Thursday, December 30, 2004

a character for the new year

Happy New Year is now just twenty four and something hours away.
So Happy New Year, everyone.

In a little over a month, I have to present something on Don Quixote and Terry Gilliam, as a prelude to a screening of 'Lost in La Mancha', at a Cervantes conference, in Delhi. (Don't even ask about how this transpired...)

Don Quixote is a fascinating character to ride into the new year with.
Living tall tales and tilting at windmills..

but what's the paper going to be about?
a month to go, and i've barely downloaded three articles from the 'journal of cervantes studies' via google scholar.

My friend and colleague Vivek Narayanan is fascinated by quixotic individuals and collectives in the twentieth century and twenty first centuries, so it is going to be about some of that...
like the Association of Blind Photographers.
(People who tilt at windmills/giants, creatively, are pretty important in the world that we live in, right?)

I am fascinated by the parrallels that I see between Don Quixote and the character of Mulla Nasrudddin, or Nasruddin Hodja, from Central Asian, Turkish and South Asian folklore... so it's going to be about that, too.

a connection between the wandering Mulla Nasruddin, both wise and foolish, and the wandering knight Don Quixote (ditto)... impossible?

think about it.
recalcitrant horses and donkeys are a constant motif in both narratives, though one is a canonical novel from sixteenth century, Christian Spain, and the other(s) is/are a collection of folk tales and legends from Central Asia and the Middle East, mutating since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
But Cervantes was writing a century after the Moors and Jews had been expelled from Spain, and fifty pages into the book, he tells us that he discovers the complelte history of Don Quixote in Toledo, written in the Arabic script by the Moorish historian Cid Hamet Benengeli. The history is then translated for him by a Morisco (a Muslim convert to Christianity) who he meets in the street of rag-sellers inToledo.
For a fascinating, moving account of this encounter, read the chapter titled 'Somewhere in La Mancha' in Maria Rosa Menocal's fascinating book, 'The Ornament of the World :How Jews, Muslims and Christians built a culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.'

(Spain had been part of the larger Islamicate cultural world, the Dar-al-Islam, from the eight century onwards. The Moors and Jews were expelled in 1492, in the year that Columbus 'discovered' America, funded by the Spanish court, and almost immediately statrted the process of wiping out the indigenous people of Dominica, via slavery and unmitigated barbarism in the search of Gold - thus inaugurating western modernity.)

So Cervantes could certainly known about the Hodja character and his journeys, which would have fit into the genre of the rihla, the travel account (like Ibn Batuta's travelogue, the most famous in the rihla genre...). Cervantes was also held captive by the Turks after the sea battle of Lepanto, wherein he lost his arm, so... a certian amount of cultural familiarity cannot be discounted.

So the paper is going to be, following Menocal, an attempt to see Don Quixote as a linking figure in two cultures which remember each other antagonistically.... and a figure against 'the Clash of Civilisations.'

And finally, the paper is going to be about The Holy Fool tradition in the modern world. The tradition(?) figures of fun who are visionaries. like Terry Giliam himself, from the crazy days of Monty Python to the bizzarely, beautifully apocalypitc Twelve Monkeys... Terry Gilliam, in a symbolic peice of Hollywood typecasting, dreamed of making 'The Man who Killed Don Quixote' for ten years, and when he finally got the funds, the whole shoot was such an unmitigated disaster (in scnes out of Don Quixote's worst misadventures) that he had to abandon the film after six days of shooting.... the results captured in the ultimate 'Behind the Scenes ' film, 'Lost in La Mancha': The un-making of Don Quixote.

So can anyone tll me now what the paper is about? Or can be about? Or should be about?
Because reading this, I don't have a clue!
Especially since, following tradition (as when Terry Gilliam decided to make the film, he hadn't yet read the book. As soon as he had read it, he thought it was impossible. But he went on to (try and)make the film anyway...)
And there's a month to go.

Impossible dreams. Quixotic dreams.
What good would a new year be without such dreams for company.

Comments and suggestions not just welcome, but solicted.
May your windmills be gigantic enough to tilt at.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

begam samru and the security guard

just finished writing a six thousand word piece on 'mapping the space/time of cinema in delhi'.
it took a lot out of me
am putting small chunks of it in here to pique people's curiosity...

those who express curioisty shall be mailed the rest, to dissect, debate and diss.

The haveli of Begam Samru, a prelude

Among other things, Begum Samru was famous for the lavish entertainments thrown at her palatial haveli, in the heart of Shahjahanabad, its grounds extending from Chandni Chowk to what is now the Old Delhi Railway Station. The central feature of these early nineteenth century entertainments was the nauch, where the Mughal and British/European elites of the city used to gather to watch the singing and dancing of professional tawaifs.

‘The Mughal ruler Shah Alam acknowledged this dynamic woman [Begam Samru] as his esteemed protector, and the military strategists of the East India Company considered her crucial to their territorial ambitions. Her acquisition of tremendous political, military and economic clout has been documented. Her talents at diplomacy and her political wiles have been noticed, as have her instincts for survival and success. Yet, none of these accounts factor in the fact that she began her professional life as a young tawaif in Delhi.’

