Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Peeda: A response to our apathy

The idea of this poem has been with me for a while, but what really triggered it was the re-reading of the following lines

Vichaar lo ki martya ho na mrityu se daro kabhi,

Maro parantu yon maro ki yaad jo kare sabhi,

Hui na yun so mrityu toh vritha mare vritha jiye,

Mara nahi wahi ki jo jiya na aap ke liye,

Yahi pashu pravritti hai ki aap aap hi chare ,

Wahi Manushya hai jo Manushya ke liye mare.

- Manushyata, Maithalisharan Gupt

This poem is a response to our apathy, not as men/women, educated/uneducated; patriotic or otherwise, but just as human beings, who I am not sure, how much longer we will remain. I wish I could have written it in English for a wider audience, however I was thinking in Hindi here, so wrote it in Hindi. I have not used the devnagiri script, as I feel writing it in English will make it easier for us to read.


Sardi ki ek kohri raat ko, sadak pe biche adhmare shareeron ke caaravan main

Maine ek tithurte huey baccche ki sisakti saason ko dekha hai

Yun toh saara aasman uska hai, aur woh dharti ki god main soya hai

Lekin kabhi uske andar dare sahmey huey khali kal ko dekha hai ?

Kya kabhi uski peeda to dekha hai ?

Tapti dopahar main paththar todte, apne talvon ko jhulsaate huey

Maine mazdoor ke mastak par shikan ki rekhaaon ko dekha hai

Yun toh wah apni taqdeer khud hi likh raha hai, apne sapne swayam hi sanjo raha hai

Par kabhi usse apna hak maangte huey kisi ke saamne nat mastak hote huey dekha hai?

Kya kabhi uski peeda ko dekha hai?

Kone main dubak kar baithi hui, apne chehre ko ek udaseenta ki parat se dhakti hui

Maine ek ladki ko poori tarah se khoya dekha hai

Aayi thi woh apna aashiyana banane, apne guno se apna aangan mehakane

Par kabhi uske gaal par ankit ungliyon ke nishaanon ko, use pratadit hote huey dekha hai ?

Kya kabhi uski peeda ko dekha hai ?

Ek chote se kasbe main, apne androoni jwalamukhion ko shaant karte huey,

Maine ek yatharth se haare huey yuvak ko dekha hai

Kahan toh woh is desh ki umeed hai, kahan toh woh pragati ki reedh hai

Lekin kya kabhi usse apne andar ke raavan ka dahan karte huey dekha hai ?

Kya kabhi uski peeda ko dekha hai ?

Ek andhere kamre main, ek ”apavitra ladki ko”, apne ghaavon par malham lagate huey

Maine ek astitva khatam hote huey dekha hai

Gussa toh tumhe bhi shayad aaya hoga, do chaar apshabd toh tumne bhi kahe honge

Lekin kya kabhi bhibhitsa ras se sarabor uski aankhon main gusse ko ufante dekha hai ?

Kya kabhi uski peeda ko dekha hai ?

Ek paglai hui, margdarshan kho chuki, bhatkayi gayi, baurai hui bheed ko aakrosh main

Maine ek masoom ki hatya karte huey dekha hai

Gussa toh tumhe bhi shayad aaya hoga, do chaar apshabd toh tumne bhi kahe honge

Lekin manushya ke vidhvans ke us khaufnaak chehre ko us masoom ki maa ki kahrati aankhon main dekha hai ?

Kya kabhi uski peeda ko dekha hai ?


Kaun hoon main, jisne itna kuch dekha hai ?

