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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Personal Success Amidst Collective Failure

May 26, 2017 at 9:15 PMMay (Cinema, Media, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Adding nothing more to what we already know about Sachin, relying only on moments of thrills, from archival footage, with its straight-forward narrative of a life, James Erskine’s film Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in wanting to celebrate the legend makes us realize that Sachin, though a man who gave us many thrills, is just not worthy a story to be told, though certainly a series of statistics worth being documented.

During the interval of the film, I called a friend, unable to resist telling him that the film is like any 80s-90s decent Mumbai cinema focusing on an individual who respects elders, values family, finds his love, has a dream (World Cup here) which is personal and wants to achieve it for the country and works hard for the same day in and day out, with the support of a loving teacher (who says “if you save the kit the kit will save you” in the lines of ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitaha’), a sacrificing wife, a loving family and an unquestioning blind mass support, where every other person is just an ornament to highlight the magnitude of the individual in focus. Knowing the trajectory of the life, and hence the film, I knew in the second half of the film, like in any decent Mumbai cinema, the dream will be achieved with some minor struggles.

Video footage from family archives of Sachin Tendulkar spending time with his parents, siblings and his wife and children are few moments where we get to see what we haven’t earlier. Of course there is a moment when speaking of the match-fixing Sachin says, “I was asked why I am not speaking. How could I speak of something which I did not know of completely?” which answers his silence from those days but fails to satisfy. Other than these all we get to see and hear is what has already been spoken and seen of the man who became God to many in this country.

The days around the match-fixing controversy, Sachin says in the film, was the darkest phase of Indian cricket and the people had to be won back again. Immediately the film cuts to the India-Australia test series where A Sourav Ganguly lead Indian team with a historic Laxman-Dravid partnership made the impossible possible. This, Sachin says, made the country finally put behind all the bitterness of the past few years.

A similar “dark phase” reoccurs when India has to return to India from the World Cup very early because of the poor performance. “I contemplated retirement then,” says Sachin and adds, after recollecting Viv Richards calling him and asking him to stick on, that his brother reminding him of the next World Cup being played in India with final to happen in Mumbai made him look forward to 2011 World Cup.

What is to be noticed is that what brought Indian cricket team out of the “dark phase” was, in the first instance, a team led by Ganguly, and in the second instance, a team led by Dhoni, of which Sachin was a part. Even in the film which is designed to celebrate the legend, there are no hints of Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run scoring cricketer, having saved the Indian team’s face or dignity.

Even when speaking of his long career there are no references made to how Sachin Tendulkar made the Indian team succeed though it rightly says that for innumerable Indians hope sank when Sachin got out.

So, what makes Sachin Tendulkar a legend who, in the words of Virat Kohli, “carried the Indian team for 22 years” and for whom team India pledged to win the Word Cup in 2011?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

When Sachin claims to be “playing for country” and when the country declares that winning the world cup was for Sachin, how is one to understand the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar and make sense of the seemingly opposing views?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

The film hints at the poor performance of the team while Sachin was the only hope. The film hints at how the nation was starving for some good and banked its hope on cricket ad Sachin. Is Sachin Tendulkar a story of a personal success amidst collective failure? The film leaves us with this question, without intending to.

Similarly in the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams the cricketer Sachin manages to win even when the film fails.

While watching the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams I was constantly reminded of two documentaries Steven Riley’s Fire in Babylon (for cricket) and Nasreen Munni Kabir’s two part documentary on Shahrukh Khan (for humble background to legend story with similar family touch).

Fire in Babylon tells the story of West Indies cricket team observing the phenomenon not just as a triumph of the underdogs but also as a story of a team making their game an anti-colonial statement. The humiliation faced by the West Indies team and their grit to beat the master in the masters’ game is no less of a thriller. But the story of Sachin is not a story of neither an underdog nor a battle against a force which is larger than human, though, I stress again, its a series of statistics worth documenting.

Nasreen Munni Kabir’s documentaries The Inner World of Shahrukh Khan and The Outer World of Shahrukh Khan explores the human side of Shahrukh Khan who, like Sachin is attached to family, focuses on work etc. But what makes the two part documentary beautiful is that it makes Shahrukh come across as a human with all his vulnerabilities, his anxieties, his playfulness etc. Though the film on Sachin speaks of the playfulness of Sachin during his childhood, speaks of his health issues, fails to make the same impact as Nasreen Munni Kabir’s film does precisely because while Kabir’s attempt is to understand and explore the phenomenon called Shahrukh Khan, the film by James Erskine’s purpose is only to put Sachin on a pedestal and sing glory of the man, which makes the film a flat two dimensional narrative, giving no fresh insight to Sachin the man or Sachin the cricketer.

