Sweetness and Light

Just want to bring a smile to the reader's lips - and an occasional thought. Will try to stay away from controversial topics - rather create my own! And would definitely welcome comments. :-)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rang De Basanti, Swades, and Patriotism for our times

At the outset, would like to clarify two things. One, this article is not a comparison of the two movies, both of which are among my favorites. And two, I am not a particularly patriotic person. When I first heard the phrase "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", I was quite taken aback by the seemingly pre-posterous idea. After all, I had been brought up on, and strongly believed in, the notions of loving one's country (which, at least then, seamlessly translated into hating Pakis), and sacrificing everything for the motherland, and so on. Today, I would like to believe, I know the difference between patriotism and jingoism. One can love one's country without necessarily hating another one. And one can love humanity without regard to nationality. Not that I have reached that stage!

Anyway, to get back to the main theme, I first saw Swades during the Christmas break of 2004. I watched it again after a week, and then bought the VCD as soon as it hit the shelves. There is something about the movie that appeals to me tremendously - and even now, I feel pained to think that the movie was not a commercial success. Pained because it seems to indicate the lack of audience for such movies. I am not a movie critic or trade analyst, and cannot speculate on why it flopped. Some said it was too long (so was Lagaan!), some said it was too preachy, some said SRK was deglamorised....I don't know. I personally feel this was the first movie where SRK acted - not over-acted. The music was melodious, the lyrics had meaning (my favorite being "Yeh Tara Woh Tara")...anyway, it was not the first time that I liked a movie that had flopped. What appealed to me most was the idea that there could be battle between good and good, or to put it another way, just because someone is opposed to what we perceive as "good", does not necessarily make him / her "bad". I am referring to the opposition SRK's character faces from the village elders, especially the character played by Lekh Tandon. There is no typecast villain out to ruin our hero's efforts - the villain here is ignorance and the tendency to live in our "glorious past". And the villain is vanquished not through death-defying stunts, but by generating electricity - the light of knowledge. Simplistic - may be, Idealistic - definitely, but it appeals to the simple idealist in me. :-)

On the other hand, Rang De Basanti makes no bones about the fact that there is evil in the system. There are immoral politicians and arms dealers, insensitive police force, etc. And the youth of today is largely self-serving, when not downright clueless. The reality of the "system" is known to all, but it doesn't bother them, because bad things happen only to "others". But when tragedy strikes in their midst, they realize that there is no such distinction like "us" and "them" - it is all "us". And then the movie is about a series of events that have the air of a Shakespearean tragedy around them, ending with the inevitable. The movie strikes a chord because of its believability - we have been, or at least know, characters like DJ and Aslam. We have wondered about our aim in life, while choosing the path of least resistance and getting into obscure jobs paying for roti, kapda, makaan, and then some more. Barely a day passes when we do not learn about some injustice somewhere, and sometimes we witness it ourselves, but life goes on for us, secure in the fond, if stupid, belief that "it happens only to others". We feel good, at least I do, that by not doing anything "evil" we are contributing to the society. And when the Hobbes inside me asks whether "good is more than just the absence of evil", I quickly change the channel.

When I watch movies like these, I feel stirred - and distinctly uncomfortable with myself. There was a comic scene in some movie, I forget the name, where the character says that he wanted to be a freedom fighter but by the time he was born, we were already free. Rang De Basanti and Swades remind me that we are not yet free - we are enslaved by the demons of ignorance, corruption, communalism...the list is endless. There is no dearth of battles to be fought - but I don't seem to have it in me to enlist in any.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Every once in a while I seem to come across people who have, or are trying to, overcome substantial odds. People not out of some movie or storybook, but real life people, like you and me. Whenever something like this happens, I consider myself blessed, for being reminded yet again that there is no adversity that you cannot fight against. You may or may not win, but then, there is no shame in losing, only in not trying your best.

I had first noticed Nirmala when I started going to the gym in my apartment complex about 2 years ago. She was easily among the fittest people I had even seen, so much so that I was positively embarrassed to work out in her presence. I guessed her to be in her early thirties, till I overheard her mentioning to some one that her eldest son was at IIM-A. So I obviously had to revise my estimate upwards, to put it mildly. :-) Anyway, we never communicated, and soon she became just another person whom I would bump into once in a while at the gym. Then, sometime in 2005, Nirmala disappeared - I noticed her absence for some days and after that, she faded from my conscious memory. People come and go all the time.

