Sunday, 30 December 2007

A frosty magical morning

There is something magical about waking up and looking at the twinkling lights of a christmas tree. This year our tree has ice white and blue lights that are beautiful.

I looked out of the window and saw that all trees were covered with white frost.

Frost or no frost, if you have a dog you need to go out in the morning so that he can err... shit and piss. I know, the two words, don't rhyme well with christmas trees and magical ice white and blue lights, but then even on magical mornings, you can't forget the realities of life, can you?

So out we were, I and Brando, shivering together and walking amidst grass that looked like it had been altered with photoshop. In the part of the park where elderly persons have their handkerchief patches of "kitchen gardens", surviving lettuce, cabbages had been turned into ice-statues by some demon.

Someone had covered their tiny plants with plastic bottles to save them from the frost, they stood up like Milo's Venuses, their arms chopped off by the same demon.

In the end, it was indeed a magical morning.




















Sunday, 23 December 2007

Is Bhatinda the new Jhumaritalaiya?

Finally I saw JBJ, Jhoom Baraber Jhoom.

The reviews were so bad and I am not a real fan of any of its stars, so I was not very motivated to watch the film. However the music was wonderful and I kept on listening to the songs. Even after many more newer movies had come and gone, the music of JBJ continues to pulsate in my head even now.

Plus the negative reviews are actually a plus point, the more negative the reviews, the less expectations I have when I do watch some of those film. This is true up to a point. There are certain films with unbelievable storylines, that good or bad reviews, that I don’t want to watch any way. But for films like JBJ, I think that bad reviews are good since almost always I end up feeling that the film was not so terrible after all.

That is how I started watching it, ready to doze off while watching it. Yes, I hate to admit it but it seems to happen quite frequently recently, that I doze off while watching some films and my wife swears that I snore louder than the background music of some of these films. So I was there, feeling a little complacent and superior, about the depths the Bollywood film industry has fallen to, sprawled on the sofa in the living room.

Guess what, I never dozed off and on the whole I liked the film. I thought it was a little whacky but it was good fun. I loved Lara Dutta too, the first part of the film, like in the song "Ticket to Bollywood".

I even liked Amitabh Bhacchan, he looks kind of cute and he seems to be enjoying himself.

But I can understand the point of all the critics and aam junta, who didn’t like this film. It is a real nightmare, especially for those defending Bhartiya sanskriti and NRI dreams. The film bulldozes almost all the sacred cows dear to babies fed on mamma Yashraj films’ milk of Raichand families, Rahuls, Veer-Zaaras. Yes, I know I am mixing my Chopras, Johars and Barjatyas, but I am sure you get point I want to make.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is a subsversive film

The film has been packaged as usual YR Films’ dream merchants’ usual masala fare, but actually it is quite subversive and not very subtle about it.

Most of all, it does not respect Indian sensibilities. Probably it rankled the nuts of our Pakistani brothers as well. One of my femminist friends was telling me that there is nothing like an "attack on our culture" to bring Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis together. While taking care of their errant wives/daughters/sisters, they forget all their other differences. And, this film is an "attack on our culture", no doubts about it. Let me explain myself better.

AB’s baby (Abhishekh Bachchan) as Rikki Thakural, originally from Bhatinda and transplated in Queen’s Engliand, could be a bhaiyya living under madam Mayawati ji, even if occasionally his accent does get English. He is a crook, bumming off magazines and other things from honest shopkeepers (remember Amrish Puri, the stern father of DDLJ?). He could be Bunty who has run away from Allahabad and landed in UK. No sophistication, no house with the staircase fit for horse-riding, no chandeliers, no private helicopter, no loving mother waiting with aarti ki thali. The character must have been like ice cold showers to all those Bhatindawallas planning to sell off their lands to migrate to the land of milk and honey. I mean, how can you emigrate to the land of the plenty and continue to be a crook and bhaiyya? What kind of dreams are these?

And, BTW, is Bhatinda the new Jhumaritalaiya? Lot of the heroes and heroines these days are from Bhatinda. Remember JBM and the sikhni, Geet? I bet, it is a ploy to raise up the property prices in Bhatinda, but let me not digress.

Zinta baby’s Alvira Khan (Preity Zinta) is a Pakistani babe who must be the nightmare of all Indian and Pakistani parents, who are losing the desperate fights to keep their children uncorrupted by the decadent values of western culture (if you can call them values and culture!). All those NRIs don’t need to go to cinema to see those nightmares, they live them every day, so why should they watch a movie that revels in glorifying that nightmare? A good Muslim girl does not wear short minis and does not talk with strangers at the Railway station. Not even one burkha scene in the film! Terrible for our Asian culture!

And, the story of love between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy, it is a serious business. It can be done like in Veer Zaara, but what kind of values are you promoting if you never raise the religion issue in the whole film? Are we trying to say that for love, religion is not important? Terrible, no sharm haya is left in today’s world!

Lara Dutta looks good enough to eat in the first half of the film, but in the second half, her character as the tart Laila is terrible. I mean, we can be understanding about these "fallen" women with loose morals but they must show a bit of remorse for their situation, and they must be willing to cover their heads and coyly ask for maafi, while chanting Hanuman chalisa. However, Laila does not feel any remorse, she uses dirty words, behaves like a slut and then takes a honest mummy-loving dear lad like Satvinder (Bobby Deol) and turns him in to one of those modern kinds who go out with their girl friends without worrying about Bharitiya Sanskriti or their moms.

The film was not given an “adults only” certificate and I am sure that it must have been an insidious but gravely deleterious effect on the morals of our corruptible youngsters. Rightfully it was refused by our intelligent public of NRIs and hopefull NRIs in India.