Why are India-Pakistan matches given an extra emphasis in the film? Why does the tension between Azhar and Sachin get underlined with a negative sounding BGM? why does Bora Majumdar makes reference to the insurgency in Kashmir saying “it was brave of a 16 year old boy to go to Pakistan then” while he was going to play cricket to face Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and not to the border to serve the army? They might be coincidental if we are to ignore the long portions of Sachin performing pooja, comparing cricket to temple going, embodying the values of an ideal son, husband and a citizen. All put together we see, let me say though I will be accused of stretching this argument too far, a portrayal of an aadarsh baalak which India fancies, for what it values are and what it doesn’t value. Also given the unquestioned acceptance of commercialization and justification of it saying, “Yes, money is important,” after saying “What mattered the most was country,” the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams is like a Sooraj Barjatya, JP Dutta, Karan Johar and Yash Raj films from the 90s, the era in which Sachin emerged.

The film has nothing to offer to cinema lovers or cricket lovers or even Sachin lovers, except for some nostalgia and moments of reliving thrills, which Sachin, we need to acknowledge, gave this country in abundance.

Impressive statistics doesn’t necessarily make an impressive story and inspiring statistics doesn’t necessarily make an inspiring story.

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RIP Om Puri Saheb

January 6, 2017 at 9:15 AMJan (Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In his autobiography, Girish Karnad recollects an incident from the initial days of his term as the Director of the Film and Television Institute of India.

Interviews for the fresh batches were being conducted and among the faculties a discussion was taking place regarding one particular student who was good with his performances but wasn’t good looking. “His looks doesn’t make him a hero material for films,” argued almost everyone. Girish Karnad, as he recollects in his autobiography ‘aaDaaDtaa aayushya’, as the Director of the Institute said, “If there is an eligible candidate and does well in the entrance exam it is our duty to select and train such a student. Whether he fits the roles of a hero or not is not our concern and we are not a hero producing factory for the Bombay industry.”

The boy was finally selected for the acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

That candidate was Om Puri.

My heart ached to hear this morning about the demise of Om Puri. In some time a friend (Ritwik) from the Institute shared a photo of the board outside the Main Theater where details of the daily screening is made known everyday. The board is also a space where the list of National Award winners is announced and congratulated every year and also the space on which the demise of an alumni is made known.

Today the board read, “6 /01/2017. RIP Om Puri Saheb.”

om-puri

The Institute, which I hold in great affection and am grateful to as an alumnus, which once was reconsidering the admission of the same person has respectfully referred to him as “Om Puri Saheb” and that shows what an artist and an artist of what caliber Om Puri Saheb has been; an artist who could make an institute revise its thought!

During my days at the Film Institute, I remember, being numb after watching the speechless performance of Om Puri in Aakrosh, which to me till date is his best performance. That day in the mess I had told my roommate Lohit that no filmmaker no screenwriter seem to have sculpted a character which would challenge Om Puri and Naseer. I still stand by my word.

Aakrosh, a film where Om Puri Saheb is wrongly accused of murder and the lawyer in his defense begins his conversation asking, “Why did you kill?” A judgement was already made in the mind of the lawyer who was supposed to defend the case of Om Puri Saheb. The film is about the lawyer, played by Naseer, revising his opinion about Om Puri Saheb and the entire case. As we watch we too, who initially believed Om Puri to be wrong, slowly discover the truth and feel ashamed of our initial judgement and revise our opinion.

Years later while watching the cunningly scripted interrogation of Om Puri Saheb on a national tv by a man who is disgrace to journalism, I was secretly wishing Om Puri Sahebwould sit silently like he did in Aakrosh. But sadly, Om Puri Saheb fell into the trap of self proclaimed nationalists and was disrespectfully and mercilessly attacked by them, first for not any valid reason and also after he apologized for a crime he never committed. Watching the show was painful, to say the least.

Now in this hour of mourning, I sincerely hope that a day will soon arrive when all the nauseating jingoists will revise their thought about Om Puri Saheb after having harassed him unnecessarily during his last days!

Though not a believer of time and history being just, today I would like to believe it to be true. Because Om Puri Saheb deserves it and he has proved it right once earlier.

Accept my salutations Om Puri Saheb. Rest in power.

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Library of Experience

December 9, 2016 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Friends, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Photo: Hiren Patel

Photo: Hiren Patel

Last night I had a strange dream.

In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.

In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.

On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.

This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.

Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.

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Of Borders and Songs

October 6, 2016 at 9:15 AMOct (Activism, Media, Music, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Cutting through the dusty roads and then the mist on NH-01, when we reached Patnitop it was almost 14:00 hrs.

Starting our journey from Jammu at around 8:00 in the morning we had reached Patnitop, pausing our journey at several places for temples-Dargah visits and for tea.

The driver initially played some bhajans in the car but slowly as our journey proceeded he started playing old Hindustani film songs, all stored in his pendrive. We joined our sincere though un-melodic voices with those songs. He narrated stories of his association with some songs and so did I.

When we crossed Udhampur and started getting on the hills he said, “There is a dhaba run by a friend nearby. We will have lunch there and then proceed.” I agreed. When we stopped the car by the dhaba for lunch the music also stopped and we forgot to play it again when we continued the journey after a good meal.

When we reached Patnitop I was amazed by the beauty of the place and felt the need to underline the experience with some good music. I requested him to play the music. He said, “Let us listen to radio. It catches the signal of Sialkot station.” He tuned the radio to Sialkot station which played good old Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. We sang along and continued the journey.