Last weekend, when I was on my saturday evening stroll in the complex, I saw Nirmala again. I could recognize her even without seeing her face - she was in the same shape as I had seen her last. The only thing that I found odd, very odd, was her pace - rather, the lack of it. She was almost taking baby steps. I was puzzled, but since we had never interacted earlier, I did not make any effort to speak to her and just walked past. Given the difference in our speeds, it wasn't long before I overtook her again, but this time she stopped me. Hesitantly she enquired whether I was the same guy who used to go to the gym. I nodded and also commented that I hadn't seen her for ages. She said she had been in a bit of trouble.

Nirmala tore her ligaments while playing badminton. The initially surgery, though conducted by a very reputed surgeon, was botched up apparently because it was done even before the swelling had subsided. She had to go through three more corrective surgeries. Most of this period she was confined in bed / wheel chair. It was only now, for the past three months, that she was trying to walk again.

For any person, all this can be harrowing. But imagine this from Nirmala's perspective. She used to be a cross-country runner, an ace shuttler, an aerobics instructor - basically an extremely active and fit person. Now imagine the change that the accident invoked. Physical pain apart, Nirmala was wrecked psychologically. She could not meet people, she hated the thought of the wheel chair, she could not comprehend why all this was happening. But only for a while. With emotional support from her husband, and good medical care, she decided to fight back. Slow steps, painful steps, but important steps. She devised diets and exercises for herself so that she would not put on weight even with a largely sedate lifestyle. She slowly started walking outdoors at odd hours when there would not be many people around, because she could not bear the thought of people overtaking her. As she explained, she had to literally teach herself to walk again, as her brain had "forgotten" how to walk. Over a period of three months, she has regained enough confidence to walk in public, at her own pace. Now she plans to devise and teach aerobics specially to people who have had similar injuries. And she is going to run the marathon in 5 years' time.

While Nirmala was sharing all this with me, I was again impressed by the age-old dictum: It is all in the mind. No doubt Nirmala's existing fitness level has helped her bounce back faster than an average person. Not having to worry about the financial aspects of the treatment is also a blessing. The emotional support from a loving family also goes a long way. But ultimately it is you who has to conquer the odds. If your frame of mind is positive, you will make the best use of all the help that is at hand. If it is not, then all the help in the world will not be enough. To end with another cliche:

Life's battles do not always go
To the Stronger or Faster man.
But soon or late, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks HE CAN
Yes Nirmala, the writer was gender-biased. :-)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mera Wala Pink

I have always viewed the world as essentially a simple place. Things are usually black or white, with occasional shades of grey. And yes, sometimes one does catch a glimpse of a rainbow, and then one is made aware of the seven colors that supposedly make up white - Violet, Indigo...basically the VIBGYOR. So all in all, 7 + 1 + 1+ 1, about 10 colors. Not too complicated for my rather constrained mental resources, though to be honest, I do get more than a little confused between violet and indigo. Remaining five I am absolutely confident about - wake me up at 2 a.m. and I should be able to tell a green from a red.

And then women talk about colors like peach, strawberry, magenta, beige, teal, mauve - and I am all at sea (then they ask me, which color sea? seagreen or seablue?) I always thought, and still do, that peach was a fruit with a sweetish-sour taste, and strawberry was the stuff icecreams were made of (when you wanted a change from vanilla in the hostel mess, that is). And now they tell me that you can have peach colored curtains. Will it attract ants - is my question, which of course, they deign to answer. I always thought turquoise blue was a tortoise with a special case of monday morning blues, but no, it is also a color. And then, a knowledgeable friend tells me, there are combined colors - those with an "ish" (not the Aish-in-Devdas variety). Brownish-yellow, for example. I am fascinated. Is bluish-green same as greenish-blue? Of course not, comes the indignant reply. Obviously, the basic properties of mathematics don't apply here.

What all this has done to me is dent my confidence completely, mercilessly, when it comes to identifying a color. As mentioned above, BGYOR I am comfortable with, and within each of these, if you ask me to stretch a bit, I can differentiate the light from the dark. So that makes it 10, apart from white, black and grey, and I strongly feel 13 is a good enough number (at least in this case) for a man to go about earning a honest living on this planet. At least as long as it does not involve shopping trips.