I hope YR films (and their brothers and sisters in Johar films, Bartajatya films, etc.) have learnt their lesson and are preparing the next episode of Raichand-Rahul saga with half-naked cold-proof heroine dressed in a Bhartiya sari dancing in the Swiss mountains, waiting to cover her head demurely with her sari and touch senior Raichand ji’s feet as his respectful bahu, while celebrating karva chauth. I bet that will be a huge hit.

I the mean time, I am still smiling after finishing towatch JBJ, but then I was already morally corrupted, so that is no big news that I like all these faltu films!

***

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Films of Ferzan Ozpetek

Today I saw the new film of Ferzan Ozpetek. "Saturno contro". Means That "the saturn is in opposition". Like in the horoscopes. For a long time afterwards I was thinking about his films. I think that he is among the best Italian film directors today though I am not sure if his name or his films are known to English speakers? (In this picture Ferzan Ozpetek).

Farzan Ozpetek, film maker, Italy

Ferzan was born in Istambul and came to Italy as a young student in late nineteen seventies. For fifteen years he worked as assistant to different directors including the wonderful Massimo Troisi. In 1997 he directed his first film, "Hammam, Bagno turco" (Hammam - the Turkish baths).

"Saturno Contro" that I saw today is his sixth film. I haven't seen all of them, I missed one of them, Harem Suaré that had come out in 1999.

Alternate sexuality is a common thread running through his films and sometimes, I have heard people dismiss him as the director of "gay films", but I feel that this would be reductive way to look at his work.

Alternate sexualities including gays, bisexuals, lesbians, transexuals, all find a place in his film world and are portrayed as real people, not as caricatures. Often he mixes the theme of alternate sexuality with other themes related to the marginalised persons such as the elderly and the urban poor.

Another common theme of his film is that of persons, especially women, who live lives cut off from their emotions and then something happens, that stimulates a radical transformation in the way they see the world and themselves.

Finally another common theme that I have noticed in his films is that of emotions linked to death, separation, loss and grief, and how we cope with these emotions, how they change us.

"Saturno Contro" starts with a group of friends. Most of them have crossed forty. David (Pierfrancesco Favino) is a writer who is gay, and his companion is Lorenzo (Luca Argentero). Their friends are Antonio (Stefano Accorsi), his wife Angelica (Margherita Buy), and Antonio's mistress Laura (Isabella Ferrari), a Turkish translator Neval (Serra Yilmaz) and her policeman husband Roberto (Filippo Timi), David's ex-boyfriend Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini), an astrolger and drug addict Roberta (Ambra Angiolini) and Paolo (Michelangelo Tommaso) a medical student and an aspiring writer, who wants to come close to David.

Farzan Ozpetek, film maker, Italy


These friends meet regularly. Antonio and David are childhood friends but now it is Angelica who is closer to David and Lorenzo. Lorenzo discovers Antonio with his girl friend and does not what to do to protect Angelica, Antonio's wife, from this news. During a dinner at David's home, Antonio finds an excuse to go out to meet his girl friend. Then suddenly Lorenzo, who was not feeling too well loses consciousness, rushed to the hospital, he goes into coma. Suddenly their lives change and death enters the story.

Rest of the film is about Lorenzo's coma and then death in the hospital and how David and other friends react to it.

The film is an exploration of grief, when you suddenly lose the person you love and it seems that suddenly the world does not have any meaning. All the friends feel the grief of losing a friend but in their own way they all understand that the pain of David is strongest and yet do not know how to deal with it. It is a very moving film, slow and lingering over the details, of coming to terms with loss.

Le Fate Ignoranti (The ignorant angels) was another film of Ozpetek that came out in 2001 and became a popular and critical success. It was the story of an apparently happy and successful couple, Antonia and Massimo. Massimo suddenly dies in an accident and Antonia (Margherita Buy), a doctor is grief-stricken and shocked. Her whole life seems empty and meaningless.

One day among Massimo's office things Antonia finds a painting, behind it somebody has written, "From your angel". Suspicious that her husband had an affair, she tries to find out the person who had given that painting to Massimo. That is how she discovers that her husband had a relationship with a man, Michele (Stefano Accorsi) for the last seven years.

Farzan Ozpetek, film maker, Italy

Initially shocked and repulsed she can't belive that her husband was betraying her to a man, but then she wants to understand and enters the world of Michele, a world where a group of gays, transexuals and lesbians live together as a community.

Michele says, "Don't be angry with me, you will be always his wife. Outside this house I could never be anything for Massimo. I loved him for seven years and yet I can't go and cry on his grave".

Antonia wants to understand that part of Massimo that she never even knew that existed. She feels attracted towards Michele but he is gay and not interested in her as a woman. Slowly Antonia understands that Michele is not the answer to her grief. Learning to cope with her grief, Antonia goes back to her own world.

In 2003, Ozpetek made La Finestra di Fronte (The window in front) about a woman Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) with two children, living an unhappy life. Giovanna is attracted to a young man Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), who lives accross the street near her house. One day she finds an elderly man who has lost his memory. Giovanna and Lorenzo try to discover about the past and family of the man, discovering that he was put in a concentration camp by Nazis because he was gay and his grief for his companion, whom he could not save from death.

In 2005, Ozpetek made his most spiritual film, Cuore Sacro (Sacred heart). It was the story of Irene (Borbora Bobulova), a successful and ruthless entrepreneur, who seems unperturned by the suicide of her old friends because she has taken over their old company. Then while planning to take over an old family home, she discoveres the secret of her mother, who was apparently mentally ill and prisoner in that house. Her encounter with a thief young girl and the young girl's death bring her in contact with the reality of urban poor and her own guilt. Filled with remorse she gives up everything and in a gesture of penitence removes all her clothes in a metrostation.

