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Culture 

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 Lalbaug cha Raja, Mumbai, 2014.

What is religion and what is culture? Our understanding and opinion of the same is changing everyday and will continue to do so as time passes. As I write this today, I am witnessing, for the third time, the phenomenon of Ganapati in Mumbai, India. Anyone who has grown up in the country and watched a little bit of Bollywood would know the importance and charm that the festival of Ganapati’s birth (marked by Ganesh Chaturthi) and eventual immersion holds. Having lived in two other parts and three other cities of the country, I can say that there is no other place in the country that celebrates the festival with such oomph.

Before moving here and watching a Bollywood flick called Agneepath roughly four years back, I remember making a mental note to be in the city during Ganapati at least once in my life. Lo and behold, it has become three but, now during the third time the charm seems to be slowly wearing off. I am trying to retrieve it from the recesses of my heart hoping that it might be hidden somewhere underneath the pressures of daily life but, all I see is a momentary thump and tap on the beats of the drums and songs followed by a swift running away with hands on my ears the very next minute.

“Have I become and intolerant waysider?”, I ask myself, scared of receiving an answer in the affirmative.

But, the answer comes in an elaborate questioning of culture and religion and the precarious religious influence on culture. This time around the pandal of Ganesha statues was right next to the building where I stay. Since I am on the first floor, sight and sound came with full intensity. At the start of the festival, what started off as excitement of the upcoming festival turned into a daily nightmare. When done with the day’s work, I longed to be home but, also resented being home since the productive hours of the evening and night would go into dealing with thumping bass from DJ sets, loud breathless singing of aartis, and then even louder music.

Disclaimer – I have lived near Parel before this, close to the home of Siddhivinayak, so not that I did not expect this but, yes, experienced it at a much closer hand this time since the earlier building was a tall tower where my room was conveniently tucked on a higher floor.

Anyway, cutting on my rant, what I am left with at the end of the festival is a question around boundaries between culture, religion and blind following of rituals. I personally do not believe in praying to some external entity and hoping for things to move but, I also understand and respect when others have belief in a God. I also believe that such festivals are also an integral part of our culture – Mumbai wouldn’t be Mumbai without Ganpati madness and Kolkata wouldn’t be so without the gorgeousness of Pujo. However, my question here is – how do we justify following what a god says and believe that we are truly following his / her belief systems, if we fail to take responsibility for the impact that our actions might create on people and other beings in our surroundings. Question is, when someone points out the unnecessary pollution – both water and noise – that these events create, will we harass and bully the, saying the are eco-friendly idols as well and that the questioner is just another adarsh liberal talking about unIndian ideas; or will we pause, think and rework our celebration activities starting next year? I see the youth handling things for the celebrations in most societies. If the youth cannot believe that they can change things or that the way things have to be done culturally has to be adapted to the changes of times, then we better dread what our future would look like.

Rustom

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I recently watched Rustom, a film loosely based on the KM Nanavati case which changed the Indian legal system with the abolishment of the jury system. For those who might have not heard or read about the case, Nanavati was a naval officer, married to London born Sylvia and based out of Mumbai. Whilst on one of his missions, Sylvia fell in love with their friend, Ahuja and exchanged letters with him which highlighted the socially alleged fact that Ahuja was an unattached man when it came to his relationships and that Sylvia was unsure of his intentions towards her or the seriousness towards relationships. It was after this that Nanavati comes back home and gets to know this from his wife. After hearing this, he decides to take things in his hands and straighten things out with Ahuja. By straightening things out, it meant a conversation between him and Ahuja about the latter marrying Sylvia and also taking in their (Nanavati and Sylvia’s) children post marriage. Ahuja denied having any plans of marriage which enraged the naval officer who ended up shooting Ahuja to death in his own bedroom. When tried at the Sessions Court in Bombay, he was acquitted by the jury by a vote of 8:1 with a major part of the decision and media gimmicks using communitarian politics to get a judgment. The judge of the sessions court was taken aback and the case moved to the HC where Nanavati was convicted, charged guilty of murder and as part of the legal reform, the jury was removed from the Indian legal system. I read somewhere that later on, someone from the officer’s community had appealed to the then PM Nehru to acquit Nanavati since he was a defence officer and had served the nation. As part of a deal between Ahuja’s sister who was fighting the legal battles on his behalf, Nanavati was then let out some years later while the MH government let out another prisoner from Ahuja’s community as part of a sentence and acquittal community barter.