No wonder the Asian Paints "Mera wala pink" ad was such a huge success. It convinced all women that they were not imagining colors - and convinced all men that they were not the only ones who could not tell "this wala pink" from the other 9999 shades of - you guessed it - pink.

P.S. And I am no longer able to eat strawberry or peach - have eaten enough crayons in my childhood to have an appetite for colors anymore.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentine's Day - Musings on Love

Just thought would ctrl+c, ctrl+v some of my favorite musings on love on this "auspecious" day. So below are excerpts from some top-of-my-mind recall of writings on love. Not suprisingly, lyrics from hindi movies dominate - but hopefully not the run-of-the-mill kind. But I cannot think of anything better to start with than the words from 'The Prophet' by Kahlil Gibran. A poetry in prose, if there ever was one...
When love beckons to you follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
And weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
Sahir Ludhiyanvi is probably the finest lyricist Hindi cinema has ever seen, and will ever see. I personally do not share his intensely negative attitude towards life and world, but that does not take any thing away from the sheer beauty of his poetry. Many of his popular lyrics were originally poems in Urdu that were suitably "modified" to fit into a movie. One example is the song "Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai.." from the movie "Kabhi Kabhi". The original poetry is much more tough to follow, but I love the lyrics version too. Here are some excerpts:
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai
ki jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye
Tu ab se pahle sitaaron mein bas rahi thi kahin
Tujhe zameen pe bulaya gaya hai mere liye.....

Kabhi kabh mere dil mein khayal aata hai
Ki jaise tu mujhe chahegi umr bhar yun hi
Uthegi meri taraf pyaar ki nazar yun hi
Main jaanta hoon ki tu gair hai, magar yun hi....
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai
Javed Akhtar, one of few genuine poets of our times, expressed the longings of lovers separated by circumstances beautifully in the movie "Silsila" - "Main aur meri tanhaayi...". Excerpts from it...
Yeh raat hai ya tumhari zulfein khuli hui hain
Hai chandni ya tumahri nazaron se meri raatein dhuli hui hain
Chand hai, ya tumhara kangan
Sitarein hain, ya tumhara aanchal
Hawa ka jhonka hai, ya tumhare badan ki khushboo
Ye pattiyon ki hai sarsaraahat, ya tumne chupke se kuchh kaha hai....
Ye sochta hoon main kab se gumsum yun hi
Ki jabki mujhko bhi ye khabar hai ke tum nahin ho, kahin nahin ho
Ye dil hai ki keh raha hai
Tum yahin ho, yahin kahin ho.......
Finally, Gulzaar sort of sums it up when he says in "Aandhi"...
Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin
Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin, zindagi to nahin....
Of course, I doubt any of the above would be of much use if one were to pursue his / her Valentine today. I would highly recommend the anthem of our times for that purpose -
Aashiq banaya, aashiq banaya, aashiq banaya aapne.... :-))
Have a good Valentine's Day (whatever that means).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Paritrana - and Good News India

I came to know yesterday about this new political party, one which can claim at least as of now, to be a party "with a difference". My first reaction, kept to myself, was that it won't work. My second one was that of admiration mixed with jealousy - which is how I typically feel whenever some one else does something that I would love to do, but don't have the guts to.

Now, having gone through the website of the party (http://www.paritrana.org/index.htm) and read the profile of the members, I am less cynical. Not because these people will change the face of India or Indian politics - they may or may not - but because there are some things in life, like love, that I don't ever want to get cynical about. And the good intentions of these guys (most of whom have actually struggled a lot to achieve what they did, and then gave it up for this cause) deserve at least respectful neutrality, if not passive / active support. There are times, I believe, when one should not get bogged down with whether something will work or not - it is better to get going than to brainstorm on 100 reasons why something will not work. After all, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. May be these guys are taking that first step right now. If we cannot join the march, let us not at least be cynical about it.

P.S. As the site says, "Trana means the act of relieving a conscious entity from the state of distress or pain. However, this relief may not be of permanent nature. Paritrana is the complete relief implying the end of the very cause of distress." I wish they had specified the pronunciation for non-Hindi speaking people - it is Pari-traan, and not Pari-tranaa, as the reporter on CNN-IBN was hell-bent on demonstrating yesterday.

