Friday, 28 May 2010

Moving Performance

Minus the rush, Sundays are a bit boring on a local train. One young lady who got on a Churchgate-bound local train at Borivli, though, more than managed to perk things up. Sipping casually on what seemed to be a bottle of cola, she was calm till the train left Andheri. She then decided to take a walk in the compartment, which was followed by a stint of hanging from the pole at the door.

Soon, she upgraded her moves by hopping on top of the nearly empty seats in the ladies compartment. Taken aback, all other commuters except my curious sister made a dash for the door. Our lady, pleased at being given the entire field to play, sipped some more "cola" and popped in some mysterious powder from her pocket and turned her attention to the handbills plastered all over. She fished out a pen from her shirt and scratched them. The ''instant remedy'' tantriks taken care of, she began dancing in joy singing, "Chalo chalo, full night jaagenge, party karenge, party karo."

Women from the other compartments who were watching through the mesh separation were beginning to enjoy the spectacle of a trendy girl in an orange t-shirt, sporting a string of beads, prancing around, leaning out at every passenger train trying to touch it, or doing her own version of the Surya Namaskar when the sun was visible. The centre of attraction, though, suddenly grew tired after Dadar and sat down to replenish her energies. The passengers by now had started looking for cops on stations who would take away the lady, obviously on a high, before she harmed herself.

But with not a single cop between Mumbai Central and Churchgate and our lady in question getting louder, bolder and wilder, it was surely an edge-of-the-seat ride.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


It's strange, isn't it, how much I talk about death... maybe not so strange if you knew a bit more. I feel that perhaps I've seen more than my fair share of it. More than I was ready to deal with. It was on the same day in May 2005, when my cousin Nikhil passed away at the age of 19. In the last five years, it was the most shocking incident in the family. He was a smiling, young fellow just that he was suffering from muscular dystrophy. Just that his death was something expected but no one could have foreseen it so early, no one could have done anything about.

The thing about death is that it is a part of life. We're all subconsciously prepared for it, we understand the inevitability of it. But there's a time for it. It is meant to come after you have lived a long life, raised a family and made something of yourself; not in your late teenage years or early twenties. Say what you want, that is not right. It's somehow just not right. It still happened though. The first time is the scariest. That's when you actually realise that people can die so young. It doesn't matter if it's not supposed to be that way. The second time, it feels like a punishment. The feeling you get is like you did something wrong, and you're being punished by having those close to you taken away.

There's a lot of anger and you don't quite know what to do with it, who to direct it at. The third time it happens... I seriously don't know what to tell you. Your heart breaks, but there's something else to it---acceptance? It feels like the moment you let the waves in the sea wash over you, because you know you cannot fight death and the waves in the sea. Death comes to everybody, that's just the way it is. We don't get to know when, or whom it will visit. All we get are those intimate moments with the people we love. The choice is to make those moments we spend count. What would I do differently? Not a damn thing. I had the greatest of times with all of them, and I have wonderful that memories that I'll aways cherish. Here's to the good times, Nikhil.

"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand."

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Lest We Regret...

One of my friends is a Delhi boy. I'll call him Vinay. He's moved base to Bangalore now, which is how we became friends, but he grew up there and still has a lot of friends there. A couple of weeks ago, Vinay was telling me about a party he attended in Delhi. Besides being someone's birthday, it was also a reunion of sorts; old school friends who hadn't seen each other for a while. They had a blast that night, drinking, talking, reliving old escapades till the wee hours of the morning. The party finally came to an end; they said goodbyes and headed home.

Vinay's friend Sagar never made it that far. He drove straight into a wall, at more than 80 km/hr. The front portion of the car was crushed, the engine pushed into the front two seats, nearly cutting Sagar in half. I wish I could tell you that he had a miraculous escape, one of those freak occurences you hear about on the news. I wish I could tell you that there was a guardian angel looking out for him that day, that he had a close call and learned a valuable lesson. But unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Sagar spent his last few minutes in excruciating pain, bleeding to death in a wrecked car, on the side of the road at the age of 27.

Shaken? Now, imagine, if that was your friend. You'd probably be even more shaken. But let me ask you something; what if an incident like this happened for the second time? What if this was the second time a friend of yours had too much drink, had gotten into his car and driven off and had crashed and died? I ask this because that's the situation my friend Vinay is in. He's lost two close friends in the same way; they had too much to drink, they thought they could drive okay, they crashed their cars and they both died.