Begum Samru was a figure of emancipated female sexuality, who staged lavish spectacles for the gaze of the Indian and British male elites of the day. And yet, always lurking the traps of morality, waiting for the fall, ‘Farzana (Begam Samru) was courted by some of the European officers who were associated with her husband. Among them were Le Vassoult, a Frenchman, and George Thomas, an Irishman. The Begum favoured the Frenchman and when, in 1793, the rumour spread that she had married him, her troops mutinied.’ And the presence of an un-ignorable non-elite element in this play of pleasure and desire, the commodification of sexuality as/and spectacle: ‘No nauchni is expected to wear longer than three or four years, after which she… exercises her art among the lowest of the low.’

Two centuries later, what were once the grounds of Begum Samru’s palace is bustling, crowded Bhagirath Place, the center of the celluloid film distribution network in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Over a hundred film distribution companies operate from here. It is more than tempting to see a constellation, in 2004, of these film distributors with the social forces and anxieties at play in ‘the nautch at the Begum’s palace’ – catering at a time of massive socio-economic change to the tastes of a rapidly transforming elite ‘gentry’, as well as the ‘masses’; revelling in the profits brought by the display of independent female sexuality on screen, and yet not without moral censure and anxiety.

Posters, in English, for a Hindi film playing at Moti Cinema, Chandni Chowk, which caters largely to a male, working class, Hindi speaking audience, are surely targeting those more conversant with Monroe-esque tropes Marilyn Monroe, with taglines like, ‘Sexy Bimbo Mallika Sherawat’. A columnist who calls himself Kauwa (The Crow) in the popular Hindi journal of the film culture/fan genre ‘Filmi Kaliyan’, published from Darya Ganj, writes, ‘ … the speed with which Payal Rohtagi is reducing her clothes and showering her beauty makes it seem that the rest of the girls with the ‘nangi-pungi’ (nude) image will have to pack up their bags. On an average once a week a new film of hers is announced whose pictures tell their own story… she says, When everyone is doing it, why shouldn’t I? Go ahead, Madam, do it well. The Crow won’t take his children to see your film, don’t know about others.’
And of course, Screen, the weekly film paper, gets it completely wrong when in the review it carries of ‘Jism’ starring Bipasha Basu, it says, ‘With bold provocative subject Jism is hardly family fare and this could damp its chances at the box office.’ This, on the same page as the listed first week collections of Jism, declared a runaway hit...

Monday, December 27, 2004

nature. forces.

first, the tsunami.
a force of nature that no one could predict as a christmas gift, except one man in new zealand, running naked from a rubber duck...

second, nature. which suddenly reminded us that we're not as far away from it as we may seem to be , or think we are...

A green plastic watering can
For a fake chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth

That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself…
-Fake Plastic Trees, Radiohead

The crisis of the environment, is an also a crisis of the self. As urbanisation becomes the new mode/abode of living, technology enables to complete an ecological disconnect. Life providing resources are now items of consumption. Water is on tap. Waste is out of sight. Trees are potted plants. No longer is it necessary to deal with nature as a provider of our lives. The super mall is sufficient. The earth is part of the production cycle, but not of the product, since it is never advertised. The public consciousness does not have to deal with the realities of our consumption, but only with its glitz and packaging. Those who can do not have to engage.

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry crowds, it was magic for them. They were farmers, fishermen, attuned out the rhythms of ecology and production, and a food surplus appearing out of seemingly nowhere would have been an act of awe and wonder. Today, for all our connection/awareness of the realities of production, Jesus could just open a supermarket and no one would blink...

Sunday, December 26, 2004

who is your alter poet?

what happens to the process of self discovery via web-searches?

supposing, before the internet, you had lines going through your head, over and over again - what would you do about them?
get stoned? try and re-interpret them into a poem? get inspired to live your life by them?
the obsessive line was a zen koan which went round and round in your head, until, out of the corner of your eye, you saw the straight road to your own private nirvana...

now, you just google the line...
enlightenement and self-discovery are no longer contextual, but hyper-textual...

an example -

google, as i did,
we turned at a dozen paces for love is a duel and looked at each other for the last time...
(Jack Kerouac, on the road)
and you get -
Who is your Alter Poet?

if enlightenment is hyperlinked,
then six degrees of separation have become one and a half
and i am jack kerouac,
and if you see me On The Road, kill the buddha.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Delhi's Christmas Connections...

was reading a piece by RV Smith, in The Hindu, on Delhi's long Christmas connection, predating the building of Shahjahanabad, popularly known as Old Delhi. (and Shajhanabad, the youngest settlement of 'Old' Delhi, dates back to 1638...)