I was thrilled about the radio catching signals of a radio station across the border and the station across the border playing old HIndustani films songs of Bombay cinema.

When we stopped for a cup of chai at Patnitop the shopkeeper told us about 18 soldiers being killed at Uri that morning.

Few days into this incident it felt like a war had begun not just at the border but also everywhere. There came a demand to ban all Pakistani artists from Indian cinema. Those who defended the Pakistani artists not surprisingly got branded as anti-nationals. There was a call for boycotting the films which had Pakistani artists. As I kept reading and hearing about these I recollected the moment of the radio catching signals from across the border and the radio station across the border playing Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. This memory would bring a smile on my face and to this moment I cant figure out if that smile is an indication of agony or ecstasy. But everytime I remember that moment I also remember a song penned by Javed Akthar, whose opening lines are:

panchi nadiya pawan kay jhonkay,
koi sarhad na inhey rokay.

(birds, river and the blow of wind
no national borders ever stop them.)

~ Javed Akthar

But the paradox/ tragedy of our times is that someone like Javed Akthar (has been brought to a position where he) questions/ condemns the silence of Pakistani artists over Uri.

On one hand nobody, even the line of control, could stop the radio signals/ waves coming from across the border and the broadcasting of Bombay film music by a radio station across the border. On the other hand the situation has built such pressures on the likes of Javed Akthar to make statements which given an ideal, equal and fair world they wouldn’t feel compelled to make. The unhindered music makes me happy but the poet’s heart being taken over by political pressure pains me.

May the heart of the poet write again of the futility of wars. And this time, I pray, let these songs not just cross borders but also erase borders.

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Becoming Buddha

June 17, 2016 at 9:15 AMJun (Activism, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

becoming of buddhaSiddhartha born in present times holds within him the possibility of becoming a part of the system and strengthening it and also holds within him the possibility of becoming a rebel and subvert the system, said the wise ones.

Seeing the possibilities within Siddhartha the Emperor to ensure the tragedies, miseries, poverty etc. are not seen by Siddhartha, created an illusive world of make belief ‘good days’ with the use of media, advertisements, public relations and sugary slogans.

Blinded by these Siddhartha, for long, failed to observe price rise, land grabbing from Adivasis, attack on Dalits, communal disharmony, dis-empowering of educational spaces, censure on speech and expression, market favoring governance etc.

Siddharatha of current times will, one fine day, wake up to the reality of the times. He will break away from the trap of fake good days to move out for a while in search of ways of resisting, ways of countering the miseries and tragedies of the world. He will become the Buddha and concentrate his efforts in creating a new world and thus liberate the world from the tragedies, miseries and also the make belief good days.

Every individual trapped by the illusion of fake good days is a Siddhartha, holding within himself a rebel and the possibility of becoming Buddha and creating a new world. A new dawn will arrive, good days, real ones, will arrive too.

Troubled times compel every Siddhartha to take this political-spiritual journey collectively to the new self to the new world.

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Sairaat: On Loving Passionately and Hating Dispassionately

June 4, 2016 at 9:15 PMJun (Cinema, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Months before the release of the film Sairaat, the Director of the film Nagraj Manjule had said, in an interview to The Hindu, “Love is such a simple thing but it has turned complicated in these times. It has become difficult to find love, to love somebody,” hinting that the film is about the difficulties in/ of love. And when asked if caste is present in the film, like it did in Fandry, Nagraj Manjule had said, “Caste is the foundation of our society, discrimination is in the air we breathe. These are our realities,” hinting that caste plays a role in the film, before saying, “I didn’t include them deliberately but could not have avoided them either.”

***

sairat

Sairaat, to simply put it, is a love story between Archie (Archana Patil), an upper class upper caste girl and Parshya (Prashanth Kale) a lower class lower caste boy.

Love between the two blossoms in their village, Bittergaon, and especially their village school, which is administered by the political family of Archie. It blossoms despite the hesitant, timid nature of Parshya and quite a strong, turning arrogant at times, personality of Archie. Their love for each other is spotted by Archie’s father and is met with the disapproval of Archie’s family. The politically influential upper caste family not just beat up Parshya but also make sure, by threatening him and his family, he does not continue to live in the same village. Archie’s family try to get her married to another boy but she elopes from home and then with Parshya.

Two of Parshya’s friends accompany the couple till the four are tracked down by the police and a false case is booked against Parshya his father and his two friends. On realizing the false case Archie rebels, at the police station, making sure Parshya and his people are freed. But on her way back home she sees that though freed by the police, goons hired by her father beat up Parshya and his friends. She runs to the rescue of Parshya and following some fight and firing the couple run away to Hyderabad.

Once Archie and Parshya reach Hyderabad they have to face the problem of shelter. A dosa cart lady, Suman, who happens to be a Maharashtrian, shelters them in their slum. Archie faces problem in adjusting to the slum life and in living without privileges. Plus, Archie also starts missing her family. The Marathi lady also helps the two get a work to sustain themselves. Slowly the man inside Parshya awakes in the form of insecurity and suspicion about Archie’s loyalty towards him. Following it the two get separated for a while to realize it is impossible to live without each other. On this realization the two get married and also have a kid. They both get better jobs too.

