Is there an Indian way of reporting?

September 25, 2017 at 9:15 PMSep (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

Indian media seems quite thrilled and joyful on spotting the mistake of Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly.

Speaking at the UNGA after the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech where she referred to Pakistan as Terroristan, Ms. Lodhi showed a photo of a war victim saying it was of a Kashmiri injured by pellets shot by the Indian Army. With the photo in her hand she said, “This is the face of Indian democracy.” But the photo that she held in her hand was not from Kashmir but from Gaza. A photo of Rawia Abu Joma clicked in the year 2014 by Heidi Levine.

While the lack of homework on the part of Ms. Lodhi is quite embarrassing for Pakistan and also a matter of irresponsibility though not as shameful and irresponsible as the atrocity of the Indian army in Kashmir about which Ms. Lodhi mentioned and of which the UN is already aware of.

The focus of Indian media on a goof up by the Pakistan’s Ambassador while ignoring the fact mentioned in a way shows the Indian way of reporting when it comes to the issue of Kashmir, where the violence on the people of Kashmir is never reported or highlighted. Even if the matter comes at the UNGA the media choosing to highlight a goof up shows its way of reporting the issue of Kashmir.

On the 24th of June, 2017 a prestigious national newspaper The Indian Express on its front page carried two disturbing news coming from India and India occupied Kashmir on two ends. But the way the two news were worded and presented was quite disturbing and revealed a certain kind of bias.

On the left end was the report on 15 year old Junaid being beaten to death in Haryana while he was travelling back home by train from Delhi after a heated debate on train turned violent where Junaid and his brothers were called “beef-eaters.” On the right end was the news from the summer capital of India occupied Kashmir of Mohammad Ayoub Pandith (DySP) was beaten to death by a mod outside Jamia Masjid, Srinagar after he loitered around the Masjid while thousands were observing Shab and was apprehended for his suspicious presence by people which lead him to fire at the mob which left three injured and the mob angered.

The earlier incident was reported under the headline, ’15 year old killed, brother says were called beef eaters’ and the latter under the headline, ‘J&K police officer lynched in Srinagar, body dumped in drain.’

While the latter headline was published in bold letters the earlier wasn’t, drawing the attention to the earlier with urgency and also making it appear more significant through highlighting it with bold letters. If the earlier incident became an act of ‘killing’ the latter was an incident of ‘lynching’, making the latter incident sound more gory, barbaric, inhumane and cruel.

A year ago following the assassination of Burhan Wani, I visited J&K. It was already two months since the valley had turned violent when I started from home and more than 50 Kashmiri civilians had died in the hands of Indian army and hundreds injured and blinded because of pellets. Everyday, during my JK visit, my mother would call me to ask how I am, how my work is progressing and if I am eating properly and eating at time.

But the day after the Uri attack took place I started receiving several calls from friends and extended family asking me if I was safe and fine!

That night I wondered why all those friends and relatives felt I was in an unsafe zone only when 18 soldiers were killed and not when over 50 Kashmiri people were killed and hundreds of them injured with pellets! The answer was clear, the media which all my friends and relatives consume, had not reported the deaths of Kashmiri people in the hands of Indian army but had reported the attack of Uri in an amplified manner depicting a war situation and created an atmosphere of panic!

The day after the Uri attack the national newspapers carried the Uri attack in bold letters on the front page with the image of the children of the dead soldiers now orphaned. And the local newspapers though carried news of the Uri attack on the front page their main news was of a teenager dying because of cardiac arrest caused by teargas hurled by the Indian army. If the editorials of the national media spoke of terrorism and Pakistan the editorials of the local newspapers while speaking of Uri attack invoked the memory of Chattisinghpura.

So if the Indian media chooses to see and highlight only a goof up ignoring what was said by Ms. Lodhi, a fact which has not even covered properly by the media, then it isn’t surprising because that is the Indian way of reporting Kashmir, like it has done always.

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Gauri Lankesh’s unfulfilled Kashmir dream

September 19, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One night in April 2017, my phone rang. It was the middle of the night and my heart skipped a beat when the phone rang at that ungodly hour but on seeing Gauri Lankesh’s name flashed across the screen, I settled down. Gauri was the one who always burned the midnight oil and I knew it wasn’t odd for her to call me at this hour.

“Thank you so much,” Captain blurted out when I answered the call. Her voice was filled with immense gratitude. I wondered why she was thanking me while she continued, “I just finished reading Curfewed Night. Thanks for recommending it,” she said and added, “It is so sad that I hadn’t read this book for so long.”