If you have not seen any of Farzan's films, I hope that this brief discription of his works will make you curious to see his films. I like his gentle way of story telling and his film worlds very much.

***

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Dams, development and the poor: Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar, the famous activist from India fighting for the rights of poor and voiceless persons, was in Bologna at a meeting organised by CGIL, the Italian workers union.




I agree with most of what she says regarding SEZs, the corruption that pervades most of our system in India, the lack of care about what happens to the poor and marginalised persons for most of well to do India, that is as self-centred like most well-to-do persons in the world. I also agree that the present dominating idea of development is result of a particular view point of developed world that has its roots in colonial past, industrialization and in a belief that nature is for man’s exploitation and thus for most persons the more things you have the better it would be. But I am not sure if poor, just because they are poor, would be happy with another idea of development, for example, the ideas of self-contained mutually dependent small communities with limited material needs envisioned by Gandhi and some other thinkers. Perhaps it is the globalisation or may be a sign of changing times, but I feel that all, rich and poor, often share the kind of dreams that are based on material wealth. Perhaps I am wrong!

Here are some points from Medha's speech in Bologna.

***

I come from the National Alliance of the People’s Movements in India and also from the struggles in the river valley of Narmada. These years and decades long struggles are still on and have been facing newer challenges because the whole paradigm to which the state and the corporates are committed to, is certainly bringing an onslaught on the population including the indigenous people, farmers, the working class people, artisans, the fish workers and almost 95 or more percent of the working classes.

But it is not only the case of a dam in one single river valley, apply it to various development projects. We realise it that people are bound to assert their right to the local resources which are taken away in the name of development. So sections of the civil society and of course the state, come out with certain symbols of development which fits in their paradigm like large dams or large factories. We question it, from the point of view of how the process of taking away the resources (works), and diverting of these resources from one kind of economy to another kind of economy. We raise this question.

We are also questioning the centralised-based development paradigm and planning process. When centres are in the capitals of the nation states, the communities, the rural as well as the urban communities questioned, “Who decides what is development”? And through what democratic or undemocratic procedures and processes do they impose these plans upon us? It was also bringing out the ultimate ways of managing the resources, beginning with their small units that are the communities, which are also the ecological units. So that there will be no displacement and eviction of people from their cultural, environmental milieu and also from there own kinds of life-styles and economies.

It was one story when this was within the boundaries of one nation state. With the whole paradigm of globalisation, corporatisation and privatisation, it has attained unprecedented scale and unprecedented force, including the use of physical force that the state maintained but also the various factories of the corporate powers which have infested the state itself. The nexus between the state and the corporate power, it wants every piece of land and they are eating our resources in the name of industrialisation, in the name of progress and development. It is not just the rivers, but also ground waters, reservoirs that are handed over to the companies such as Coca Cola, the mineral water bottling plants. The people living on the land with the water resources are waging battles, if not wars. In the name of industrialisation, in the present paradigm, the land is opened to all industries including like your Fiat company from Italy itself.




This has taken a new turn by the states announcing the policies and laws of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These are officially known as “foreign territories” within Indian territory. These SEZs are large chunks of lands which are acquired partly by the state and partly purchased by the companies, who can purchase not just small farms but whole districts, areas as big as the regions (in Italy) including hills and valleys, because they have already earned so much profit. These zones are the ones which give all concessions and not less than 21 laws for the corporates. They are cutting on the labour legislations which were earned through decade long struggles by the labourers and workers.

I belong since birth to the family of a labour union leader, who was freedom fighter as well and hence I know how hard earned are those labour legislation and yet with the rush of a pen, the legislations are declared “not applicable” to the corporates, that are allowed to operate not just with free trade but also with free operations. With special judges, with no local self-government, even those elected and recognised are not allowed to function in these zones, like the Panchayats. So with these kinds of zones coming up the corporates are not just confident, but are arrogant and aggressive in taking away the lands and every thing attached to the lands.

West Bengal is a left front ruled state for the last more than 30 years. We have always been allies of the left front parties. At the world social forum, at various for a where we raised our voice jointly against the neoliberal paradigm. If you want to have a look at the resolution passed by the parties, various partners and allies in the left front in India – Communist party of India Marxist, Communist Party of India CPI, the Revolutionary Socialist party, the Forward Block, if you look at these four parties, you will find that they unequivocally question the neoliberal paradigm. They question the World Bank, IMF, WTO, they support Cuba and Venezuela and the changes in the Latin American countries such as Brazil and they vow for the people’s rights and the non corporated state.

And yet in West Bengal problems are there, coming up in place to place. In Singur there was a forced acquisition of about thousand acres of land, 997 acres, for a project that was known as Tata’s small car project.

The industries minister of West Bengal told us, when we held the public hearing on the invitation that came from the people, myself along with Mahashweta devi, the well known literary person in India, others like former justice Sengupta and also the radical left wing intellectuals, we all held a public hearing and heard the people. The people had an unanimous voice in opposition to the project. People said that whatever needs to be done, has to be done. The corporates and before the corporates, the faith has to come to us, we are the communities, we have the power and democratic constitutional right and they should say what it is that they are wanting to have, why that project, what is that project going to bring to the nation and to themselves, how are they going to get a share, whether they are going to get it or not? But the Government absolutely said no, that they are not ready to disclose the information. So we as the members of the panel placed our demands to the industries minister and had dialogue with the chief minister also. We were shocked to get the answer such as, “Oh in the neoliberal economy, after all what can we do? We have to bargain with the companies, if at all. We have to accept the land which they choose, we can not choose the land to be given to the industries. If we don’t allow them to get the land which they want they would go away to some other state. Even for the rehabilitation, we have no policy as yet here. We will in the process try to talk to Tata so that we can have some package evolved..”. We were shocked to hear this from the left front leader.