"Alfred J. Edwin observed 35 years ago that the popular image of Christmas "which built up over the past 200 to 300 years overshadowed the true significance of the occasion. This was primarily in the overall context: the image of Burra Din of the Burra Sahib from abroad described Christmas Day... it was the bacchanalian image which stood out... Evidently it was overlooked that Christianity came to India much before the representatives of the West set foot on Indian soil... going back to the time of the Apostle St. Thomas" in the first century A.D."

the baccchanalia I can definitely identify with. yesterday was one wild, and wonderful party.
but earlier in the evening, when we'd gone to buy christmas decorations, in crowded, messy (and much more 'cosmopolitan' than the magazine of that name could ever imagine...) Bhogal Market.
standing next to us buying stars and little christmas trees was a couple,man and wife. shivering in the unfamiliar cold, thinly dressed tribals from orissa, doing low paying manual, menial work here in delhi to get by... for them christmas was surely more than another excuse to party...

there are a million different christmases in delhi alone...

"In the Annunciation scene, when the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary - he is shown carrying a lotus flower as a symbol of peace and purity... In the Adoration scene Mary is shown seated with the Babe under a peepul tree... draped in yellow and brown instead of the traditional blue". There is even a statue of the Virgin (always depicted barefoot) wearing a sari and shoes. Thomas died years ago in Chelsea (England), where he had set up his studio. His brother, the noted shikari, Cyril Thomas, died in 1992. Alfred's famous picture of the Adoration decorated St. James's Church, Kashmere Gate for many years.

for more RV Smith, click here...

i sign off with observations from fatehpur sikri, three years ago -

On the Buland Darwaza, the grandest gate of one of the grandest mosques in the Empire, Akbar had inscribed in Persian, "Jesus, son of Mary, on whom be peace, said, 'The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no house upon it.'

Why has all this been forgotten?

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bono te Ghalib, aur Meri Christmas

Sometime before 1857 (or maybe even after, which would be more poetic/prophetic)
Ghalib, in the fading twillight of Mughal Delhi, wrote
'Ibn-e-Maryam hua kare koi
Mere dil ki dawaa kare koi...'
(let/if there be a Son of Mary
let/if there be a cure for my heart...)

strange lyrics from the man.
ghalib's poetry drips with caustic wit and occasional, unexpected tenderness
and he used to take the mickey out of organised religion.

maybe this poem was as sarcastic as it doesn't seem.
after all, he'd spent years petitioning the british, who were effectively ruling delhi by then, for a pension.
maybe this was an appeal to their 'christian mercy'.
marvellously displayed a few years later, after the british retook the city in 1857.

a hundred and forty odd years later,
an irish rockstar/songwriter wrote/sang

...they want you to be jesus
they go down on one knee
but they'll want their money back
if you're still alive at thirty three
you're turning tricks
on your crucifix
you're a star...

bono sang this for the soundtrack of the third batman film... bono is a believing christian.

it's interesting to me how two poet/performer/prima-donnas, two mirrors to their respective zeitgeists reflect the image of jesus, separated by a hundred and forty odd years, and by the geographic and cultural distances between 'early modern' South Asia and 'post modern' far western Europe.

both songs occasionally play in my room and in my head.
both of which are physically located not too far from Lajpat Nagar, where the mythic adventures of the rambunctious (never thought i'd use the word!)Punjabi neighbours Paploo and Taploo played out in frantic comedy in Jug Suraiya's middles, over a decade ago, when a Delhi I didn't know yet was a simpler place to be...

There's one particular 'middle' I remember really well.

Paploo and Taploo get puzzled by all the 'X-Mas sale' signs all over Lajpat Nagar. They really don't quite get what the fuss is all about.
So they get drunk and drive around on foggy christmas eve, and shout out at passersby -
'Meri Christmas! Oye, Teri Bhi Christmas!'
(My Christmas! Your Christmas too!)
then they toot 'Junglee Belles' (wild babes) on Taploo's new musical horn...

oh well...
Don't know if Jesus is going to be coming to salve any hearts, (he's probably been warned off by Bono)
but still wishing you all a Merry Christmas, New Delhi style. (as contrasted to New New Delhi style, more on which later...)
Meri Chritsmas. Teri bhi Christmas.
And Junglee Belles to you, if that's your style...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

tehelka machaa diya!

tehelka has done it again.
nailed madhu shrivastav (asshole bjp mla from gujarat) for paying zaheera sheikh 18 lakh rupees to buy her silence.
zaheera's testimony in the witness stand in the best bakery retrial has turned hostile just yesterday. she couldn't see anything, according to the testimony, because of the smoke in the burning bakery.
yet again, they've nailed the bastards in the bjp.
it takes courage to come out after three years of persecution - and screw the bastards yet again.
oh yes, this is such joy on a foggy overcast day.
the rightwing asshole party gets another kick on its bloated fat amoral venal ass.
and now that they've been voted out of power pretty conclusively, they'll really get what's coming to them.
or so one hopes.
did anything happen to congress mlas in delhi even when they were out of power, after 1984?
but one can only hope that this time, this one time -
justice will be done.