While all these things are happening in Hyderabad, in Bittergaon, Parshya’s family is made to leave the village, Archie’s father looses face in his political party and Parshya’s father is struggling to get Parshya’s sister married.

When the child of Archie and Parshya- Aakaash- is a year or two old, the couple goes and books an apartment which indicates their life gaining equilibrium, after all these years and all these struggles. At this stage Archie’s family members visit Archie and Parshya, with sweets, dress and ornaments sent by Archie’s mother for Archie, Parshya and Aakash.

Aakash at that point of time has been taken to the market by a neighboring lady. When Aakash returns, with the neighbor, we see through the eyes of the year old child we see Archie and Parshya having been slaughtered to death in their very house. Aakash runs out of the house crying, leaving behind footprints of blood.

***

What on the outset looks like the popular Romeo-Juliet trope reminding cine-buffs of Alaipaayuthey, Kaadhal, Qayaamat Sey Qayaamat Tak etc. in its heart is not just a love story modeled in the same mold.

sairaat coupleThe shyness of Parshya and the confidence of Archie, at times turning into arrogance, doesn’t stop love from flowering. The affection they feel for each other sails them through. The economic disability of Parshya is not allowed to become a hurdle. With the help of a friend’s phone the two build on the essential intimacy. The violence of political-police nexus in a semi-feudal set up is answered by the use of counter-violence and thus love is taken to another coast. The couple with the help of a Suman, who earlier had eloped with her lover, finds shelter in the urban space after the two find it impossible to find a roof without the required ID proof. Archie manages to adjust to the new setting- unclean toilets, cooking etc- for love. The two also find job and thus achieve the economic independence. The suspicion of Parshya, at one point, stemming from insecurity and immaturity which is aggravated by technology, also gets resolved. All the hurdles are crossed.

When Nagraj Manjule says it is difficult to find love and to and to love somebody, probably, these are the kind of difficulties he is mentioning of. But none of these difficulties kill the couple nor kills their love for each other. These difficulties when crossed just enhance the love the two have for each other.

The class difference, economics, the cruelty of urban space, feudal set up, political-police nexus, linguistic barrier, omnipresent gaze of the society causing humiliation, inability to adjust to a new setting, letting comforts go off, suspicion and insecurity; which, though not correct, is quite natural to humans, misunderstanding triggered by technology etc., all problems get resolved and the two get evolved.

Yet in the end they can’t survive caste. Caste kills them.

Caste kills them when the two have come far away from the village and have travelled much in time and after a lot of water has flowed in the river. Even after those long years the ghost of caste is still angry and blood thirsty!

The film is not just about the will of the heart to celebrate love and live it but also the will of the caste system to ensure that love doesn’t flower. It is about loving passionately and hating dispassionately.

The cane fields which is responding to the beauty of love during the initiation of love and also helps the lovers and friends to hide is turned into a trap by the caste mentality which sets fire to the cane fields. The birds which dance in unison and in rhythm cry and lose their rhythm when caste tries to separate the lovers.

In spite of the support of friends in the rural space and strangers in the urban space and the participation of entire nature in love’s breathing, love can’t escape the violence of caste. To that extent the poison of caste is stronger than the coming together of hearts which is supported by friendship, camaraderie and nature too.

***

sairaat chappalThe film, some seem to be of the opinion, is full of clichés. But Nagraj’s politics is to underline, in an almost casual manner caste in between the cliché.

Caste like it is in our daily lives is almost invisible yet omnipresent in Sairaat.

In the title song sairaat zhaala ji we see Archie coming out of temple and finding roses being placed on her footwear. She knows it has been placed by Parshya and looks around for him. She spots Parshya sitting quite far and Parshya when sees Archie looking in his direction bends and enacts like touching her feet.

What looks like a simple innocent expression of love here has a strong undercurrent of caste. Parshya, who earlier has gone and jumped into the well to catch a glimpse of Archie in spite of knowing he will be kicked out, does not enter the temple while Archie does.

But it is not just that because we see Parshya’s expression of love, being similar to the expression of devotion by upper caste. We see how hierarchy works and those on the lower ranks imbibe upper caste ways and methods.

Mangya, cousin of Archie, who is said to be a street bully, is dominated by Parshya and others on the sports field and even in other mundane things. Parshya and others are shown as much stronger people in terms of their personality and also in their game. But when Mangya comes to beat up Parshya all he does and his friends do is to stop Mangya, when it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to beat Mangya up together. What stops them? What makes all others in the school premises just be a silent spectator? Why is it that only Archie can stop him?

Parshya and his friends know that to assault Mohit Patil alias Mangya means to invite trouble because he belongs to an upper caste. Let us not forget that he is not taken seriously by Archie’s extended family for Parshya to fear his political connections. It is purely caste which is making Parshya and his friends stop from attacking Mangya even as self defense since the consequences of beating up an upper caste boy can cost them a lot.

