March 31, 2007

'The Namesake': More than a name

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When I went to watch The Namesake, I had no presumptions. I hadn't read the book by Jhumpa Lahiri on which it is based either. That's the way I do it: I never read reviews before buying a book or watching a movie...that's strange because I'm writing one...but let's call it one of life's little ironies.

All I knew about The Namesake was that it was a 'diaspora' movie - you know, the identity crisis fare. But what I found was that this is no ABCD (American-Born-Confused-Desi) movie but yes, it is about searching for one's identity. It's about Gogol Ganguly (Kal Penn) who realises that a man cannot change the threads binding him with the past by just changing his name. When Gogol decides to become Nikhil, he slowly moves away from his Bengali family - a sensible, strong mother (Tabu, playing the Great Indian Bengali woman) and a father drawing strenght from his culture (Irrfan Khan, playing with his usual conviction).

It is only with some personal losses that Gogol finds out what a variable man's identity is - a human being can be so many things at the same time. He sees that it is impossible to break ties with one's past, where's one's soul resides.

Gogol does not necessarily find his 'true identity' because there isn't one - you cannot describe a man in so many words. A man is the product of so many chapters in the book of life, chapters that are written even before he is born.

There's something of Gogol in all of us - we live multiple lives like him, and our heart tugs us in different directions. The director, Mira Nair makes this Bengali-English movie one for all of us - especially Indians, so brought up in diversity. There's so much I can say but the movie speaks it's own language.

My recommendation: watch it if you can, it may give you a different perspective of yourself.

Official site

March 27, 2007

Blogs on way out? You've got to be kidding!

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A funny guy named Tony Allen-Mills has written on Times Online that blogging may be "destined to become a footnote in the history of computing". Now, that's news to me. He's backed this premise by research which states that 200 million blogs have been created and then abandoned.

The article goes on with examples of celebs like Lindsay Lohan and Melanie Griffith to support its story. There are yet other examples, from ordinary bloggers who havn't updated their blogs in a while. Firstly, we don't really need celebs to add a fillip to the world of blogging. Secondly, some people hang in there, some don't. What's the news in that?

What I find particularly unreasonable is the conclusion that blogging is an "extraordinary failure." Well, like it or not, Mr. Allen-Mills, I feel that blogging has empowered millions to voice their thoughts and share it with like-minded people. I can think of 20 blogs at the least which are regularly flooded with comments, and insightful ones at that.

I agree, not everyone is a writer, but that does not prevent people from becoming a part of the discussion platform that the blogosphere offers. I think the article completely missed out on the interactivity of the medium, and the fact that blogging is not just an individual activity but very often a community effort.

The article goes on to say:

Some internet analysts call them “ghost blogs”, lingering reminders of a cultish enthusiasm for self-expression that is rapidly wearing off. Others liken the abandonment of blogs to “the suicide of your virtual self”. At least one internet writer blames the blogging culture for helping to turn the internet into a “dictatorship of idiots”.
As far as the issue of abandonment goes, that happens with every technology. For instance, how many e-mail accounts do you have? Do you use them all regularly? In the beginning, we created a lot of e-mail accounts but ended up abandoning a lot of them. The same thing happens with social networking sites. You get invited to dozens, sign up for a few, but regularly visit only one or two.

Really now, this a saddening relegation of bloggers to 'just-another-fad'. And it seems to me to be the reaction of newspaper-worshipping dinosaurs who are unaware that the world changed a long time ago...

March 23, 2007

Riot victims or political pawns?

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The present Indian government seems to have developed a certain sympathy for the riot victims of 2002 in Gujarat. The Indian Express reports that about Rs 106 crore will be given to the riot victims who were denied justice. I find this news extremely upsetting because now the NPA government is using these victims for their political gain.

I am all for compensating riot victims but it is unfortunate that the government can think of them only prior to the Uttar Pradesh elections. Very cleverly, the Congress has tried to attain multiple objectives with this one announcement. One, it is using the taxpayers' money (which may or may not reach the actual victims) to publicise its own sympathy for the people. Two, it has its eye firmly on the Muslim vote bank in UP. Three, by reminding people of the Gujarat tradegy, it is reiterating the failure of the opposition party, BJP, when it was in power. If only these politicians used their intelligent minds for nobler purposes, we would have been living in a cleaner country.

Another thing I stringently object is the method of appeasing victims of any injustice only with money. Five years after one of the worst crimes against humanity, what good will the money do? Why, instead, did they not declare how many of the offenders of the riots were punished? Because we all know the answer to that - none. And oh, what a shameful admission that would be for any government, wouldn't it?! It's always better to spend some money and get the votes in.