viva le sting operation! or maybe not?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Om Hotel

The lights of the restaurant
A bright runway stretching infinite
In the dark of her eye

Monday, December 20, 2004

sinousss sssstelll sssnake - the delhi metro, and anangpal tomar

rode the delhi metro today, the underground stretch from Civil Lines to Kashmiri Gate, a day after its inauguration.

was reminded of the legend of shesh-nag, the snake which lived underground, in the patal-lok under delhi.

the story goes that Anangpal Tomar, the founder of Delhi, had the famous Iron Pillar of Mehrauli sunk into the ground, where it stuck in the hood of the Shesh Nag, hence anchoring the shesh-nag under Delhi, and ensuring the stability of Anangpal's rule...

when Anangpal had the iron pillar pulled out, to examine it, the sheshnag didin't stick around. it left the tunnels under Delhi, and the iron pillar, put back into the ground, had nothing to anchor to. so instead of standing firm, it shook at the sligtest touch, and with it shook and crumbled anangpal's regime...

since the story is a welter of many myths, let me add my own -

with the delhi metro, the sheshnag, in a sinous steel avatar, has come back to the tunnels under Delhi.
it is a benign python with reverse peristalsis, first swallowing people and then disgorging them - and the first major step in easing the chronic chaos of the capital's traffic, and bringing its ordinary citizens an affordable, swift mobility that the current public transport infrastructure caanot give them.

with the shesh-nag back under Dellhi, times are likely to be stable for the ruler...

or so one hopes.

incidentally, when you get off the train at kashmiri gate station, and take the long elevator fifty feet straight up, you emerge at exactly the same point where the walls of Shahjahanabad were blasted by the British to get access into the city thru Kashmiri Gate, in 1857.

So it goes, so it goes...

Sunday, December 19, 2004

india-pakistan - addlepated rant masquerading as practical suggestions.

so gogo and me, inspired by the most recent DVD haul from Pakistan were wondering on how to take practical steps to ensure that the new found Indian and Pakistani 'bhaichara' works to the benefit of the people of both countries, withut anyone getting feelings of economic inferiority or cultural superiority or vice versa or worse vices -

The India-Pakistan division of labour(and sports, and culture) to ensure peace, harmony and greater co-prosperity... (references to Japanese misadventures entirely unintended...)

- We (Indians) make the movies. They (Pakistanis) make the music...
for while we have been listening to endless baby doll remixes, Jhankaar beats and and Daler pa-ji; they have a popular music culture which has spawned Nusrat, Junoon, Fuzon, Strings, Abida, Pappu Sain...
Honorable exceptions - Sabiha Sumar (Khamosh Pani); Rabbi Shergill...

Television - can we just outsource all our sattelite tv programming to Lahore and Karachi, please! Kahaan 'dhoop kinare'... kahaan Ekta Kapur and her endless K's...

- Pirate DVDs - no doubts. Pakistan wins this one. Alll of Wong Kar Wai, for eighty rupees a disc at Hall Road, Lahore. Palika Bazaar has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of rates to be reduced...

- The Pakistanis should continue playing hockey. We should stick to kabbadi.
(you want us to divide cricket? are you crazy? or do you just want us to be lynched?)

- Urban 'Renewal'. All urban renewal and conservation projects being done anywhere in India should be handed over to the guys responsible for the way Lahore is, and the way you fall in love with it after one visit. what a beaatifully kept city! the canal, food street, the badshahi restaurant lit up at night...

- Drugs. Sorry guys. Malana Cream (Indian) is just so much smoother than whatever Afghani hash it is that floods Pakistan.

- Booze. Divided
Murree Beer is excellent. it makes Kingfisher go, and well, look for fish! However,
Vodka. Guys on the other side, give up that rotgut Boskaya now! and import Smirnoff, Made in India!
And Bosca Wine!

Democracy/Dictatorship - (since politics is a very profitable economic activity) -

Tough call. needed a creative solution.

Since Bal Thackeray and his ilk are always carping about fluttering the Indian flag at Attock, let's send our Maratha warrior to a cushy governorship of the North West Fronier Province, or if you like, Pakhtoonkhwa... wonder what the Mutahida Majlis e Amal will make of Mr. Thackeray, and vice versa...

since the Pakistanis are always complaining of having to little democracy, why don't we just send them the true exemplar of Indian democracy, Laloo Prasad Yadav, to rule from Islamabad? Six months...

.., and wonder what happens when six months of military rule and a little benign autocracy meet Bihar?

General Musharraf, up for it?

