Stree

September 10, 2018 at 9:15 PMSep (Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In the country where superstitions are deep rooted, in times when champions of anti-superstition bill are being killed, to make a film like Stree is undoubtedly an act of bravery. In Bombay cinema the genre of horror films has always played to the stereotype using the superstitions to its benefit and has strengthened those superstitions. Stree breaks away from this tradition and subverts not just this genre but also more.

The last few years, specifically after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident and the following protests across nations, Bombay cinema has played to the newly awakened feminist thought line among the masses. If one were to look at it just as a response of popular culture without diving deep into discussions about feminism and the feminism of popular culture, one can say that these series of films including titles like Gulaab Gang, Pink, NH 10, Queen, Highway etc, have tried to make a point in their own ways and attempted to puncture the prevailing patriarchal ideas and beliefs. But more or less all these films have been quite two dimensional and more or less sloganeering, even if we have to assess these films as cinema of popular culture. Stree does what all these films attempted to do, in a much engaging and convincing manner without reducing the thought into slogans or sermons!

Very few imaginative writers and directors are able to make a larger point through a genre like that of horror films, Under the Shadow, written and directed by the Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari being one of those exceptional cases. For a nation where stories of ghosts and spirit existing is more or less equal to the head count of living human beings in the country and where there has been a tradition of horror films across A and B grade films, it has not been much possible to do turn the superstitions on their head and through them make a comment on the real! Stree becomes an important film for these reasons!

Stree written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK and directed by Amar Kaushik is refreshingly original which at the very beginning of the film declares it is based on ‘a ridiculous phenomenon’. Making its position clear thus, the film goes on to weave horror, humour, satire in right elements and present a film which is hilarious, scary and also political.

Set in the small town Chanderi, the film Stree revolves around the myth of a ghost, known just by the name Stree, who every year visits the town only at the time of festival and picks men up leaving behind only their clothes. To save the men in their house each house write on their walls, “Aye Stree, Kal Aana,” to mean, “Oh Stree, come tomorrow.” Writing this, it is believed, will keep the ghost away. If this is to save the men at home, there is no way one can save the men on streets during those four nights during the festival. The easiest way found out by the men of the town is to not step out of their house after sunset. By chance if they have to step out, it is believed they should not meet eyes with Stree who is believed to call men from behind thrice before abducting them.

Vicky (played by Rajkumar Rao) is a tailor in Chanderi popular for his ways of taking measurement without using a measuring tape but through his gaze alone. His friends are Bittu, who owns a readymade clothing shop and Jaana. The friendship of these three and their acquaintances with the town scholar Rurdra (played by Pankaj Tripathi) keeps underlining the quintessential quality of a small town, its worldview and its lifestyle. One day Vicky meets a girl (played by Shraddha Kapoor) who wants to get a dress stitched before the last day of the festival and a fond relationship flowers between the two. Her refusal to reveal her identity, her phone number and her strange demands for the tail of a lizard, hair of a cat etc. in her first letter to Vicky, which he and his friends understand as a love letter, makes his friends come to the conclusion that this mysterious friend of Vicky in real is Stree and is after his life. What adds strength to this conclusion of theirs is the fact that this unnamed girl doesn’t enter the temple or take the prashaad offered by the temple and more importantly nobody except Vicky has seen or met this girl.

When his two friends arrive at this conclusion Vicky has gone to meet the girl in an abandoned place. The friends go in search of Vicky to save him and fail to find him. The two scared of being spotted by Stree return and in the last leg of their way back take different routes to go to their respective places. That is when Stree makes Jaana her catch, leaving behind only his clothes.

The disappearance of Jaana makes Vicky and Bittu go in search of Stree and bring back their missing friend. For this journey they take the help of the town scholar Rudra and after making a surprising discovery the three along with a fourth comrade not just fight the ghost but also discover the past of the ghost which becomes a mirror of the societal values and hypocrisy.

This entire journey is thoroughly funny and scary. Short but powerful dialogues which are in tune with the story line also echo a larger political commentary. While dialogues like, “Andh bhakti buri cheez hai, kisi ko bhakt nahi hona chaahiye,” is a comment on the political worshipping; dialogues like “Stree ijaazat kay bagair haath nahi lagaati,” underline the issue of consent in a way which is non-argumentative. The past of the ghost and the past of the protagonist Vicky and how the fighting four respond to these are remarks made on the existing social values and through their response the film subverts them. These elements which form the heart of the narrative a political film wrapped in a horror genre. But the politics of Stree doesn’t beat its drum hard yet doesn’t fail to make its point.

While saying all of this it must be said that the film which otherwise speaks about women’s issue with such conviction could have avoided the item number where the camera drools over the body of the dancer and reduces the women to a body. Also and more importantly demonizing one of its central characters in the end also could have been avoided. These wouldn’t have taken away anything from the film even by an inch and avoiding them would have made the film even the more lovable.

This calendar year after Raazi we have one more creative and brilliant political film which dares to look into the eyes of the times we live in and show our times a mirror.

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Is Hari Dead?

August 31, 2018 at 9:15 PMAug (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

One of the often asked question after the screening of Aanya Kasaravalli’s debut film Harikatha Prasanga (Chronicles of Hari) has been: “Does Hari die in the end? Is Hari dead?”

Being associated closely with the film, not just in the capacity of the associate director, but also as a friend of Ananya, I have had several discussion, at different stages of the film, about the film and the character Hari. One of the issues we did discuss was obviously as to whether Hari dies or not in the end. While Ananya, from the beginning, felt that Hari isnt dead, I believed the opposite.

