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Study life, study literature. Eat food. Lots of it.
Also, I use a lot of adjectives- working on that, so bear with me.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Where Do We Stop?

We're complacent, all of us, to some extent or another. Lets just accept that. No matter how good our intentions, periodically, we need reminders like pins on our chairs to make us stand up and do something.

What am I talking about? Look around you. Look at the news on TV, look at the newspaper headlines, look at the internet news feeds, look at your twitter and Facebook timelines. Forget all of that, take a look around you in your immediate neighborhood, in your schools and colleges.Chances are, within the first minute of looking around, you'll find an incident that makes a cold finger run down your spine and your hair stand on end. Scared and outraged enough? What next? We feel mad, angry and a little inspired to do something to stop this, to bring justice to the victims and punishment to the perpetrators. More power to you my friend, but what then? What after two hours, when the boiling blood has simmered and everything mellows down again? We participate in one candle light march, scream three slogans on the road, donate a certain amount to someone carrying a tin box, sign an online petition, put up a status or tweet and write a blog post about it. Pachi shu?

Someone I work with calls this the 'Rang De Basanti Effect'- That just after watching the film you're pumped full of energy, ready to change the world and bring pride to your country. Then you get to the parking of the cinema hall and realise that your vehicle's been towed away. Next thing you know, you're finding the nearest police officer to "quietly settle matters with."

My context for writing this slightly saddened blog post is the ever rising number of rapes in our country and the world. However, that isn't it. This applies to all the wrongdoings that we're presented with, on a daily basis. They happen everyday, to ordinary people. Today it was someone else, tomorrow it could very well be you or me. Isn't this danger enough to make us stop taking things lightly? Above this, do we need brutal reminders like what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey (Because calling her Nirbhaya isn't really giving her an honour) and that little child in Delhi and the photojournalist in Mumbai to wake our dozing consciousness? These cases received media attention and national sympathy, but there are hundreds of other women, and men, who have been similarly brutalized and have failed to see the light of the day.

What do we then? For them? For us? Where do we stop feeling internally outraged and try and convert that to some sort of meaningful step that can at least be a stepping stone to awareness? Just like the survivors of these crimes are ordinary people, so are those who commit them. So along with finding appropriate punishments, why not find ways to curb such intentions before the damage is done?

Image Courtesy: OBR Strike Dance

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Moment of Awakening

If you're one of the people reading this blog post, chances are that you lead a privileged life. No, privileged doesn't mean that you can afford to change your phone every six months, or get a new car every second year, nor does it mean taking an international holiday every summer or being able to buy yourself a gift just because you feel like it. It means that you don't have to worry about whether or not you'll have food for your next meal. It means knowing if you're going to get clean drinking water. It means not fearing that one strong gust of wind or one heavy bout of rain could ruin your house. It means not having to calculate every penny you spend, including essential expenses, to see if you can make ends meet. Privileged means that your own governance systems will not, one fine day, just uproot you from your society and throw you elsewhere to fend for yourself. Sounds exaggerated? Its not.

Privileged world, meet Piplaj, Ahmedabad. Piplaj, meet the world, who doesn't know that you exist. What is Piplaj, you ask? This is the little-known, often neglected area of Ahmedabad where the people who previously lived in the riverfront area were 'given' rehabilitation at. If you ever need help finding the place, just ask where the Ahmedabad Sewage Dump is. The colony of the displaced is right there. As a volunteer for an NGO, I have personally been to Piplaj a number of times, and the sight never gets easier. Plastic sheets for roofs, yellow coloured drinking water, no usable washrooms, mud in every corner, mosquitos, snakes and stray dogs- these are just a few of their physical problems. Add to this constant unemployment, medical risks, poverty, crime and prostitution, the condition there is not something that you and I would be able to stomach easily, let alone be able to live in. Yet, the people here don't beg you for money when you go there, they ask if you can help them get justice. People still smile, they are beautiful. But we need to stop making them go through this in order to appreciate their strength. My objective here isn't even to draw your attention to the despicable living conditions at Piplaj- God knows that it isn't the only place in the world where the situation is such. I do however, wish to draw attention to the fact that places like this exist. 
When you peel away the glossy sheen of "Development", you find cracks- where 3000 people become a crack. In the process of making our large cities shiny and tourist friendly, we've pushed away the poor, not poverty.  We marvel at the new attractions in the city, go there for walks and picnics- take pictures there and post them on Facebook. We don't even realise that what we are using at a backdrop for our profile picture used to once be someone's home. Not only that, but in reality, we left someone to survive in inhuman conditions just so that we can take a pretty picture. How does that become development? What is our definition of development, if the lower strata of society is deprived of their needs so that the upper strata can enjoy luxuries? 

