Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book Review : Hiraeth - Partition Stories from 1947

The geographical landmass known to the world as the Indian subcontinent accounts for about 3.5 % of world's surface area and is home to roughly 1.8 billion people or about 1/4th of World's population, thereby making it both the 'most populated' as well as the 'most densely populated' geographical region in the world. 

Partition 1947 remains a seminal and defining moment in the history of this region.

It is no surprise, then, that partition has, and shall always continue to serve as a muse for the writers and historians of the subcontinent. Naturally, there's a wealth and treasure of writing on Partition, both under 'non-fiction' (mostly historical and political accounts) as well as 'fiction'. (Here one may ask: What's the need of Fiction in gaining a thorough understanding of an event such as the Partition? The answer to that is..because History/non-fiction can only present to us the "facts" of an event. Such as,  'Partition forced about 15 million people to leave their homes and left no less than a million dead'. But what TOLL such a cataclysmic event took on the individual and collective psyche of those that lived through it - is a question no historical/non-fiction account can answer. Similarly, no historical/non-fiction account can tell you that the one demographic that bore the worst brunt of this tragedy was Women. Or, for that matter, the myriad ways through which they tried to cope with this trauma. For that, you need Fiction, for only fiction can "humanize" such a tragedy as the Partition) 

But while there's no dearth of writing on partition which can be bracketed under "non-fiction", as also under "Fiction" in Hindi and other native Indian languages like Urdu and Punjabi (the works of the great S'aadat Hassan Manto, Bhisham Sahni and Amrita Pritam to name but a few); surprisingly, the same cannot be said when it comes to Fiction on the subject of Partition *in English*. The two that do come to mind are the Booker prize winning 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie and 'Train to Pakistan' by our very own, the late great Khushwant Singh. But even those are 'novels' ie huge tomes which could be tedious for some readers. There's hardly any 'short fiction' of note which explores the subject of partition in English.

Hiraeth by Dr. Shivani Salil steps in to fill this void.

Hiraeth is an anthology of 24 short stories in English set against the backdrop of partition, spread over a breadth of 145 pages of AS brilliant, poignant and moving prose as any you could ever hope to come across on the subject of partition!

Right from the very aesthetic title itself - 'Hiraeth' which means a longing for a place which one can no longer return to, to the befitting Cover, to the titles of the individual stories, everything about Hiraeth just screams "thoughtfulness"

As the writer takes you by the hand and transports you back in that era, a few things that stand out about the writing are the meticulous research that must've gone in crafting each one of these touching tales, the attention to detail and the use of the native vernacular. Giving the meaning of these colloquial terms in the footnotes on the same page itself was another really nice touch and ensures the flow of the story doesn't break.

Now, when you have as many as 24 stories, all set against the same backdrop, there is always a danger of stories coming across as too similar or repetitive. The challenge for the writer, then, is to keep the stories and characters rooted in the same theme yet different in treatment.To her immense credit, Dr Shivani has managed to pull this off with amazing skill; in the process giving us readers some unforgettable stories and equally memorable characters. Personally, 'Chinh', 'Hiraeth', 'Kulfat', 'Musawwir', 'Pairahan','Ummi' and 'Waghaar' among the stories and 'Rashida/Shano', 'Fauzia', 'Shakuntala', 'Omar' and 'Amrit' among the characters are going to stay with me for a very long time, if not forever. 

In fact I'd say that most of the stories and characters lend themselves really well to adaptation for screen as a television or a webseries. 14-16 episodes of 1hr each. Something along the lines of Tamas (1988). I sincerely hope, wish and pray Universe conspires to make this happen someday.

In closing, I'll just say that Dr Shivani Salil, in her debut book itself, has managed to establish herself as a storyteller of immense potential. Eagerly looking forward to what she has in store for us in the coming years.

For now though, I cannot recommend Hiraeth highly enough! Above and beyond the aforementioned reasons, Hiraeth is a #MustRead simply because it  is very relevant even to the present times, given  today's communally charged atmosphere. As the famous saying goes..