The same discussion took place couple of times, between some artist or some technician and me during the shoot and every time I answered, “According to me he dies, but Ananya believes he isnt dead.” While some believed that Hari shouldnt die because that would be dark and defeating, some did agree with me that he is dead. But I am not sure why they, like me, felt that Hari is dead.

(spoilers ahead)

Chronicles of Hari, as I see, is a film on the idea of normalcy, managed by morality and legality, which orchestrates certain standardization that marks things, humans, ideas etc as acceptable or unacceptable. Hari, as I understand, becomes problematic to these categories and moves, continuously, from difficulty to impossibility of being standardized and becoming acceptable to and in the standardized world.

I see Hari’s character being unfolded or revealed in different names as the different ways in which they- people in the society- want to see him. To ‘see’ means how they want to see him be. But Hari every time casts off the name and thorugh his being and continual becoming breaks the expectation and standardization in the name of morality, legality and also the idea of normalcy. His being and continual becoming is what exposes the shallowness of the society and its idea of normalcy. It also upholds the right to dignity and right to life of humans of all colours and all shades and thus celebrates the human rainbow.

If Hari is so powerful who punctures the idea of normalcy continuously and repeatedly, how can I come to believe that Hari dies in the end?

Man, as we all know, is born free but everywhere is in chains. These chains are social, economical, aesthetic etc. which are all designed for moulding humans into conventions. The ones who are in battle against the society are the ones who refuse to become conventions and break the mould repeatedly. Society through its power and force always longs to chain the human spirit which is born free. Society accepting such individuals who break those mould would mean surrendering to convention, conforming and rejection of freedom. Success of a rebelling artist in a world which s/he is rebelling against becomes his/her greatest failure for it would mean some compromise unless the world itself has undergone a change of heart.

When freedom is not permitted in life, freedom is chosen in death. Hari announces his freedom, at the cost of life. Death becomes the expression of freedom, though not liberation. Death is not acceptance of failure by Hari but the failure of the world in accepting Hari. So even in his death of transforming from soul to the soulless he once again underlines the shortcoming of the world, its norms and its conventions. He rejects it because its heart hasnt changed yet. But only after fighting a brave but unequal battle.

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Bhakti

July 21, 2018 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater)

A splendid moment occurred on 17 Feb 2018 at the Dhwanyaloka, in the campus of MGM College, Udupi.

Occasion: Book launch of Lakshmeedha Tolpady’s ‘bhaktiya nepadalli’ and ‘bhakti kampita’, a collection of essays by AK Ramanujan on Bhakti, translated by Dr. Mahabaleshwar Rao, to be followed by lectures and discussions.

The event was inaugurated by Yakshagana artist Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna through a short performance of Yakshagana, along with a student of his. For the inaugural performance Suvarna Sir had selected the episode of Krishna visiting Vidhura, to be in tune with the theme of Bhakti, which was flowing across both the books to be released.

Krishna has arrived at Vidhura’s place and the latter is overwhelmed with joy, to the point of tears and silence! Struggling to express his affection for the Lord in words, Vidhura starts to sing and dance. At this point of the performance Suvarna Sir went on his knees to perform ‘manDi’, a popular step in Yakshagana where the artist goes on his knees and swirls as he goes around the stage/ performing space, forming circles. Dhwanyaloka is designed to be a lecture hall not performance hall. So, the Krishna performer standing erect in the center of the performance space, in a typical Krishna pose, became an obstacle in the orbit of Suvarna Sir, while performing ‘manDi’. Vidhura/ Suvarna Sir at this point, very casually and unhesitatingly gave a gentle push to Krishna, brushing him aside! Krishna softly moved to the side and made way for the swirling performance by Vidhura.

It was an electrifying moment for me!

Lakshmeesha Tolpady during his speech later remembered the moment and said, “The devotee asks for space and the Lord makes space for him. Else there will be no space for the Lord.” It was a thrilling way of looking at it. But that moment appeared a bit different to me, or rather I saw it a bit differently.

It is the God himself/herself who, in his/ her stagnancy, becomes an obstacle to Bhakti. And when Bhakti is in full force it gives movement to the static God and brings him/ her to life and brings him/ her alive. Also, Bhakti doesn’t tolerate the God himself/ herself, if s/he becomes an obstacle in the path of Bhakti. In the end the one who occupies the center stage is not the Lord but Bhakti and through Bhakti, the devotee.

The event was presided over by K.P. Rao, who in his presidential address remembered the short invocation performance by Suvarana Sir before the Vidhura-Krishna performance. In the invocation performance Suvarna Sir invoked Lord Ganesha, where he was describing Lord Ganesha through gestures and also performing the worshiping of Lord Ganesha. Remembering this KP Rao said, “Did you see how Suvarna was becoming the worshiper and also the worshiped, the devotee and also the Lord himself?” He was pointing not at the one man performance where the same performer plays different roles. It was a comment on Bhakti!

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Raag and the Rain

June 13, 2018 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One afternoon, in the third week of this April, I was with my friend Randheer in Jammu University. I had gone back to that campus after two years. In a while, our other friends- Sonia, Nisha and Shaabaaz joined. As we sat under a tree with chai in our hands, we requested Nisha to sing and Shaabaaz to recite his poems. Understanding the mood of the situation, Shaabaaz called his friend Aakash, a trained and passionate singer, to join us. Akash was with us in two minutes.