Captain then went on to tell me how the work of her weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike, her activism and the cases against her – a strategy of her opponents to exhaust and harass her – leave her with very less time to read good books. She told me that she had taken an oath to read at least three books a month. When I heard about her oath, I suggested she read Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? in the month of May. By the end of May, she had read the book.

It all began on the 9th of October when Captain was in Udupi, close to my home town Manipal, for the historical Chalo Udupi rally. I had just returned home after a brief but intense visit to Kashmir. So when Captain and I met at the rally she insisted I be with her and share with her my Kashmir experience.

That noon, when we were finishing lunch, Captain asked me if I would be ready to go to Kashmir with Shivasunder (another comrade of ours) to do a series of reports for her weekly. I immediately agreed.

That noon Captain told me how she has been trying to argue from over a decade about Jagmohan being the orchestrator of the Pandit exodus but nobody cares to listen. She also told me about her one interview with Syed Ali Geelani. When I told her about the people displaced from the other side of Kashmir living in Jammu she honestly said, “I did not know about this,” and added, “Actually, neither the state nor the media wants us to know.”

Gauri was willing to listen to what the state and the media did not want us to listen and she was willing to speak that which the state and the media did not want us to speak.

Since that day in October 2016 the conversation between me and Captain was majorly about Kashmir.

After some weeks when I reminded her about the plan Captain said, “Shivasunder seems to have other commitments. We both can go together.”

I did not hear from Captain about our Kashmir visit plan for the next few months and I started doubting if it was ever going to happen. Though I never doubted her concern about Kashmir and her longing to give her readers a true picture of Kashmir, I was becoming quite impatient because of the delay.

Later when Captain called me in April 2017 saying she had read Basharat Peer’s book and followed it up with reading the spine chilling book on Kunan Poshpora, I knew the plan was still on. By then I had learnt from a common friend and a senior activist that demonetization had hit the circulation of Captain’s weekly and she was in a financial crunch. The information made me realize why the Kashmir plan was not materializing and I stopped asking her about it.

Captain herself spoke of the financial crunch when in August 2017 she called me to say how a particular article by someone in Kashmir thrilled her and how badly she wanted to meet the writer. When I said, “We can meet the author when we go there,” Captain, who by then had taken loans to run her weekly, explained the economic crunch and said, “Let me recover a bit and then we can go.”

Now Captain is no more with us and I fear with her unfortunate killing – the weekly also will breathe its last. After this calamity, I am afraid that neither the visit to Kashmir nor reporting on Kashmir for the readers of weekly will ever happen.

On that April night when Captain called to tell me she had read Curfewed Night she had asked me if I could translate the book and assured me that she will publish it. I told her that during my interaction with the author Basharat Peer I had asked him if I could do the translation and he had verbally permitted me to do so. She took his email address from me saying, “Then let me write to him as a publisher and avail rights for publishing the translation.” I don’t know if she ever wrote to Basharat Peer. But this too, like our Kashmir visit and writing about Kashmir for the readers of her weekly, remains unfulfilled.

I recollect these interactions, our jointly made but unfulfilled plans while writing this because I believe I am bound by responsibility for letting the friends from Kashmir know that Captain, who stood in solidarity with every struggle across the globe, of the right against the might, understood the struggle of occupied Kashmiris and also longed to meet them and hear their stories and chronicle them for Kannada readers.

I am writing this story of Captain and our plan of Kashmir also because it speaks of how a person is perpetually chained at various levels by the order of things from fighting the system and yet how some determined people like Captain were continuously making efforts to make the world stand on its legs and change this order of things.

(Originally published in Wande Magazine on 11 Sep 2017)

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Clips of the Same Chain

September 18, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The board outside the Main Theater (MT) at my Alma mater Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) serves the purpose of announcing the daily screening at MT and National Film Archives of India, which is associated to the Institute. On happy occasions like some alumni winning a prestigious award or on sad occasion of some alumni’s demise the board speaks of it.

Few days ago the board carried the name of Gauri Lankesh. The announcement said a condolence meeting was being held at the Wisdom Tree that evening.

Under that very tree around 4 years ago we had gathered to pay tribute to Narendra Dabholkar, who was murdered just a couple of kilometers away from the campus.

A day after Dabholkar’s murder when some members of the Akhila Bharateeya Vidyarthi Parishad attacked Kabir Kala Manch members and students of FTII, I had got a call from Gauri, who I fondly called Captain, asking for details. She had expressed her solidarity with all her heart.