As the struggle began, it has already faced some repression, some of the opposition political parties were involved, so the Government started saying that this is all political. When we came in as people’s movement, they could not say that because we are not for the typical political or electoral politics. We are in the people’s politics. But we don’t consider the parties as untouchables, but we feel that movements are political in themselves. When we as the farmers, fish workers, the displaced people, some of the unorganised sector workers, unions, some of the organised sector worker union, we all said raised the voice of support to people of Singur, they started directing the repression to us.
*****

You can read the full text of Medha's speech if you wish, on kalpana.it

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Police, writers & peace keepers

I don't usually associate the words like writers or poets with police. Not that I ever knew any one from the police but it was about their image. It is true that I had read of well known police woman like Kiran Bedi and she is not the usual image of police, but in my mind, without ever consciously thinking about it, she was some thing exceptional.

Priyanker had written to me about his friend Mahendra, that Mahendra from the police services was coming to Vicenza in Italy for some training and that Mahendra was also a poet. That intrigued me, a policeman and a poet? Poetry means sensitivity and understanding of human pain and suffering. Police duty means bringing criminals and law breakers to justice, where there is not much space for senstivity or understanding. That is what I thought and the apparent contradiction, intrigued me.

It would have been lovely to meet Mahendra but the only problem was to find an opportunity. "We are busy throughout the week, and next two weekends we also we are busy", Mahendra had said. I only these two weekends free and then I am supposed to go to London for work. Probably it will be difficult to meet him, I had thought in my heart.

And then he sent a message yesterday that today, Sunday 25 November evening, their group was passing through Bologna and stopping at one of the local police offices for dinner, on its way back to Vicenza. And so I asked my son to accompany me to meet Mahendra.

There are thirteen persons from different police related services from India, who have come here for "training of trainers" course for UN peace keeping. Apart from Mahendra Singh Poonia, suprintendent of Police at the Government Railway police in Siliguri, I also had a brief opportunity to meet Satya Narayan Sabat, DIG Police UP. Like Mahendra, even Satya Narayan is into creative writing. His book 'Bharatiya Sanskriti Mein Manavadhikar ki Avadharana' (Ideas of human rights in the Indian culture), which deals with human rights in the light of Indian culture and stresses how it directly and indirectly is influenced by the same, received a national human rights commission award in 2004-05.

It is not often that I get an opportunity to meet creative persons involved in Hindi writing and it would have been wonderful to know them better but the time was short and soon we were surrounded by other persons from the Indian group, including three women. I heard the introductions, Simla, Himachal Pradesh.. Chennai, Tamilnadu... Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, ...CBI, CRPF, ... but the there was no time to learn their names or to know them as persons.

Soon their instructors were telling them to get ready for the journey back to Vicenza and we said hasty goodbyes. As I came back home, I was thinking, how often we tend to categorize persons by mental stereotypes and yet when you know the real persons, they are very different from those steroetypes. My perception of persons in the security forces has changed from this brief encounter.

Here are two pictures from the evening. In the first one, from left to right, it is Satya Naayan, I, Mahendra and my son Marco Tushar; the second picture is of some members of the Indian group.







***

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Funny chocolates cause scandal in Bologna

Bologna has rightly the reputation of being a very progressive and tolerant city, but occasionally something comes out and starts a scandal.

That is what happened, day before yesterday in the main city square. There was the annual chocolate fair that brings chocolate makers and people who love eating chocolates from all over Italy to Bologna for three days. It is a unique opportunity to taste special handmade chocolates in special tastes that you can't find in shops and superstores selling packaged factory made chocolates.

Chocolate fair of Bologna, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

Among the different chocolate makers was also "Roccocicco chocolate company" from a small city called Cento near Bologna. Cristina Merlin the chocolate maker along with her pastry maker husband likes making funny shaped chocolates, among which a special version of penis shaped chocolates called Rocco, named after the Italian porno star Rocco Siffredi. Cristina claimed that those chocolates are modelled after the real specimen of the pornostar though they are reduced in dimensions.

Walking through the shops in the chocolate fair, I noticed the crowd in front of Cristina's Roccociocco shop. She had a much bigger varieties of chocolates compared to the other shops, with specialities like chocolate covered cheese in different colours, bugs bunny shaped chocolates, etc. However, the most popular product of her shop were those penis shaped chocolates costing 10 Euro each. Couples wanted to get photographed in front of them, girls were holding them in front to get their pictures taken, giggling and laughing all the time. It seemed like innocent fun.

May be if I was new to Bologna, I would have got scandalised but with the Neptune statue right in the middle of the Bologna city square showing off the family jewels unashamedly and the story they tell about the prudish churchmen of sixteenth century wanting to cover it but citizens of Bologna voted to keep it that way, open and nude, perhaps I have also got used to similar sights.

Plus it is common to find penis shaped pasta, that is sometimes gifted for marriages & birthdays to the future brides and grooms. So I thought making chocolate in that shape was a nice commerical idea, also took a picture, moved ahead and forgot about it.

Chocolate fair of Bologna, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

Next day morning when I read in the newspaer that one of our municiple council members, one Ms. Santandrea, had been to the fair, and had found those chocolates to be offensive and thus police was called, Cristina Merlin was asked to pay a fine of some 200 Euros and to remove those "penis chocolates" from her shop. As expected this has awakened some Bologna citizens who say that the chocolates are innocent and the council member is a hypocrite. Predictably, the church representatives have welcomed the "end to the depravity".

So if you want to have a chocolate copy of the Rocco Siffredi's endowment, you must now go to the city of Cento to Cristina's shop called Omar, because it will no longer be available in the chocolate fair in Bologna!

