April 29, 2007

Aurangzeb: A play about the zealous Mughal

Posted By:
Natwa Theatre brought us a theatrical performance entitled Aurangzeb, here in New Delhi yesterday. What is interesting is that the play was written in Tamil originally 33 years ago. I saw the recent Urdu version written by Shahid Anwar and directed by K S Rajendran.

What we witnessed was a riveting performance by Mahendra Mewati as Aurangzeb who is written down in history as an intolerant tyrant. But was he really that? Yes, he committed acts of oppression but we also learn that Aurangzeb had his heart in the right place. He loved his father Shah Jahan (played by Sanjay Gautam) who neglected him all his life. He sees Shah Jahan and his brother Dara Shukoh (played by actor and Sansani host, Shrivardhan Trivedi) as transgressors of Islam for their excesses. For him, ruling is all about providing subjects with their daily living instead of wasting money on building grand monuments. Ultimately, Aurangzeb questions himself in his declining years: is he really a murderer of hundreds? Is he not a pious person? Has he forgotten the beauty of life's little pleasures?

Mewati and Trivedi are passionate actors and you can see it in their eyes as they seem to speak from the soul of the characters. Anwar's dialogues are full of vigour and bespeak the full-bloodedness of Mughals. Laxmi Rawat is believable as the manipulative Roshan Ara who is consumed by jealousy of her beautiful sister Jahan Ara (played by Manleen Kaur). The actors spoke impeccable Urdu and the lighting matched the mood perfectly.

There is more to Aurangzeb than a historical drama. Often, the dialogues echo the reality of our country today, such as "Mazhab aur siasat ko alag nahin kiya jaa sakta." So, on the one hand we have rulers like Shah Jahan who don't give a damn about people and dream of building monuments by imposing more taxes saying, "Aani wali pushtein un logon ki qurbani yaad karengi". On the other, we have Aurangzeb who considers all non-Muslims as transgressors and refuses to see beyond that. Dara is the 'secular' voice in the play who accepts all religions but is no politician and therefore, loses his right to the throne.

Overall, a commendable production by Rajendran which deserves a standing ovation, and it got one too. There's a repeat performance of the play today at Shri Ram Centre Delhi at 7 pm.

P.S.: I wonder why the brochure shied away from calling the play an Urdu translation when it was clearly one and chose the term "Hindustani" instead?

Visit Natwa Theatre website for details.

Missing the point

Posted By:
An excellent article by Tavleen Singh (The case of the kiss, The Indian Express, April 29) talks about how flawed our idea of Indian culture is. At a time when we have a lot more to worry about than Richard Gere demonstrating, with a little help from Shilpa Shetty, that AIDS and kissing can go together (Clarification: Neither of the demonstrators suffer from AIDS.)

Our developmental stats are so shameful that our courts should order suo moto inquiries into negligent welfare ministers instead of bothering other people. First it was Narayan Murthy accused of playing a "polyphonic ringtone" version of the National Anthem. Then, it was Sachin Tendulkar who committed a 'crime' by cutting a cake with the Indian flag on it. Yesterday, Mandira Bedi was hauled up for wearing a sari with flags of different countries. Unfortunately, our Indian flag made it only below her knee. Thankfully, it didn't make it elsewhere or that would be a bigger controversy!

Point is, silly non-news items like this are taking up so much space in the media that it's taking away our focus from the real issues. Instead of discussing a kiss or hug, we should be asking our ministers what they are doing for the country. The media should trail them day and night instead of celebrities to ensure that they are on track. How come petitioners and protestors do not find anything wrong with the fact that 25 per cent of our ministers have a criminal record?

April 22, 2007

Small minds...big pressure

Posted By:
I chanced upon this really sarcastically funny comic called 'Moderately Confused' by Jeff Stahler on Comics.com (that's what I read when I am suffering from bouts of insomnia). Aaaaanywayyy, there was this particular comic which had me laughing and crying at the same time (I can't reproduce it here because of copyright issues) - it has this little kid, barely three feet tall, carving a lifesize statue of David by Michelangelo. A little girl looks on with a little sculpture of a duck as the kid asks "What did you sculpt for your preschool admission test?"

The exasperated look on the girl's face to me is the classic irony in our life today - we want our kids to grow up as soon as they have hardly started speaking. And why do we do this? My theory is this: As time progresses, our demand from life is exponentially increasing. We want as much as we can dream, and more. Since we have not defied age yet, we have to achieve the most out of this life and we want children to get into this mindset from the beginning, so that they can, so to say, be more successful.