Later when FTII went on strike against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan by the new Government at the center, Captain had spoken to me a couple of times regarding the same with great concern.

It was during the same time that M.M. Kalburgi was murdered in Dharwad and Captain was one of the leading voices to protest against this and demand justice. She drew connection between all these incidents.

Now I see in photographs  Captain’s name in that very campus and on that board.

I recollect all these because all these incidents scattered over time and spaces are all, as I see, clips of the same chain.

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All Has Turned Red: Remembering Gauri Lankesh

September 12, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

It was the monsoon of 2004. Handful of journalists had entered the ‘naxal infested forest’ in Karnataka to meet the Naxalites and do ground reporting after being invited for a meeting as such by the then leader. Gauri Lankesh was one among the few journalists from different media houses.

In the following issue of Lankesh Patrike (she had not yet started her own weekly then) in her editorial and report Gauri spoke of Comrade Prem, who was spearheading the naxalite movement in Karnataka, being her senior in college years before he moved into armed rebellion. Gauri had interviewed him and in her editorial (kempaadavo ella kempaadavo | All has turned red ) quoted a poem by Comrade Prem. A poem penned in 1995, where Prem is responding to the judicial murder of the human rights activist of Nigeria- Ken Saro Viwa saying, “It was a lesson you learned too late. Your pen playwright should have been backed by the gun alright?”

Ken who was fighting for the Ogoni tribe and against the multi-national Shell oil company was hanged to death by the the then Nigerian regime.

The lines of Comrade Prem sounded so convincing to me back then when I was a naive teenager.

But then in 2005 when Comrade Prem was hunted and gunned by the star machinery I was shocked to learn that Comrade Prem was Saket Rajan, an author of two volumes of Karnataka History titled Making History and also a gold medalist from IIMC, Delhi.

Those days when the Naxalite movement of Karnataka and especially Saket Rajan was being discussed by the media and public, I kept recollecting his poem fondly and juxtaposed it with what I read in newspapers: Saket Rajan being killed in an encounter and how next to his body was a gun that he was carrying. I told myself that Saket Rajan was proven wrong by history.

So when Gauri initiated and toiled to bring naxalites to mainstream years later in Karnataka, I was not just proud of her I also did express my solidarity with her.

Now in 2017 after seeing Gauri being killed I wonder what is Saket going to tell her if at all there is an afterlife and if the two good old friends are to meet in a world beyond this world? Will he say what he had told Ken Saro Viwa: “it was a lesson you learned too late. Your pen should have been backed by the gun alright!”?? To be honest, I dont know what he would say, what Gauri would respond to it and to begin with I dont even know if there is an afterlife or not. But I know for sure that those who sweat and toil to make the world stand on its legs will be crushed and smashed by the state by the system and it doesn’t matter if they are backed by the gun or not!

But then when Ken’s murder did not stop or silence Saket and Saket’s murder did not stop or silence Gauri, we shouldn’t be stopped or silenced by the murder of Gauri. Because with or without the gun what all these three fighters, rebels forming a diverse yet connected and continuous history are propagating through their lives is to keep fighting and keep speaking to make the world stand on its legs.

Numbed by the murder of a comrade of concern and an understanding friend, trying to digest the fact that she is no more physically, I recollect a line of Pablo Neruda: “True life is without silence. Only death remains dumb” from his poem titled Communication from the collection Isla Negra. I also recollect a graffiti that I used to cross every day during my days at JNU. The graffiti read: “Let life be dead, but death must not be allowed to live,” a quote attributed to Karl Marx.

People like Gauri are not silent even in their death and even in death they fight death and ensure death will not be allowed to live.

(Originally published in Kashmir Times dated 12 September 2017)

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Everything Okay?

August 10, 2017 at 9:15 AMAug (Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Over a year ago, I cant remember when exactly, during one more phase of severe depression the sense of heaviness inside was so unbearable that I started contemplating suicide.

As much as I have always, during such phases, wanted to kill myself I have also had the desire to taste life in its all colours and shades at the same time, making me struggle between the urge to die and the longing to live. Such conflicts have, many a times, pushed me away from suicidal thoughts as and when the desire to taste life once, at least, before calling it quits, gained that one extra point to tilt the balance on its side.

But this time the extra point went on the side of the urge to die and the urge became quite strong.

