Friday, July 31, 2009

Bewakufi in double role

That is what we get when Imtiaz Ali decides to play by the rules.

So let us count some of the rules.

Rule number one. When the hero and heroine break-up, both of them will make sure they will hook up with the dumbest woman and most boring man respectively.

Two -- Love happens once in life. (Proof: that dumb woman and the boring guy in rule one).

Three -- Rishi Kapoor has taken his second life as an actor to teach the younger generation the meaning of love. (Don't know how many more times we will have to tolerate him!)

Four -- Bewakufi is what characterizes real love. (The 'kal' hero says, "Mujhe pata hai ye bewakufi hai". The 'aaj' hero takes it too seriously.)

The count could go on.

On the plus side, Deepika has got a good smile and she knows it. She is awesome in happy scenes. Ok -- she is sad in sad scenes, but those scenes are sad anyway.

Saif shows glimpses of brilliance once in a while, both in happy and sad scenes. I particularly loved the scene where his pressure builds up taking to Rishi Kapoor Paji about Meera seeing someone in India.

And the film has got some wonderful posters.

["Imtiaz Ali, one of the most promising filmmakers in the country, is sadly down with blockbusteritis", one reader wrote in the comments section of rediff review page. When there is so much money running on his film, one can not expect a Socha Na Tha. But I expected a more sensible blockbuster, say something like an OSO.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Between a Father and a Son

What is that? (Τι είναι αυτό)

Father and son are sitting on a bench. Suddenly a sparrow lands across them..

A greek short film, by Constantin Pilavios (2007).

Thanks to Bobby and Rajeev for pointing me to this film. Apologies to Resmi, who did not know about this film and was planning to make one on similar lines.

[The content may be copyrighted. The video embedded here is from youtube.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Simple Solution to Delhi's Parking Woes

"People unnecessarily complain that there's shortage of parking space in Delhi.. Everyone has a tree in front of their house. If they could get rid of it, there's more than enough space for all the cars.."

The driver who said this was serious. I found it funny, but could not laugh in front of him. Later I laughed my heart out, sharing this joke with friends.

But then, it is just a matter of choice. You decide whether you want that third car (or second, or fourth.. quite common in Delhi class families) or that tree in front of your house. Simple.

[image : sudeep]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hi-caste lo-caste we no want all..!

High class low class we no want all
Everyone equal and god decide all..

I am reminded of that early 90s (was it Apache Indian?) song when I hear people say "everyone is equal", and all that matters (and should matter) is merit. Treat everyone equally, and that ends all discrimination in the world. Some more romantic ones go on to add that "Love doesn't see caste and religion." I used to think so too, at least for some period in my life. So I feel obliged to write this.

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[Achnowledgments: A first draft of this write-up happened as a comment at one blog post by Ratheesh, and I used a slightly modified version while commenting on another post, by my friend Maymon. I strongly recommend going through Maymon's post and a comment there by Anu in response to it. I am thankful to Amit and Vinita whose comments there inspired me to work on this. Even now it looks incomplete -- you are welcome to take it up from here and add your share. Thanks in advance.]

* * *

Like in many Keralite 'Communist' families, I was also brought up with a belief that caste did not exist in Kerala any more. But as I grew up, I could smell the rot around. I heard even progressive people in my close surroundings (who I respected otherwise) making fun of a `parayan' or `pulayan' who got to a position of power (in the recent past there was a critique of an old Malayalam short story by C V Sreeraman on similar lines.)

I have the advantage and disadvantage of having born into an 'in-between' caste (OBC) and growing up in a fairly backward village/town in Kerala. In my school and college I had many friends from dalit and other backward communities, but when I went to engineering college, the difference was stark. `Quota' people suddenly became outsiders. I felt bad about it, but I could not escape it.

[image courtesy: People and Politics Worldwide India]

During my M.Tech. time I was shocked when a friend's mother (who is also very `progressive') advised me that it is ok to find a girl of your choice, just make sure that she is not a pattika or kazhukkol. (In Malayalam, scheduled castes/scheduled tribes are `pattika jathi/pattika vargam')

Even as I felt shocked at that comment, I realized that the way our society is designed, it is unlikely that I'd go for a pattika. (I had a crush on a fair Iyengar girl at that time). Even my dalit male friends have complained that it is difficult to find a good girl in their community, because they are all dark. Even in Tamil films, the heroine is essentially of the fairer kind even as she sings `Karupputhaan enakku pidicha kalaru` ('black is the colour I like..' as you'd have guessed, the hero is dark).

I still work with such issues internally, even though my beauty concepts have changed quite a lot over years. ('Karinguttayi' was one deregatory reference to colour -- used only to refer to the parayan or pulayan -- that has stayed in my memory from the childhood days.)