Nisha began the mehfil by singing a gazal by Begum Akthar. After Nisha sang and Shaabaaz recited his poems, now it was Akash’s turn. Akash sang quite a few songs and ghazals for us, pausing his singing to explain which raag it is, other musical details and some related anecdotes. Once while he was explaining a raag to us, the impulsive and innocent Sonia asked Akash if its true that some raag bring rains and some light the lamps. My immediate reaction was, “What a juvenile question,” which of course I did not say loud. I do not know what others thought but Akash clearly did not think so. Very spontaneously he said, “I am not sure if it happens in the outside world. But it has happened within me. I have witnessed rain within me, while listening to some raag and have witnessed lamps being lit within me, while listening to some other raag. That is all I can say.”

I was glad Sonia asked that question. When Akash’s singing continued, I could feel a new vibration within me.

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Troubled times ahead, either way?

May 16, 2018 at 9:15 PMMay (Activism, Media, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

With the eyes of the entire nation on it, Karnataka went for elections on May 12. The much awaited results of the state’s Assembly elections are being widely held as an indicator of what lies in store in the 2019 general elections. This worked in bringing more light and focus on Karnataka. And hence, we were all made to witness a high voltage election campaign both, by the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and the Indian National Congress.

While the Congress, specially incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, seemed quite positive about the results from the beginning, the methods of BJP and the body language of its leaders revealed a lack of confidence. The ruling party at the Centre with majority of states under it and its allies couldn’t hide the frustration of not being able to crack it in Karnataka easily. The diminished confidence of the BJP was not only because of its inability to recreate its magic in the state but also a result of the much apparent dwindling hope, masses all across the country had pinned on the party and the Prime Ministers.

Let us park aside the pan India phenomenon and the predictions for the result for a while and come to coastal Karnataka.

The door to door campaign of the BJP, in coastal Karnataka, where this writer comes from, was extremely communal in colour, this time. BJP’s campaign was centred on creating in Hindus the fear against members of the Muslim community rather than educating voters about their proposed plan of action for the wellbeing of the people.

It is also important to take note that the BJP asked the people of coastal Karnataka to vote not for their local candidate but for the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. One of the messages that was being circulated on social media by the BJP read, “There is no need to spend time wondering who the BJP candidates are in Karnataka, who is the CM candidate of BJP in Karnataka because whoever the local candidates are and whoever becomes the CM, the total control of things will be in the hands of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.” The message even goes further saying, “We know that some of the BJP candidates are not the right ones but what we need is Modi ji’s administration. In case the local candidates do not perform their duty you can contact Modi ji directly and he will set things right,” and then requests the people to, “Vote for BJP without much thought and bring Modi ji’s administration in Karnataka.” This message and this tactics is a clear indicator of the desperation in the saffron party.

RSS exporting hate to the nation via Coastal Karnataka

In the last two and a half decades, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), the ideological parent of BJP had made Karnataka, especially coastal Karnataka, a laboratory for its politics of hate. No matter which party ran the government in Karnataka, RSS has had its own parallel administration in coastal Karnataka and has been slowly expanding its influence to other parts of the state as well.

The tragic communal history of coastal Karnataka is important at this point to understand the deep seated fear in the people about the results of the elections. Before spelling out fear, we should have a slightly closer look at the last few years.

Nine years before India got ‘Modi-fied’, and ten years before the inhumane lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, which went on capture the national imagination with its agenda of ‘protecting the gau mata’ the coastal town of Udupi had already had its highly condemnable Dadri moment.

On March 13, 2005 father and son, Hajabba and Hasanabba, were stopped by the Hindu Yuva Sena (HYV) members while transporting livestock. They were dragged to a nearby helipad and stripped completely before being paraded naked and assaulted. This happened hours before the sun went down and darkness settled on this part of earth. This was witnessed by hundreds of citizens in Udupi, who neither intervened nor uttered a word of disapproval. The livestock traders were also made to pose for a photograph by the HYV. This was done in order to send across a message to the Muslim community about what would happen if they were not to listen to Hindus.

It took immense efforts by activists to make police take cognizance of the offence. “Jurisdictional dispute” became the reason for the delay even after the Police took note of the crime. Huge protests by activists made the state handover the case to Corps of Detectives (CoD) . Preliminary reports held key members of Hindu Yuva Sena responsible for the stripping and assault of Hajabba and Hasanabba. One among the key members was Yashpal Suvarna who was later awarded nomination for town council by the BJP.

In the year 2009, couple of weeks after the infamous pub attack in the coastal town Mangalore, a girl, barely 15 years old, from a nearby town Moodbidri hung herself in her residence after she was taken to the police station by the self-styled vigilante groups which hailed Hindutva ideology. Her crime was that she interacted with a man who belonged to the “other” community. The boy was thrashed black and blue before the girl was taken to the Police Station where the police also summoned her father. She was then “counselled” by the police and the vigilante group. Feeling humiliated the girl ended her life the very same evening.

This was one of the many incidents of ‘immoral policing’ that have been taking place in coastal Karnataka from over a decade now. It is amidst such incidents that the concept of the non-existing ‘Love Jihad’ was first brought into circulation by the Hindutva vigilante groups, alleging Muslim boys of luring Hindu girls and getting them converted. The idea of Love Jihad slowly gained currency and travelled across India making it an urgent matter to attend to, all over.

The two incidents have been recollected here specifically to spell out how big the laboratory of Hindutva hate politics is coastal Karnataka. Issues , used to divide the people and create an anti-Hindu image of Muslims, namely “love jihad”, “cow protection” were exported to the entire nation only after having been tried and tested in coastal Karnataka first.

Troubled times ahead, either way?