Nearly a decade ago when I seriously attempted to kill myself and failed at it, the whole experience of having to face the world, especially parents, was so horrible that this time I couldn’t afford to fail.

Death is never a problem, dying is. People who do not understand that state of mind where the urge to die is battling against the fear of dying or call it the process of it, might dismiss that urge as an attention seeking performance but that battle of urge to die versus fear of dying is real.

So, I started to search for a way to die that was less painful, cursing myself for having learnt how to swim. I googled and googled and only found answers of all kind contradicting each other. I had just started, some months ago, using Tumblr and I thought I possibly could find some ways there.

After I spent a while there on Tumblr with all combination of words to search for a proper answer, Tumblr paused and a card appeared on the screen, generated by Tumblr, which read, “Everything Okay?” in bold alphabets.

I read it and just broke down as if I was waiting to someone ask me that. I wept till I felt a bit light inside me again. I felt very tired after that and I cant well remember if I went to sleep or just took a bath or just lied down there staring at the patterns created by the ceiling fan. But I remember having taken a screenshot of that text and having saved it under the name, “at least someone asked.”

Later on weeks after that evening it occurred to me that just a gesture of genuine concern and affection, at times, can save a life or rather, to avoid glorification of the idea of life and living, can avert a suicide, which undoubtedly is an unfortunate thing to happen no matter who it is, where it is, how it is, when it, why it is.

I also realized that at times the state of mind is so horrible that an auto-generated message can touch you because you are craving for such a touch.

Remembered all of this when a friend called on an evening recently and after telling me she has been feeling suicidal from some days, asked how I would kill myself if I were to arrive at that state of mind again.

After a long conversation that evening followed by a long anxious night, the next morning I made sure I sent a text where I asked after wishing her a good morning , “Are you okay now?” for I have always tried not to forget those two words from Chinese philosophy; Chung and Shu which mean, “Dont do it to others which you dont like if done to you” and “Do it to others what you like if done to you.”

PS: My friend is fine, as of now, and so am I.

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Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 5

August 3, 2017 at 9:15 PMAug (Activism, Friends, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

“When you come here you should meet this new friend I have made,” said my friend Diti when I called her to ask how the film appreciation course was going in Pune. Later once while talking to Sakshi, with whom Diti was staying, I was told by Sakshi that I would enjoy the company of her friend who is also on campus for FA with Diti. So I was quite intrigued by this person who I knew only by name- Jasdeep.

“He has great taste for poetry and is also a translator,” Diti had told me and Sakshi had told me that he was the language consultant for Gurvinder’s films. Both had certified him as an intelligent nice human being and me as someone having full faith in both believed their words and was looking forward to meet Jasdeep during my visit to Pune.

When I finally landed in Pune I dint get to meet Jasdeep immediately though Diti, Sakshi and I met in no time. Finally when that evening when I met this man who I was looking forward to meet, there was silence between the two of us. We both had heard about each other through Diti and Sakshi and kind of knew what the other person is like yet there was not much conversation between us other than the casual hi hello and some basics.

Few days passed without much conversation though we had breakfast, lunch, tea, drinks, and dinner together. One night while heading back to our respective rooms Jasdeep said, “We should have a proper conversation,” I agreed but dint know why there was such a silence between us even when we felt so comfortable in each other’s presence.

One afternoon it was decided that we would go to Asha Dining Hall for lunch and there while waiting for our plates to arrive Diti made a mention of my book and that got Jasdeep interested. He asked me what book it is and I told him it is a book of translated poems. “Which poet have you translated?” he asked curiously and I told him that it is a collection of 74 poems and the connection between them is the translator alone. The 74 poems, I told him, are by various poets writing in different languages. Since Jasdeep is also a translator, writer and a sensitive reader I mentioned to him that the collection includes some Punjabi poets too. “Who Pash?” asked Jasdeep. “Pash also. And Lal Singh Dil…” I said and struggled to remember a name who I absolutely loved reading and translating. I held my forehead, banged the table once lightly in order to remember the name but couldn’t.

When even a few seconds of silent thinking dint help me remember the name, which I knew was inside me but was refusing to surface on my lips; I decided to tell Jasdeep the lines of the poem. “To go back home is now difficult…” I recollected the opening line of the poem and Jasdeep immediately took the baton from me and in the same pace and same rhythm that I recited the line went on to recite the poem, even though not completely, in its original Punjabi form. I was thrilled to listen to the poem in original after having read it in English, translated it into Kannada and having lived with it for over 6 years. I was hearing something I am familiar with in a language that I am not familiar with and the unknown was becoming known and the known was becoming unknown at the same time.