Friday, December 17, 2004

tumhare bagair

Tumhare bagair is a poem by Pash; literal translation, Without you.
It's beautiful poem of loss and longing - whimsical, even funny and yet always with Pash's sense of savage, cruel irony.
I can't remember the poem, off hand, i can't find it on the net, (and Taha - it's been two years now, can I have the book back?) but I remember the sense the poem gave me -

...Without you, Einstein and Lenin come to meet me every night in my dreams
Without you, Nazis parade on the barren fields in the picture i carry in my wallet...

or lines to that effect

so, in the tradition of Pash -

Without you, the street dogs come for parties
And spend the night with vodka, beer and the blue floor cushion.
Loper - our semi-adpopted local stray, has started coming up three floors of steep stairs to our flat, and spending the cold winter nights in our living room, on the blue floor cushion.
he has also given me company in at least three drinking sessions...)

Without you, Begum Samru, her Security Guards and various real estate developers
try to build multiplexes in our bedroom
And 'the bed's too big without you'
so i've let them 'develop the space'.
(Which is to explain why a three foot hight mound of paper and dirty clothes is all over the bed, as i struggle to finish a paper on cinema distribution and the city...)

Tumhare bagair Avtaar Singh Sandhu sirf Pash hai
Or Paash ke siva kuch nahin...
Without you Avtaar Singh Sandhu is only Pash (his poetic nom de plume)
And nothing except Pash...

Without you, AVT isn't even radio free altair...

Come home soon...

Hobsbawm - Hegemony and general randomness

Just been to a talk by Eric J. Hobsbawm, one of the most non-flashily brilliant and accesible historians of the modern world, and all of eighty seven years old. And still open to ideas and possibilities, and with a sense of acute wonder at the rapidity at which the world is transforming - I was reminded of Paul Virilio, almost at the speed of light, though it might seem strange to utter both names together...

Virilio is a self-described war child, Hobsbawm, who has outlived 'the short twentieth century' that he bore witness to, says that the globalised nature of localised conflict means that somewhere, we are all war children...

The title of the talk was,
War, Peace And World Hegemony in the 20th century.

Hegemony -

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave…
-Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy

…But this at least is worth pointing out, that the men of old who gave things their names saw no disgrace or reproach in madness; otherwise they would not have connected with it the name of the noblest of all arts, the art of discerning the future, and called it the manic art…
- Plato, Phaedrus
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
- Well Manicured Man, The X-Files

and all that jazz...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

endless laughter


...How many times must the cannonballs fly,
before they're forever banned?
And how many seas must the (ummm, grey!) doves sail,
before they can sleep in the sand?

...and how many roads must a man walk down?
(if not forty two? apologies DNA)

...He (Kim) sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that fire-breathing dragon, hold the Punjab, a for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot...

... Baden-Powell needed an concept around which to build the younger boy program of Scouting. He found it with a popular book by the repected British author, Rudyard Kipling.

Cannons, intergalactic mice, science fiction, pacifism, colonialism, imperial ideologies, boy scouts.
A picture is worth a thousand hyperlinks...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Wankaner - and new adventures in memory and photoshop

the last of the steam engines,
the last of the rock stars...

Did I waste it?
Not so much I couldn't taste it
Life should be fragrant
Roof top to the basement....

Khamosh Pani - Still water run deep

Saw Khamosh Pani today...

And responded to an ongoing debate on the Sarai Reader list. (Also now on Chowk - thanks Shivam!)
Am posting my repsonse on the blog as well.
The Blog, I notice, is becoming increasingly and truly Punjabi, what with Rabbi Shergill and everything else.
Maybe I should change the name of the blog to -
'Butter Chicken - Ludhiana/Elsewhere'

Dear Yousuf,

Sorry for getting back to this email conversation a bit late, but I
finally saw Khamosh Pani today...
Let me qualify - you mentioned being chilled, sitting surrounding by
Punjabis who wept while watching the film.
I am someone who is easily identified as a Punjabi, and find myself
increasingly easy to identify with being a Punjabi, even with all my
problems with easy labelling and simplified identities...
And yes, true to form, I wept during the film.

And I don't think I can agree with you as to the dichotomy of films
that make you think, versus films that make you weep.
This is probably a fallacious construction, but here goes -

Imagine I am ten years younger, fourteen years old... i have grown up
with an increasingly crowded media scape, which since i have been
eleven years old, has bombarded me, at least since i was eleven years
old (9/11) with images of Islam, Musilms and Pakistan which make me
think of them all as mad, bearded fundos, and burkha clad women who
are far less desirable and far less cool than, well, Jennifer Lopez...

Imagine also that I am the second or third generation since those who
moved during partition. i've probably heard stories of the barbarity
and the cruelty of the muslims, and of how everything was lost in the
violence they perpetrated. maybe i've also heard stories of how
muslims actually gave shelter and helped those who were fleeing...
(and i have heard such stories from relatives, and well, they're not
necessarily either 'secular' or particularly tolerant... )

maybe the post 9/11 media scape has reinforced what i think about
Muslims and Pakistan from the more brutal partition stories that have
come to me throgh oral, family tradition....