Vichlit na ho, main koi bhi nahi hoon

Main toh bas wahin hoon jo bas har baar lagatar rekha ke us taraf hai jahan se sab door dikhata hai

Yun toh khud ko itna pragatisheel kehte ho

Do baar in atyachaar ke baare main sochkar apni marmikata ki kahaniyan kaste ho

Lekin jab sacchai cheerti hui indriyon ko jhakjhorte huey saamne aati hai

Toh tumne apne aap ko sheeshay main aankhen moondte huey dekha hai

Toh tumne apne aap ko muh ferate huey dekha hai

Toh tumne apne aap ko rann chodte huey dekha hai

Toh tumne apne aap ko yudh ki guhar se kaanpte huey dekha hai

Toh tumne apne aap ko apne hi mann main haarte huey dekha hai

Jab jeevan main kal sankat aayega, jab apne armanon ko kuchalta hua dekhoge,

Jab aisa lagega ki tumhara astitva hi nakar diya gaya hai


Bhool kar bhi ek baar mat kehana

Kya kabhi meri peeda ko dekha hai

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Colombian Experience

The travel bug has bit again, albeit in a more quasi academic way this time: Colombia & Ecuador. So while it has been a while that I have returned to the city of dreams, the memories of a continent conveniently forgotten by us, are fresh in my mind. The "lesser" America, however, is a place which will make you feel that you are a part of a different world. Everything from people in the streets wishing you Buneos Diaz (Good morning) to underground salt cathedrals to bonding with a Pakistani restaurant owner in the tourist district of Quito, Ecuador, just for the most diverse experiences it has to offer, South America, without doubt has proved to be my best trip ever. However, sweet as these experiences might be, the trip has also changed the way I look at people, cultures and most importantly nations.

For a country often famous for the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fernando Botero and Shakira, there exists another narrative. A narrative which has often been relegated to the shadows, or which often presented in a manner to obscure even the semblance of truth. So while one may know Colombia for its infamous drug trade or famous coffee, there are far important things happening in the fabric of the nation, which is there for everyone to see. For a country ravaged by war for over 40 years, where 5 companies control 92% of the assets, it may seem the story of every Latin american country. Unfortunately, the script is pretty much the same, just the names change. So while we wonder what has gone wrong with a nation which produced greats like Marquez, I would quote Marquez himself. In this short and powerful piece addressed to America, he sums up what has gone wrong for this beautiful continent. So while the west may dismiss the art of Fernando Botero as frivolous and pathetic, it is only making an intensely powerful statement, about the unwavering resolve & the absolute truth of the voice of the people and its own guilt ridden conscience . The above rambling could go on and on, but I leave you with this pic, my pick of the trip.

I clicked this one, just as I was stepping out of Museo Botero (the museum which houses the works of Fernando Botero). I had just had a discussion with one of the museum employees, a student of anthropology, which made me realize what a contrived world we live in. The photo to me is a grim reminder of how the history of nations is often not defined by the decisions it takes, but more often by the decisions it does not take. Why, do we, younger and smaller nations, willingly let someone else take our destiny in their hands. The girl walking past the sign, to me, are the people like us, who allow this to happen. For as this graffiti correctly points out, the people of the country do not wish their country to become yet another imperialistic conquest, a nation whose existence depends completely on another, whose legitimacy has been questioned time and again, whose image in the eyes of the world ranges from a homeland for Jews to a rouge nation. However, whatever be the image, this has not been actively constructed by its people, on whose sweat and blood the country survives. And that to me is the biggest tragedy. A nation, whose voices and screams have been muffled out of existence, for whom only an anonymous display of their ideology is possible, a demand which screams out to be met, a journey which was cancelled before it began, a dream nipped in the bud, a blow stuck down deep into the roots, a conquest of mind space and a victory of insanity. Its an "illegal" social activity which questions the legitimacy of the fabric which we live in and in turn redefine the same. It is that voice which is free from the bondage of journalism, of conforming to the norm. One look at the streets of Colombia, and there is Graffiti all around, every square inch of public space has been used as a canvas, for larger canvasses are never available to them. Only in the streets one can find the true spirit of Colombia, for the people there are still alive, unlike us ( & yes I mean Indians) who comfortably live our cushy lives, without giving too much of a thought to where are we heading as a society and as a nation. We are not very different from them, have similar kinds of issues in our own backyard, but yet I have more hope for the Colombian nation than my own, because they are a nation of living people, who still have the pride, courage and self respect to raise their heads and say what they feel, for them I have hope that they may usher in a better future. The stereotype of Colombia as a violent country is rooted in reality. However, changing the stereotype is not about changing the image, its about changing the reality, so that a more beautiful and equitable image evolves.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Art, Nation and Memory

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far, far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.