That weekend when we were cooking Jasdeep made me listen to an audio recording of the poem, “To go back home is now difficult…” in Punjabi. This time it was the entire poem. As he explained few lines in English I recollected from my memory my Kannada translation and recited them to Jasdeep. Punjabi, again, though unknown became known to me and Kannada though unknown to him became known to him.

That day Jasdeep was playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs for us while we all joined hands to cook. At some point he played the song, “maaye ni maaye,” penned by Shiv Kumar Batalvi and I said, “Forgot to tell you, I translated this gazal of Batalvi too.”

Next day or the day after Jasdeep sent me the link to his blog and when I clicked on it I found the photo of Rohit Vemula. I scrolled down and realized Jasdeep had translated the poem originally written in English by Rohit to Punjabi. Incidentally I am the one who translated it to Kannada.

I scrolled down further and saw that Jasdeep also is an admirer of Eduardo Galeano who I adore immensely. Also saw our shared love for Meena Kandasamy, MF Hussain which made me realize beyond literature, cinema we also are comrades of concern.

Seeing these few posts I realized that Jasdeep and I have been connected to each other from a long time, through our engagements with literature, world and negotiating with both through language through translation, though we met only recently. That in a way also explained why we felt quite comfortable with each other though we hardly spoke to each other. We somehow knew each other beyond language.

Even after that day our conversations did not increase much.

In some days Jasdeep left for Chanddigarh and I stayed back in Pune for some weeks. When I got back home after a month’s stay in Pune I finally got copies of my book of translated poems. I messaged about the arrival of the book, with a photo of it, to some friends and Jasdeep was one of them. I received a congratulatory message from Jasdeep with a request. He wanted a copy of my book. I replied saying it is in Kannada. I had a smile on my face when Jasdeep responded saying, “Still. I will keep it. I have got Urdu books since long. I can manage to read them now,” which showed not just his affection for a comrade of concern in me but also his absolute love for poetry beyond language and also language itself beyond meaning, purpose, comprehension.

I took Jasdeep’s address and sent him a copy of my book with a small note where I recollected the meeting of Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmed Faiz where they spoke and shared their poems in their language even when they did not know the language of the other. I was very thrilled when I had first read about that magical moment and have always wondered how hearts met, lives intersected beyond time, space and language. I was happy and secretly proud that I somehow lived a moment which remotely rhymed the incident of Neruda and Faiz exchanging pages of their life and poetry and thus form yet another creative coincidental kinship.

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Dil Sau-Sau Ka Chutta Hai…

July 27, 2017 at 9:15 AMJul (Cinema, Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

After watching Jagga Jasoos I kept humming the song Dil Ullu Ka Patta Hai, probably the only thing I carried back from the hall. I couldnt help but keep admiring the brilliance of Amitabh Bhatttacharya. I was particularly stuck with the line, “dil sau-sau ka chuTTa hai.” I messaged some friends about this line in particular and also how much I admire Amitabh Bhattacharya for his lines like this and how I feel deeply that he understands the characters and their emotions better than the director themselves.

Later when I fell asleep I had a special guest in my dream. No it wasnt Amitabh Bhattacharya. It was Gulzar.

I woke up wondering how Gulzar had come into my dream when I had gone to sleep thinking about and admiring Amitabh Bhattacharya!

Probably my love for Gulzar started feeling insecure after witnessing my high appreciation and admiration for Amitabh Bhattacharya, especially because this time the heart was declaring that it comes and goes like a change of hundred rupees!

Love is independent with its own desires and insecurities, beyond us, though a part of us. Isnt it?

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Does she still listen to Begum Akhtar?

July 11, 2017 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

“You take her name like you own it,” said my friend when I took a particular name while recollecting an episode from my life, because the on going conversation reminded me of the same.

I laughed in response because that is all I could do.

I don’t know if I own the name, but I know that the name, as it means to me, and the person, as I know her, belong to me alone. I say this at the risk of sounding possessive and claiming ownership. But when you know that you have lived through a stage of life with someone in a very subliminal way, in words, beyond words, distant from the five sense which made you realize that there are dimensions to life beyond them, you realize that the person who you met in this parallel universe of emotion is someone to whom you and only you had access to.