What happens when i bring that baggage into the movie hall? what am i
likely to leave with?

i don't know. i'm not fourteen any longer, i have studied Partition in
some detail, I have fairly liberal, 'progressive', 'secular' tolerant
ideals when it comes to matters communal, and nationalistic.

but i have the feeling that even if i was a fourteen year old,
inclined to believe the worst of Islam, Muslims and Pakistan... this
movie would have shaken me to the core, and my prejudices along with

And it works precisely becuase it is emotionally evocative, without
ever missing out on complexity of characterisation, or of historical

as filmmakers, i don't know how we can mark the dichotomy between
'thinking' films and 'sentimental' films... films aren't likely to
start thinking unless they enage you emotionally - unless you
empathize with the characters on the screen, whether 'real' or
'imaginary', and are interested in the trajectories of their lives,
and the larger histories their lives are involved in/affected by....

khamosh pani does that, even with the minor characters who give true
character to the film -
the characters of the 'mast' village barber who defies the
fundamentalists with a combination of humour and steel, the village
postman and his wife, whose daughter went missing on the Indian side
of the border, the 'hero's friend', who tries to reconcile his
friend's illicit love-life with their new found Islamic belief... If,
at age fourteen I saw this film, i would probablyfeel an empathy for
Pkaistanis as 'people like us', at the simplest, crudest level...

also, there is no evading the complexity of the history of Partition,
and the fact that women bore the violence of both their own men, and
of the Other. (If i was fourteen and saw the scenes of
Ayesha/Veero/Kirron Kher refusing to jump into the well and running -
i would ask questions of every story about Partition that I was ever
told...) my sense of perpetrator/victim, good/bad, hero/villain,
us/them would go into a major tailspin... or so can only hope...

and which brings me to the question raised in your second posting...
what if we made a film that was based on the premise, 'what if
partition never happened... '(isn't that, in a way, the question veer
zara asks, if we are to go by anupam kher's closing speech?) now, i'm
quite the fan of alternate history as a sci-fi sub genre, but the best
alternate history works with an awareness of the complexity of the
history we have inherited, and of the fraught times that we bear
witness to... the best alternative history is also, often, fairly
but as film-makers, or writers, or historians, I don't think we can
make refernece to the future without looking back at the past...

and were i to look back at the past, and Partition, and acknowledge
that the past happened, and that it was violent, but it was a violence
and a guilt that cannot be blamed on anyone group of people - i don't
think i could choose a better film than Khamosh Pani - becuase it
never evades the past, or simplifies it, but dwells on how we can live
on, even perhaps accept, the memory of the fraught past, util people
try to simplify their worldview, and their world once again...
i don't know how lucid or sensible this sounds, but I'd like to quote
Walter Benjamin, whose Theses on The Philosophy of History were
written after the Nazi takeover of Germany, German history, and
Germman memory...

'... nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for
history. To be sure, only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of
its past-which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past
become citable in all its moments...'

the mark of redemption, for India and Pakistan, is perhaps when we can
cite all the horrors of Partition - without silencing voices, without
flinching from discomfort, without the urge to simplify and fit into a
more acceptable view of 'what really happened'...

I's like to think of Khamosh Pani as a citation of the past of that order...


Monday, December 13, 2004


Yesterday was the third anniversary of the attack on Parliament, which led to a thirteen month stand off between the armed forces of India and Pakistan, contributed to the rhetoric used to jistify the Gujarat Riots, and saw an innocent man, SAR Geelani, condemned to death by the court, on the flimsiest of evidence...

reminded me of something i wrot two years back - which i henece post..

March 6, 2002, Parliament Street - or - Why this country is a basket case.


Zehreelee shahhad ki makkhi ki or ungli na karen
Jise aap chhatta samajhte hain
Vahan janata ke pratinidhi baste hain


Don’t raise/point/wag your finger at the poisonous honey bee
What you think is a hive
Is where the Representatives of the People dwell
- Paash

Parliament Street is the established venue in Delhi for large numbers of people to express their protest in rallies, marches and slogan shouting. The norm is for groups to walk down from the Connaught Place/Jantar Mantar end of Parliament Street till the barricades put up by the police midway between CP and Parliament House. The crowds come, roar at the barricades, and disperse, half a kilometre short of their own elected representatives. Like tired waves breaking on an impregnable cliff – of bright yellow barricades, dull green helmets and khaki riot gear. These protests, symbolically in the heart of the nation’s capital – are in actuality marginalized, largely unheard, and very, very ineffectual. For it is very difficult to actually lead a protest down Parliament Street without formally informing the police, or facing their baton-wielding wrath. So the police organize the protests to the convenience of, well, judge for yourself
Office hours with people largely inside offices, Parliament Street and other routes of march cordoned off to traffic, the press generally having more ‘glamorous’ and ‘sensational’ stories to cover – a protest march down Parliament Street becomes an indulgently personal venting of simmering frustrations – ‘Jesus Lives’ scrawled on the walls of the Vatican. Unless, of course, someone like Arundhati Roy joins the march.