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

Enough said!

Friday, March 15, 2019

..And this is where the Cowboy rides away!

If you help someone expecting something in return - be it reciprocation, gratitude or just that the said person at least realizes what you've done for them - then you're not really helping them out, you're merely conducting business.

You must help a person in such a way that the said person doesn't even realize that they've been helped. Those are the best kind of helps.

Step-up to the plate and offer your shoulder when you feel someone is really in need of one but make sure to do it in a very casual, subtle and nonchalant way. Do not make a huge fuss of what you're doing for them.

Then help the through that phase as best as you can and gently nudge them back to happiness and laughter but ever so lightly that the other person doesn't even perceive of it.

(Of course, without ever losing sight of the fact that you can, at the most, be a catalyst. The real healing has to, and always does, come from within)

And - this is the most important step - once you're sure your work is done and they've overcome sufficiently, start to step back into the shadows so slowly and *imperceptibly* that, again, they don't notice you withdrawing into the crowd.

In simpler terms..
Know your role, Play your part & Leave the stage gracefully as soon as you get the hint that you're not required anymore.
Never overstay your welcome.
(And never EVER complicate what's simple!)

If you can manage this then you've not just helped the other person but yourself too, for Genius is sometimes in knowing when to step away.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

My tryst with New year resolutions

Yours truly on New year's eve ~

Too much neglect and too much slacking off has gone on for far too long. Not a day longer!
2019 is going to be a selfish year. My time will be invested on improving and reinventing myself.
From tomorrow onwards..

  •  Early to bed & early to rise
  •  High-Intensity Interval Training at the Barbarian gym
  • No non-veg
  •  No alcohol
  •      & last but by no means the least..(wait for it..)
  • MEDI-effin'-TATION, to awaken my 'Kundalini' and all the 'Chakras', biatch \m/


(By the end of the first week..)

Inner voice : Why the hell are you not going to the gym man?

Yours Truly : Oh, I am afraid if I start working out, I'll be too sexy. That's why ;)

Inner voice : Hmm. I see. And what about "awakening the Kundalini" and all that jazz..

Yours Truly : Tried that but frankly speaking, it's not my cup of tea. With due respect, it's too time-taking, specially for "KarmaYogis" like me.

Inner voice : *cough cough* Yeah, right! And what about the no non-veg pledge? I thought you said you loved animals..

Yours Truly : And I stand by what I said 100%. Of course I leaouve animals. Some of them are so tasty.

Inner voice :'re SO going to hell for putting it that way!
And..wait a minute..what's that Budweiser can doing in your hand, by the way?! Didn't you promise to stay off alcohol..

Yours Truly : Aw come on gotta be kidding me!! Beer kab se alcohol me count hone lagi bhai?! :O (Since when does beer start being counted as alcohol?!) By that logic, quite a few medicines too contain alcohol. So? Ab Insaan dawa bhi na le?? (Is a man supposed to give up medicine too now??)

You know what mate..THAT is precisely why no one listens to your shit. If you had your way, everyone should just roll over and die already.
For your kind information dude, YOLO! Bole to 'Zindagi Milegi Na Dobaara'. So keep calm and keep kaam-se-kaam (mind your own business) okay?

Now Takhliya!
(Over & out!)


And thus endeth yours truly's tryst with New year resolutions. Till the next time ;)

This post is part of a blogtrain hosted by PrernaAlpana and Vartika & sponsored by Pandora's Box and Recipe Dabba.
I wrote under the prompt 'Gone with the wind - What I say and what I actually do with my new year resolutions'

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Farewell, Good Sir

  •  Civil Engineering from IIT Roorkee
  •  MS and PhD from University of California, Berkeley 
  •  HoD Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur 
  •  One of the founding members-cum-first secretary of 'Central Pollution Control Board of India' (CPCB) when it first came into being in 1979 
  •  Mentoring an entire generation of Indian environmentalists like Anil Agarwal and Dr Rajendra Singh also known as the 'Water man of India'

But is it these stellar academic and professional accolades alone that make Professor G.D Agarwal a true Hero?
NO! This only makes him a great scholar and academician.
What really makes him a real Hero in the true sense of the word is the fact that he chose a life of struggle when he could have very easily chosen a life of luxury, with such credentials under his belt.