The blame always falls on the person who was driving. He was drunk, he had no business of driving a car. It's his fault. He thought he'd be okay, he thought he could handle the car. He was drunk, what did he know death would come calling. But what about your responsibility as a friend? Wouldn't you step in and try to save your friend if you knew he might die? Or to hell with responsibility, what about your own selfish desire not to lose a friend? Wouldn't you save his life then? So that you don't have to suffer the loss of someone close to you?

When someone is drunk, their judgement is impaired. They think they'll manage, because they have done it before. "It's cool, don't worry about it. I'll be fine." The fact is, no one's ever going to say that they are too drunk and they shouldn't drive. No, that's something a person's friends have to say. That's something you're going to have to say one day, if you don't want to look back and say that you could have saved a friend's life, if only you'd tried. I hope you never have to feel what it's like to lose someone this way. And if you must... I do hope you never feel it again.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Movie Review: The Bandit Queen

Controversy swirled around Shekhar Kapur's "The Bandit Queen", which was one of 1995's most discussed feature film. Supposedly based on the real-life experiences of a modern Indian folk heroine named Phoolan Devi, the authenticity of the film's script was under attack by Phoolan Devi herself. Phoolan Devi not only disavowed her autobiography, but also went on to file a lawsuit to keep The Bandit Queen from being released in Indian theatres. At this point, there is enough confusion that surrounds the factual accuracy of the movie which claims to be a "true story" must be accepted with reservations. Nevertheless, regardless of its historical veracity, The Bandit Queen is an excellent examination of caste discrimination, human suffering and the role of women in India's changing culture.

Two phrases encapsulate the backdrop against which the story unfolds. The first is a quote shown on-screen at the film's start: "Animals, drums, illiterates, low castes and women are worthy of being beaten". The second is a statement made by Phoolan Devi's father: "A daughter is always a burden...". It is into this male-centered culture that Phoolan Devi (Seema Biswas) is born in the late 1950s. Her entire life from the age of eleven, when she is married off to a much older man, is devoted to fighting for the rights of women and striking blows against a viciously prejudiced social structure.

After running away from her husband, Phoolan is captured and abused by bandits. Eventually, she joins a gang and it isn't long before her reputation as a Robin Hood like figure becomes known across India. She exacts revenge on those who betrayed her, becoming the chief instigator of the Behmai Massacre in the 1980s, where 24 men were killed. The authorities prove unable to capture Devi, and she remains on the loose until 1983, when a deal with the Indian government brings about her surrender.

The picture of human indignity and suffering painted by The Bandit Queen is on par with that of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. As the Nazis treated the Jews like animals, so too do the upper caste Indians regard those born into poverty and squalor. Compared to some of the indignities experienced by Devi, death would have been quick and merciful. Multiple rapes and public humiliation are only a few of the torments she must endure and each atrocity further hardens her heart. When it comes, Devi's revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.

The Bandit Queen is a tightly paced, powerfully written and well-acted, The Bandit Queen is a first rate adventure movie. Like Schindler's List, there is no political diatribe here. Actions and events are allowed to define the social climate. The film manages to grip the audience in a way that no preachy commentary ever will. Phoolan Devi, as striking portrayed by actress Seema Biswas, becomes real and it doesn't take long for us to feel her seething rage at the mountain of injustices rising above her.

It is uncomfortable to sympathize with someone who becomes so ruthless and uncomprising, but that it is the gut-wrenching path along which director Shekhar Kapur drags us. The Bandit Queen is not for the squeamish, or for those who prefer not to be challenged or unsettled by a motion picture. Because, whatever your feelings about the movie or its protagonist, The Bandit Queen will not leave you apathetic.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

"Jihadi" in the train

Mumbai local trains are an interesting place to observe all kinds of uncanny, bizarre and wacky stories taking place. Life is nothing less than a drama, especially if you travel by commuter trains. They surely attract more than its share. Due to its share of things and regardless of whether people like them or hate them, they're still known as the lifeline of Bombay.

A young thirty something tall man boarded the train from Wadala. His fellow passengers noticed that he was carrying a gun. His fellow passengers slowly decided to strike up a conversation but our hero chose to remain silent and asked them to move on. On this note, a suspicious but alert passenger decided to call and alert the railway police. Thinking that the man could be a terrorist, the city's crack commando team and Bombay's police team were pressed into action. They succeeded in ''neutralizing'' the suspect and alas, their joy was short-lived. The man in question turned out to be a bodyguard of a high-ranking Railway Police Force officer.