When Archie comes on a tractor near Parshya’s house his mother is taken aback when Archie asks for water. When Mangya comes to meet Parshya in Karmala the granny there asks Salya to ask if he (Mangya) wants water and Salya says, “He is a Patil,” indicating he might not take water given by them. Archie’s friend Aani, who is also on the tractor, refuses to drink water at Parshya’s house. In a passing moment when Archie, in the song sairaat zhaala ji, goes to Parshya’s mother’s fish fry shop, her friend Aani who is in the corner of the frame is shown to be closing her nose and squeezing her face in disgust.

Archie’s confidence, inclusive of arrogance, comes partially because of her caste. It is that which gives her the courage to pick a fight with the police in the police station. And that was the reason for her to be unshaken when the police spot them at the bus stop. In contrast to her unshaken behavior is the reaction of the boys on seeing the police, scared and nervous. Their response is coloured by their caste identity!

When Archie and Parshya run away the family of Parshya has to leave the village and it becomes difficult to find a groom for Parshya’s sister. On the other hand Archie’s father looses face in the party and sidelined. These are direct consequences of Parshya and Archie’s inter-caste love and eloping.

Interestingly while showing both parents as victims of society’s caste consciousness which makes them also pay for the transgression of their children Nagraj Manjule shows that it is not the same for people from different stratum in the caste hierarchy. While Archie’s father expresses his anger by pulling down and breaking the photos of Archie, Parshya’s father expresses his disappointment and anger by slapping himself.

Parshya’s father falling at Prince’s (Archie’s brother) feet and later slapping Parshya, even when he is already wounded because of Prince’s beating, for “messing up with the upper caste people,” also underline how caste operates.

Caste is not just an inhumane force, in Sairaat, which kills love and attacks innocents. It is also a force which makes the victims blame themselves for the attack on them and see themselves as undignified beings.

Equally important is Sairaat saying that caste is a dehumanizing force. Lokhande, the teacher who has been humiliated by the caste people turns insensitive and is seeking revenge, even if it is through another person from his caste!

All of this happens in a space where boys and girls of all caste swim in the same well, go to the same school, which can come across as a symbol of caste being non-existent!

***

sairaat boat

Caste in the world of Sairaat is not just impacting the lower caste. We see caste dehumanizing even the upper caste people also.

The striking difference between Parshya’s sister, who is in favour of Archie and Parshya’s affair, and Archie’s brother Prince’s response to Archie-Parshya love story makes it clear that when smitten by caste one only turns inhumane.

Similarly when Parshay’s friends dance with him in his romantic high and otherwise (while train passes) Archie’s friends feel embarrassed when she dances and refuse to join her in the dance. The upper caste codes do not let the upper caste to live freely, express freely thus tightening the noose around their neck, adding pressure of social grace on them.

But here it is not just caste operating but also gender.

Though caste is the main undercurrent, Sairaat doesn’t focus only on caste identity. The writer director knows that individuals are an intersection of identities.

It is not just in friends of Parshya and Archie, we see it also when Archie who overpowers her brother Prince when he questions her about the bike, the same Archie who brushes aside her mother’s suggestion to cut short her talks with friends loses her strength and power when she is spotted with Parshya.

We see Salya’s religious identity forming a connection with Shahid in a different town and we also see the Marathi linguistic identity becoming the reason for bonding between the Suman aunty and Archie-Parshya.

Interestingly the religious identity does not become a shelter or a shield for lovers but linguistic identity does, in Sairaat, which is probably because language is more natural to human society formation than religion and caste.

But still the linguistic identity can cause friction and a kind of rupture which we see when Archie is watching Television, a Marathi channel, at Suman aunty’s house and the boy changing it to Telugu channel. A similar thing happens in the end when Archie’s relatives come to their house. When they switch on the TV what they see is a Telugu channel playing, indicating the house members were watching it before switching it off. The relatives immediately change the channel to watch DD-Sahyadri, a Marathi channel.

***

sairaat archi.In the rural space Archie who orders boys to get out of the well and who just through gesture asks her teacher to mind his business is a very strong person while Parshya, in the rural space is quite a weak and vulnerable character, though good at sports and academics.

In the urban space Archie becomes vulnerable and Parshya’s caste and class makes it a bit easy for him to adjust to the urban space. While Parshya can easily drink the water from the drum Archie needs mineral water. While Parshya can cook Archie has to learn. While Parshya doesn’t find the toilet and bath facilities in the slum problematic for Archie it takes time to get accustomed to them and also the dust and bad odor in the air. The English flaunting Archie goes almost silent when met with the roughness and toughness of an urban life, a slum life devoid of privileges.

Both rural and urban space has its own strengths and limitations in the world of Sairaat each strengthening and dis-empowering its characters in various ways. While rural space pins them to their identity (Parshya’s maternal uncle spotting him in the bus-stand) the urban space gives them a certain kind of anonymity, making living a bit easy. But the same urban space steals away from them the luxuries and comforts of life. The urban space though has different codes, the codes like asking ID proof for staying in lodges, are equally anti-love and humiliating.

