Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Emerald

Rabindranath Tagore
Nobel Laureate

The emerald became green in the hue of my consciousness.
The ruby became red.
I opened my eyes to the skies.
And light broke from East to West.
I looked at the rose and said, "How beautiful".
And the rose became beautiful.
You will say, "These are philosophical truths,
These are not the poet's speech."
I say, "These are truths,
And what is poetry but truth?"

My conceit is here,
A conceit on behalf of mankind;
On the canvas of man's conceit is drawn
the masterpiece of universe--
The creation of the Artist.

The philosopher reiterates at every breath
Counting his rosary
"There is no emerald, no ruby, no light and no rose,
Neither you nor me',
While He who is infinite came to realize Himself
Within the boundary of man,
And this is named "I".

In the density of that "I", a conflict arose
Between shadow and light.
There appeared form, the awakening of sap.
The "no" became "yes" at an unknown moment
In line, colour, grief and joy.
Do not tell me these are philosophical truths!
My heart fills with delight
As I stand with brush in hand and paint,
In the creative ground of the universal "I".

The Pundit has said...
That old moon,
It has a cruel and cunning smile.
It is creeping nearer and nearer to the heart of the earth
With the message of Death.
A day will come when it will strike
A final blow to her rocks and seas.
In Eternity's new recording book,
There will be a cipher covering the page of this planet.
It will blot out the totality of her days and nights.

Man's deeds will lose all pretence of immortality,
Man's history will merge into the ink of eternal night,
Man in his farewell glance will take away the colour of the universe,
Man's mind on that final day will leave no trace
Of a fulfilling seed.

The tremor of power will rage from sky to sky,
No light will shine.
In the great concert-hall without a lute,
The performer's fingers will move in the rhythm of a dance
But with no music.

That day God, losing all poetry, will alone
Seated under a blue-less sky,
Bent on a mathematical calculation devoid of personal element,
When in this vast universe
No voice will rise amongst countless people,
From life to life, far or near,
To echo, "I love you", "You are beautiful".

Will then God once again sit in ageless contemplation?
And repeat His prayers from amid night's devastation?
Saying, "Speak, oh speak!"
Uttering, Say, "you are beautiful."
"Say, I am in love?"

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

TV News: A Zero Sum Game?

Rajdeep Sardesai
Editor-in-chief, CNN-IBN

24 x 7 media is an amoral beast and the camera is Shiva's third eye. It sees the positive and the negative and it doesn't blink; it is indeed a double-edged weapon. Television magnifies sound and images, but it can also be used to completely distort them. An artful government will recognize the power of the media, but will harness it to its advantage. An under-confident government will allow the media to dictate the agenda, petrified by the media's power and then merely react to it. The UPA-II is a prime example of what happens when television becomes the Pied Piper and the government then desperately plays to catch up. Ubiquitous TV images will show up an absentee government in high definition every day.

In recent weeks, as the images of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare have played out relentlessly across television screens, the government has appeared to panic. Four cabinet ministers rushed to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi to mollify the yoga guru Baba Ramdev. In Anna Hazare's case, a fast at Jantar Mantar was enough to hasten the government into issuing a formal order appointing a Lokpal committee without any consultation process.

In both instances, the government blames the media for forcing it to act in an unwise manner by giving disproportionate coverage to the street agitations. Such an accusation stems from a failure to recognize the nature of contemporary media. 24 hours news television, in particular, is like a carnivorous animal that needs to be constantly fed. The likes of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare have realized this only too well while staging "made-for-television" events in the heart of Delhi. A hunger fast as a colourful spectacle that taps into rising public anger against corruption is a perfect recipe to draw in the cameras.

In a stark contrast, the government hides in the shadows of the forbidding walls of power. The Prime Minister mumbles a few words occasionally; Rahul Gandhi is seen sometimes in well-choreographed meetings while Sonia Gandhi seems to have completely retreated behind the barricades of 10, Janpath. When the three most powerful people in the present UPA-II dispensation are not available to the media, who will feed the appetite of the 24 hour news cycle? So, every night on prime time television, hapless Congress spokespersons have to answer for the government's sins. With no real mandate, the spokespersons have little option but to attempt to filibuster their way out of difficult situations.