But Arundhati Roy went to jail today. For Contempt of the Supreme Court of India. For believing in Constitutionally given Freedom of Speech and expression enough to have criticise the court’s judgements in three paragraphs of an affidavit she filed. If she doesn’t pay the fine set by the court, she could be in jail
be unjust. Some of them gathered outside the Supreme Court this morning, while the hearing was going on. People from the Narmada Valley, from Kerala, from Andhra Pradesh, from Assam, from Delhi. Narmada Bachao Andolan activists, farmers, home-makers, students, journalists, teachers, lawyers. A lot of them got there with extremely obtrusive policemen (plain-clothes or otherwise) tailing them. The protest still managed to materialise in an extremely spontaneous manner and was lively, spirited, and despite being surrounded by much armed riot-police (or because of it) extremely cheerful. When news came that Arundhati would soon be taken to Tihar – over two hundred people courted arrest by the mere act of crossing the road, and filed into the waiting police trucks and buses in a remarkably orderly fashion.

These packed with humanity vehicles went to Parliament Street Police Station, where all the fun starts.

If kites of the feathered variety were students of semiotics, they would have had an interesting whirling aerial view of Parliament Street this afternoon. Coming from the CP end, wave after wave of angry red flags broke against the barriers just to the north of the Police Station. It was as if the events in Gujarat had suddenly awakened a whole range of movements and organisations to the enormity of misgovernment. Flags and people changed with rapid succession, marching behind each other with near military precision, but all baffled by the barricades, where all their slogans sounded remarkably similar. The khakhi beach was a beleaguered one by lunchtime, Normandy on D-Day.

Then the Arundhati Roy supporters, who had been held in the roomy courtyard of the Police Station, singing protest songs and slogans with remarkable chutzpah, decided that they would rather be imprisoned in Tihar along with her, broke out of the Police Station. Broke out is not an accurate term, for that has hints of violence. This break out was accomplished by a firm, non-violent, and extremely hilarious walk-out that left the police bewi
Narmada Bachao Andolan has become adept at after more than fifteen years of non-violent protest. So two hundred people walked out of arrest/ preventive detention in the presence of heavily armed and riot-gear clad police and out onto Parliament Street. Suddenly the beleaugered beach was an even more beleaguered thin spit of khakhi amidst the turbulent seas of people’s protest. The police tried to bully, drag, threaten and when all failed, oilily cajole the supporters to get back into the Police Station. When even that didn’t work, they brought in a Fire Truck with sirens wailing to hose down the crowd.

After the Gujarat carnage, it couldn’t be more ridiculous. Police stood aside there as violent mobs went on a rampage, killing, looting and indulging in systematic arson till a lot of Gujarat was literally burning and crores of property and invaluable lives were going up in smoke. And here, after a writer is arrested for believing in Freedom of Speech and Expression, when people gather to express their solidarity in non-violent ways, they bring in the water cannons. What conclusions can one draw from this? Only the slogans of the supporters/protestors make sense –

- sarkaar hamse darti hai, police ko aage karti hai.
- (the government is afraid of us, it sends the police forward)

- Arrest rioters, not writers.

But it wasn’t the police who prevailed at Parliament Street today. Medha Patkar, the NBA and other supprters of truth, justice and fair-play managed to fan out into Patel Chowk and wake the sarkari babus out of their card-game playing apathy in the grassy lawn of the traffic circle. They managed to march down Ashoka Road, till Windsor Place, amidt fairly heavily traffic. They were at least seen, if not heard. Then they boarded police buses which took them till outside Tihar, where to my knowledge, the protest still continues
So far, apart from Arundhati Roy, no one is in jail, but not for want of trying on the part of the police.

Rings of power. The circular parliament building is the symbol for a sta
ng concentric rings of defense around itself, the police being the outermost. The state, with all its gross insensitivity, corruption and injustice, needs to be protected from the people it is supposed to represent. And it constantly abstracts these people into the Other, the Enemy, the ISI, Pakistan. And to remove all legitimacy from people’s protest, all democratic means they have are subverted; and non-violent mass protest is completely removed from the public imagination. The signs, the symbols, the spaces of the city are controlled by the police with an iron lathi you won’t see till you wish to protest.

Which is why all that happened at Parliament Street becomes so important today. Especially since it was not the first time that the NBA and its supporters have in ways courageous and imaginative reclaimed the city’s spaces, even if temporarily. Small groups of students and activists have joined hands with people from the Valley and used the spaces of the city, the railway stations, the public toilets, Lodi Gardens, Delhi University, Blue Line buses, to stay ahead of the police long enough to organise mass sit- ins at such heavily guarded government areas as the Supreme Court, the CGO Complex, Shastri Bhavan, etc. To mingle with the people hurrying in rush-hour traffic and to make them stop and think. The NBA, and the strange and beautiful alliances it forges, have allowed the public into spaces usually denied to it, including the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

And that is perhaps what the NBA is all about. Not about one writer going to jail – but the alliance between writers and dispossesed tribals. Between Assamese students and Nimadi peasants. Between Malayali theologians and Rajasthani labourers. Alliances which in their small ways, fight for the big things. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The things that don’t, somehow, become election issues.