A staunch Gandhian, Professor Agarwal was a life-long bachelor who cooked his own food and swept his own floor, all by himself right to the very end.
After having retired from IIT Kanpur, he finally joined a monastic order, became a Sanyasi, assuming the name of 'Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand' and dedicated his remaining years to the one cause that had been the closest to his heart throughout his life - the cleaning and rejuvenation of river Ganga.

And he did so in true Gandhian fashion ie through the route of 'Aamaran Anshans' or fast-unto-death.
His first such fast, undertaken in 2008, brought the issue of river pollution to the centre stage of the hydro-power production discourse. It led to the designation of the Ganga as India’s national river. His second fast in 2009 led to the formation of the 'National Ganga River Basin Authority'. The third one in 2010 forced the UPA government to cancel all the three new projects between Gangotri and Uttarkashi and the establishment of the 'Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone'.
In February 2018, after having waited for four full years, he wrote a series of letters to Prime Minister Modi requesting him to take some concrete action to stop further exploitation of Ganga.
But to no avail!

So, on June 22nd, he commenced on his fourth and final fast-unto-death for the cause of Clean Ganga.
On 11th October ie 111th day of his fast, he died under controversial circumstances at AIIMS Rishikesh.
It was only after his death that people in general, including myself, got to know of his valiant fight to save Ganga. A fight he undertook for the future of our children.

The general sense of apathy during his struggle and even after his passing away is another proof that we, as a society, have completely failed yet again and we don't deserve a genuine saint like Him.
What a shame!
It reminds me of these lines by the legendary Hindi poet, Baba Nagarjun..
बाल झबरे, दृष्टि पैनी, फटी लुंगी, नग्न तन
किंतु अंतरदीप्त था, आकाश-सा विस्तीर्ण मन
उसे मरने दिया हमने, मिट गया पागल पवन
अब भले ही याद में करते रहो सौ-सौ हवन

Nagarjun wrote these lines on a similar death due to neglect of one of his fellow legend of Hindi poetry, SuryaKant Tripathi 'Nirala'. But these lines ring equally true for Professor Agarwal.
We failed him while he was alive, fighting all alone. Let us not fail him in his death.

Let us all take a pledge to carry forward his fight for a Clean and Rejuvenated Ganga
That, and that alone can qualify as our true homage to his memory!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Movie Review: Kaala

"Until the Lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter."

That seems to be the guiding motto of director Pa Ranjith's work to date in Tamil cinema. At least that's the impression I got after watching 2 out of the total 4 films he's made so far - Kabaali (2016) and Kaala (2018), both starring the legendary Rajinikanth.

India's epics have always served as inspiration for filmmakers, right from the very first film that was ever made in India,  Raja Harishchandra (1913). Manirathnam's Raavan (2010) and Prakash Jha's Rajneeti (2013) are just two recent examples that come to mind. The main reason behind this is the Timeless and Universal appeal of these epics. The Ramayana and the Mahabharat, in particular are "Living Epics", not some dead literature and the most prominent feature of living epics is that they are open to interpretations. This is what makes them so conducive to reinterpret, reimagine and refashion to create a whole new version altogether.

As Dan Brown says in his famous novel, 'The Da Vinci Code' :

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”

This is all the more true for Mythology. As any keen observer would tell you, mythology is a battle between different narratives.  The victor's version becomes the dominant narrative and comes to be widely accepted while the vanquished's version or the counter-narrative gradually gets buried under the sands of time. Pa Ranjith's Kaala is a retelling of one such counter-narrative that might have got buried under the sands of time but refuses to die nevertheless.
In Kaala, he takes the age-old trope of 'Good vs Evil' from Ramayana and turns it on it's head by presenting Raavan or, to be precise, Kaala as the Hero.  Dharavi, Asia's second largest slum, serves as the backdrop for this retelling of Ramayana; Raavan's Lanka, so to say, thereby locating the epic in contemporary Indian realities.