It could well be argued that news television, especially English language TV, doesn't really have any impact on political electability. A Mayawati, for example, has consistently contemptuous of all media, refusing to do any interviews or take on any questions from journalists. She is firm in her belief that her Bahujan Samaj voter will not be influenced by media perceptions. At least, Mayawati is consistent in her disdainful attitude towards the media.

The problem with the UPA-II is that it wants greater media approval at one level and yet remains suspicious of it at another. You cannot have it both ways. Either the government must embrace the media like a Barack Obama, where the US President misses no opportunity to play the media, be it in an intimate chat or an Oprah Winfrey show or a hard talk interview on network television. Else, it should be prepared to allow high-decibel television to set the agenda for it. Television abhors a vacuum. If the government for whatever reason won't fill the black hole of information, then it will be filled by noisy news anchors and equally loud arguments.

Take the debate on corruption. Through his public life, Dr. Manmohan Singh's calling card has been his personal integrity. And yet, how often have we seen Dr. Singh take on his critics on corruption? In the two years of UPA-II, he has done just two live press conferences and not done a single one on one interview. Perhaps, Dr. Singh's image makers fear that the television lens will expose his limitations as a public speaker. Since he is a soft-spoken individual, the fear is that his voice will not be heard in the cacophony around him. Once again, this is a misunderstanding of the media. Just as the camera captures the noisy, it also zooms in on sobriety and decency. At a time when the viewer seems to be tiring of the constant barrage of zero sum debates, the Prime Minister has an opportunity to set himself as a voice of reason and rationality. Yet, by staying silent, he almost confirms his critics of being in office, but not in power.

Sonia Gandhi's approach to the media is equally mystifying. In the run-up to the 2004 general elections, her roadshows established her as an astute and charismatic political campaigner who could use the media to her advantage. Now, by virtually refusing to engage with the media, she gives the impression of a leader who wields power without responsibility, who is unwilling to be held accountable for any of the mistakes in the government. As for Rahul, have we ever heard him express his views on matters of national importance? Or does he too, like a Mayawati, believe that the media is a pestilence best avoided?

P.S.: It's not just the power elite, but also we in the news business who need to introspect. Why is that we cover an Anna Hazare or a Baba Ramdev with such intensity, but barely touch the story of an Irom Sharmila, the Manipuri activist who has been fasting for over ten years for revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act? Or is Imphal simply too distant and complex for the country's 180 odd news channels to report on?

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Relevance of Religion

Swami Tejomayananda
The Speaking Tree

Man has made remarkable progress in the fields of science and technology. Technology has made it possible to travel faster than the speed of sound. New avenues of communications have opened up with the advent of computers. The advances in the field of medicine have produced wonderful results. All these changes have affected the pace of life.

Man is forced to think of various issues in the light of these new discoveries. Issues that were unimaginable a few decades ago such as euthanasia, cloning, morality and ethics are demanding immediate answers.

It appears that there has been progress in various avenues, but paradoxically on the other hand one sees so much of destruction and violence. The old value system is degenerating. Families are now breaking down giving rise to a lot of mental discomfort and distress. People are becoming more unruly and violent. Nations are itching for conflict at the first opportunity. At this, what will happen in the present millenium?

It is a known fact that the world is changing rapidly and this is not something new. Change is the changeless law of the world. History shows that every time there was a massive change, the great phenomenon influenced the lives of millions. However, the fundamental principles of living have always remained unchanged. Religion has played its role in the past. The question is whether religion will be of any consequence in the coming millenium. What will be its position? Will it have any relevance in the future way of life? If it has any relevance, then what form will it take?

The relevance of a thing is determined by the need and purpose it serves. Man is not just a physical being. He has thoughts, emotions and has a keen sense of aesthetics to cling on to. Hence philosophy, along with science, art, music and dance will continue to be relevant. When one thinks in this way, one will understand that religion will also remain relevant for all times. The fundamental question is what is religion? What role does it play in one's life and what is its need?

Religion has the following three aspects: Philosophy means the vision of the Truth. It is the vision of the entire life. This aspect will be relevant for all those who are the seekers of Truth. It is observed that everybody is not merely interested in food, clothing and shelter, vain entertainment or sensual pleasures. There have been many seekers from time immemorial who renounced all material objects and went in search of Truth. The seekers came from different backgrounds of society. These are the people who have an intense longing for knowing the Truth. Religion fulfills this demand of such seekers at the highest level. The purpose of religion is to enlighten people is to enlighten people about their own nature and the nature of the Absolute Truth. Hence, as long as there are seekers of Truth and a religion that fulfills their demand, religion will always remain relevant.