With these memories still afresh, how is one to look at the vicious campaigning the BJP undertook during the Karnataka elections where they were once again seen trying to divide and create tension between Hindus and Muslims? Given that the BJP is frustrated about its fading magic all over India with their weapons of development; war on illegal money, etc becoming ineffective, it is quite evident that as a run up for the 2019 elections they will go back to their basics, communal politics. Dividing communities and inciting violence is likely to be the game plan of BJP for the 2019 election. A glimpse of this was seen in Karnataka once again.

People in Karnataka fear both, BJP winning and BJP losing the Karnataka elections. In case they win, they have all the control in the world to sharpen their weapons and get ready for 2019. If they lose, they have an entire year to do what they are good at, in order to ensure 2019 is not a repeat of 2018.

Either way, it is going to be a year of communal tension and violence, fear many people in Karnataka and the rest of India.

[Originally published in Hind Kisan on 13 May 2018]

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Missing The Point

April 18, 2018 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The rape of a minor in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by her brutal murder as gained the attention of India, even if it is after three months. In these three months the civil (?) societies, the lawyers, the politicians belonging to the right wing in Jammu have without any hesitation come out in public to shield the perpetrators. These facts when brought to light, the liberals of India rightly got enraged as much as they got outraged on hearing about the rape of the minor girl belonging to the Bakarwal community, a nomadic tribe.

While nothing better than supporting perpetrators could be expected from the right wing, my disappointment is with the liberals, though I believe that the protest being registered is a necessary gesture. Here I would just like to list my disappointments…

Illustration by Mir Suhail

Firstly, the case of Kathua and Unnao, though barbaric and unacceptable, are being mentioned in one breath as if they are similar. No, they aren’t, even when both of them are inhumane. The question how will be answered through my elaboration of the other disappointments.

The case of Kathua rape is not being communalized and politicized by the ones underlining the religious and political identity of the girl. The rape happened because of her religious and political identity. So if anyone brought religion and politics into this, it is not those who are highlighting the identity markers but those who perpetrated violence. The cry of some liberals requesting to not make the incident “about religion and politics,” marks their ignorance of the details in this case.

The issue of Kathua cannot be seen in isolation, distancing it from the history of rape used as a weapon by the Indian state in Kashmir and on Kahsmiri people. Had the girl been raped for being a girl alone, we could have spoken only about humanity and patriarchy. But since she was raped for being a Muslim and a Kahsmiri, let’s talk primarily about the state of minorities and the way Indian state has conducted itself in Kahsmir, especially with relation to women.

Amidst all this, I fail to understand the tweets of people like Javed Akhtar who wants to remind people of the ways in which Bakarwal people showed their loyalty to India and asking us to be in solidarity with the victim. The question to be asked is, what if Bakarwal people were anti-India? In that case would Javed sahab be okay with the rape? Are does he want us to be okay with rape?

The issue of Kathua rape and murder, for many liberals, has become a scoring point against the Bharateeya Janatha Party. I have no doubts about the BJP being a disgrace to democracy, which one needs to get rid of. But I find it morally disturbing when the issue of Kathua rape is being used to churn anti-BJP public opinion alone. If at all the Kathua incident has troubled the Indian liberals then it should enable them to see the connection between the Indian occupation of Kashmir and the rape and murder of Kathua. To see it as a symbol of the maliciousness of BJP alone is to not understand the context of the Kathua rape and murder. Restricting the discussion to the role of BJP alone is parking the vehicle mid-way and aborting the truth before one has arrived at it completely. More importantly it will be dilution of the matter. The interconnections between occupation of Kashmir and the Kathua incident exists beneath the surface and one more round of scratching is enough to reach there. Very hesitantly I make this statement: If intelligence is a slave to convenience, then it is not just a moral corruption but also a sign of opportunism.

The liberal discourse around Kathua has been reeking of poverty of understanding, knowledge, sensitivity and imagination too. In extreme conditions of history, such as this, to be a liberal centrist is to let down the victims and let violence continue on the socially, politically vulnerable.

If the Indian liberals are actually horrified, as they claim to be, then the question is if the Indian liberals will at least now acknowledge Kunan Poshpora and innumerable such rapes in Kashmir (Handwara, Shopian, Islamabad, Trehgam, Doda etc) orchestrated and conducted by the Indian army? Will they stop seeing the Kathua incident out of context? If not then the liberals need to reimagine their politics.

[Originally written for Coastal Digest web portal. Published on 16 April 2018]

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A Graceful Moment in Cricket

April 2, 2018 at 9:15 PMApr (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Some moments just remain with us, for it historical significance and for its emotional weight.

The ICC World Cup tournament being sealed with a six by the the then Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni is one such moment for many a Indians, including me.

Growing up in 90s, like almost every urban and semi-urban Indian, I not just played cricket but also fancied Indian cricket team becoming World Champions. One hardly wins over the child within them, with regard to some matters. The fascination for cricket remained, though it eroded to an extent.

So when the Indian cricket captain sent the ball out of the boundary line without a bounce, I jumped and went on my knees, out of joy.

But soon the joy got eclipsed by a different feeling. It made me go silent. I sat back on the chair and looked at that one frame again and again;as the moment of Dhoni closing the match with a six was replayed.

Dhoni who had not a single half century in the tournament had promoted himself and come to the ground before Yuvaraj Singh, who had done well tremendously in the tournament. Dhoni played a captain’s innings and turned the course of the match and brought victory to the Indian team with a magnificent six. Yet in that moment of seeing the ball sail across the boundary line, Dhoni was as calm as ever. Not a single punch in the air, not a single scream! Indian cricket team won the world cup, Dhoni was the captain, it is he who had made victory in the final match possible and it was all sealed with a six! The ever silent and calm Gary Kirsten, the then coach of the team, had gotten up from his chair and had shouted loud. But Dhoni stood still, swirling his bat like a warrior, yet being so composed!

