likely no personal computer would have them. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very clear looking backwards 10 years later.

You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, your destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss. I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz (Steve Wozniak) and I started Apple when I was 20. In 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into $2 billion company. And then I got fired. It was devastating. But something slowly began to dawn on me--I still loved what I did. And so I decided to start over.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar is now the world's most successful animation studio. Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.

My third story is about death. About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is a doctor's code for "prepare to die". I had lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy. It turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I can get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you: Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalogue. In the final issue, on the back cover they put a photograph of an early morning country road. Beneath it were the words: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. It was their farewell message as they signed off. I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Movie Review: Devdas

Melancholy reigns supreme in "Devdas", a heartrending story of lover committed to self-destruction, a story penned by legendary Bengali writer Saratchandra Chatterjee and given the shape of an all-time classic by a master filmmaker Bimal Roy. The timeless Saratchandra Chatterjee novel has been treated impeccably by Bimal Roy in this 1955 movie that starred Dilip Kumar, Suchithra Sen, Vyjayanthimala and Motilal. Devdas is a film that grows on you and ultimately leaves you devastated by the tragic end of the protagonist.

Devdas is a moving tale that revolves around three characters: Devdas (Dilip Kumar), Paro (Suchithra Sen) who are childhood sweethearts and grow up together in Tal Sonapur, a village in West Bengal. Their association assumes the form of love when they become adults but Devdas faces opposition from his father, who rejects their marriage proposal since Devdas belongs to the higher caste zamindars. Paro is married off to a man who is twice her age with a grown up son and daughter while Devdas is packed off to erstwhile Calcutta where he takes to drinking anc comes in contact with Chunni Babu (Motilal), who introduces him to Chandramukhi (Vyjayanthimala), a dancer with a heart of gold.

Chandramukhi falls in love with Devdas, who is by now an incorrigible alcoholic, unaware of a reformed Chandramukhi's feelings. The drinking drives him to death, the end coming at the door of Paro's mansion. Devdas and Paro fail to meet and in that sombre moment the writer succeeds in evoking sympathy for the tragic hero, so brilliantly portrayed by Dilip Kumar. He was at his best in this film.

Devdas was Bimal Roy's tribute to a story seeped in sorrow, a most sensitive narration of a man who drinks himself into oblivion. It was Suchithra Sen's debut in a Hindi movie and she left a lasting impression with her controlled performance, her beauty leaving the audience in a trance. The three main actors were so sincere in their roles and given Bimal Roy's abilities as a filmmaker, they were bound to give memorable performances.

The spellbinding cinematic effort is heightened by S.D. Burman's music and a young Sahir Ludhianvi's enduring poetry. "Devdas", the one by Bimal Roy, alone brings alive the Saratchandra Chatterjee story, thanks a combination of really talented artists who signify the essence of pure cinema. On the ratings scale, four out of five.