These spaces hold within themselves the strength to nurture and also kill, like the cane fields which helps them hide can turn into a trap and technology which makes the two connect also sows the seeds of disconnect. To say every character, human, space, nature, technology, is round in nature holding opposite energies within itself and hence lively adding life and also posing challenges but never killing.

The only flat characters in the film are those high on sperm (boys in Hyderabad), those high on power and those high on caste. Not surprisingly all the three; caste, sperm and power are interconnected. It is these forces, specifically caste, which poses only killing powers and also kills.

***

sairaat parshyaCaste is omnipresent and is what drives the story to its end to make it an anti-caste film. But interestingly the protagonists of the film; Archie and Parshya, are not anti caste. They have not waged a war against caste system; annihilating caste is not their concern or preoccupation at all. They are just in love and their fight is for their right to love. But unknowingly and unconsciously their love breaks the caste barrier.

This shows the intolerance of caste towards anything which bends the system even if by an inch. One need not challenge the caste system and wage a war against the entire system or pledge to annihilate the caste system. Just breaking it, even if unknowingly, is enough for the caste system to take offence and punish one for the transgression or even wage a war against those who cause a crack in the system.

Caste punishes even if you fall into the same system after bending the system slightly. Archie, at the time when she is assassinated, is more domestic like an upper caste lady; she puts rangoli in front of the house which is quite an upper caste practice. Yet, the transgression which shook the system by an inch will not be tolerated by the caste system. It will punish without hesitation.

***

The cosmos that Nagraj Manjule creates in Sairaat is full of life in various colurs and various shades. The barren trees, the flock of birds dancing in the wind, crippled humans, minorities (Muslim), Lilliput (though just passing by the road while Archie dances) all find a natural place and have a respectable place too.

Details like these enrich Sairaat throughout.

The college Principal who should be taking action against Prince for slapping a teacher dances in the birthday party of Prince, Archie’s house is named Archana but the name written on the house is removed when she elopes, when Archie fights in the police station and later when Archie and Parshya fight on the streets of Hyderabad there is an omnipresent gaze of a strangers, the influence of urban/ corporate world on the rural world and the latter’s desire to imitate the earlier in form of having Bittergaon Premier League on the lines of Indian Premier League, the impact of Urban sense of fashion and beauty making way in to the rural dream (Alia Bhat’s dress) are some details in passing which not just enrich the film but also add to the larger theme of the film.

Other interesting details that Nagraj Manjule knits into his narrative are the ways in which Archie gets emotional about having left her family behind, which in a way could be a certain kind of guilt which one develops because of conditioning. She giving blank calls to her house and later asking about her father to her mother and her brother are reflections of the love she has for home and father and also her inability to leave them behind and not to miss a kind of guilt which she tries to cleanse by speaking good about her father to a colleague of hers, though it is because of her father that she had to elope in order to save the life of her lover and her love.

While Archie realizes her powerlessness in the urban space slowly she kind of regains her power when she starts working and becomes economically independent. We see her restoring her power when in the end she is seen riding a scooter again.

But then something has changed. She, while driving back home, along with Parshya sees couple being beaten up by the Hindutva goons and the police, a reference to innumerable immoral attacks and operation majnu, which is similar to the way in which Parshya and his friends were being beaten up after being released from the jail. Back then she had risked her life to save Parshya but now though she and Parshya both are shaken by the attack they witness, do not intervene. Struggles of life can bring a certain kind of fatigue.

Such details uplift the film making the narrative have a worldview and not just ideology.

***

sairaat couple..

Though caste seems to be so prevalent, Sairaat is a love story. In a broader sense we can understand Love as the protagonist of Sairaat and caste as the antagonist.

Love, in Sairaat, is innocent which includes silliness of sending letters through a child and mentioning about letters- letter writing being taught in class, kings using letter as a medium of communication- while Archie is around. To love, Sairaat says, is to have the liberty to be silly.

In the title track Parshya is seen holding a stone to guard himself from the Holi colour. But when he sees Archie passing by he throws the stone away. Archie throws colour at him and his friends follow it up with more colors. Now it is Parshya’s turn to coloir Archie and he does. To love, in Sairaat, is let go off all guard and become playful.

Parshya throwing away the stone is similar to Pradeep throwing away the ghutka when Archie asks if Parshya eats ghutka. Love, Sairaat says, is a humanizing process. It makes Prashya call his friend Pradeep by his name on Archie’s insistence after years of calling and referring to him as a cripple.

Archie, when they elope to Hyderabad and start living together, slowly learns to cook. The girl who did not know the rates of vegetables in the end is discussing with her mother about savings and buying a new apartment. Love, Sairaat says, is about being in tune with the mundane and dailiness of life.

When Archie leaves Parshya and takes a train Suman tells Parshya that she too had eloped for love’s sake and that her husband abandoned her when she was three month pregnant. With this parallel track Sairaat says love is about taking up responsibility and growing up to being a responsible person and attaining a maturity level which can sustain life.

When all the class students in the playground are doing exercise Archie and Parshya miss the steps purposefully and do their own steps. Love, Sairaat says, is about finding your own rhythm in the crowd. It is to find your own self and your own tune and your own steps!