Even now when I recollect that moment, I get overwhelmed. Probably because I can never be like that in any moment, forget a charged moment like that.

Once the moment sunk in and I developed greater respects for the man MS Dhoni, I realized there was one more person in the same frame. It was Kumara Sangakkara.

The Sri Lankan team had returned home the previous ICC World Cup after loosing in the finals and yet again reached the finals. To enter the finals yet again and loose yet again must have been a very frustrating thing for the Sri Lankan players. Standing in the center of the ground Sangakkara had witnessed closely how the match had turned and slipped from the hands of Sri Lanka. Yet Sangakkara displayed great sportsmanship when he gracefully waited for Yuvaraj and the rest of the Indian cricket team to celebrate, have their moment, and wished Dhoni and others by shaking their hand. No disappointment expressed, no tears, no frustrated reaction. A defeat accepted gracefully, without loosing his calm.

Seven years have passed since the Indian cricket team won the ICC World Cup. Now, not much of love remains in my heart for the game of cricket and Dhoni seems to have lost his magic while Sangakkara has retired. But once in a while I go on youtube and watch that one moment, not for India’s victory, not for the jingoistic pride attached to the moment, but for the grace and beauty of Dhoni and Sangakkara.

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A Moment of Fulfillment

February 3, 2018 at 9:15 AMFeb (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Today when the U-19 cricket team of India holding the World Cup rushed to Rahul Dravid, my hero and the coach of the U-19 team, my eyes became moist.

This is only the second time that in my life that I had tears in my eyes while watching cricket, the other moment being during the 1999 semifinals between South Africa and Australia where after a brilliant fight South Africa had to make way for Australia into the finals.

Rahul Dravid has been my cricketing hero for over two decades now and when in his captaincy India lost horribly at the World Cup in West Indies my heart got super anxious because the Captain, my hero Dravid, would receive criticism from all over. When in 2011 under the able leadership of Dhoni and mentoring of Kirsten team India won the World Cup, of course I was happy but there was a slight sorrow for my hero, undoubtedly one of the finest cricketer in the history of the game, was not in the team and was not seen in that moment of glory under the fireworks in the vast sky.

Today on the third day of the second month of the year 2018 those two aches have gotten healed.

What a moment it is when you see the man of the series say, “We are luck to have Dravid sir as the coach,” to hear the winning captain acknowledge in his award acceptance speech the contribution of Dravid and see the team playfully dance behind Dravid while he spoke to the camera! And of course them running to him with the trophy and handing it over to him and jumping around him.

It was a moment of fulfillment!

There is no doubt that Dravid deserved all of this and all of this also shows what Dravid is. But to get a complete picture of Dravid one has to highlight what he said when he spoke to the camera after the match. He said it is embarrassing for him because he seems to be taking the limelight. It was not a performance it was not a pretense. One could see the truth in the moment when he said that and the humility of the man. It was reflected also in his actions. Dravid stayed back in the pavilion till the boys had done celebrating their victory and stepped into the ground only after the boys had their moment of celebration. Even after the boys made him hold the trophy he disappeared in a moment and let the boys live the moment with the trophy.

Even when everyone, from the commentators to the team members to the anchors made his contribution obvious to the world, Dravid made sure he would do all he could to not make it about him.

It looked like the team would carry Dravid on their shoulder but probably it is the spirit of Dravid which must have taught them, not through words but by living, that a team should always stand together, be it in defeat or in victory. The greatest lesson Dravid seems to have made these boys learn in to have their head on their shoulder and never loose gravitation of reality.

In his word to the camera Dravid also said, “May they have more and better memories,” pointing at the journey ahead and also wishing better for the youngsters. In that moment my hero sounded like the wisest man who ever stepped on the cricket field. It was a pure moment!

Dravid, my hero, today my love and respect for you has touched infinity and eternity.

Love you, Jammy! We dont carry you on our shoulders but carry you in our hearts!

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Beyond Common Sense…

February 2, 2018 at 9:15 PMFeb (Cinema, Friends, Letter, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

While watching a short film shot in some exotic locations, those places through which the camera moves appeared very familiar. Those allies, the flowing water, those ancient structures, that park, those broken ceramic ornaments covered benches… No, I have never been to that place. But still I knew those places and had memories of those places. It dint take any effort to realize how I knew those places, where had I seen them and why I am able to recognize them and also feel a sense of connection.

Somebody I used to know was there some years ago.

In such strange ways memories of a lost love resurfaces!

Suddenly now it feels like love is a place I never visited yet a place that visited me. It feels like love is like a memory of a journey I never took but still lived.

In a very strange way in few frames of a film I was seeing for the first time, I met her who I am probably never going to meet again. Yet in a place outside of the present, outside of the past, outside of the real, outside of the reel, in a place beyond common sense, I met her again!

That is enough.

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The Being and Becoming of Gauri Lankesh

January 28, 2018 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

It was in the year 2003 that I first met Gauri Lankesh. I was studying at the St. Aloysius College, Mangalore then and Gauri Lankesh had come as the chief guest for a seminar held by our department. Though I hadn’t read much of her writings back then, I was moved by the affectionate way in which she spoke to all of us and impressed with the clarity of thought when she spoke about justice. Our brief interaction that day ended when she wrote on my note book her postal address saying, “Keep in touch.”