P.P.S. If interested, please check out http://goodnewsindia.com/index.php/gni - Good News India. As the name suggests, the site focuses on the good things that are happening in our country, not necessarily sensational, headline grabbing or "breaking news". Again, the handiwork of one committed individual. If you find it interesting, you can subscribe to its newsletter.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Big Brother is Watching?

It is amazing, and scary. One of my friends recently posted an article on Sodexho, that of the food voucher fame, questioning the rationale for such a system existing at all. Would encourage you all to actually check it out yourselves (http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=20764729&postID=113844783945381362) but the gist of his argument is that a company like Sodexho is not required at all. The logic of giving food vouchers that are tax-free in the hands of employees is convoluted - conveyance allowance is tax-free but you do not need conveyance vouchers to claim it. Moreover, increasingly employees use the vouchers to buy non-food items during non-working hours - both violating the stated terms of usage. Sodexho benefits by having access to lots of money at zero interest - and you don't need a degree in finance to understand what it means.

Anyway, my post is not about the existence of Sodexho - my friend has done a much better job of questioning it. It is about the response the post generated. Within two days of the post appearing, there was a comment from one Hanif Shah, which started promisingly by questioning the "little knowledge" of my friend, and then went on and on about why Sodexho was a good thing. What Mr. Shah conveniently "forgot" to mention was his links with Sodexho. Do a google search on Sodexho Hanif Shah and see for yourself. So much so that Mr. Shah's blog, unfortunately no longer available, is named Sodexho India. Interesting, the blog is created in January 2006. I wonder whether it was created with the express intention of commenting on the post. I know that you don't need to be a blogger to post comments, but does Mr. Shah know it?

The purpose behind this post is not to pass judgment on Sodexho or its defenders or detractors. What I am more impressed with, and scared about, is the power of the Web. An anonymous guy in Mumbai posts an article on just another of millions of blogs, and it gets a response from the target of the article (ok, an alias has been used, but it would be the height of coincidence if Mr Shah had nothing to do with Sodexho India). I wonder what kind of surveillance mechanisms are in place. Looks like not only the Big Brother, but also his cousin twice-removed on maternal side is WATCHING. We sure are living in interesting times.

Packing Punches

I was supposed to be in Delhi / Gurgaon at this moment, with two days of training on Change Management behind me, and the prospect of attending a dear friend's wedding ahead. Instead, I am in Hyderabad, sitting in my comfortable guest house room, and typing away my thoughts. Not a bad proposition in itself, but then, the mind always compares "what is" with "what could have been", isn't it? My trip to Delhi got rescheduled at almost the last moment. Amidst the disappointment of not being able to make it to my friend's wedding was the consolation that at least I wouldn't have to unpack - not because the trip to Hyderabad materialized (that did not happen till some hours later), but simply because I hadn't packed yet. You see, I habitually postpone my packing till the last possible moment.

Which brings me to my today's deliberation - what is it about packing that I dislike so much? It is not as if I am terrible at it. On the contrary, I am quite efficient - it is usually done in a jiffy, and I rarely forget to put in something really important (of course, there have been couple of instances when I have really regretted forgetting my camera). I have a variety of luggage pieces to choose from - soft / hard, trolley / backpack, red / blue - you name it (I like collecting luggage pieces - more on that some other time) and I got it. I am an experienced packer - staying out of home for 14 years does that to you - at least two visits home every year, apart from the normal short trips on work or pleasure. In fact, I am quite good at packing - my mom says so, and no other ceritifcation is required. I even keep my toothpaste and shaving cream in their original cartons, because experience has taught me that it is easier to fit boxes together in the shaving kit than to dump tubes on top of each other. (May be I just made that one up, but I find it more aesthetic, at the least). So then, what is my problem with packing?

I wonder whether it has something to do with inertia. You see, packing implies moving - for however little distance, for however short time. It is a change from status quo. And I guess I don't like change much - like most of us. It is not as if I have not seen change in my life, or not handled it well. In fact, I think I am very adaptable to changing circumstances - more on that some other day. But just because I can do something well doesn't mean I have to like it, right? Like packing? :-)

P.S. all those who do not like packing, please raise your hands and post a comment! :-)
P.P.S. for that matter, I do not like unpacking too. Am I weird or what?