***

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Guntur comes to Bologna

Mayor's office from Bologna had sent me an invitation explaining that mayors from Indian city of Guntur and Philippines province of Bahol were coming to Bologna as jury members for an ecological project. It seems that Bologna with some funding from European Union and in collaboration with a Swedish city was promoting this project for the improvement of environment and ecological sustainability and it had started with the two pilot projects in India and Philippines.

These days when they speak of global warming and climate change, often they end up by saying that enormous growth in India and China is going to put additional pressure on the climate and that the developing world should look for some alternate paradigm of growth. I find that extremely hypocritical.

The other day I was reading that USA alone consumes hundreds of time more energy than all of Africa and if China and India continue to grow the way they are, by 2020 they will be consuming 20% of the USA energy level. So it is not about reducing India or China's energy use, it is about reducing their own energy use if they are serious about climate change and global warming. In the end every drop counts, but isn't it a little shameless to not to look at oceans and focus only on drops?

European energy consumption is not at the American level but it is probably not too much far behind. How much success have they achieved in reducing their own energy consumption?

I feel that in USA and in Europe, the trend is towards more efficient use of energy, less polluting ways of using energy and there is no attempt to change the general paradigm of living that is based on intensive use of earth's resources. Almost everything, from cars to computers, are going towards "use it and throw it" kind of mentality. So how can they preach to developing world about what others should do?

If the developed world is really keen on reducing pollution in the developing world, they should be willing to waive copyrights and protectionist measures to share ideas, efficient technologies with the developing world, and not allow their own multinationals to shift their polluting businesses in developing world without proper technology improvements.

In Bologna itself, there is lot of pontificating about using bicycle and public transport and not using cars, but in reality the city does everything to discourage people from using bicycles and promotes use of cars. In my opinion, as someone who goes regularly to work on bicycle, in the last ten years the number of bicycle users in the city has decreased and number of cars has increased many folds.

I had all these thoughts in my head when I went to this meeting. Fortunately they did not give any hypocritical speeches about climate change and global warming. The emphasis was very much on ecology for improving the lives of people who live in our cities, about improving water supply, solid waste management, traffic, greenery, etc.

Kanna Nagaraju, mayor of Guntur was there with his wife, Kirti. Nagaraju a BTech in mechanical engineering was in real estate business when he entered politics 2 years ago and at 25 became one of the youngest mayors of India (or may be in the world?). Kirti is also a BTech, is still studying, doing MBA and the couple do not yet have a child.

Nagaraju's was not a very fluent or coherent speaker but his presentation was good. He presented some big successes in Guntur after this project - they are now testing water supply for pollution and making sure that people get drinkable and pollution free water. He told that they are almost near to achieve 24x7 uninterrupted water supply, and they have a new system of solid waste collection from the house holds that is separated for recycling. He also said that Guntur is now a garbage free city, they are managing traffic better, building more parks and planting greenery, etc.

Is this change real or is it just a big political speech-giving by exaggerating whatever little has been done, this only the persons from Guntur can tell. I hope some bloggers from Guntur will send comments.

In the meantime, some pictures from yesterday: (1) Nagaraju (right) with Pamela Lama (from the Bologna Mayor's office), Anna Patullo (Bologna counsellor) and representatives from Phillipines (2). On this occasion, Sogni d'oriente, a Italian-Persian music group presented some fusion music. There were also some  (3) products from Guntur on exhibition; and (4) closeup of Nagaraju with interpreter and Ms. Lama.









***

Friday, 9 November 2007

Festival of lights

Today in India, it is Deewali, the festival of lights. I can imagine the crowded and noisy markets, the hustle and bustle, the packets of sweets and the millions of lamps and candles that lit the moonless night. I think of the lines from the Buddhist prayer in Sanskrit, "Tamso ma jyotirgamay", "take me from the darkness to the light".

My best wishes for all of you - let there be light in your homes, in your families, in your hearts.

Far away from home, it is just another day here in Europe, though we do plan to go out for dinner in a place that is going to have a Bharatnatyam recital. And tomorrow evening, we are going to have a show of gypsy dancers from Rajasthan. And there won't be all the noise and the pollution from millions of fire crackers!

That is how we try to console ourselves!!

I took the pictures of candles below in Li Jiang in Yunnan province in China recently, that for me do express the spirit of Deewali.



candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

***

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Inspiration for John Grisham's new book

John Grisham, it seems, loves Bologna. His driver in Bologna, Luca Patuelli says that perhaps he (Luca) has inspired the new book being written by Grisham. This is according to our local newspaper called "Bologna".

Actually Grisham had already based his last book, The Broker, in Bologna. As a  recognition of his service to the tourism of the city, University of Bologna had invited him for a high profile thanks-giving in September 2005. To write "The Broker", Grisham had come to stay in Bologna for some time, for going around and checking all the details for his book.

Luca says, "He is a real nice person, does not give himself any airs."

About the insipration for Grisham's new book "Playing for Pizza" (According to Luca - personally to me this title sounds just like a pizza and a joke) that should come out in November, Luca says, "I don't know if I can say that I inspired it. However, Grisham did ask me how did I speak English so well and I told him that I was a player at the American football centre." Infact, Luca had played with Bologna Warriors first and then with Phoenix San Lazzaro. Grisham was amazed, American Football in Italy?

So they say that Luca took him to Scandiano to watch the Italian Superbowl 2007 between Lions Bergamo and Panthers Parma. However, Luca denies it, "No, that is not true. I couldn't take him to any match because at that time the season was already over."

The hero of "Playing for Pizza" is a player of the American national league, who is forced to leave USA and who accepts to play for Parma Panthers.