That person in the parallel universe of interwoven feelings, is not the same person the world knows. Nor are you the same person the world knows in that parallel universe of interwoven feelings and that ‘you’ were accessible only to that one person and that ‘you’ belongs to that person alone.

Some stages of life are so beautiful that neither life nor history can bear their beauty…

On evenings like this when it is raining both outside and inside, I wrap myself in memories and wonder if she still listens to Begum Akhtar.

woh jo hum mein tum mein karaar tha tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho

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Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 4

June 21, 2017 at 9:15 AMJun (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Around one and half years ago (March 2016) I received a message from my mursheed Rahamat Tarikere saying one Basavaraj Puranik is trying to contact me and asking me to call Mr. Basavaraj Puranik. The ignorant me called Rahamat Sir immediately to ask who Basavaraj Puranik is and why he was trying to get in touch with me. “He is a translator who translates from Urdu and English and also has authored a book on Allamaprabhu titled ‘anupama charita Allama deva’. He is a great admirer of your writings. It seems he wants to talk to you. Please call and talk to him.” I felt good about someone being an admirer of my insignificant writings. Probably the joy got a bit more than joy which made me wonder why should I call someone if that someone wants to talk to me. But without raising that question, I told Rahamat Sir that I would call Basavaraj Puranik because of the respect I have for Rahamat Sir.

When I dialled the number of Basavaraj Puranik, which I had got from Rahamat Sir, a lady picked up the call and for a moment I wondered if I had dialed the wrong number. Since it felt awkward to cut the call after a female voice said, “hello,” I uttered the number I had dialed and asked if the cal had connected to the same number. When the lady confirmed that it was the same number I said I was asked by Basaravaraj Puranik to call. “One minute,” said the lady suggesting I wait for the phone to be handed over to Basavaraj Puranik. I waited for Basavaraj Puranik to call thinking how such waiting over the phone call had become a rare phenomenon. Within a minute Basavaraj Purani’s voice came from the other side. A slightly frail voice saying, “Hello” made me realize what, in the message sent by Rahamat Sir, the digit 82 within bracket next to the name of Basavaraj Puranik meant! The man was 82 years old and suddenly I realized why Rahamat Sir had insisted that I call him instead of giving Mr. Puranik my number. I was suddenly overwhelmed and humbled.

“Sir, I am Samvartha. I was asked by Rahamat Sir…” I had not completed introducing myself when Basavaraj Puranik from the other side started speaking. “How much I have been searching for you! From over six months now I have been on the hunt for you. Whoever I ask kept telling me that you are from the coastal region, studied at the film institute Pune and are quite elusive, difficult to catch hold of. But I continued to ask for you and recently while revisiting Rahamat’s article on Urdu I saw your name being mentioned there. So I called him up and asked him to put me in touch with you,” said Basavaraj Puranik drawing a map of his search for me. I felt very embarrassed and also felt special. He mentioned that he had read some of my articles and translations and thanked me for the mention of Eduardo Galeano’s book ‘Children of the Days’ in a small write up for Avadhi. Recollecting how he pestered his son to get him a copy of the book, through online purchasing, and had read the book in one go Bsavaraj Puranik said, “While reading that book I understood you.” I was surprised. What did he understand I dint know. I asked him what is that he understood about me by reading Galeano’s book. “Let me try to understand myself through your understanding of me,” I said laughingly. Very notoriously Basavaraj Puranik said, “For that you will have to come meet me. I cant say all of it over the phone.” Inquiring how often I visit Bangalore and when is my next visit to Bangalore likely to be he said, “Please come home and meet me the next time you come to Bangalore.”

During our conversation that day Basavaraj Puranik made note of my e-mail id and later in the day wrote to me where he said, “Had you not written about Galeano’s book I would have been deprived of a beautiful experience. I thank you for this. I congratulate you for your engagement with books as this which erodes inertia. Please suggest more books of the same kind. I will try to read them and flower again.”

In the following days I shared some of my writings and translations with Basavaraj Puranik who affectionately wrote back to me giving a pat on my back and also giving useful suggestions and suggesting certain corrections. We had also exchanged some Urdu poetry with each other via mail. Iqbal, Ghalib etc..

After I came in contact with Basavaraj Puranik I made only one trip to Bangalore with specific work in hand. I couldnt meet Basavaraj during that visit and when I wrote to him apologizing for the same he wrote back saying, “Do meet me next time without fail.”

Yesterday (20 June 2017) evening when I was reading a text related to a work I am enegaged with I got a message from Rahamat Sir. It read; “A great admirer of your writing, a translator from Urdu Basavaraj Puranik is no more. Were you able to meet him?”

