Sunday, 27 August 2006

Contradictions

After a lazy sunday afternoon nap, we decided to watch Syriana. I was still a bit sleepy and I had been hoping for something not too complicated, so probably some bits of Syriana passed over my head without registering.

The film is complicated with different simultaneous and parallel story lines spread over different continents and in different languages, English, Farsi, Arabic and Urdu. The main aim of the film is to show how American multinationals involved in petrol extraction with active support from different American institutions, are willing to go to any length to keep on their profits, including the assassination of those who try to fight against their power. At the same time, short term thinking/planning of USA forces sometimes provide sophisticated weapons to those who later use them against American interests.

I was thinking of how so many Indian films are now equally vehement in showing nexus between corrupt politicians, underworld and other corrupted state institutions.

It is a victory of freedom of press if cinema can show such realities in so clear terms, pointing accusing fingers at the powers.

Yet, the fact that films like these can be done time and again and in spite of all the accusations, that do seem believable, nothing changes. Voters go on electing same persons, those same persons keep on doing what they were doing and public does not care. Then periodically, there are some "ritualistic cleaning" with some weakened power brokers who are sacrificed to satisfy the public hunger for justice and everything can continue as it was. It sounds very horrible and cynical and yet probably an accurate description of how "real" life is.

Coming back to Syriana, George Clooney must be passing though that "I am not just a beautiful body, I am a good actor" phase. It does seem unbelievable, his perplexity and confusion in the film, after being a secret agent for all his life in places like Beirut. The decision of Pakistani boys to be the suicide bombers is also not explained properly in the film, since at least one of them is not convinced about religious dope peddled by his instructors.

***

I always had an admiration for Isreal. There was a long time that I was convinced of having been a Jew in a previous life, who had lost his life in the holocaust. And I am deeply distrustful of religious fundamentalism of any kind, these days, especially the islamic kind. Yet, in the fight between Isrealis and Palestinians, I feel that Isreal is renegating its legacy of suffering and is behaving like the oppressive forces in nazi Germany, uncaring about the countless civilians that Isreali forces seem to crush with uncaring abandon.

Probably this feeling is because for me, this fight is not perceived as between Jews and Muslims but is seen as unequal force of strength between uncaring and powerful isrealis and desperate palestinians, trying to hold on to their homeland.

***

Saturday, 26 August 2006

Journeys and People: Together in the beehive

The train journeys used to take for ever and the preparations started days in advance. Letters were written for the friends on the way, who were going to host us in their homes for a night or two. Holdalls were prepared with blankets and gaddas, thin mattresses filled with cotton, and we pulled on the straps till they all rounded up like footballs. Biji, my grandmother, prepared a big basket of puris and fried potatoes along with mango and water chestnuts pickles for the journey.

Going to Hyderabad needed two nights and we stopped on the way in Bhopal. Going to Alipur Dwar in the north-east took three nights and we stopped on the way in Lucknow and Siliguri.

In the second class compartment of the train with three tyres, train seats were wooden planks and best was to have the top berth, because then you could go up and forget about the others. The bottom berth was where everyone sat while the middle berth was kept closed till it was time to go to sleep.

As you entered the compartment you immediately measured the others sharing the space with you. Were their faces smiling or were they sour faced? How did they react to, "Uncle, can I put this here?" And then soon everyone beamed with relief since the companions of our journey were as anxious as we were to find friendly faces.

Before you knew, everyone was talking to everyone. Children sharing comics or playing ludo or exchanging stories. Women together chatting as long lost sisters from a Manmohan Desai film. Men looking with understanding nods at their wives, and talking about their own things. Didi, bhabhi, bhai saheb, dada ji, aunty ji, soon everyone had found the right words to address the others. From the open window of the train, on a curve you could see the steam rising up from the engine and specks of charcoal came inside the compartment and coated all the faces, got stuck in the hair and went down the neck into the shirts. Chuk chuk chuk, the train went, with the compartments swaying as everyone spoke to everyone else.

And by the time the shared journey came to an end, we knew lot of things about each other, and saying goodbyes was like we were leaving friends. "Write to me", "If you come to Delhi, come to see us", were exchanged with addresses. Of course, we never saw each other again, those other lives were soon forgotten, the memories of faces and names fading quickly with time.

Every time I stopped to think about it, I could see the round ball of earth buzzing like a beehive, hundreds of thousands of small cells next to each other, each with its own family and relatives and lives, each family facing ups and downs, each with children growing up, persons dying, persons getting married. Even if I didn't know about them all, I could imagine them, each family like our own, a little different in somethings, but underneath every thing else, quite similar.

***

Now even in India, there are no steam engines. Those long journeys have become shorter. Here in Europe, even when I do travel on train, mostly I avoid eye contact with others, I almost never offer to others the food I am eating, I hardly ever (actually never) take puris and fried potatoes with me and anyway, most persons have a sandwich and a paper glass with some drink. On the planes, people sitting next to me, some times smile but it stops there. Talking to others that you don't know means "disturbing them" and so everyone looks out of the window or reads or closes eyes and feigns sleep, all lost in their own worlds.