This is a very important aspect of religion. These values keep the society integrated and in harmony. The health of a society that is made up of individuals depends upon the quality of education. Education not only involves gaining knowledge and the skill to apply the knowledge into life, but it also includes the understanding the purpose of applying the knowledge. After the completion of a medical course, even doctors take an oath that they will use their knowledge to serve the society. All knowledge that one gathers should be used to enrich and serve the society. Earlier, the idea of business was how to make profit for oneself, but now people have realized that one cannot make profit without taking care of the consumer's interest. In the beginning, there was management by force and authority but now it is slowly changing to management by love. This is an aspect of religion. For all moral and ethical values, the basis is the vision of oneness of the self, which is gained through religion. However materialistic a society may become, it will have to abide by the principle of "live and let live". As one looks upon one's own happiness, one will have to look at the other person's happiness too. When one deceives someone else, one is deceiving one's own self.

Therefore, one should have these moral values of life. Otherwise, one's own existence will be in danger. These values will always remain relevant. Without this aspect of religion, there cannot be any peace, harmony and integration in society.

Rituals are a demonstration of the philosophical vision. Customs and traditions are also derived from the same vision. There is a great deal of potential for changes, variations, addition and subtraction in this aspect of religion. All cannot understand the vision theoretically. They require demonstrations. Many rituals came into existence to demonstrate the vision. When people follow them, they will of course want to know what they are doing and can thus slowly turn their mind towards the highest Truth. The ritualistic aspect of religions differ a lot from one another, giving a feeling that one religion is totally different from the other. Even in a single religion, there are numerous denominations. These denominations start competing with each other. Then comes the sense of superiority and inferiority. The wars that are fought in the name of religion are not prompted by religion. The tendency to consider one's religion superior and an insistence that others should join that religion are the cause for most of these fights.

Looking back into the history of religions, as far as Hinduism is concerned, one does not know when it began or who the founder was. In the case of other religions, there is a particular historical period when they were established and they upon a specific founder. One can find vast differences between a religion as it was at the time of its formation and as it is today. Many new denominations come up in the name of the same founder. This is inevitable because people are changing and their appreciation of things is also changing. Industrialization too has brought about many changes in society. The form and nature of religion have to change. But the vision of Truth and the values based on it will remain permanent. The religion that understands the ever changing nature of this world and is able to mould itself at the empirical level, keeping the essence intact, will survive. Those religions which become very rigid and are unable to change will perish.

One thing is certain--religion was there in the past, it is present now and it will always remain. Even those governments or countries which tried to do away with all religions by closing down temples and other places of worship had to reopen them. The spirit can never be killed. The voice of that spirit may sound very feeble and the number of seekers may decrease, but their power will remain unshaken. Religion can never become irrelevant. What form it will take in the future, one does not know. Sometimes it appears that there will be a kind of synthesis of the various aspects of different religions, giving birth to a new religion for all. There were inspired masters who tried to bring synthesis among religions, but they succeeded only in adding a new religion. Every religion in a way has taken some aspects of other religions, but still they continue to maintain their individuality. This is a strange phenomenon.

We should understand the true essence of religion as the oneness of the Self. All the moral and ethical values should be founded based on this understanding. Furthermore, based on these values if we lead our lives, then the world will become a better place. Many wrong notions and confusions may arise, some people may even try to destroy the foundation of religion, but those who understand the Truth must abide by it, become stronger and proceed further. This is the best way to approach the future.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Movie Review: Shor In The City

The 2011 Hindi film "Shor In The City" produced by Balaji Motion Pictures is not one of those regular entertainers that Hindi cinema keeps churning out with amazing regularity and insult the intelligence of the viewers. On the contrary, "Shor In The City" is a film that keeps you totally on the edge, but at the same time is a very entertaining film. As a film, it absorbs you into its world in no time. It is slick in nature and has a lot of nervous energy and also has its share of fun moments. It actually stands out from the clutter of Hindi films because of its unconventional plot and the brilliant execution.