I have not read a single translation of Basavaraj Puranik not have I read any of his original writings. Forget reading his work I, for the longest time had not even heard his name leve alone being familiar with his works and his contributions. Yet he in his 80s searching for a young insignificant writer in his 30s for six months, thanking me for introducing him to Galeano, giving insightful feedback on my writings and translations and also insisting I meet him once… All of this sounds too surreal. But I am aware how art and literature can connect people across time and space. A man in his 80s met a young man in 30s through literature, our unrest and Urdu poetry in mystical ways.

Basavaraj Puranik a man who made me experience such a beautiful bonding, who made me feel special with his love and admiration, is no more and I feel a strange loss. I should, at least now, make an effort to read Basavaraj Puranik and understand him. But I have lost an opportunity to understand myself through the understanding of Basavaraj Puranik, with an intervention by Galeano, forever.

Thank you for your love, affection and appreciation Basavaraj Sir. I regret not having met you. Apologies.

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Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 3

April 29, 2017 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater, Uncategorized)

It was 13th November 2016. I was sitting in the hostel and trying to work when Dharmakeerthi called to ask if I would be interested in watching an experimental play in Marathi. My first response was in the negative because I wouldn’t follow Marathi. But I changed my mind in no time when Dharma told me the play is titled White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a play about which Shrunga had spoken to me, while in Bangalore, couple of months ago.

Atul PetheThe play white Rabbit Red Rabbit written by Nassim Soleimanpour , I was told earlier by Shrunga and by Dharma that evening, is a unique experiment in theater where the play if handed over to the actor for the first time in a sealed cover on the stage in the presence of the audience and s/he is expected to perform while s/he discovers the play while reading it aloud on the stage and performing as per the instruction given by the writer. The play is played only once by a performer and each time a new performer does the play. The prerequisite for the performance is that the performer, before the play, should not know anything about the pay before the performance. The performer is sent a mail 48 hours before the performance where they are told to bring a bottle of water with them and come prepared with an animal impression.

Thus the play opens as a mystery not just to the audience but also the performer.

What grounds this experimental world on earth is the primary reason that led this play to be designed in this fashion. Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian, refused to enroll for national service and was forbidden to leave his native Iran for the same. So when restricted from moving outside Iran this theater artist decided to make his words his play travel without him yet with him and wrote the play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which as he himself says could, “find a way around the Iranian structure of supervising the performing arts.”

Dharma came to pick me up slightly over an hour before the time scheduled for the play to begin. Demonetization had just crashed on all our lives and neither Dharma nor I had money in hand to buy tickets. Dharma requested the organizers to let us pay the next day or on one of the days following and permit us to watch the play that evening. The organizers agreed gracefully.

That evening the play was to be performed by the celebrated Marathi theater and screen artist Atul Pethe. As we waited for the play to begin Dharma told me that Alok Rajwade had earlier performed the same play. Alok was with us waiting for the performance to begin.

Unlike all other plays the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit encourages the audience to keep their mobile phones switched on because one “might need to use it,” and begins by uniting all, the audience and also the performer, in a shared experience of nervous excitement.

This feeling of nervous excitement which is quite paradoxical, kind of captures the nature of White Rabbit Red Rabbit which is paradoxical and through the paradox quite profound.

The play handed over in a sealed packet stands as a metaphor for the closed worlds and secrecy of the state and authority which through such secrecy not just secludes people but also controls them. While the uncertainty of what is going to happen reflects the uncertainty of life in a repressed society the overwhelming presence of the voice of the author dictating terms not just to the performer but also the audience speaks of how unknown voices, given the stature of authority/ author controls our movement or non-movement through its demand of obedience. At the same time when the actor speaks for the author introducing himself/ herself as Nassim Soleimanpour we see, in a strange way, how censorship works i.e. someone starts to speak through the individual stripping them of their voice.

The structure of the play certainly echoes these ideas, also because of the circumstances under which it was written, though the author says the play which is ‘meeting of social experiment and theater experiment’ only his exploration of the ideas of obedience and collective behavior.

On the flip side of this dark reality told in a gripping way through secrecy and mystery, the play speaks of possibilities within such a restricted, repressive and restrained given reality.