Instead, when the urge to "meet" others comes, I do blog hopping. Like, going to a site like Desipundit and clicking on a blog.

Blog-hopping makes me "meet" other persons. That boy with the red scarf around his neck and his graduation at some IIT, his face full of hope for the future. That lady next to him must be his mother, she looks so proud of him. The girl he is looking at with so much adoration on his face, is she is wife or his girlfriend? There is no picture of his father in that album, why, what had happened? After the pictures, I want to read about the things that boy has written in his blog. And then I click on a link on that blog, then on another link, hoping from one person to another. That girl, she went to India for the first time. Her name is south Indian, perhaps she was born in USA? How does it feel to be surrounded by all Indian faces for the first time in your life, when you realise that you are like everyone else? Jumping between cities and continents. Looking at photo albums and reading about the persons is so much fun. In half an hour, I have gone through three blogs, looked at their pictures, read about their profiles.

Tomorrow, I won't remember them. If not tomorrow, perhaps next week I will forget them. I never remember their names any way. And I never tag them. I like them as they are, random, unexpected, like ships crossing and the passing glimpses into other parallel universes. Sometimes interesting, sometimes ordinary. Sometimes, I don't like them so much.

They are like the companions on a long train journey from my childhood. And I think of the giant beehive, all round the world, every where people with hopes, joys, illnesses, memories, sadness, visting beautiful places, missing places and people. It is good to be part of that beehive.

***

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Masala addiction

There is something in the spices, in the masala. You just have to taste it a couple of times and it enters your blood. The cells taste the fragrances enclosed in its molecules. And, then you can't resist its call. Days can pass without feeling the yearning for it. Yes I have outgrown it, you think. But the yearning comes back suddenly while you eat the wholesome nutritious, bland, spiceless food. If you are a masala lover once, you are a masala junkie forever!

Hindi films are like that. Once you have tasted them, you can't forget them. In spite of their silliness, their exagerated emotions, their illogicalities, their absent storylines, their corny songs. No, they are stupid, you tell yourself. Give me a hollywood blockbuster any day, I tell myself. A nice French or Italian flick. And then suddenly one evening, you are running to your friendly neighbourhood pirated video store, the hollywood blockbusters forgotten, your heart yearning for some song and dance masala laced with crying mothers, lovetorn couples, destines singed with unsurmountable barriers, that yet once again avoid the tragedy just by the nick. The wonderful world of Bollywood.

And then I found bwcinema dot com. Goodbye to pirated disks, that suddenly block in the middle of Shahrukh Khan telling Kiran Kher, "Mother, I am back!" You just need a good connection and you can watch all the masala without going out of your homes. Three days of unlimited films for as low as 3.99 dollars, the site said, and the suddenly the four day long weekend had found its purpose. And perhaps, this time, I am not going to fatten the Bangladeshi or Pakistani shop owners and be a traitor to India, I had thought. Perhaps, the film producers will get a percentage for each download.

I started with Morning Raga with its lovely carnatak music and a wonderful Shabana Azmi. IFFA awards and Filmfare awards followed. The first day ended with the reluctant patriotic fervor of Rang de Basanti.

I hardly slept that night, waking up at five in the morning to watch Ankahee, the Vikram Bhat-Sushmita Sen autobiography. And then I crashed, falling down asleep for eight hours straight. Chup Chup ke with crazy Paresh Rawal and Rajpal Yadav accompanied my hurridly cooked chinese noodles. A pity they had to spoil it with Shahid Kapur and Kareena.

The third day started with Corporate and I was starting to get over my yearning. I tried to follow it with Kabhi Alvida Na kehna, that had lousy print and even worse sound worthy of friendly neighbourhood pirate video shop. Is it legal, I asked myself? I mean, four days after the release of the film, here they are showing it on internet with a pirate print and they are based in USA and no one can do anything about it? May be this site is run by sons of Al Capone? Anyway, I gave up after fifteen minutes. Then I tried with Onkara. This print also looked pirated with the screen wobbling, as happens with camera prints, when someone tries to shoot the film with a handheld handycam in a cinema hall. So I shifted to Fanaa. This time the print was good even if the film's faked emotions were irritating in spite of wonderful Kajol. Finally to finish the feast, I had Chicken Tikka Masala, all about British humour about parents trying to marry off their gay son.

Now I feel like puking. My head hurts. If I look at the TV screen, red and blue spots float in front of my eyes. Wish I can burp. It is indigestion. I just want to curl up in my bed and not to think of any masala movie for a year. The yearning is gone and it seems it won't be back for long long time. Now from tomorrow, I can go back to my sane hollywood blockbusters and the intelligent Almodovars.

Hindi films? I screw my nose. They suck, I tell myself. Till the yearning comes back again, I am free.

***
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