In my pictures below, John Grisham during his visit to Bologna University in 2005.





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Sunday, 14 October 2007

Arundhati Roy’s speech at Ferrara

Italian weekly magazine Internazionale had organised three days of meetings with journalists and writers from different countries. I had written about this experiences a couple of days ago in under "Word Worlds". This time I am going to write a little more in detail, especially what Ms. Roy said.

Arundhati Roy spoke in the round table discussion on "Literature, A world of stories: narrative and journalism" on Saturday 6 October. 2007. Other speakers at this round table were Efraim Medina Reyes (Colombia), Elif Shafak (Turkey) and Laila Lalami (Marocco) while the round table was coordinated by Italian journalist Goffredo Fofi.

Efraim, Laila and Elif spoke before Arundhati. Laila explained how American publishing houses have put her in the category of Muslim women writer from middle east and thus they expect her to write about how bad are the things for Muslim women in the middle east and they insist on putting pictures of veiled women, desert and camels on the covers of her books. (In the picture from left: Efraim, Elif, Laila, Arundhati and Goffredo).



Arundhati Roy, author, Ferrara, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

Elif also took this theme forward by saying that islamophobia in the western world means that their identities as writers are shaped very much by these perceptions of being a Muslim and being a woman. Explaining her own growing up in different countries and continents, she said that people ask her about her roots and she feels that her roots are up in the air, that she is an upside-down tree. She concluded by reiterating her need for deciding her own themes and not to be dictated by expectations of others, “If I wish to write about a Norwegian homosexual or anything else, I will do so, to be writer does not mean that I have to restrict myself only to write on lives of Turkish women.”

Now, we come to Arundhati’s speech, but before that just a little introduction. I have long been an admirer of Ms. Roy. When I first borrowed God of the Small Things from the library in Bologna, it had already become famous as the Booker award winner. Still I couldn’t go through it. After an initial fifty pages I had given it back, unread. I had thought that her language was wonderful but that it was just too slow for me.

Finally my sister convinced me to give that book another try and I found that it was indeed true. If you stick to that book just a little bit longer, it does grip you.

About the other writings of Arundhati, I liked them as well even if sometimes I felt that she was a little bit too shrill, and sometimes she made me little uneasy. Finally about some of her recent articles, like the one on the judiciary in India that came out in Outlook about 10 days ago, I could not finish reading, because I felt that she is so busy proving her point with relentless precision that her writing has become tedious to read.

A couple of years ago, I had met her on the stairs of the business lounge at the Delhi airport. I was going down to my flight and she had just arrived. “Excuse me, are you Arundhati Roy?” I had asked her on the stairs and when she had nodded, I had asked to shake her hand and ask her for a quick picture. She had said yes and after the picture, I had run off to catch my flight.

Only when I was down in the queue for getting in the flight, I had remembered the guy with her and my rudeness. I had not even looked at him, nor said a hello to him or to ask him to be in the picture! I am sure that it must be terrible to have a famous husband or wife, so that people just ignore you, or worst, they push you away while they talk to the famous spouse. I regretted this rudeness even more after a couple of years when I found out that the guy, Pradeep Krishen had written a lovely book about trees. I love trees as well, I love learning about them and talking about them.

Ok, now to come to the speech of Ms. Roy. Here are the main points:



Arundhati Roy, author, Ferrara, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

“I understand this feeling of being .. I have a joke about it, when I read these books, I say, here is another book by CMM. CMM stands for Corporatised Moderate Muslim, it is what makes the west feel good in its interaction with the Islamic world.

I am not so sure about the space between fiction and the other kind of my writing, but none of my writing fiction or non fiction is something that comes out as a policy decision. When I had written God of the Small Things it was in 1997 and then came the booker, that was a period when we were beginning a journey in India, the Hindu nationalist right wing had come in the Government, in 1998 there was the nuclear test that was celebrated with a kind of sexual orgy of pride … at that time I was the darling of the middle classes, that I had made India proud. I saw that I had a platform, a space to raise a voice of dissent. I knew that to say something will be political, without being political I can’t say anything still to allow them to go on was something terrible for me and so I write “End of Imagination”, it was my dissent. Then suddenly we came to a world where there was so much horror… there was the Supreme court judgement about Narmada river, I travelled and saw the level of displacement and destruction that would happen. I felt that it was a story that needed a writer. There were other reports, facts and figures but how they were said did not allow for any common understanding so it was important to say this story in a way that people can understand the extent of horror..

One thing then led to another.. corporatisation, globalisation were coming in. I could see that it is going to unleash a level of violence in India that would require a battle in which writers, film makers, artists had a role to play, to fashion the elements and to explain them to people. When we were fighting for independence we did not need to explain it to people, they understood it clearly and easily. There was this coloniser and he was the bad guy. We were fighting against them. But today what is happening, how can you fight a battle when you don’t know who the enemy is? How can you fight shadows?

That is how I began into that other kind of writing.

All of us have written many times about the role of corporatisation in the media and the impact this is having on journalism but I don’t think I need to go into that with this audience. But I feel that the same thing is happening also with literature. There are huge book store chains that are deciding what kind of books will sell and they are then telling the publishing houses about the kind of books they want, what kind of covers these books should have.

When I am invited to a place, to a meeting like this I feel that I have been invited to tell you about how terrible things are in India. They are terrible but let me tell you that we never had a prime minister who owned all the media and all the book stores.. (like you had here).

When I am put into jail, my body is picked and put into the jail and I know that I am in jail but sometimes there are mind prisons also where imagination has been captured and colonised. Everything you wear is decided by some designer one season earlier. You walk past a shop window and you say ‘what a nice colour’ but the script for this choice was already written and planned in the last season, what you will think of a nice colour was decided and scripted earlier.