The problem here is that what we are doing here is robbing them of the right to be carefree, to make mistakes and learn from them. The harrowing process starts from the time parents seek admission in pre-school or nursery. Why does the child have to be a baby genius to get through? Why can't he/she be just a child?



There's this lovely movie which was running recently, called Little Miss Sunshine which again focused on the 'adultification' of kids. The movie is about a young girl called Olive who wants to participate in a beauty contest for girls and is blissfully unaware of the status such contests have achieved. Her shocked father looks at the horrifying contestants who look like mutated versions of beauty queens miniaturized. When Olive does a dance which can be termed as 'lewd' it is the turn of the other parents to be shocked - ironic, considering what they are doing themselves.

Isn't it enough that older children are ruining their childhood slogging for IIT/IAS/MBA and what-not competitive exams? Isn't it enough that the rat race is tougher when we go out to work? Then, why are we punishing little children by expecting them to grow up when they shouldn't? Why pressure them to perform exceptionally well?

I do hope that one day we realise what we are doing otherwise we will lose the concept of 'childhood' altogether.

April 16, 2007

'City of Djinns': A mesmerising performance

Posted By:
I admit, I had my reservations about how William Dalrymple's City of Djinns would be adapted to a theatrical performance. Since it is one of my favourite books, I went more out of curiosity than excitement to watch a preview of the play yesterday on the lawns of Maati Ghar at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts in New Delhi.

As I reached early, I saw the preparations for the play in full swing. And this does not include just the artist rehearsals, but the other people who would play a role in creating the 'experience' for the play. So I watched as the kite seller decorated his kites on the branches of tree and the kulfi seller put his matka in place and last but not the least, the seekh kabab wallah heated the charcoal. The atmosphere was building and I was experiencing my first pangs of excitement for what lay ahead.

Artists of the group told me that they had worked day and night, literally, for this play. They were all praises for the director, young Rudradeep Chakraborty. And as the preparations advanced, I could see the passion of the man which was matched equally by the lead actor Tom Alter (see pic below).

When the play finally started with the mesmerising beats of the Qawwals, I was lost in another world. The play was not a conventional stage performance - here there was no demarcation between the audience and the actors. Everything blended together to give you the feeling of a 3-D theatre were you feel every movement. In the same way, you could feel every emotion as Alter as Dalrymple took you through his travails in Delhi. And I must say, he gave a splendid performance as did all the other actors - Zohra Saigal as Norah, Ahmed Ali the writer, the eunuchs, the kabooter baaz and all the others.

And yes, did the play do justice to the book? I would say yes because it captured all the excitement/exasperation/sympathy that Dalrymple has portrayed in his account.

I won't give much of the plot away as it is only to be experienced first hand. So I would suggest all self-respecting Delhiites to book their tickets immediately - City of Djinns is too good to miss. It's on till 26th April.

Delhi Events link

April 12, 2007

Hands up! It's the traffic police

Posted By:
If you happen to visit Delhi any one of these days (unless you stay here), you will be surprised at the vigilance and zeal of the Delhi Traffic Police. Yes, the same one with the slogan 'Your Safety Our Concern'. And this isn't because the bribe rates have increased or a foreign dignitary is on a visit, but it is thanks to the directives of the Delhi High Court for better enforcement of traffic rules in the Capital (see The Hindu report).

This Monday onwards, Delhi woke up to a dream city of sorts where every traffic violator was made to pay for his crime. And this includes the previously untouchable DTC bus drivers and auto wallahs. Fines were collected to a tune of Rs 17 lakh from the 'exercise'. I use this word because I have no idea how long this charade is going to last. Maybe it will lose fizz just like the sealing drive.

What I found surprising was that many people complained to the news media that they had to pay hefty fines (with a cess of Rs 500) for violations. On second thoughts, you can't really blame them...they're not used to obeying traffic rules, yaar. You can't come up to them one fine day and say "Keep the 100-rupee note to yourself, I'm cutting you a challan." Not that corruption has been rooted out of DTP overnight. That tradition continues but the heat of the judiciary is still burning and no one wants to burn their fingers. Not even the drivers who are waiting for things to return to 'normal'. My point is, unless these enforcement measures are ingrained into the functioning of the traffic police, we can't expect the drivers of Delhi to mend their rash ways. Another issue at hand is the accountability of the administration for the money collected as fines - by all reason, that money should go into a more efficient public transport system, not just flyovers.

(pic courtesy www.delhitrafficpolice.nic.in)

April 8, 2007

Banning sex or education?

Posted By:
The ban on sex education in schools by the state governments of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat is to my mind equivalent of shooting the messenger who brings unpleasant news. I won't get into the politics of the decision, but looks like the heads of our government are burying their head in the sand.