The sealed packet reaching the hand of the performer, to begin with, gives the first hope about words still being able to be transported to the performer even when the author is not allowed to move out of his native. When the performer begins to read the script, s/he, “I am Nassim Soleimanpour,” it shows the transformative power art holds within itself, where the performer becomes the author and author performs through the performer. This, in a way, also hints that the author, the performer, the audience all could be the same kind of individuals in similar situation of life/ world.

The author at one point says, “I can’t see you or hear you, but I consider you somewhere in my imagined world and I write to you.” This while shows the power of imagination it also shows the transgression made possible through word through art. When the author says he had written the play on 25 April 2010 and says he doesn’t know when and where the performance is taking place, the author and the play starts to hint about words being able to travel in time thus sculpting story and history in time and making it travel across space and time.

When Nassim, the author, says through the performer, “I have not seen you but have met you,” he challenges the authority and its power by making his play, a piece of art, turn into a creation of human bond across space and time. He further extends this bond when he invites the audience to write to him and send him photographs of the play. He also promises to respond to the mails “if alive.” This uncertainty of his life, while chokes the audience it also shows the immortality of words and art, which continues to survive beyond the author and tell the story of a particular phase of history in a given land.

While it looks like experimental play it is also an experiential play because the anxiety, authority and uncertainty of a condition of living is made to experience, though in a diluted way, by the audience and the performer and are also made to experience the possibility of breaking such structures through art and words.

The play, through author’s personal anecdotes and through a fable of animals, speaks of freedom, censorship, life and death, obedience, passivity, compliance and the power of communication. By blurring the lines between fact and fiction, performance and actuality and primarily between him and us the author breaks walls and unites the divided word at the level of experience and makes the performer and the audience realize that he, in his closed atmosphere, and we in our closed theater are still connected and a collective.

The play unites the author and the audience not only through the performer but also by making the audience a part of the performance. In a beautiful way of breaking the fourth wall the author prompts the performer to make the audience to count numbers in succession and then making the performer invite audience of some designated numbers to come on stage and perform tasks, take notes, keep time etc. Thus a strange bond takes place between the author, the performer and the audience where the gap between time, country and on-stage and off-stage breaks, uniting everyone in a single thread.

While watching the play with rapt attention because of my inability to understand Marathi I was put into a strange situation when the author Nassim Soleimanpour instructed the performer Athul Pethe to invite number 15 on stage, which was me! I politely told Atul Pethe that I don’t follow Marathi and hence it is better if he invites someone else. While for everyone else only the content was not known, for me even the language in which the content was being expressed was unknown, causing extra nervous excitement. My refusal to get on to the stage was not accepted by Atul Pethe who insisted I come on stage. He said he would translate the instructions to English for me. “Have faith in me, I will help you,” said Athul Pethe, reminding of a performer in US who when interviewed before the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit had said, “I am trusting them to not humiliate me.” My fear was not just of being humiliated but also unwillingly, because of my language limitation, diluting the seriousness of the play. But then Athul Pethe was inviting me to invest trust in him who had invested trust in Nassim Soleimanpour to help him navigate through this unique experience of performance. I was confused. I looked at Dharma who was sitting next to me who through mild gesture said I should get on to the stage.

after the performance with the performer Atul Pethe

I went on stage and had to become a bear, on stage, and act with a few other audiences who were also invited on stage, along with Atul Pethe. While everyone else on the stage was following Marathi the instructions for me had to be translated. A play which was originally written in English and translated to Marathi for a Marathi audience was being partially translated back to English! Thankfully it was that part of the play which was meant to be funny. My not knowing Marathi and standing still with no reaction when the instruction was first being read, which the audience understood, added to the humor. The spontaneous translation of Atul Pethe for me and my response which was a delayed response for the audience made the audience involved enactment of a rabbit going to a film without play and a bear checking tickets in the hall, appear more funny.

When the play got over that night Dharma took me to Atul Pethe and introduced me to him. Atul Pethe said, “It was fun to have you on stage.” I smiled and shook hands with him for I dint have anything much to say for I did not understand some of the nuances of the play spoken in Marathi. But I was overwhelmed the fact that a Nassim Soleimanpour who wrote a play in English in Iran had instructed Atul Pethe, who he has never met, in Marathi to invite me, a Marathi illiterate, to come on stage and instructed, in Marathi, to perform some actions, which I had performed after the words were translated to English.

Nassim Soleimanpour’s play which creates anxiety, nervousness and excitement in everyone who watches it and performs it had managed to do the same to me in more than one level, not just through its form and content but also through language. In that I felt more close to the play, the performer and the author!

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