- Picasso in an interview with Simone Tery, March 24, 1945

“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” Art is a form of personal expression, which goes beyond having a purpose, for no artist is a success or a failure, as he creates to speak the only way he can: by creating more art. However, sometimes art takes such a form that it has the ability to encompass the complexities of life and the travails of humanity, where the brush strokes are made, keeping in mind the conscience of a nation. When nations go through turbulent times, it’s often art that brings out the spirit and the struggle of the people. It is then used simultaneously as a weapon and as a support system, to inflict and heal wounds at the same time. There is an undying quality about art which allows it to be timeless, and for the discerning reader, it offers a multitude of reflections. It’s a harbinger of learning’s for the future, and memories of the past are evoked.

The past and the future together create the present, for it is impossible for the present to exist without the cognizance of the past or a vision for the future. It is only natural that nations rely on their past and history to define and identify themselves. It gives them the legitimacy to carry on with their ideas and present it to the future generations to come. However, how does a nation confront its past when it has been a victim of the mistakes of its own people? Is it prudent to forget such a past, glossing over it and covering up the mistakes done by its people? Or should the nation be constantly reminded of the wrong road once taken, to ensure that the same path is never trodden again. This is where precisely art comes in, as it does not allow people to forget, the follies of God’s greatest creation.

When nations are under conflict, along with war and the loss of their identity, many things have been confiscated from the people: not only their homes and their possessions but also their memory. It’s an invisible loss which one fails to see in the state of misery and obvious losses. However, it is a loss which is far more important, for it exists in the realm of the mind, a territory often considered difficult to access. Moreover, war by its nature is made to be a human condition which encourages amnesia, which leads us to a situation where we erase one memory and construct a new one – we are forever in a state of enforced amnesia and enforced remembrance.

But most importantly, the arts intend to explore the critical questions: What is history and what is memory, what is personal and what is collective memory? Collective memory arises out of the consciousness of the personal memory of people. However, collective memory can be erased and rewritten, constructed and reconstructed, confiscated and confiscated and deemed politically correct or incorrect. The constant struggle for the territory of collective memory is the reason behind the political and power struggle. So while the world mourns the losses the nation incurred, one must not forget that the misfortune of others is free and does not hurt. We may sympathize and pity, but it will be forever hard for us to comprehend the actual truth, to truly understand and comprehend the losses of the people. Collective memory is one such loss, which being multifaceted and complex could be grasped only by the people who have been victims. It could be safely said that while the nation intends to construct a new collective memory, through its art, a reconfestication of the lost collective memory is warranted.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Singapur - Ek Desi ki Yatra - I

With a bit of free time at hand,I have generously decided to unleash the tyranny of my spam mails onto the World Wide Web. It is to be noted that these mails have graced the inboxes of a few (many ?) kindred souls in the recent past. Buoyed by the success of these mails (Don’t ask for statistics, believe me!), I hereby wish to write here, with a few modifications.

Greetings from Camp Singapore (Couldn't Resist this!)

After a brilliant Hindi film climax like situation, I arrived in Singapore. The only difference was that I was trying to decide as to who was the villain. Me and my commonsense were trying to vie for being the Mugambo of this well crafted, unceremoniously shot movie titled “Singapur – Ek Desi ki Yatra”. I shall shed light on my innocence (read: Ignorance) on some red moon day. As for the film, you should lower your expectations considerably, because it has all the offerings of a nonsense flick, unless nonsense makes sense to you. Whatever be the case (and since you have already read so much), I shall take you through the movie, starting with the “Entry”

*Music in background, foreground etc*

With his head held high, he steps into the Changi International Airport (It was preceded by a few hours of frantic calling, cursing and wtf moments as he did not have a Visa to enter Singapore, 6 hrs prior to the scheduled departure). But since he is the Hero, he always manages things at the last moment, overcoming the evil designs of the villain (That would be me again). He smartly boards the SMRT, and gets off at the station near the university.