I'm not playing the blame game. Everyone, from the top to the bottom, has a part to play- both in paradise and in hell. The question is, do we realise what our part is? And are we willing to follow through with it?

Special Note: This isn't a sponsored post of any sort. Piplaj is very much real, and here is a rough draft of a photodocumentary that a friend, Falak Choksi, and I made about it- Tomorrow?

For anyone who is interested in knowing more about this matter and the lack of an Internal Displacement Policy in India, or if you'd like to help the cause, feel free to write to me or in the comment box. An educational institute also runs a small school at Piplaj, so if you feel that you can help there- through your time, funds or old books and magazines, do not hesitate. Thank you!
Also, my thoughts on this issue are many and can't be included in just one post, so rest assured, there will be more to follow in some time.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

In a Film Reel! - #ShipOfTheseus

"I want to make a film about organ transplants." - This is probably not how Anand Gandhi, the director of Ship of Theseus, began his pitch to producers. This is, however, how I will begin my post about the film.

At its simplest, the film is about three characters and their stories- a visually impaired photographer, an ailing monk and a recently recovered stock broker. How they are ailing and how they get treatment, physically and otherwise along with their struggles, forms a large part of the film. At its most complicated, the film is a subtle, yet clear discussion about identity, life, death, reason, karma, the body and the soul, belief systems and a whole gamut of issues.

I'm not a film critic, nor am I someone whom people would want to read an argument on life, death and philosophy from. What I can do, is simplify things, dumb them down for dummies like me to understand them better. So here it is, a simple list of things that Ship of Theseus is and isn't:

What the film is and What it does-

- The film is beautifully visualized. Some the scenes are almost poetic in the way that they are presented, the framing nearly perfect. However, the film isn't shot on a brilliant camera, so some of it is shaky footage, but that doesn't take away too much. The beauty of the ideas more than makes up for the slightly faulty execution.

- Without giving away too much of the essence, I can safely say that even though it sounds unfamiliar and confusing, the Theseus analogy is spot-on, and you only realize this towards the end of the film.

- It contains a lot of startling contradictions. In one particularly poignant scene, you find it hard to decide whether to relate to the stock broker's despondence over his new-found compassion or laugh at his friend who is physically stuck in a narrow alley. In another, you realize that the photographs that the protagonist took while she was blind were better than the ones she took after she regained her sight. Shock fills you at even thinking of such a thing, and yet you do. In yet another, the monk uses a power of attorney to carry a centipede to a pot after which a young lawyer talks to him of Charvaka. Soon after, the same lawyer compares the monk to a suicide bomber. Go figure.

- The film makes splendid use of sounds, textures and shadows. Yes, I said textures. Go see the scene where Aliya is looking at her braille photographs, or the one where the stock broker climbs his way to Shankar's house, and you'll know what I'm trying to say. There are entire sequences where there are no dialogues, but the lights, sounds and actions make them perfect.

- Most importantly, it genuinely makes you think. It is not pretentious, its not something that only the learned and well-read will enjoy. Pay attention to the right moments, and it will not let you escape without stirring all kinds of cogs in your head.

What the Film isn't-
- Like I said earlier, it isn't pretentious. It is heartfelt and complicated, but then so are most of us. So let that go.

- It could have been a tad bit tighter, and then it wouldn't have felt a little slow at certain moments. This also becomes a little bit of an issue when you don't realize where one story ended and the other began. At the end you do understand, that neither of the stories ended, but you have to wait for it.

- While the performances from each of the actors are commendable, the subtitles aren't the clearest that I have seen.

- This film most definitely isn't your average masala potboiler Bollywood product. Although it has a foreign locale, a repentant 'firangi', a woman in plunging necklines, a man preaching religion, an apartment in suburban Mumbai, sunset shots at the Sealink, funny-looking doctors, adorable old men and two lost songs somewhere in there, IT STILL ISN'T YOUR AVERAGE HINDI FILM. Go see it, just to learn where the difference lies.

If you are going to spend your time and money watching a film like Son of Sardar or Khiladi 786, I'd say keep going for those. You will not enjoy this kind of cinema, nor
will this kind of cinema be able to celebrate you as viewers. If you are willing to tax your brain a little, Ship of Theseus is definitely worth your while then. Feel free to tell me if you agree or not.