"Shor In The City" revolves around three stories in the midst of the noise and grunge of Mumbai. It has the gangster backdrop, without making the film dark or depressing as well as the thriller quotient that keeps you at the edge. The three stories run concurrently--the characters are not at all connected with each other, they don't cross paths and nor is the film episodic in nature. It's not like watching one character/story first, followed by the second and then the third. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that the characters do not meet till the end but there is a sense of cohesion which cannot be disowned.

"Shor In The City" revolves around three loosely interconnected stories set in the midst of the noise and soot of Mumbai during the Ganeshotsav festival. Abhay (Sendhil Ramamurthy), an NRI who is forced to come to terms with the fact that he is alone in an unwelcoming city, which he thought was home. Tilak (Tusshar Kapoor), an honest bootlegger who pulls out scams with his unruly friends Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) and Mandook (Pitobash). They chance upon a rare loot on a commuter train, which opens up new, dangerous avenues for them. Sawaan Murthy (Sundeep Kishan) has one goal to enter into the Mumbai Junior Cricket team. In a city where corruption is almost a way of life, the goal comes at a price--he needs to find the money first.

The filmmakers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK deserve brownie points for their unconventional choice of the subject and most importantly for handling it so deftly. The situations in the film are simple and the tone predominantly serious, the film does offer a few laughs in patches. Direction apart, the film possesses a taut screenplay by Sita Menon, Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru which leads to an explosive, stunning, nail-biting finale. In fact, the penultimate moments are pure dynamite and any misgivings or shortcomings vanish into thin air when you watch the finale explode right there in front of your eyes. The exceptional cinematography by Tushar Kanti Ray is too hard to overlook and some truly wonderful dialogue. The film does not offer much scope for music nevertheless the two songs "Saibo", a romantic duet by Shreya Ghoshal and Tochi Raina and an infectious "Karma Is A Bitch" do catch your attention.

Shor In The City clearly belongs to the men while the women take a backseat. All the men: Tusshar Kapoor, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Nikhil Dwivedi, Pitobash and Sundeep shine in their respective roles. In this film, Tusshar Kapoor displays a humane side which is sure to win hearts. Pitobash is outstanding and without doubt, the new discovery of the season. Sendhil is efficient, displaying helplessness and anger with remarkable ease, while Nikhil is striking. Sundeep showcases vulnerability with natural ease. Amit Mistry is remarkable while Zakir Hussain is excellent.

Summing up, Shor In The City is a film which even the ardent moviegoer will like. It is not your standard Hindi entertainer and nor does it have the customary flippant and trivial humour, it prides itself on a certain distinctive Indian appeal with elements of adventure, thrill and drama with its understated and minimalist humour which makes it out stand out in the crowd. Too bad that this released during the IPL season which is why it went unnoticed. I would sincerely request you not to miss this one.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Jao Pakhi

Go, fly bird sing, breezes blowing
Misty the window's glass...
Have I lost me or could it be
A fairy tale at last?

Here and there fireflies spark,
Golden moon lost in waters dark.
In the window, piled clouds above.

Go cloud go, keep an eye on my love...
Go, fly bird sing, breezes blowing
Misty the window's glass
Have I lost me or could it be
A fairy tale at last?

Here and there fireflies spark
Golden moon lost in waters dark
In the window piled clouds above
Go cloud go, keep an eye on my love...

Go, fly bird sing, breezes blowing
Misty the window's glass
Have I lost me...?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Lonely Night

Night, O ambassador of black,
Night, O envoy of dark.
The moon's mate, O night,
You come to me forlorn.

An era has passed and yet,
You come to me alone?
The mood is solemn...
... Only the crickets mourn.

The moon's mate, O night,
You come to me forlorn.
Where is your friend, the elusive moon?
Why do you come alone?

Extinguish the twilight, eclipse the dark...
... I only wish to speak
To the pitch in black.
The night is sad...
... It's heavy with grief...
.... Sitting in its own dark shadow.

The moon's mate, O night,
You come to me forlorn.
An era has passed since we met last,
And yet, you come alone?

Extinguish the twilight, eclipse the dark...
... I only wish to speak...
... To the pitch in black.

The darkness is maddening
Opaque and dense.
It pricks, it stings;
It's a welcome offence.
I seek its lap,
To end my day...
... I join its embrace...
... To veil my dismay.