Now, this case has held the country’s imagination for years. Rustom is not the first film to be made based on the case. There are quite a few others which were blockbuster hits. Rustom only has the Sessions court judgment covered in its story with community politics displayed fantastically. Even the city from that time is projected beautifully, making one almost long to have been born then instead of now. However, despite of all these good things in the movie, watching it left me squirming with discomfort at a few things in the film, more so the overtly lengthy court proceedings captured with sheer ridicule. That brought me to question the ordinary citizen’s take on the Indian legal system – for something as simple as wearing a seat belt and paying tolls. Reminds me of the time when entering MPT territory where one cop offered to let me go past after paying 10 out of the 30 bucks charge, with no receipt of course. Hope was risen again when the driver offered the same option to the next cop who refused stating others might do this, he did not.

Before I digress further, my point here is that a majority of the population in our country continues to swear by trends and brands advocated by film stars, across all socio-economic sections. Even crimes committed by some are inspired from Bollywood. With such great impact, I feel it is quite scary the way the semi fictional story is presented here ridiculing the proceedings of law and order, just like another old Akshay Kumar starrer did. Yes, I agree that even dictatorships are systems and laws and a coup overthrowing a dictator is actually doing good in the larger schema of things but, saying that would just be an adarsh public’s excuse to yet again not see the mirror.

Firstly, in showing the film only upto the Sessions court’s verdict where Nanavati walks scot free and more like a hero makes me wonder if we, as a nation, have issues accepting that our ‘hero’ (righteous male, avatar of righteous principled lord from Hindu mythology) can ever be wrong? Can we not accept that each one of us, even those who are otherwise impeccable in being, can commit acts which can be wrong and harmful to one or many? Also, why do we, as a nation of a 102 billion people, need a hero? Why can’t we choose to find that hero(ine) within our own selves?   

The second thought or question that I had swimming in my head after watching the film is the idea of absolute right and wrong, moral black and white and the grey areas of human existence; and the intersection of the same with the legal system in place. While the case highlights the absolutes of right and wrong in terms of fidelity and patriotism versus selling your land for personal gain and favour making the act of murder by the protagonist as an absolute right! But, does this not make the entire case / story / incident grey afterall? You excuse a murderer because he is a loyal country server and husband (how can we forget multiple scenes of him staring at her picture?). And like all Bollywood films that resonate with commercially viable thinking at the writer’s part, this one too falls flat in its face when the hero is yet again made to let go of the love of his life, in order to work towards the greater good, making personal sacrifice the necessity for greater good.

Yes, there are a lot of good things in ther film but, my problem is that it is films like these that resonate the larger Indian mentality and also that films (and TV) have the power of changing things as they have unbridled access to the common (wo)man’s household. I think this film could have been far better at dealing with a lot of more subtle concepts of patriotism, masculinity, honour, integrity. While I like the portrayal of the human strength of being able to do the right thing when life is difficult but, the film just completely misses the point and loses the opportunity of using the most powerful tool in media to leave a better impact. Nanavati’s act of murder signifying honour over respect for human life and dignity was portrayed too casually, especially in politically charged times like these. Quite unfortunate.

The last one

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The most fun as well as amusing part of having an anon tumblog was the interactions with various poets, writers and readers over questions. Some would share their own tumblogs while the others would be anon, just like me. Why I like it more is because that enables observation and experience of a kind of objectivity in one’s expression, which otherwise is tainted by one bias or the other.

During one such interaction, I received a question from a reader which went as follows:

“Who would you write your last poem to? What would it be?”

When I first read it, I figured that this was a question to be mulled over, brewing thoughts and experiences and then answering. However, it did not take me more than two minutes to come up with this response, as if I was waiting to tell someone, lest I never get the chance.

“Hmm. This is the first time anyone’s asked me this. I wonder will there ever be a last? I may die the day I stop writing or I may stop writing the day I die. I would prefer the latter. 

I am not sure if I have the answer yet however, if I were writing the last right now I would write to this character in my head. Here it goes,

Have we met before?
Did we talk?
I remember your face,
Only vaguely so.

Did you say something?
Why can’t I hear you though?

The flush of your cheeks
and that twinkle in the eye
does give away your secrets.
Stories of joy and sorrow,
Tales of love untold.