It is not just the skin colour -- I, like many others, often ended up judging people ('discriminating' is a bit too harsh, I know) based one one's fluency in English (or language in general), staying `calm' in a debate, even the confidence levels with which one speaks. (These qualities come much easier to those who are born in `upper' castes. That also I realized much late in my life, thanks to the `non-discriminatory' childhood. Not that I have completely stopped my judgements.)

It has not been easy working on the discriminatory elements in oneself, and trying to find out how others work on it. One may not have the energy for that always, but I have tried that whenever I could. People do change over time. Even if I am most comfortable with people from same/similar communities.

It is not that I have something against others. But at times, we can feel the distance. For instance, one person asked after reading Maymon's post: 'Lol! This guy does not want to reveal his identity, then why does he support reservations based on that identity? Thats what I understood after reading this post..' (I am not making this up).

How all can we address this issue in public spaces is sure complicated. A lawyer friend was saying in their law college in Bangalore, they fought and achieved a system where the names (of reserved category students) were not listed separately. It is debatable how much would that help. I feel it is more important to bring about an awareness that reservations are not a favour that we (when I speak as an `upper caste') do to some people, it is something that is essential and beneficial to all of us in many ways.

[Shall I say, to be continued..?]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sitting Ducks : A Beemapalli reflection

In a guest post, Bobby Kunhu tries to put down his mixed feelings on his visit to Beemapalli (near Thriruvananthapuram, Kerala) after the police firing that happened on May 17.

It is with the utmost hesitation that I write this. Hesitation because I think I have not understood, nor have many others who have written about the May police firing in Beemapalli. Not that there is any ambiguity in anybody's (who has visited the place) mind about the specific incidents that took place on 17th of May this year. As a part of a small fact finding team trying to tie up its report, I'd rather use this space to raise contextual questions about the police firing that have been haunting me since I heard the first reports of the firing.

At the outset, I need to assert as a human rights lawyer (and independent of the socio-economic realities of Beemapalli) that what happened on May 17th in Beemapalli is one of the worst possible crimes - where lives of 6 people were taken by forces of the state, without following the procedure established by law - in other words extra-judicial murders - and calling it by any other name is as offensive as the incident itself. In my mind, the incident involves the police allegedly firing 50 rounds of bullets at a gathering in a coastal village. The facts are that 43 people were injured and 6 died in the police firing. The fact is that all the people who died and were injured were Muslims. The fact is that there is no credible evidence shown that the crowd fired at was violent or provocative. The fact is that there is no damage reported from the police side. The fact is that the police bypassed the usual procedures that need to be adopted before a firing. Having made that assertion, let me move on to the first set of concerns that have been haunting me.

Silent Media, Silent Opposition

The first of these is the general social and political reactions to Beemapalli firing. In fact one of the factors that led me to take the initiative in organising a fact-finding was the deafening silence that followed the violence in Beemapalli. It looked like that only "Muslim" organisations were interested in taking up the issue. Even the political opposition did not seem like wanting to capitalise this serious lapse in governance. When I tried prying into the possible reason, a newspaper report lauding the media for acting sensibly by maintaining silence and thereby averting a communal issue was literally thrown at my face. (The report was titled, Signs of a Mature Media, Opposition).

But was this violence communal to start with? The victims of the violence did not seem to think so - despite all of them belonging to one single community!!

Interestingly apart from the high profile Lavalin case, the national and Kerala media was filled with stories of racist violence in Australia around this time. Then how did such gruesome violence fail to capture collective social imaginations? The only plausible answer that comes to my mind is the identity of those killed and injured in Beemapally - they were all from fish worker Muslim community - and do not have messiahs touting their cause.

There are other reasons as well for my arrival at this hypothesis. The first being that in the past couple of decades state violence in all its manifestations is being directed against traditionally and structurally marginalised groups. Formal expressions were demonstrated in Muthanga, Chengara and now Beemapalli. Insidious and subtle expressions through changes in reservation structure, discourse on terror used to de-legitimise communitarian political expressions and so on.

Dangerous Activities

Interestingly Beemapalli, being a Muslim ghetto has figured many a time in police narratives on terror. It would take another full essay to analyse this. It is in this context that couple of weeks after the firing, an intelligence report dated before the firing was leaked to the press. This report warns the state police of dangerous and illegal activity in Beemapalli and Malappuram. Much to my amusement, what the newspapers omitted was that this "dangerous" activity is the trade in pirated CD/DVDs that Bheemapally is notorious for. Interestingly, this has been subsequently used to close down this trade and increase police presence in Beemapalli. One of the speculations that was aired as a reason for the extreme violence from the police firing was to gain a foothold into this lucrative terrain.