But his evil adversary, who would be my commonsense again, won the battle. He boarded the wrong bus and ended up in another part of the campus. Not bad you would say, if you omit the fact that he had to drag over 30kgs of luggage for the odd kilometer at midnight. Anyways, reached and crashed onto my bed.

*Suddenly remembers he is a business student, and he is making a movie & gets haunting images of Choti making Dhai kilo ka haath dance . Decides that like a true powerpoint bhakt, he shall now write in bullet points only !

Had our orientation and met almost all the exchange students on Campus, about 170 of them. I won’t bore you with the list of countries, but met people from Iran, Bangladesh, Norway, Sweden, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Denmark, Philippines, Netherlands, UK, US, Canada and a few Desis too!

Later in the evening, we went out with an American and Phillipino to 7107 Flavours, a restaurant dedicated to Philipino cuisine. Rowena ordered all the food and it was brilliant,

Geeky stuff: 7107 is the number of islands that make up the Philippines. Hence the name

As Chacha would like it, a few key learnings or Constructs from my first days here

1. It’s very easy to talk to people if you know about their History, Culture and Music. Though I am hopelessly challenged with the latter, I do a decent job at the former. Its good fun to ask a Swede why there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics and he wouldn't know. You tell him and he will remember you for sure

2. Having varied experiences helps a lot. I am a Mechanical Engineer, with IT work Experience, Studying Communications management, majoring in marketing and thanks to mathew have some knowledge of social sciences. Breaking the ice becomes much easier.

3. Indian currency - Koi Izzat nahi hai .. Such a weak currency :(

4. Whenever abroad, make travel plans with Firangs. These people have traveled so much that they can work out plans with shoestring budgets.

As I wrapped up my first days in Singapore, I had a feeling that I am in for a good time. And did I? Well, keep watching this space for the same.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wanderings of a Bookaholic

A long wait like this has to be broken on an instinct. The blog has been lying dormant ever since I returned, so I thought the best way to get things rolling would be to talk about something which has been on my mind ever since I picked up Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. Having read him earlier, I had an inkling of what I could expect, knowing his inclination towards eastern mysticism, but the book delivered much more than I expected. Fiction does not catch my imaginations as much as non fiction does, but once in a while I come across an author who completely blows me away.

And in the recent past, I have managed to find three such masters, about one of whom fera says has an effect of making the reader go back to the themes, all the time, it’s like being in the eye of the tornado. The greatest quality about these people, is not their ability to hold your interest, which is a difficult job in itself, but its their ability to make you realize, with each passing moment, that these men have far surpassed their craft, are beyond setting benchmarks for others to achieve, gone beyond scratching the surface and revealing the undercurrents, those swirling mystical designs, intriguing and captivating and sometimes thoroughly confusing. What they have managed to achieve is transporting the reader into a universe, not created by them, but created by the reader himself. I have hardly seen my imagination firing all cylinders until I stumbled upon them.

The experience so reminds me of rivulets, the tiny off shoots of rivers, who branch away from the main river only to rejoin in the end. During their existence, they have a semi fluous identity, one governed by the obstacles it finds in its path, and yet governed by the mother river, because its course has also been decided by the mother. As one delves into the writings of these men, you feel like a rivulet. They completely overpower your senses and make you float in an ephemeral world, but the joy this ephemeral submission to their thoughts is long enough to keep your head spinning in and out of consciousness. Your identity in those fleeting moments is not identified by who you are but with the way the author decides to play with your mind. You end up playing a mind game in which you don’t have an identity of your own, just like the rivulet, is made up of this contradicting duality, one fighting to deny the truth, the other meekly acquiescing to the very obvious.