Kaala is a film rich in symbolism, be it the use of colours to represent the different caste and class structures prevalent in the society or the names of the chief players - 'Kaala Karikalan', his son 'Lenin' and 'Hari Dada' or his henchman 'Vishnu' (who gets killed by Kaala on the day of Ganesha Visarjan) or Hari Dada's company 'Manu Realty' that wants to turn the slums of Dharavi into 'Dandakaaranya Nagar' or the omnipresence of Dalit-Bahujan iconography such as the statues of Buddha, Ambedkar and Periyar..heck even the number plate on Kaala's Mahindra Thar jeep which reads 'BR 1956' (the year Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism) 

Hats off to the director for incorporating so much symbolism into the story. Direction on the whole is top-notch. Three sequences, in particular, stand out.

1. The animated portion featuring a young Rajini from the 80s right at the start laying out the backstory.

2. The brilliantly choreographed slo-mo Rajini rain fight sequence right before the interval.


3. The cryptic yet super-charged Climax; the first known instance of the use of "Magical Realism" as a cinematic tool in mainstream Indian cinema. Multiple Oscar winner Alezandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Birdman fame would be proud!

The only minor glitch is the track involving Kaala and his ex-lover Zarina played by Huma Qureshi. This whole track feels forced and could have been easily done away with, without taking anything away from the story.

Coming to the performances, Kudos to the Thalaiva, first of all, for choosing to lend his  Superstardom to such an offbeat and potentially controversial subject (One of his dialogues goes like: "Land may be a means to Power for you. For us, it is our very life. I'll not spare even your Gods if they too try to take it away from us!").
It may or may not be his most successful film in terms of box office but it surely is his most important and Rajini-the actor is in rare form here making sure he does full justice to the immensely likeable 'Kaala'. In fact, it won't be an exaggeration to term it his finest performance till date with the possible exception of Manirathnam's Thalapathi (1991) (which, by the way, was itself based on another epic, the Mahabharat)

Every great Hero needs an equally strong Villain. Batman had the Joker. Superman had Lex Luthor. Kaala has 'Haridev Abhyankar' aka Hari Dada played to perfection by the great Nana Patekar. Even though he actually makes an appearance in the film in the second half only, yet his shadow looms large, both literally as well as figuratively, over the whole film, right from the beginning, even when he's not in the frame. It was a masterstroke to pit Nana's acting prowess against Rajini's off-the-charts charisma and just as you'd expect, sparks fly whenever these two stalwarts come face-to-face on the screen.

But the real scene-stealer here is the effervescent Eswari Rao who plays Kaala's wife, Selvi with such aplomb that it becomes difficult to believe that she is making a comeback to Tamil films after over a decade! The mature romance track between Kaala and Selvi is one of the most endearing aspect of the film and provides some much needed lighter moments in an otherwise politically charged film.

Not just Selvi but even the other female characters of Kaala - be it his ex-flame Zarina or his would be daughter-in-law Puyali - most of them are shown to be strong, independent and opinionated women with a mind of their own and not like the stereotypical Bollywood caricature of Indian women. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in that memorable scene, which can also be termed as the highlight of the film, where the firebrand Dharavi
mulgi who also happens to be Kaala's would be daughter-in-law, Puyali (played with the requisite gusto by Anjali Patil) while being manhandled and stripped by the corrupt Policeman, instead of picking her shalwar to cover her "modesty" chooses to pick up a hockey stick instead to beat the shit out of her molester. 

Which is an indication that Pa Ranjith's cinema is not just about Dalit assertion but about Women rights and Feminism too.

Background music is yet another highlight of the film, particularly during the rain fight sequence right before the interval and then towards the climax. Songs, albeit, are strictly okay. At least in the Hindi version that I saw. The use of Hip-hop as a tool of rebellion against oppression by the slum youth is a nice and novel touch, though.