Along with corporatisation of media, there is corporatisation of literature as well.

There was two things that we need to talk about. One is language and the other is knowledge.
When I finished God of Small Things, I will tell this anecdote, I was on a review programme on the BBC and there were these two other persons, two British historians, on the programme with me. I hadn’t really spent much time in the west before, so I was there listening to these two men, and I couldn’t speak much because these two men were literally justifying the British Empire and I was like…even the right wing in India does not do that and they were justifying colonialism. I felt like I was a Martian come from outer space listening to them and they were saying that British culture was the defining culture of the world, Shakespeare and all. I was new to these things, I hadn’t had much interaction in such debates and they had accents.. so I didn’t know how to deal with it and I didn’t say anything. And then one of them said about me that because your book is written in English that is also a tribute to the British empire. So I said look that is like telling to children of raped parents that they are a tribute to the brutality of their fathers.

When I was growing up, I grew up where we speak Malyalam but I was forced to speak English by my own mother. I had to write ‘I will speak in English, I will speak in English..” a thousand times if I was caught speaking Malyalam by my mother. She said that this is the language that is going to get you where ever you are going to get.

So I said to that person, look it is not my tragedy is not that I hate English, I love the language but I am going to use it against you where ever I can .. and this person was almost crying, he said that he had said it as a compliment. I said that that is the trouble, you crushed a whole civilisation and did not even hear the crunch, did not hear the sound of its breaking.

Language … like in India we have 18 languages and 3000 dialects. For a persons like me,.. my father is a Bengali and my mother is from south, from east Malyalam. I was born in Assam and I speak Assamese. I studied in Tamilnadu and I speak Tamil. My first husband was from Goa and I learned to speak some Konkani, and now Punjabi and so on. So what is my language? What do we mean when we are talking about language of the empires. If I write in Hindi, it will be language of the upper castes, the language of Aryans who came and conquered the indigenous people who were there. So the way I look at it is to to see what do I say in that language. What do you say in it, how do you use the language. After all a writer should not be used by the language,.. uses language. If we are talking about empires and oppression then we can go back a long way and I don’t think that we can get to the end of that journey.

The other thing I want to talk about briefly is knowledge. Today the major form of capitalism is knowledge, accumulation of knowledge is capitalism. It is what the World Bank trades in. It employs the maximum number of people to do the manipulation of knowledge, that is its real talent. Accumulation of knowledge is capitalism and it is used to oppress people.

A few years ago I had been talking about globalisation of dissent, I was talking of globalisation of resistance… I was writing with facts, figures, equipped with every kind of argument. I thought that arguments, arguing well and pushing them in a manhole (??) arguing about gender, about globalisation .. but now I have also listened to the ground, I have travelled, I have travelled to those places where resistance is taking place and I have started to feel exactly the opposite. I feel that we have been burdened by so much information that we have weakened people by all the knowledge that we want to accumulate. If we look at a resistance movement in India that had all the knowledge, that had all the arguments, that had the support all kinds of international NGOs and movements, that had the publicity and notice two things – persons are saying that I don’t want your arguments, I don’t want your publicity and media, I don’t want to go to international conferences and making projects.. I am just going to stop you from coming in here, I will die before I let you inside this space.. and some of them were able to defeat them .. I am not saying that people should go back to being local and insulated once again, but what I feel that accumulation of knowledge that ends up in NGOs and Social Forums .. every institution that we have created has been taken over by them. We need to think about being guerrilla fighters on the subject of knowledge. We need to know that even knowledge can detract.

I certainly feel that as a writer of fiction who has started to write non fiction – though some critics say that my non fiction is also fiction, but that’s another things – but I feel that I don’t need to put it all right, to argue it right, to prove the case. I feel that can also become a prison and there are other ways of fighting. Thank you.”

This transcript is from my ipod, but I was not sitting very close to the loudspeaker and there were sounds of other people sitting around me and lot of applause in between, so I missed bits and pieces of her speech. As you can see, she did talk about being too obsessed with facts, figures and al the possible arguments to prove her point and that she has decided that this way of writing can be a prison as well. I look forward to reading something more concise and less tedious from her.

There was another shorter speech from her as an answer to some questions, that I still need to transcribe. In this pseech she mentioned that she was "not writing non fiction right now", that can be interpreted to mean that she is writing fiction. That is certainly another good news.

In terms of her arguments about the language, I agree that in the language issue, it is perhaps more important what you say than the language you say it in. If she spoke in Kannada or Malyalam, probably I will not even know about her. Yet, there is another dimension of English versus other languages debates that is linked to power hierarchy. English is the language of people who can speak, who are articulate, and who have the power. If Ms. Roy was not speaking in English, no one would have invited her to speak. It is true that a rare Mahashweta Devi can get invited to speak in an international meeting but compared to writers writing in English, she is virtually unknown not just outside India, but to majority of persons in India itself.

After reading her writings, I had somehow the expectation of very precise way of speaking, and I was a little surprised by her hesitancy, by her search for words, by parts that were obviously heavy with emotions. But it was a wonderful experience. And listening to all the applause to her words, made me swell my chest with "she is a fellow-indian" kind of pride that made me feel a little ashamed.


Arundhati Roy, author, Ferrara, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007




Arundhati Roy, author, Ferrara, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

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Sunday, 7 October 2007

Word worlds

I had planned this weekend three months ago, when I had first heard about programme of "Internazionale" conference in Ferrara. Internazionale is a strange magazine from Italian standards. Most Italian newspapers and magazines are very introverted, in the sense, their main focus is on gazing at their own belly buttons. At the most they look towards USA and to a lesser degree towards, some of the European neighbours. Rest of the world does not exist except as a stereotype or in times of disasters. Internazionale publishes only translated articles from around the world, and not just from English language magazines and it is the only magazine that I now try to read regularly, except for Hans (in Hindi).