But beyond all this, the one single thing which puts them into a different league altogether is their ability to jolt you out of your lives, the times when you thought the whole world would pause and ponder over the words of these masters, and try to assimilate an infinitesimally small bit of it into your own self. But what is even more fascinating is that all three of them do it in starkly different ways, each so brilliant in their own way. It does make me think of a question asked millions of times in the past, what is the right way to reach God? But again isn’t God another way which asks you to look within, something which stimulates your thoughts, makes you think about things which normally don’t merit a second look or conveniently forget. So if three of god’s own creations themselves manage to do so in entirely different ways, I already have my answer for the right path to reach Him. The right path is always the one you choose.

This post was supposed to be a review of the above mentioned book, and yet again, they have managed to play mind games with me, and I end up writing something which I never intended to.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vietnam Experience : A few questions

This post comes a bit late, yet is very much relevant for the world we live in today. I have been traveling a bit around South East Asia lately, and War tourism was something I always wanted to do. The best start would obviously be Cambodia and Vietnam. So off I went into these two beautiful countries to explore an area which holds immense interest for me.

Why wars has been a topic of interest in the recent past, more so because of the increasingly conflict ridden world we reside in. The finest thinkers of the day have expressed themselves on the topic, with often diametrically opposite viewpoints. Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of civilizations states that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post cold war era. Amartya Sen, in his book Identity and Violence: The illusion of destiny argues that the root cause of all the violence is when people see each other with singular affiliations (Hindu or Muslim, in the Indian context) rather than having multiple affiliations. Yet another viewpoint is the one put forward by Paul Berman, in his book Terror and Liberalism says that distinct cultural boundaries do not exist in the world anymore.

But more recently, in the past 50 years, we have seen wars being fought for primarily ideological reasons. The Vietnam war was fought so that America could contain the spread of communism across the world. In their race for world domination, they have left behind a legacy which no American wants to inherit. My first stop in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) was the War Remnants Museum. I always felt the war was unjust, but the visit to the museum was all it took for me to realize that this was much worse than I thought. The next two hours I spent there made me realize what a contradiction our lives are. We fight wars to achieve peace. But is the peace we attempt to achieve, the promise of the a better and safer tomorrow, worth the human cost we pay. And I have not even begun to question the methods we adopt. Is it an inherent trait within the human race, that we can thrive only on conflict ? The hunger for power and recognition is something which has led to the doom of man, for countless centuries we have been fighting wars under some pretext or the other. These wars are fought on the pretext of national pride. Is patriotism an albatross around our neck ? I guess I have been asking far too many questions, as always. Even if nations can justify a military offensive by harping about national security, what cant they justify is the means to the end.

Looking at the pictures of the victims is something which should always make one think. What is it about power and patriotism that make an average citizen into a war supporting moron is the moot question. The pictures in the museum are a testimony of a race gone wrong, a tale of how the most intelligent species on the planet has managed to find a way to annihilate itself, how we have developed mechanisms within our society to ensure that we do not progress as a species, how we have managed to achieve what evolution, disease and hunger were trying hard to do over the past years. The destructive mentality of man and his selfishness to the core ensures that for his immediate gain, he will conveniently overlook the mayhem he creates in the process. The concept of the dignity of human life seems like something which only academicians have the time to think over. When one man decides that another one is not in his definition of mankind anymore, he forgoes all his inhibitions, turns a deaf ear to his conscience and executes a mindless act he shall repent when the adrenaline rush is long gone by. When a country decides that in order to prevail, it is wise to adopt a burn all, kill all, destroy all we must understand that we have come to a point that our so called intelligence has deserted us. When a human life becomes a mere statistic, and is treated as number devoid of all human and emotional association, when one country thinks that it she is superior than the other, and the citizens of the latter are lesser mortals, when a nation feels the need to educate, liberate or civilize another one, when one culture is seen superior to another, when the value of each life is not at par, we must understand that we are surely spiraling towards a society we never wanted. Neither we dreamed of it, we did not plan to work towards it, no one really desired it but our actions have finally bequeathed it to us. Our actions cannot be justified under any pretext as this is something that has to go beyond all cultivated intelligence. On the ground, it boils down to instinct. When spontaneity takes its course and instinct rules our actions, we must realize that we are no better off than animals. That is according to me the final downfall of our culture, civilization and our supposed intelligence.