Smile a little more for me,
smile a little for
this will be my last memory.”

Audience

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This is one of my favourites from the archives. Written after yet another visual on 20th March, 2015.

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I don’t know what strand is it here

I somehow

Don’t feel the familiar sense of loss and foreboding

That I had associated with them before.

Its almost as if

You’re sitting at a distance

While I know you’re around.

You’re watching me, with a curiosity

Which only I have known myself to possess.

Perhaps, I pretend not to know hence?

Its a semi – dark room after all with you

Sitting in the shadows on that winged armchair 

Is that glow from the lantern behind you?

You sit with a smile, perhaps?

Holding your chin in your left hand.

Me? Where am I?

Am I being watched or

I am the audience?

Who could tell.

No more?

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There’s a strange sense of melancholy that lingers in my heart.

I know I am here and I know I am happy.

No, I am not depressed and no,

I haven’t lost any thing or any one…

I only long.

I only long for that moment to come

When we are together, when we are not two but, one.

I await that moment when we leap with joy,

jumping towards each other such that when our bodies collide, there is no collision.

No, it isn’t you. It is I who take time.

It is I who takes a while to understand.

I have always had questions, don’t you know that?

But, I have answers now. Oh hell, wait now, I am making my way.

Making my way, to the place where we first met.

Yes, yes that same place. Do you not remember?

The one with the bright windows and white curtains?

The one with the vast blue skies spreading all the way into the horizon.

The one with the wind blowing a gentle music piece with your chimes.

Yes, I will come soon.

Until then, wait just a little more, wait for me, for I have nothing here no more.

Dream within a dream

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Those who know me know my deep fascination with dreams – not just childish checking of meanings of dreams and laughing at them but, more so the vivid imagery that each dream has and how real it all seems. I am also known to have quite a set of vivid (for the lack of a more polite / politically correct word) dreams myself and the spirit of the morning usually comes from mulling over those  dreams.

There are multiple times that dreams have inspired me to paint, write prose or poetry; leaving me intrigued at most times and a little shaken at others. After a long creative block, a recent one left me intrigued for days eventually leading to sketch above.

While I will refrain from getting into too many details of this dream, I can safely say that by far, it was one of the most alluring dreams I have had for some time. It started with me arriving in Gwalior with another person for some work. We step out of the pitch dark and quiet station into the night which has a strange shine to it, as if there is a hidden lamp behind the dark curtains of the night sky that is giving a light glow in the darkness. In my dream too, I cannot help but, marvel at the beauty of the night.

As we step out, we are greeted by sparkling clear, blue waters , lapping quietly at the gravel-ly shore. The moon is a huge golden orb that is glowing but, looks in despair as I overcome my urge to indulge in watching the beauty of the night and continue  walking. With disappointment, the moon then casts a shadow as a sign of warning.

With a sense of foreboding, we walk away from the sight towards a building that is all bricks and mortar. I make a mental note of coming back while entering into part two.

As Poe says,

“All the we see or seem, Is but a dream within a dream.”

Safar

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Kuch dinon se mann me khayalon ka silsila kuch bhaaga bhaaga sa hai

Aisa lagta hai jaise ki mere andar se kuch chhut raha hai

ek ajeeb sa sannata hai andar

Bahar bahut shor hai, bahut bheed hai

Andar sirf shanti

Sehlaab ke pehle ki nahi, aisa lagta hai ye to uske saath aane waali chuppi hai.

Kaun hun main?

Kaun hai tu?

Kaun hain ye log sab jo aas paas ghoomte hain –

Muskurate hue ya udaas, chup chap ya bolte hue ya bas sar latkaye kahin jaate hue?

Kya hai ye zindagi ka safar aakhir?

Agar iss safar me hi sab kuch hai 

To hum ja kahan rahe hain?

Translation:

For a few days now, the threads of thought in my mind have been running here and there

Feels like, within, I am loosing something / something is being left behind

There is a strange quiet within (me)

There is a lot of noise without, a lot of crowd

Within it is just quiet

It is not the silence before the storm rather, feels like the silence accompanying the storm.

Who am I?

Who are you?

Who are these people who move about us –

Either smiling or sad, quite or talking or just walking somewhere with their heads hanging low?

What is this journey of life after all?

If the journey is what life is

Then where are we going?