Till sometime in 2005 I used to write to Gauri once in a while responding to something that was published in the weekly of which she was the Editor. Gauri responded to some of those letters too. But after 2005 monsoon I got absorbed in my own world and also lost touch with Gauri’s weekly and also Gauri.

One day in 2009 when I was working for The Hindu in Mangalore I got a call while I was filing a story. “Hello Samvartha, this is Gauri Lankesh,” the voice from the other side said. She had called to give me a pat on the back for a story I did after the attack on minorities in Kaup following the Hindu Samajotsava. She wanted to honour those who had saved the lives at an event that was to be held in memory of her father and she asked me for their contact details. The story I did which carried the headline ‘Hindutva People Attacked Us, Hindus Saved Us’ was translated by Gauri and carried as a part of her editorial the following week.

During that noon’s talk there was so much warmth in her voice that I believed she remembered me from my teenage days when I first met her and also wrote to her. But it wasn’t so. It was only in 2014 she realized that I was the same boy who had met her a decade ago and written to her saying the translation of Gulzar and Javed Akthar in the special issue of her weekly was bad. We both had met in Mysore for a seminar on Sufism then. We spent the evening together roaming the streets of Mysore and talking about our movements, literature, journalism, common friends and our own personal lives. When I recollected a letter she had written in response to mine Gauri, that evening, gulped down the sip of whisky in a hurry to say, “Are you the same boy?” When I smiled to answer in the positive Gauri said, “I was not very much home those days with writing in Kannada though I could speak and read quite well in Kannada. So I used to find it slightly difficult to respond to letters after the task of writing an editorial,” and followed it up with anecdotes of her struggle during the early days of Kannada journalism, which made us have good laugh.

Gauri who was working in Delhi with an English media returned to Bangalore when her father, giant of a writer and journalist, P. Lankesh passed away. Those were the early days of 21st century and soon Gauri took over as the editor of the weekly her father used to edit. Until she took charge of Lankesh Patrike as its Editor she did not share a bond with the people’s lives of Karnataka. Moreover she hardly could speak and write in Kannada fluently. The huge fan following that Lankesh and Lankesh Patrike had by then looked at Gauri and her ability to carry forward the legacy of Lankesh and Lankesh Patrike very sceptically. But over the years Gauri surprised all and probably herself too, to become a prominent ‘Activist-Journalist’ (as she liked to refer herself) from Karnataka.

The last 17 years of Gauri’s life spent in Karnataka, Kannada journalism and lives of Kannada people and the transformation Gauri went through in the last 17 years is not just phenomenal and defining of Gauri but also holds the message of her life. Those were the years of becoming of Gauri.

In the year 2000, as said earlier, Gauri could hardly write and speak Kannada fluently. Her editorials of those days and the letters she wrote those days stand as witness to this. She was just a broad liberal humanist, values she imbibed through the living of her father, when she returned to Karnataka. But soon when she became more and more familiar with the lives and issues of Karnataka her politics became sharper and sharper. If her learning Kannada marked the first move of her becoming, after her return to the native, the second major move in her transmogrification came with her being one of the founding member of Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony (Karnataka Komu Sauharda Vedike) which was started as a response to the communal violence of Gujarat 2002 and the oath taken by the right wingers in Karnataka to make Karnataka another Gujarat. This politics of the right wing escalated with their attempt to make the syncretic Bababudangiri the Ayodhya of the south. This was met with strong resistance by the Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony where many, including Gauri, were jailed. This movement to preserve the syncretic culture of Bababudangiri shifted gears of the activist life of Gauri and brought her closer to the activist circles in Karnataka and tuned her politics.

Around the same time armed struggles was finding ground in Karnataka and that had disturbed Gauri to a large extent. In 2004 she was one of the journalists who were invited by the Naxalites for a press meet in the western ghat forest. It is during this visit that she met her college senior Saketh Rajan alias Prem alias Saki who was leading the Naxalite movement in Karnataka and also saw the lives of the Naxalites closely. She developed great respect for people who had left all comforts and luxuries of life and come to the forest where they lived under difficult circumstances. Their commitment they had for the values they believed in and the dream they had for the world humbled her. But that did not eclipse her mind and she did see the possible violence that could unfold. She started her work of becoming a mediator between the Naxalites and the Government to arrange for a meeting between the two and resolve the issues. Both the parties agreed but the Government acted prematurely and hunted Saketh in the early days of 2005. Angered by this, Gauri got on to the streets to condemn the Government’s act. This earned her the title Naxalite sympathiser when all she desired was for peace and resolving of issue without arms!

As a continuation of this she along with freedom fighter like HS Doraiswamy started the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace which mediated between the Naxalites and the Government and brought back many a Naxalites to the mainstream. Noor Sridhar being one of the Naxalites who came to the mainstream in an article on Gauri written after her assassination says that the Naxalites have been fonder of Gauri than Gauri being fond of them, as the mass seem to believe or has been made to believe. In the very same article Noor Shridhar says though Gauri associated with the Communists was never a communist, though had sympathies for the Naxalites never endorsed their method and though had immense respect for the Dalits and the Dalit movement was never an Ambedkarite. Continuing his observation he said, in the same article, that Gauri’s solidarity was with values she believed in and she always saw the limitations of the organizations. Probably that is why she was never a member of any organization. Her participation was purely value based and agenda based.

Very recently K. Phaniraj was recollecting how Gauri was not familiar with the divisions within the communists and the several parties that burst out of the Communist Party of India. On learning about over 64 organizations in existence, Phaniraj remembered, Gauri reacted with a, “Whatever.” That, “Whatever,” was not of a dismissive nature but an “I cannot be bothered” in nature.