If you were wondering what made me write such a post, you can check out the pics here. I would like to warn you that they may be a bit depressing, as a friend of mine found out.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Day, A film and Reflections

Expectations are funny things. The more you have them, someone, somewhere is secretly working so that they are never realized. You accept this fact and accommodate it into your daily workings It is indeed interesting as to how we seamlessly accommodate unwritten rules into our lives, which would have seemed absurd and out of place otherwise. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ? Whichever way we see it, there is no escaping it. One lowers his expectations sometimes, and just accepts the way things are thrown at him. But then once in a while, comes a moment that completely throws you off balance, leaves you stunned and it takes some time for the feeling to sink in. I am probably reeling under such a situation now.

On a Friday afternoon, after a guest lecture on the gaming industry, I dropped in one of the innumerable lecture theaters here to watch the screening of an Israeli movie, Seeds of Summer directed by Hen Lasker. As you might know, Israel is the only country in the world which has a compulsory military service for women. One is expected to serve a military in some way, not necessarily as combat soldiers. At the young age of 18, girls are drafted and undergo rigorous training. The movie is about the girls who voluntarily underwent combat training over a period of 66 days. Shot by Hen Lasker, who herself underwent this training a few years ago, and returned to capture the lives of these girls on film.

The next 63 minutes were a feast for the senses. The movie looks at the lives of the girls in two ways, one is the metamorphosis of 18 year old girls into fierce combat soldiers, who until a few days ago would have been happy handling a hair drier, today handle guns with ease. But more interestingly, it explores the personal lives of the girls, and how in a closed environment, feelings of infatuation and love develop between them. In an environment set by masculine codes, the way female intimacy is developed is a pleasure to watch. The director, who fell in love with her commander while in training, in a conversational manner, chronicles the lives of these girls, their complex interpersonal relationships, their joys and sorrows, their acceptance to change happening within themselves and the maturity they possess at such a young age. I wouldn't review the movie for you, as I don't consider myself qualified to do so. I was extremely thrilled to watch the movie. But I realised the best was yet to come.

As the screening ended, no one was moved. Not because they were so taken in by the film, more because they knew more was in store. A young woman walked up to the center and introduced herself. My jaw dropped. Hen Lasker herself! She thanked us for attending the screening and opened the floor to questions. Following are my recollections, and I am not quoting this verbatim.

She was asked about how it is to be in the training. She replied that it was indeed interesting as to how its a common point/base for all Israelis to talk about. How it is almost impossiblt to prepare onself mentally for this kind of training. Then a professor asked her this

" In the context of the movie, there is an unknown enemy that lurks in the background. How do young people deal with the concept of the enemy and how does this training effect them as individuals ?"

The fact that there is an enemy has altered our lives forever. Our children today are more mature than children elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, this isn't something we chose. They have lost a part of their childhood, to war and to reality. They have been born in a world where conflict is the norm. A day doesn't go by that the thought that we are in a perpetual state of war doesn't cross our minds. In Israel, war is a reality, something we confront everyday. The way the war has scarred us is something I will never be able to put into words.

She broke down.

Her colleague took over. She talked about how people after the draft, save money to travel, to see the world, to restore a sense of sanity within themselves. Military service is not something which comes naturally to everyone. They choose to try out different drugs, just to forget what they have seen, returning after a few years to become normal citizens. War to them is more than television news. Its a way of life, which they had to choose. I am not trying to take sides in the conflict, but trying to tell things as they are. After the talk, I went and spoke to her. I had a million questions running in my head, but none seemed appropriate for something which was so sensitive to her. I decided not to probe any further, as I felt it would have been just heartless to do that. I wonder if peace is a concept people in Israel understand or probably they understand it better than all of us.

I ask again. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ?

Somehow the question seems irrelevant.