All said, Kaala is director Pa Ranjith's film through and through. It bears his unmistakable stamp in almost every frame and every aspect of film-making, which is a remarkable feat for a director who's still only 4 films old!
If post Kabaali, he had the "thinking" fans' curiosity, post-Kaala he now has their attention! 

Final word: Must Watch for everyone who's interested in meaningful, stimulating, thought provoking cinema. 

Here's wishing more power to Pa Ranjith's craft and looking forward to the third and concluding part of his 'Educate.Agitate.Organise' Trilogy. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

A fresh start. A new beginning

Okay, I admit it right at the onset that blogging is not something that comes naturally to me. Yet, I do, at times, feel the urge to express myself on certain issues and there's no better medium for doing so for a commoner like me than the blog. That's the reason that prompted me to take up this medium for the first time around a decade or so back.

Now, my first experience with this fascinating medium was a reasonably good one as, to my own pleasant surprise, I somehow did manage to get some kind words of encouragements from a few readers. But after the promising start, I failed to keep the momentum going (damn..this cricketing influence on my vocab!) As a result, the blog started being updated only once in every blue moon and gradually went completely dormant.
Tried reviving it some years later, around 2011-12 but soon 'Nirbhaya' and the 'India Against Corruption' movements happened and since then, like many a young men and women my age, Politics took a precedence over pretty much everything in my life with the sole exception of my family. As a result, blogging once again had to take a backseat.

All in all, it'll be fair to say that my first two attempts at blogging didn't really go all that well. 

So, this will be my third attempt at blogging and I must thank a dear friend of mine, Parul of the Vartikasdiary fame for encouraging me to give it another go. Thank you for being a constant source of inspiration and motivation, Parul!

This time around, I'll try my best to not repeat the same mistakes from my earlier attempts and update my blog as frequently as possible with posts on varying topics, and not just sports or sher-o-shaayari/poetry.

Wish me well, folks 🙂

Monday, August 27, 2018

An Ode To Banaras

इस शहर में धूल
धीरे-धीरे उड़ती है
धीरे-धीरे चलते हैं लोग
धीरे-धीरे बजते हैं घंटे
शाम धीरे-धीरे होती है
किसी अलक्षित सूर्य को
देता हुआ अर्घ्य
शताब्दियों से इसी तरह
गंगा के जल में
अपनी एक टांग पर
खड़ा है यह शहर

These lines are an excerpt from the classic poem 'Banaras' by one of my favourite Hindi poets, the late great Kedarnath Mishr ji. I, for one, couldn't think of a more apt description for the second oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Yes, you read that right! Only Damascus in Syria can claim to be of an older vintage.
Speaking of Banaras, I love it like I've never loved any place! Yes, not even my beloved hometown. (Never thought I'd say that!)
Went there for the first, and hitherto, only time in May 2014 to campaign against NaMo in the General elections. Without a doubt THE best experience of my life, despite the result not favouring us!
Never felt so ALIVE as I did back then, even in the sweltering 48+℃ peak summer heat. Not even in the Delhi assembly election of 2015 where we won with a huge landslide margin of 67/3.
As they say "Some goals are so worthy, it's glorious even to fail!
Politics aside, there is something so vibrant, so 'magnetic' about Banaras! Though a sworn Khanabadosh, if I ever choose to "settle down", it'll have to be in Banaras.
The Ghats, the boat rides, the Dawns, the Dusks, the Aartis, the Chai Adis, the Thandai, the Paan Banaras Wala, the banter & above all the baths in Ganga! 
Everything so chilled out & relaxed. Laidback & Old school. Just the way I like it. Kehte hain kuch sheheron ka bhi apna hi ek mijaaz hota hai..
Don't know about others but it's definitely true about Lucknow (my 3rd fav. place) & Banaras; captured perfectly in Subah-E-Banaras & Sham-E-Avadh
Just realized writing this piece has made me so nostalgic. Can't wait to visit there again. May it always retain that old world charm.
Here's looking at you, Banaras..