This ‘not being bothered’ did not mean she did not care. It only meant she did not want to focus on it. Instead focusing on the possibilities of a united force to make the world stand on its legs was important for her. Her solidarity with every movement for justice spoke this nature of her. It was very well reflected in her efforts to bring together the ‘red’ and the ‘blue’. This effort was not a strategic position or move for her but something she believed with all her heart.

During the Chalo Udupi in October 2016, which was the last time I met her face to face, it was decided that only blue flags would be taken during the event. But on the day of the event many organizations which showed solidarity had brought their own flags and I was witness to Gauri politely requesting those organizations with other flags to fold their flags and keep it inside. That showed how in movements Gauri participated not like a leader but like a cadre. It also showed how she had slowly started to absorb Ambedkarite thoughts and was preferring ‘blue’ over ‘red’ though she wanted both these colours to come together as a united force.

Gauri had not read Ambedkar till some years ago. But when she read Ambedkar she let Ambedkarite thoughts to seep into her and she also expressed her regret for not having read Ambedkar for long. Not to say that she was not sensitive to the cause of Dalits prior to this. But her Dalit consciousness had not formed in a strict Ambedkarite sense and was still within the large framework of human rights and civil rights. That started to change around 2013-14 with she starting to read Ambedkar. The birthday gift I received last year from her was the biography of Periyar and that kind of hints the path she was progressing in.

The last time I met Gauri was during Chalo Udupi , as I remembered earlier, in 2016 October. I had then just returned from my visit to Jammu & Kashmir post Burhan Wani assassination for a book project. Gauri was keen on knowing what I had seen and heard. She insisted I take her for a good fish meal and as we drove and later had lunch in a small hotel in Udupi she heard with utmost curiosity the story of my travel. In the end she asked me if I would be ready to go to Kashmir with Shivasunder, a comrade of concern, to do a series of reports for the weekly, Gauri Lankesh Patrike. I immediately agreed. After some weeks when I reminded her about the plan Gauri said, “Shivasunder seems to have other commitments. We both can go together.”

Couple of months later Gauri called me very late in the night. She had just completed reading Basharat Peer’s book Curfewed Nights and had called to thank me for having suggested the book to her. That night I suggested some more books on Kashmir and she made note of them. Her excitement showed how Kashmir issue was not a preoccupation for her until then and slowly was becoming one. That is exactly why she was planning a trip to Kashmir with this young boy.

But by then I had heard from a common friend and a senior activist that demonetization had hit the circulation of Gauri’s weekly and she was in a financial crunch. That information made me realize why the Kashmir plan was not materializing soon and I stopped asking Gauri about it. The financial crunch made he write columns for Bangalore Mirror so that she can earn some money to sustain her tabloid. Eventually her column was stopped. The space for liberal radical was closing down swiftly. Gauri herself spoke of the financial crunch when in August she called to say how a particular article by someone in J&K thrilled her and how badly she wanted to meet the writer. “We can meet when we go there,” I told her. In response, she explained the financial matters saying, “Let me recover a bit and then we can go.”

A month later Gauri was assassinated and the dream of our Kashmir visit also died.

Soon I heard that she had made many a plans earlier which could not materialize soon because of her financial crunch. Ramesh Aroli had translated Gudipati Venkatachalam’s novel ‘maidaanam’ which she was to publish, a new book by Revathi, whose autobiography ‘The Truth About Me- The Story of A Hijra’ was also published in Kannada by Gauri, and a translation of Curfewed Nights which I was to do- all had got delayed because of the way in which demonetization hit Gauri.

When a person like Gauri dies several dreams die and though movements don’t die they feel a jolt and lose some energy. The day following her assassination a protest was held in Udupi, like in many places across the country, where a Dalit activist held me tightly and weeping uncontrollably said, “Now who will care for us? Now who will give space to our issues in media?” Gauri did not believe in becoming the voice of someone else but always made sure she listens to the voice of the people and within her means whatever was possible to amplify that voice, through her tabloid, through her publication etc, she did. Her life coming to an abrupt end shook many, spaces shrunk for many and many felt orphaned.

A week after Gauri’s assassination a huge protest event was held in Bangalore. Revathi whose autobiography Gauri had published and whose next book Gauri was to publish was on the stage representing the community of sexual minorities. Akkai was seen in tears and embracing Gauri’s mother and sister who too were in tears. It was learnt that the community of sexual minorities from Bangalore had actually collected money for the protest event through begging. This showed Gauri’s close association with the sexual minorities which hardly made news.

An interesting article by a Kannada website revealed the backstory of Gauri’s association with the sexual minorities. Sometime during the early days of Gauri’s editorship at Lankesh Patrike a reporter had filed a story on the sexual minorities which was slightly derogatory in nature. A case was filed against the tabloid for the published report. The case was being fought by one B.T. Venkatesh who once took Gauri to meet members of the sexual minority community which became the beginning of her association with the community and becoming a part of their struggles; social and political. Gauri became “akka” (elder sister) to the community. This says that Gauri’s relationship with the sexual minorities was not just as a reporter grounded on a certain kind of political correctness but extended to a personal relationship with them. That is why in Bangalore on 12 Sep the stigmatized, excluded and abandoned community cried loudly, “I am Gauri.”