March 12, 2007

Ghalib descends in Nai Dilli!

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I have often wondered how the stalwarts of Urdu poetry would have reacted to the gaana-bajaana to today. While these musings often go unfulfilled, I had the opportunity to witnessing Ghalib's rebirth in his erstwhile abode on earth (Delhi, pal!). And no, I havn't had too much black coffee to fire up my imagination. Last evening, I was at Alliance Francaise watching the play, Ghalib in New Delhi, performed by Pierrot's Troupe.

The thought itself is funny - Mirza Ghalib in nouveau Delhi. The comic play takes us through Ghalib's exasperation as he encounters people who have forgotten the beauty of Urdu poetry - born and brought up on Bollywood songs as they are. Not only that, the whole culture's changed. It's no longer a Mughal town but a bustling melting pot of characters a Delhiite encounters everyday. This interesting plot sealed by good performances by the actors makes it worth a watch.

I won't give too much of it away, though. For those of you who missed it, there's another performance on 1st April at 7.30pm at Shri Ram Centre, New Delhi.

March 9, 2007

New-age mouse trap? Not really!

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I am one of those new media junkies sociologists worry about. It is only recently that I have noticed this tendency in myself. I am more comfortable with the mouse than I have ever been with a pen. I prefer mailing people sitting right next to me (yes, I do that - and the people next to me even reply to them). I try to find solutions to everything online. I have stopped using the dictionary. Now, I use Word Web. I don't write notes. I use Post-It software. When I have to plan my day, I look for events of the day on the net. Most of the time, I keep in touch with friends through forwarded emails. I hardly transact in cash (except to the pay the rickshaw wallah). I buy stuff through my credit & debit cards, preferring retailers who take plastic. I pay my phone and electricity bills online. Even my credit card bills. If I lend money, you guessed it, I transfer it online. And to confess something - I often wish I could withdraw money through the PC instead of going to the ATM.

I order books online pretty often, though I am not very comfortable with ordering gadgets and clothes. But I sincerely hope I will be able to order my groceries online one day - even in the middle of the night.

Lest you think I am a complete net addict, let me clarify. I read newspapers regularly and I always have a book next to my bed. The only difference is - when I like an article in the paper, I don't cut it out and keep a clipping - I bookmark it. And when I read a book, I review it on this blog.

And the only reason I really prefer doing most of these activities online is because I want to use my precious free time in productive activities. Like watching a good movie or a play, or visiting an art gallery. So, it's not that bad after all. New technologies can really be a good thing if you use it for the right reasons. It can actually make your life more worthwhile. Take social networking. Traditionalists may blame people for staying in touch through scraps, but I have met at least 20 long-lost friends through Orkut! even if through scraps, I am now a least in touch with them.

I am sure there are lots of people out there like me. So, Mr. Social Psychologist, you really don't need to worry about tech increasing the mental dependance of humans, rather it frees up the mind for more worthy pursuits.

March 7, 2007

Getting married? Mind your money

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Wedding services will now be taxed, as a result of the Union Budget. A report in Mint (yes, I finally got it) states that a service tax of 12.36% will be levied on wedding planners and other service providers in this industry. So far, weddings have remained off the tax net, because of the religious ceremonies involved. But, as we know, religious matters todays constitute only a fraction of the whole wedding show (rather like a big banner Bollywood production).

I think this is great idea to curb the unnecessary exhibition of wealth that people do at weddings. At the bottom of it all, the economics come into play. Weddings are no longer limited to their social or religious functions, but have become financial activities. Therefore, the tax makes sense. Maybe, once people are made accountable for their expenses, they will think twice before lavishly indulging in every fantasy money can buy.

In fact, I think the government should create a mechanism for auditing wedding expenses and correlating that with the income of the family. Maybe the income tax department should have a special wing to monitor wedding expenses.

Since money is a root cause of dowry and the status of women (not the root cause, just one of many) in India, state intervention in such matters should not hurt. If the rich can afford extravagant weddings, they can afford to pay tax. And as for the not-so-rich; they will be discouraged from borrowing for affording unnecessary wedding expenses or acquiring the money illegally.

March 4, 2007

'The Inheritance of Loss': How many Indias do you know?