It looks like the patriarchal government is not ready to accept the fact that there is a gradual loss of innocence among the youth of today. In this ban, there is a classic confusion between cause and effect. We are bringing in sex education because the young generation needs advice, and this is after they have already been exposed to the winds of change.

We live in a media environment where newspapers have become as bold as Mallika Sherawat - the new icon of unbridled sexuality. An atmosphere where TV channels and magazines have, so to say, lost their innocence. This is the age where parents hardly have the time to tell their children what is wrong or right. Whether we like it or not, the moral rot has already set in. the least we can do is accept it and help our kids get out of the mess.

So, what sex education is actually doing is clearing up the dirt dug up by the erosion of moral values. What's the point in banning it? It won't stop what has already happened in the young minds of today. Does the government think that by this move it is banning the changing mindset of the world around us? Not by a long shot. And I think we all know that.

Whatever the reasons behind this moral erosion, the consequences are staring us in the face, and the sooner we acknowledge their presence, the better.

And I ask our honourable protectors-of-culture a few more questions:

What have you done to control underage drinking? And drugs. What have you done to rehabilitate the young drug addicts on the streets who get into the habit to overcome the torture at the hands of policemen and thugs? What have you done to protect the children who are trafficked in the sex trade? What about the kids suffering from HIV/AIDS?

We know very well that the answer does not lie in banning FTV or sex education. It lies in taking responsibility for the results before us. If the seeds of growth that India is sowing are rotten (by our own negligence), one can only imagine what the crop will be like.

'One Hundred Years of Solitude':

Posted By:
Gabriel García Márquez creates a new dimension in One Hundred Years of Solitude which is where past, present and future merge. It is where reality and fantasy combine. Macondo is a town somewhere in the Carribean which we follow over the period of a hundred years right from its founding to its gradual destruction. Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula at the head of the Buendia family are the founders of a Macondo where flying carpets and ice are equally magical.

One can't help relate the events in the town to events witnessed in world history. The clash between the Liberals and Conservatives is reminiscent of the split in Christianity. The rebellion of the workers of the banana factory recalls the Industrial Revolution. There is even a reference to what may be compared to the holocaust - with the extermination of the rebels.

All this, of course, is seen through the eyes of the Buendia family. A nagging doubt is created by the different versions of history that different inhabitants of the town adhere to. It makes one think if the history we have grown up with is not the same as reality. And what is reality and where do we stand in the picture of things? Like Macondo, is our world also isolated from the 'real' world? What we witness, are they just glimpses of the progression of time?

Amid the fast pace with which time moves on, it is Ursula who maintains a saner view of the world around her as she recalls the magic of the past:

"What's happening," she sighed, "is that the world is slowly coming to an end and those things don't come here any more."
Further, the events are made out to be circular in nature, with every other thing reminding one of something that happened not so long ago.

"I know all of this by heart," Ursula would shout. "It's as if time had turned around and we were back at the beginning."
What is more real than anything else in the story is the fact that time changes things, but we can never really let go of the past. Time seems to grow outwards, rather like in concentric circles. It is not a linear growth that stretches on forever.

In the end, it is as if all the things exist at the same time.

Márquez is a man possessed of a remarkable imagination. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that not only creates new paths into your imagination, it makes you wonder whether there are many more unexplored worlds out there.

April 5, 2007

The Forgotten: Victims united in suffering, neglect

Posted By:
I had written earlier about how the compensation announced for Gujarat's riot victims is inadequate. In a follow-up to that story, The Indian Express has highlighted another issue which is unresolved. Many of the riot victims are still homeless, living in slums and barely earning a living. This is yet another reason why the compensation is insufficient to help the victims, if that is what its purpose is.

Further, of the 4 lakh rupees compensation announced, effectively only Rs 50,000 is being offered to them for building houses. What does the government expect them to do with that money? I doubt if even a single-room house would be available at that rate in Ahmedabad. And considering that a lot of these people lost the houses they must have built over their lifetimes, this is a slap on their face. Many were even deprived of their shops and business outlets.

It would have been better to have at least provided the displaced people with respectable accomodation than to do what they are doing now. How much of the earmarked cash will actually reach the victims is another question mark.

Incidentally, the victims of the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 are suffering the same fate. Many of them lost their homes and are still living in rehabilitation camps (see BBC report). For that matter, the victims of the 2004 tsunami calamity are still awaiting the return to normalcy, but we seem to have conveniently forgotten them (see blog and The Guardian report)

We may boast of riding the waves of success in the international markets, but when it comes to aiding our victimised citizens, India is still a Third World country. And until we get rid of these inefficiencies, this undesirable phrase will continue to trail us.