In the last seventeen years of her life Gauri became a lady of movements, as a journalist, through her active participation in different movements for rights and justice. This was a long journey from where she began in 2000 as a person of broad liberal humanistic values. She herself, for sure, was aware of the change she had undergone- of becoming an activist, learning Kannada, internalizing Ambedkarite thoughts, developing sensitivity towards with sexual minorities, coming to understand the Naxalite struggle, arriving at a solution for the Naxalite problem, working towards understanding the Kashmir struggle etc. Probably her own life taught her the possibility of the change human heart and intellect can go when it faces reality and truth. May be that was the reason for her immense faith in dialogue. Even when she was trolled on social media by people half her age and younger than that, she engaged with them, dialogued with them. In all possibilities it is her own becoming of what she became in her 17 years of life that she could invest faith in the possibility of those ‘misguided children’ of hers (as she called those trolls who wished her death) becoming a better, socially sensitive and politically conscious human. At the same time through her becoming she gave us the message of her life i.e. the possibility of change in humans and in society through humans.

It must also be said that Gauri is what the times in which she lived made out of her. The pressure of history was such that Gauri became Gauri. But it is not the call of the times which alone makes a historic figure like Gauri but also the way in which they respond to the times. As much as Gauri was shaped by the times, the times she lived also got shaped by Gauri.

Gauri emotionally adopted Kanhaiyya, Jignesh Mevani and Umair as her sons. To think about it one is a boy with communist influence, another an Ambedkaraite. When Gauri passed away Sheila Rasheed, a Kashmiri girl, on record referred to her as ‘Amma’ (mother). That kind of symbolizes the various streams of thoughts that capped within her.

When Gauri would refer to all these young ones of my generation as sons, at times I (later I learnt many did the same) would playfully ask her why wouldn’t she adopt as her son and notoriously ask for T-Shirts when she bought one for one of the three. Gauri would know that we were pulling her leg and would respond saying, “You have been adopted by me long ago. These are new ones.” It was not an intelligent answer to our notorious remarks but an honest answer. She actually had always treated me and many like her own children.

I can never forget how once she called me to ask how I was doing after she discovered (through my couplets posted on social media) that I had parted ways with someone I love and was saddened by it. She consoled me like a friend and like a friend asked me to not spend much time over lost love because that would eat up the time I can dedicate to find new love. The concern was genuine and each word spoken was honest. Few months before her assassination I had messaged her about the fellowship I had received to make a film on mental health and that night, late night, she had called me to discuss what her thoughts around mental health, depression to be specific, were and to suggest what possibilities can be explored.

I am recollecting some of these very personal matters just to say that Gauri saw me and many like me not just as comrades of concern but as fellow humans, as friends, who meant a lot to her beyond social political movements, thoughts and idea that we shared etc. She cared for all humans she was associated with. There was immense truth in her concern for her fellow beings.

Gauri was like a mother, friend and guide all at the same time.

Gauri would publish some of the poems I used to translate in her weekly and tell me after the week’s edition would be out. Once when I told her she had to take permission in advance before publishing them she laughed loud asking me to repeat myself. I felt so embarrassed that I shut my mouth first and then opened it only to join her in laughing. She would publish my translations without my permission because she believed that among friends it is okay to take such liberties.

Once Gauri called me an hour before the weekly was to go for print asking me to translate a poem “asap.” It was the poem by Hussain Haidry which had gone viral. I was at an ice cream parlour with a friend at that point of time. I ended up translating the poem on a tissue paper. After half an hour when I called her she typed down the translation as I read it out. Immediately then she said, “now listen” and read out her translation of Abul Kalam Azad’s poem which he had written as a response to Hussain Haidry’s poem. She was to carry both the poems in her coming issue which was to go for print in the next few minutes. Though Abul’s poem appeared to counter the poem of Hussain at one level, to Gauri they were complementing poems. More over even if it was countering she would still carry it because Gauri always had space for dissent.

Once when I had argued with Gauri saying the abandonment of a fellow activist from the organization for a wrong he did was not acceptable to me because I believe excommunication is a very brahminical idea. Guess she hadn’t given much thought about it and when I uttered my feelings she immediately said, “Yes, you are right. I will see what can be done,” and told me she would speak to the excommunicated activist since she also felt that all he needed was some talking and making him realize his mistake. There was no space for abandoning and excommunicating in her world. My former colleague and friend Sudipto in a piece had remembered how he once opposed Gauri on ideological grounds and thought that would end his ties with her but was only surprised when she spoke to him with the same affection next time and introduced him to a friend as, “son.”

Gauri believed in and lived what Makhdoom wrote as, “hayaat leke chalo kaayenaat leke chalo, chalo toh saarey zamaaney ko saath leke chalo.”

That night in Mysore when Gauri and I had the longest conversation ever, she had asked me if I had read her mother’s autobiography. I had answered in the negative and Gauri promised to send me the book so that I could read it. But Gauri forgot to send the book. I later read the book as a jury member for the annual book award given by the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi, since it was one of the book contesting for the award. I was thrilled reading the book by Indira Lankesh. After reading it, I called Gauri and she asked me what I thought it. The outstanding book chronicles the coming of age of both Lankesh and Indira. In my reading of the book I saw how the coming of age of a man is more than often individualistic and personal success/ achievement oriented while the coming of age of a woman is more than often a collective growth and the success is measured through the contribution made to others lives. Gauri had liked my reading of the book. In this conversation around her mother’s book I had told Gauri that she should write her autobiography because that would give us a third dimension to the life of her father. She had dismissed the idea. Had she written would it give us a third dimension to the life of Lankesh, I don’t know. But I am sure it would still be a story of coming of age where growth is collective and life, cooperative.

Gauri would have turned 56 today had she been alive. I weep in silence as I remember her and write this.

Rest in power, Gauri!

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