Like my black renegade kohl,
It streams down my face.
The moon's mate, O night,
You come to me forlorn.
Where is your friend, the elusive moon?
Why do you come alone?

Extinguish the twilight, eclipse the dark...
... I only wish to speak...
... To pitch in the black.

The night is sad...
It's heavy with grief...
Sitting in its own shadow...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Rimjhim Gire Saawan...

My brother in London has learnt all about the British predilection for discussing the weather--was about how the rains were going to make a complete wash-out of September. The summer there was effectively over, according to the weather forecast officials, from now on it was going to be rain all the way.

The sadness and disappointment on the faces of the Britishers was almost palpable, as everyone glumly seemed to agree that it was indeed time to put away those sundresses and shorts and bring out the brollies and boots (not that you can ever put them away in England, which is famous for showing you all the four seasons in the course of a single day). The days of the balmy sunshine were over; from now on it was going to be wet, wet, wet.

As I nodded along sympathetically at my brother, I couldn't help marvelling at the very different attitude the Britishers and we Indians have to the rains. In India, we crave for it during the long summer months when temperatures climb into the stratosphere. We count the days down to the arrival of the monsoon on our shores. We get rather stroppy if it doesn't arrive on time. We measure every inch of rain to make sure that we have got our entire annual quota. We keep a jealous eye out for other cities, which may have got a little more of the downpour. A bad monsoon can make us very bad-tempered (not least because of its effect on the economy).

Yes, we love the rains--about as much as the Britishers abhor it. You could well say that this is because of those poor souls have too much of good thing, with it drizzling down every single day (at least, it certainly feels that way). Since we have to suffer through a long, hot, dusty summer, we long for the relief that the rains bring along with them. In a sense, perhaps, for all our new-fangled urban ways, we are still an agricultural country by heart. The sight of the rains is an indication that we will have a good harvest this year. Remember the rain song "Ghanana Ghanan" in Lagaan, as the whole village turns out to celebrate the advent of the first monsoon clouds in the village?

In India, our attitude to the rain is much like that of a small child looking out eagerly for a much-awaited treat--and then jumping with joy when it finally arrives. No matter how old you are, if you are an Indian, there is a sense of joy and abandon attached to the rains.

As a kid, I remember stripping down to my vest and running down to the compound when the first rainstorms hit. All the children of the building would congregate at the compound, yelling and screaming with excitement, as they were soaked to the skin in the downpour. Once again, the rains had accumulated in puddles, we would make little paper boats and sail them, having impromptu competitions to see which one of them lasted the longest in water.

Even now that I am all grown up, there is still something irresistible about the idea of going for a walk in the rain, quite unprotected by an umbrella or a raincoat. Nothing quite matches the feel of rain water as it drops down in tiny droplets on your face or streams down your head or even gathers around your shoes making them squelch so satisfactorily.

This probably explains why rains are such a staple of romance in India--both in real-life and in the movies. Young lovers walk along the beach in Juhu as raindrops pelt down; honeymooners book themselves a cottage in Goa during the monsoons; and Hindi film heroines all the way from Madhubala to Zeenat Aman, Mumtaz to Sridevi to Katrina Kaif obligingly slip into see-through chiffon sarees before dancing in the rain with their co-stars.

Of course, it's not all about young love alone. Rains have a special significance for families as well. Some of them drive down to the seaside or by a lake to watch the rain come down. Others hunker down time to play antakshari or dumb charades. Some spend time listening to the many songs that celebrate the season. Then, there are those who make the most of rainy days by snuggling down in bed with a good book and a piping hot cup of tea (much as the English would make the most of sunny days by basking in the gardens, with a glass of gin and tonic or a tumbler of Pimms within reach).

Needless to say, a whole school of cuisine has been built around the monsoons. In the north, the first sign of showers has the matriarch of the house setting on a pan of oil to deep-fry some pakodas. In Bengal, the rain is the signal to cook some hot khichuri with lots of ghee floating on top. In Gujarat, it's time for some dal vadas with chillies and salted onions for added oomph. In Maharashtra, they bring on the "gavathi chaha" (grass tea) and sabudana vadas.

As for me, the rains are the perfect excuse to take a day off, sit well back on the window sill and simply stare at the sky pouring down. The cup of tea is mandatory though I wouldn't decline if someone asked me for a plate of pakodas if someone asked me politely. :)