***

In constructing his narrative Nagraj Manjule subverts quite a few stereotypes. His subversion begins with the way he constructs his central characters Archie and Parshya.

Archie is not the stereotypical heroine but a very strong girl who orders boys of her age to get out of the well and it is the courageous she who plans eloping and executes it. She makes the police release Parshya and his friends and also saves their lives later by taking gun in her hand.

On the other hand we see that it is Parshya who is blushing, as Archie stares at him in the class and runs away from the classroom. In the end when the two are going back home after booking an apartment we see Parshya taking care of the child while Archie is driving the scooter.

***

sairat director

The beauty of Sairaat, to me, in the end, is the way Nagraj Manjule carries a large portion of the film in such a ‘normal’ way. Archie, while playing khoko, sees Parshya staring at her and goes on to question him why he is looking at her. But in the same conversation she says she doesn’t mind being watched. The scene which is the first hint about Archie’s love for Parshya is presented without any underlining in a matter of fact way. Archie in the cane field saying she loves Parshya too is presented like a matter of fact.

There is so much dailiness to everything in the film (falling in love, crossing all sorts of hurdle for the sake of love and in the process of being with the beloved) that in the end we are forced to ask as to what is the ‘motivation’ for the violence? In normalizing love and the struggles of love Nagraj Manjule makes the audience think what is the ’cause’ for the violence in the end of the film.

The answer is not in the film, actually. It is outside the film from where the film emerges. The answer is within us. In more than one ways, we are also a part of the ’cause’.

The effect of it is not just a cold-blooded murder of love, through the murder of lovers, but also a new life being orphaned and being orphaned in a way that every step of his will be coloured with the blood of love’s assassination.

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Invoking Water

May 30, 2016 at 9:15 AMMay (Activism, Literature, Media, Musings)

A very brahminical ritual among the upper caste Hindus is of chanting a shloka while taking bath before going to the temple and also in the beginning of the process of performing the daily prayer service. The shloka goes thus:

Gange cha yamune chaiva godhawari saraswathi
Narmade sindhu kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru.

The sholka broadly means: “In this water I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godhawari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.”

riversSimilarly prior to the entering of the Masjid and before the performance of namaaz one is expected to perform the ritual of wuzoon which is to purify oneself with water.

Metaphorically looking at this ritual of purification one realizes that without being purified through water and invoking holy rivers in the water one cannot access the divine.

Water and religious/ spiritual experiences are closely connected through rituals.

***

Interestingly the rivers invoked in the sholka carry the name of goddesses, women to be more specific. In a quite imperceptible way the divine, woman and river/ water are interwoven in the sholka and a close look at it, again metaphorically, we realize that the divine, woman and water/ river are creators and also source of life!

So it is not surprising, with a basic understanding of history makes one realize, that all civilizations took birth by the river coast! To put it in another way, for civilizations to take birth, to sustain them water body has been very necessary. It is the river/ water which have nurtured human civilization.

Where rivers have dried civilizations have died.

***

Rahul Sakritaayana the scholar-writer constructs his fiction spanning from 6000 BC to 1942 AD around the river coast and calls it Volga-Ganga. Though a fiction in the work it is the rivers which provide the setting for the stories to unfold. The twenty fictional short stories in a metaphorical way narrate the history of human civilization. History, we realize, is built around river/ water body.

It is also a reference to how water body is central to epic storytelling and an inseparable part from the creative energy.

Shantanu’s children are drowned in the river, Karna is left afloat in the river, Shakuntala’s ring gets lost in the river—these are few examples of how river has been a very integral part of our mythology and our narratives.

***

While we can agree that water is the source of life, we must never forget that water has also been a tool of dehumanizing. While it is the water route which lead to colonization it was denial of water and refusal to share water which has been the cruelest way in which untouchability is practiced.

Kabir when says ‘ekai pawan ek hee paani ekai jyothi samaana, ekai khaak gaDey sab bhaandai ekai kumhaar saana’ (same air same water same fire, God the potter made all in the same mould by the same clay) it is also to be understood that it is in sharing all the basic resources, nature broadly, inclusive of water, that equality is established and refusal to share any of these and denying some to share/ use them is to not just dehumanize oneself by treating the other lesser human but is also a disrespect shown to divinity!

Water being one for all is a kind of spiritual experience for divinity and thus a propagation of equality for Kabir. But it, in social reality, is divided and denied turning the world inhumane which makes it necessity for social and political battles for equal and egalitarian society.

Reclaiming the water source was an essential part of the fight against untouchability in India. If Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drink the water from Chavdar Tale on 20 March 1927 then it is not just a fight against untouchability and oppression but also for dignity and for life.

Recently in Maharashtra’s Kalambeshwar village a man named Bapurao Tajne, belonging to an untouchable caste, dug a well after his wife being denied by the upper caste people to draw water from the well belonging to the upper caste.

Water, we see here, is at the heart of life, love, liberty, equality, fraternity and denial of it is in the centre of hatred, oppression, discrimination and humiliation.