They had announced this weekend of roundtables, meetings and debates with many of the well known journalists and writers that appear regularly in the pages of the magazine. I had made elaborate plans that started with daily train journeys to Ferrara and listening to the worlds of some of the authors that I like to read, from morning till late evenings.

Let me start by the last discussion of yesterday evening that is still relatively fresh in mind.

The theme of the discussion was the space between narrative and reporting of what is happening around the writers when they write. The question posed was, is your fiction all immagination even if you are surrounded by bombs, injustice, poverty and all those other things that ask for denouncement? The participants were Arundhati Roy from India, Efraim Medina Reys from Colombia, Elif Shafak from Turkey and Laila Lalami from Morocco. It was moderated by a too verbose Goffredo Fofi (picture below - all the pictures are by my own).



After reading many of her writings, I had imagined Arundhati Roy speaking but the real Arundhati was very different from that imagination. I am sure that if I transcribe her speech (which I can, since I recorded her speech on my Ipod, but right now I can't as I have too many other things to do) it would sound like all other speeches, full of anguish and poetry and yet listening to her was different because it also had rawness of emotions and occasional groping for the words, that is missing from written speeches.

Among other things she spoke about the meaning of writing in English for her. She also spoke briefly about Kashmir and maoists and Narmada river in India. Some bits of her speech, like talking of Indian military in Kashmir as an occupation force, made me a little uncomfortable, even if I agree that stories of what is happening in Kashmir have not been told in India. Her contention that knowledge/information, too much of it, may be stopping us from facing the issues, was intriguing, but then many of the issues that she touched upon require a lot more depth and understanding.


Elif Shafak spoke about her moving from a country to another, about her roots up in the air and about the need to write to escape from the boring reality of every day life. Laila Lalami told about the straightjacket of "Muslim women writer" and stereotypes about what non-western writers can write (Arundhati called it cooperated moderate Muslim).

Yesterday I also watched a documentary "Lest we forget" of Jason da Silva, about stories of Asians and Arabs in the aftermath of 9/11 in USA. Plain clothes men banging at the door, taking away the "suspicious looking Muslim who has been reported by a neighbour", wives and children in anxiety not knowing what is happening to their husbands and fathers, persons being deported after months of prisons without any news to their families, the film was like hammer blows about all those lives that are seen just as numbers or news-stories as long as they happen to others and that we justify so easily in terms of terrorism, law and order, security and nationhood. The story of Berny from India, with a Canadian passport, held in Chicago airport because they felt that her passport was false and sending her back to India after cutting & cancelling her passport, was scary since it touched on the very roots of our own sense of security. Right now, we may feel "oh, it is something that affects those Muslims, I am a Hindu so this does not affect me..". Once the prejudice and racial things starts, it touches everyone and every thing.

Day before yesterday there were interesting discussions about Chavez and Lula, the two faces of the left in Latin America, discussing them were Mino Carta/Brazil, Cristina Marcano/Venezuela and Ugo Pipitone/Mexico. I also liked the discussions about blogs, internet and censorship in China by Pierre Haski and the Chinese dissident student leader, Cai Chongguo (in the picture below). And the discussions by the European correspondents of newspapers living in Rome about Italy and italians.


Today is the third and the last day of this initiative and there are some nice speakers planned for the day, but I am too tired to go. I guess that I am too old to stand for hours in queues, get pushed around with huge crowds and then listen to long debates, standing up... I will like to, but my body aches.

So I will wait for the next issue of Internazionale to read it all. It will be less fun but much more comfortable!

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Friday, 29 June 2007

Body paints: Hiding the body?

Why did man decide to invent clothes? Did ancient man have a sense of shame about the human body so that certain parts were supposed to be hidden behind clothes? Probably not. Man had evolved in nature full of animals, birds, roaming around without any clothes, except for those given by the nature - the body hair of different animals that covered the body, changed colours according to the seasons.

Probably early humans evloving in the hot tropical climate of Africa, did not even need lot of body hair and thus clothes were probably invented much later, when Homo Sapiens moved towards colder climates in the north?

Another reason could be that the genitals are delicate parts of the body and evolution of human beings from being four-legged creatures like other animals to the upright walking two legged creatures, further exposed to these delicate body parts to possible injury. Thus human beings had to look for something to cover and protect these parts.

Whatever the reason, today clothes are considered necessary for human life, and when ever new tribal groups are discovered, they are taught about the need to cover themselves. Apart from the stray nudists who may rebel against this imposition of the society, we all tend to accept to cover ourselves to varying degrees. Most cultures allow men to wear lesser clothes than women.

Artists have always tried to critically look at the social costumes and question them through their art. One such artist who questions the need for wearing clothes is Joanne Gair. Gair has become famous for her body painting, where she paints the clothes over nude bodies, giving the illusion that the person is wearing clothes. Here is sample of the art by Joanne Gair.

About 10 or 15 years ago, an Indian actress, Pooja Bhatt, had also posed for a magazine cover wearing just body art and that had raised a scandal. I personally admire such persons who dare to provoke the society into questioning the seemingly unbreakable and rigid social costumes.

Here some of my pictures of body paints from the cultural events (mainly the Par Tot summer festival parade and the GLBTI pride parades) in Bologna (Italy) - (Note: images have been updated in 2013):

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Painted bodies, cultural events, Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak 2005-2013

Did you like my collection of body-paint images? I hope that you will be inspired by these images and then use your imagination to come with new variations in body paint to give shape to your desires.

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