Claims on Coastal Resources

The next reason is rooted in the socio-economic conditions prevailing in coastal areas generally and Beemapally specifically. The Indian coast has been a simmering pot of discontent for sometime now - aggravated especially after the tsunami. This discontent is rooted in multiple contestations for coastal resources and fish-worker resistance articulated through their right to the coast as a common property resource. I have been witness to a number of concerted efforts to divide the coastal community during the tsunami rehabilitation process. Some of these experiences have been documented as well. These contestations are grounded in the fact of the vulnerability of the coastal communities and Dalit and Muslim communities amongst these are even more vulnerable. Beemapally violence needs to be seen in this context as well. Portrayal of the police violence in Beemapally as communal riots instigated by a Beemapally mob by the police and a section of society including segments of the Catholic church subtly fails to acknowledge that the neighbouring hamlet Cheriyathura is inhabited by Latin Catholics. This reading is inherently dangerous as it pits two similarly placed vulnerable communities against each other.

Two Beemapallis and a Free Run

Further, Magalene, a fish worker leader confirms my suspicion that social indicators in Beemapalli are much worse compared to neighbouring fishing hamlets. She points to the fact that there are two Beemapallys in existence - one glossy Beemapally made of the DVD/CD trade and the other fish-worker hamlet which lacks even basic hygiene and sanitary requirements. She also points to the abysmal female literacy and empowerment in this hamlet in support of her claim. This also perhaps points to a hegemonic social apathy towards people that are forced to live on the fringes - a certain lack of value for their lives. This also could have contributed to the unchallenged free run that the Police is having with their version of the violence and attempts to portray their violence as a communal clash.

My next set of concerns is regarding the impunity with which the Police framed a community as communally volatile and in all probabilities is getting away with it. In his report to the government, DGP Jacob Punnose claims that the police fired 50 rounds and there are 43 injured and 6 dead - indicating that police fired to hit. This also dispels claims that several rounds were fired in the air. Of course there are other unsubstantiated claims in DGP Punnose's report. But what gets my nerve is the shoddy framing that the police has indulged in, without having done any homework whatsoever - is this born out of a confidence that the Police force would get away with murder since the people killed are fishing Muslims? The confidence of the police seems to be bolstered by the collective silences and framing of Bheemapalli as a dangerous area mentioned above. It needs to be remembered that DGP Punnose is spearheading the demand for Police reforms and reducing political control over the police. In the process many vital questions remain unanswered, including questions that would legally place the violence as cold-blooded murder within criminal jurisprudence.

The silence on Beemapalli violence opens many cans of worms - including the deeply hegemonic nature of Kerala's responses to its marginalised, latent communalism within the administration and media and so on and so forth. The responses to Beemapalli has left me perplexed, especially after having visited the place. But, having spend considerable time and energy on conflict situations, my sense is that Kerala might be sitting on a social time bomb, if it continues this lackadaisical attitude towards its marginalised population.

I believe Beemapalli calls for a classical "secular" response and honest peace building exercises that would instill a sense of confidence in Beemapally residents that they are not being persecuted - but that might be a difficult job and would call for extreme commitment.

* * *

Sudeep adds: This diary earlier carried a first response to the firing news, various responses to that, and a couple of news reports. Here.

[Image courtesy: Pop Art Machine]

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Mayawati and her statues

“She is spending Rs 1000 crore on establishing statues of elephants and herself. Can there be something more shameful than this in Indian politics,” he asked.

“Of what use will be the statues in UP. The Rs 1000 crore could have helped wipe out poverty of thousands of people, provide basic amenities and education.." he said, addressing a meeting to thank voters of his constituency Sivaganga.

Behenji is in news again. Prabin, Kufr and RW react to PC in defence of Mayawati, and Anu counters it:

"..this from the leader of a party which has named universities, museums, planetariums, zoos, sanctuaries, sanatoriums, hospitals, art galleries, theatres, dams, power projects, schools, colleges, awards, streets, highways, bridges, poverty alleviation schemes, employment schemes, farmer support schemes, housing schemes, health schemes, loan schemes, airports, railway stations, bus stations, sanitation schemes, social security schemes, industrial townships, parks, elephants and tigers and other faunae, educational scholarships and fellowships, research grants, stadia, gyms, traffic junctions, office buildings etc after members of one family. with public money..", says Kufr. [Read complete post: A cure for that Madness]

* * *

"What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement.."

"..It is possible that she may gain a popular following by installation of these statues. It is possible too that this may boomerang. Even in the latter case, it is certain that she shall leave behind powerful symbols that will inspire future social struggles. In either case, it is a political advance for dalit and alternative politics..", goes a reader's words.

* * *

Why I am Proud of the Statues, writes Prabin on Round table at Insight young voices.

* * *

Anu disagrees with all three of them. "..not because I don’t value, the in the face attitude and literally in their lives -life size statues reminding the upper castes that times are a changing, no not at all, I love it. I just happen to want more, much much more from her.." (I disagree).

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Tailpiece: There were expected expressions of shock when I said I'd rather want Mayawati as PM [See: Election time..]. Another friend said while on a visit to Lucknow earlier this year: "she is making statues of herself probably because she knows nobody would do it after her death." I ask, when she knows that -- and you and me also know it -- how can we blame her for making those statues?

[Image courtesy: Insight]