***

water as life sourceThe great Kannada writer Kuvempu in his autobiography speaks of his visit to Dakshineshwar in Calcutta to Ramakrishna ashram and Kali ghat. He explains in great detail how dirty the Hoogly River, a distributary of the holy Ganga, was.

He then goes on to say that on that very night he had written a poem which has remained unpublished and shares that poem with the readers. In that poem he write about a ‘pure’ Ganga which cleanses all sins.

This though looks ironic is essentially quite insightful because we realize that the mythic Ganga and the physical Ganga are different. At the same time we realize that Ganga, in specific and river/ water broadly, has been having not just physical existence in the collective consciousness but also mythical and thus an essential for the inner life too and not just physical life.

What I have tried to map in this article is also how water body has been the life source for the multiple dimensions of human life, essential for religious, narrative, historical, spiritual, physical, social, political life and has occupied space in out myths, metaphors and memories.

***

I would like to close this article by recollecting an overheard conversation. During my stay in Delhi I was a regular customer, in Pathpadganj, of Verma, who was affectionately called Verma ji by all, who owned a small tea stall. Verma ji hardly spoke but whenever he spoke one would realize that he was a master of words and hence did not waste much of words. Many auto drivers and cycle rickshaw riders came to him for tea.

One day as I kept sipping tea a rickshaw driver came to Verma ji and asked for water. Verma ji just pointed at the water can kept to his left. As the driver bent the can to take a glass of water Verma ji told him, “main do cheezein kabhi nahi bechta. Roti aur paani. Zindagi banti hai inn do cheezon sey,” to mean, “I do not sell two things- bread and water for they are the source of life.”

I had my jaws dropped. To actually think of it, tea is luxury so are biscuits. But bread and water aren’t. They are source of life. To realize that they are source of life and hence are not to be sold is great wisdom.

[Originally written for the Neervana campaign, for water conservation, by the web news portal News Karnataka. Published on 20 May 2016]

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Poverty of Heart

May 7, 2016 at 9:15 PMMay (Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Couple of weeks ago a friend and I met at a bar in the heart of the educational town Manipal. We had long conversations about our lives, politics, cinema and a good amount of nonsensical talks too. As we spoke and spoke and spoke my friend had downed a whole bottle of whisky and I had had four glasses of lime soda.

When we were about to leave my friend initiated a conversation with the waiter who told us that he worked 8:00 to 17:00 hours in a factory in the industrial area and from 18:00 to 23:00 hours at the bar. His son goes to an private English medium school, though the fee structure is quite high. He also said that he aspired to be a writer and has several story ideas in his mind but doesn’t have the time to write. He told us that even after doing two jobs a day, every day, it was difficult to run the house.

Couple of weeks before this my friend and I had met in a small and quite shady bar. While walking out of the bar we saw the man, who was next to us inside the bar and had left some time ago, return to the bar. He was finding it difficult to walk because of over-drinking. When my friend spoke to him we realized that the man, a daily wage labourer, comes from a small village in North Karnataka and has his wife and 6 children there. He said every night he had to find a different place to sleep in Manipal since he did not have a shelter. “I want to drink so much that I can die,” he said and justified him returning to the bar again the very same night, since he still hadnt figured out where to spend the night.

Interestingly, my friend and I have been almost jobless from a long time. We do have some projects in hand at times but most of the times we, who refer to ourselves as freelance writers, and crib and laugh about how writers are either unpaid or underpaid always, are jobless and penniless too. Yet, not a single time, forget single day, we haven’t gone hungry. We can also afford, once in a while, to go to a decent bar, drink and have good food.

Though jobless we aren’t poor. With two jobs, the waiter, is poor. With daily wages, the migrant labourer is poor.

As I see so many people say, “Its me,” and “Its my life” sharing, on social media and endorse, an article by Gayatri Jayaraman which speaks of the ‘Urban Poor’ I am reminded of the waiter and the daily wage labourer.

The kind of pressure a capitalist, corporate world bring on the lives of urban youngsters leaving them ‘broke’ is a matter of concern. The world is designed in a way where the gap between the aspiration and reality becomes vast. But that state of being broke and divorced from the ‘ideal self’ is not a state of poverty.

To believe one is poor, while sleeping on one’s own car, though not in one’s own house, to believe one is poor while having a cold coffee at Starbucks, though forced by corporate circumstances, is to mock at the real poor who doesnt know where the next food is coming from, where the night is spent.

I must admit that once we make a choice of lifestyle it is not easy to get back to lifestyle which is considered lesser than the one adopted. Plus there is always a pressure of the corporate capitalist society which widens the gap between aspiration and reality only to increase its own profit. But to not recognize what has caused the so called poverty among the employed urban youths and to cut a sorry figure of oneself saying, “Look at us the miserable beings who even sociologists, media etc havent recognized,” and thus ignoring the existence of real poverty and by underlining ones own life and thus pushing the real poor to invisibility, is to be a bit insensitive, it appears to me.

It requires some amount of poverty of heart to call oneself poor because one has to walk home without realizing that there also exist people who do not have a home to go to.

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