But Arundhati’s imprisonment has also seen an attack on these alliances. Students who have actively supported the NBA on a regular basis have been singled ou
police intelligence, their movement severely restricted. This hasn’t, of course, stopped them. Let me take the names of these brave individuals now they are already known to the Police. Banajit Hussain, Karuna Dietrich, Alberuni, Priyani Roy Chowdhary, among others.

All of them are staking their future here, by most usual ways of looking at things.

None of them has done anything for the NBA which is not in agreement with the Constitution of this country. I’d challenge the police to come up with one instance.

None of them has burned a shop, killed a human being, or discriminated against anyone on the basis of religion. They work for the causes of the underdog.

And which is why, on Parliament Street this afternoon, it was increasingly clear that this country has become a basket case.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


bole so Neha-aal.....
sat sri akal

Friday, December 03, 2004

balle balle, bulla shah, and how punjabiyat will save us all....

I read the news today, oh boy....
Actually yesterday.

The Chief Minsiter of Pakistani Punjab, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, was in Amritsar for the World Punjabi Day Celebrations.
On the drive from the airport to the Golden Temple, the road was lined by cheering children waving flags of India and Pakistan, and college students dancing the bhangra on roundabouts.
Pervaiz Elahi was hailed as a true 'Punjab da Puttar'....

An edit page article in the Indian Express called the 'Balle Balle Bridge' noted

Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat may achieve what the foreign offices in India and Pakistan cannot

Could Punjabi provide the idiom to rescue India-Pakistan relations from the leaden grip of diplomatic jargon? Could joint celebrations of Punjabiyat catalyse a breakthrough that’s eluded decades of confidence-building measures? This week, as artistes and sportspersons from East and West Punjab congregate in Patiala to “revive the spirit of Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat”, a qualitative change is tantalisingly within sight. Border crossings are of course always good news. They add depth to dialogue conducted by the political class, and expand public ownership of the peace process. Punjab as the site of engagement, however, is particularly interesting. For so long memories of 1947 — of those mass migrations and senseless violence — have sustained demonic projections of the Other. They have provided a subtext to bilateral suspicion that the Other is out to settle scores. With the people of the bifurcated state now reclaiming a shared Punjabiyat, the source of so much inherited animus will hopefully run dry.

What i find strange is how easily the Balle Balle Bridge is being constucted. Considering that an integral element of this Punjabiyat - now, for peace - has been the macho masculine posturing that has characterised the standoff between the countries. Think Sunny Deol in Gadar, where as love struck truck-driver Tara Singh, he wipes out the Pakistani Army barehanded. Or well, on the Pakistani Side, the hugely popular Maula Jatt, a Punjabi action flick which reportedly makes Rambo look like Bambi... It's this bellicose macho Punjabiyat, rapidly becoming the national mainstream in both India and Pakistan, which has pumped up the cultural hatred for so many years... Think the guuards on both sides at the Wagah ceremonies. Think the road rage in Delhi...

... And now Balle Balle saves the day...

As Monica said, when I read yesterday's news out to her, So basically if Gandhi had just learned to do the Bhangra instead of fasting, Partition wouldn't have happened.

Dandi to Dandi-ya, to Bhangra....
A syncopated Gandhi dancing to the tune of Sunny Deol mouthing 'Punjabi!'

...This is a Disneyland Peace.

The real basis for peace, the real 'Punjabiyat'... for want of a better word, is perhaps seen in a video airing on musical channels these days, reinterpreting the words of a Punjabi ' Muslim' Sufi saint from the eighteenth century, as sung by a young Sikh singer, Rabbi Shergill. A song which acheived imense popularity on the other side of the border a few years ago when sung by the Pakistani band, Junoon.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun

Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun

Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

--- x ---

The song remains the same.
Sung by Pakistani Muslims, sung by an Indian Sikh.
I am Bullah. But then so are you.
I, Bullah, do not know who I am.
I do know what I am not, what my identity cannot be essentialized as.
I am not a mosque going Muslim, yet i hang out at the tombs of Muslim holy men.
I am not a Hindu, whatever my name might suggest to you, though i know my Sanskrit shlokas, and I belive in the sacredness of the Narmada river.
I have lived in Bangkok, Lucknow, Cochin, Delhi. None of them defines who I am.
I am an Indian, but I love a city across the border - Lahore.
I love the Punjabi of Bulle Shah, of Junoon, of Rabbi Shergill, and yet I object to being essentialised as Punjabi.

For it is not Punjabi and Punjabiyat that wills save us, but the ability to look beyond the borders - of nation, of region, of self - borders that prevent us from living but for which we are willing to die.

Only then, as Bulle/Bullah Shah once wrote - Ho gayi teri balle balle. Ho jaayegi balle bale....

Listed on BlogShares