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Imagery plays a big role in Kiran Desai's book, unfolding each scene before your eyes like a holographic image. You can feel the wet mist at Kalimpong and the moist earth beneath your feet as you climb the hills. At first, you would think that The Inheritance of Loss is the love story of a girl with strong ideals and her Maths tutor, rudely interrupted by the Gorkha insurgency of 1986. The characters are all etched in what seems their own perspectives of themselves. What each of them lacks is the ability to look beyond themselves. The sadist judge, the hopeful cook (who is never named) and Sai with her ideals acquired from convent school.

But you would be wrong to limit yourself to this view of the novel. For, I think, The Inheritance of Loss is all about being Indian. Not the Indians you and I know - the blooming middle class with one foot in the past of Indian tradition, and the other in an optimistic future.

There are Indians for whom India is the final homecoming. Like for Biju, the cook's son, who is forced to work in the U.S. to pacify his father who dreams big. Thrown against the reality that America is, he sees the filth beneath it all. Yet, he is appalled by the desperation of the people who still think that immigrating will solve all their problems. These are not the stereotype NRIs, but the Indians who are almost invisible, who work in the dark recesses of dirty hotels, gas stations and fast food outlets. All with their eyes on the 'green card'.

There are people like Father Booty who gives his whole life to India, only to be told that he does not belong here anymore - and sent back to an England he does not recognise.

There are people like Sai (the lady in love) who harbour the vision of an India - of cheese toast and rum cake - that seems so out of place in the violence of the times. Similarly, sisters Lola and Noni lead a life of seclusion from what is really happening in the country. When Lola is humiliated by the chief of the rebels, she realises:

It did matter, buying tinned ham roll in a rice and dal country; it did matter to live in a big house and sit beside a heater in the evening, even one that sparked and shocked; it did matter to fly to London and return with chocolates filled with kirsch; it did matter that others could not.
Then there's Gyan, the gulity Maths teacher. Only, what is his guilt for? Falling in love with Sai with all her ideas, or partaking in the rebellion because of his Gorkha blood? It is this conflict which tortures him.

There are many others - all open for observation at the Calcutta airport where Biju lands on his return. There's "the yuppie who had taken lessons on wine", the hippie with tie-dyed motifs of Hindu religion, "computer boys who'd made a million", "young straight-laced businessmen", the "Indian student bringing back a bright blonde" and of course, "all the NRIs holding their green cards and passports" looking "complacent and civilized".

This is India outside the periphery of our everyday vision. One that exists in the hearts and minds of Anglicised Indians, foreigners who have adopted it, legal and illegal Indians abroad and even the rebels who want to break away from it. Sai best describes this when she muses:

What was a country but the idea of it? She thought of India as a concept, a hope or a desire. How often could you attack it before it crumbled?
When the people of Kalimpong witness the rebellion, they finally see beyond their own concepts of India and that of others. Indians who are heir to an India that does not really exist. An India they have lost, keeping it alive only in their thoughts. Yet, for millions of Indians, there are still many Indias they have no knowledge of.

Think of the North-East. Forever relegated to its fate. Think of the Andaman & Nicobar islands, still recovering from a horrendous natural calamity. Think of the Indians on foreign land, doing menial jobs, yet revering a vision of India that soothes their frayed nerves.

More than anything, Kiran Desai deserves applause for bringing all these hidden Indias before our eyes.

March 2, 2007

For better or purse - the other side

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A valid comment in my last post by Amodini made me think:
...if you don't want your daughter's worth measured in terms of money (dowry), why judge a man based on his material possessions ?
Makes sense. I am no hardline feminist and I think that the other side deserves to be heard. From a reasonable standpoint, men are equally under pressure. Especially because, for them, financial standing is everything. A woman may be judged on her looks or education, but a man is always judged on his income for the purpose of marriage.

The bias truly exists among parents - who would prefer a richer groom for their daughter than a middle class one. Money is everything in today's world and we often forget the tremendous pressure exerted on boys right after they complete their education, to get on with acquiring wealth. And they cannot even think of getting married without acquiring a fat bank balance (for which they are openly interrogated) and a flashy car. What happened to character, good values, intelligence and honesty? Now, these values have been replaced by a 'smartness' which only means being selfish enough to get ahead at the cost of ethics.

A friend of mine always says that it's easier for women to move ahead in life. While I don't completely agree with him, I would say that for women above the poverty/illiteracy border, they do have it easier, since whatever they do is for themselves - while men always have their families to look after (parents and siblings), in addition to acquiring the right social status for marriage.

I am not denying the discrimination against women, but I do protest is the unreasonable expectations from men to 'make it big'.