Sunday, 30 December 2012


Indiagate, that's right, just like America had Watergate. The reason I chose this title is because it points out to a larger malaise: the failure to protect girls in India. This happens to a girl who believed that she was "safe" in modern India while returning from a 6 pm show. Can we even justify the premise for a brutal gang rape such as this? It's a tough question which would again receive subjective answers. Maybe, somewhere, we are innately evil and it's just the societal laws and rules that keep governing us and our evilness gets repressed. As a quote from Lord of The Flies by William Golding says: "Maybe there is a beast...maybe it's only us." 

It is indeed that her life was abbreviated due to the insensitivity of a few men. Worse still, the nation woke up to the heartbreaking news of her death on a Saturday morning. We didn't know her name nor were we shown her face and despite the immense anonymity surrounding her identity, she became a symbol. A symbol of hope, collective anger and truth. Her death, unfortunately, led to a thousand dreams being shattered. 

It's not often that I cry and though I never knew her, the loss was a deeply personal one. As we head into the new year, it becomes extremely important for us to pause and introspect on which is better--to have laws and agree, or to hunt and kill? It's not that we are choosing to only focus on one victim. But it does seem that for many the horror has hit home with this one brutal attack. 

Our impotence stares at us miserably as we collectively fails to protect girls like her. In a country which proclaims itself on the road to being a superpower, it is indeed unfortunate that our political class makes insensitive statements. As a father of three daughters, one would ideally expect the Prime Minister to feel the pain. Instead, the Prime Minister asks "theek hain?" as though it is a theatrical performance. It is indeed unfortunate that the government uses patronizing tones to tone down the anger on the streets. 

Our economic growth statistics do not mean anything unless our attitudes and thought process undergo a change. The transformation can happen only if we realize that it is our personal transformation that transforms the nation. Mahatma Gandhi had asked us to be the change we wish to see. While it is indeed sad that the year ended on such a depressing note due to her death, she is still a survivor even in death as she has shaken a nation's conscience. Her death gave rise to repressed public anger manifesting on the streets and it is indeed positive to see how she could stir emotions while fighting to live.

As Virginia Woolf once said: "The eyes of others are our prisons and their thoughts are our cages." The quote could not have been more apt in light of the rapists. While I certainly demand the toughest possible punishment for these victims, I am also of the opinion that the faces of the rapists should not be covered. There is absolutely no honour attached when commits a rape and the honour (if any) has to be stripped. 

As we enter into the new year, let us hope that we can renew our commitment that security remains the most basic birthright an individual can be born with. The year 2013 must be dedicated to improving security and welfare of women by strengthening laws so that girls can live with dignity and without fear. In the coming year, I hope that we evolve as a society strong enough not to penetrate deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. In 2013, my only wish is that justice should prevail and let positivity uplifts the nation!

"For last year's words belong to last year's language,
And next year's words await another voice. 
And to make an end is to make a beginning."

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A Christmas(y) Tale

So, it's finally Christmas! To begin with, it takes me with great wonder on how I used to buy this idea of Santa Claus as a child. Sure, our popular fiction and childhood stories surrounding near the tale of Christmas always fed us with the idea of having a fat man with a snow white beard who lived in somewhere in the Arctic Circle. Yes, it is Christmas time and I once again find myself writing about Santa. 

This year, I followed Santa's journey from the Arctic Circle to respective homes of children using Google Maps. I still love visiting departmental stores and shopping malls around this time just to feel the Yuletide spirit. I have always wondered and still wonder on how each Santa looks different from the previous one I saw before. Despite my rants about his existence, here is a wishlist that Santa would gift me in the new year:

* A Longer Attention Span: This is one of the most common topics that all journalists and writers keep talking about how the Internet can pose as a major distraction. So, this year, the top activity in my priority list is a longer attention span with a significant increase in my reading abilities without getting distracted. There have been instances where I have been a racy thriller and I have stopped reading in the middle and somehow find myself on Google doing "research". 

* World Peace: At a glance, it does sound silly. Yet, this is something that I have been praying. It's been a long time since my parents inculcated that it's selfish to pray for oneself and think of the less fortunate while praying. Hence, I once again find myself praying for world peace. 

* Security: The past few days have been extremely tragic. In the coming year, I hope Santa can gift us a peaceful and secure country where a woman can walk on the roads without having to be blamed for her clothes.   

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Polls: Ours and Theirs

As the enigma surrounding the Presidential elections of the United States fades, I believe it is the right time to introspect and reflect about the way elections are conducted in India and there. To begin with, our Indian elections are very colourful since there are so many layers to the general elections including propaganda. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, the Presidential candidates are pitted against each other to debate in public viewing facing television cameras. 

Most of our Indian politicians often shy away from visiting TV studios. Similarly, the grace with which a debate in the US is conducted is layered with dignity and finesse and is based on mutual respect. While, in India, if we were to have a debate such as theirs, I fear it would be reduced to a mud-slinging match. 

Secondly, the speech delivered by the newly elected President Barack Obama talks about the great American dream. The President's inspiring speech reminded us that about the fractured mandate that India is facing today and also highlighted all that's wrong with our slowing down economy. How the road ahead towards realization of the American dream is secondary but then that's ultimately how inspiring their speeches are. Somehow, we seem to have been so used to listening to the rehashed sentences from previously quoted speeches that we have become oblivious to it. Coupled with our politicians who fail to rouse any confidence or inspire any emotion among the Indian masses. Even in defeat, Mitt Romney's speech sounded so graceful. It is hard for me to imagine Indian politicians accepting defeat so gracefully without levelling allegations such as the rigged ballots etc. The speech by Mitt Romney proved that compassion and mutual respect are the two most important core values that are missing from India's political theatre today. 

The focus is primarily on the Presidential elections and watching the elections as a viewer is a real delight. The recently concluded US elections have several lessons for countries facing elections. One of them clearly is to be more inclusive and it is a better ticket to win. With 20 million tweets, the Election Day becoming the most tweeted about event in the political history of the United States, it reminded us that the change we need can only arrive if there is an attitudinal change and mindset towards the way elections are perceived. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian

Arundhathi Subramaniam

This poem "To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian" takes on the West's demands for ethnic authenticity with a rhetoric that's just about as rustic as a mouth-freshened global village. To begin with, the poem itself is a surprising display of wit and ire. Drawing on her experiences, Arundhathi describes her poem in the following words: "This is a poem addressed ostensibly to a Welsh critic but he's just a peg to talk about. A pet peeve. This is really a poem to all those voices telling us how to belong. How to be post-colonial, how to be South Asian, how to be modern, how to be contemporary, how to be Hindu, how to be woman." 

To The Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian:

You believe you know me,
wide-eyed Eng Lit type
from a sun-scalded colony,
reading my Keats--or is it yours--
while my country detonates 
on your television screen.

You imagine you've cracked
my deepest fantasy--
oh, to be in an Edwardian vicarage,
living out my dharma
with every sip of dandelion tea
and dreams of the weekend jumble sale...

You may have a point.
I know nothing about silly mid-offs,
I stammer through my Tamil,
and I long for a nirvana
that is hermetic,
bottled in Switzerland,
money back guaranteed.

This business about language,
how much of it is mine,
how much yours,
how much from the mind,
how much from the gut,
how much is too little,
how much too much,
how much from the salon,
how much from the slum,
how I say verisimilitude,
how I say Brihadaranyaka
how I say vazhapazham--
it's all yours to measure,
the pathology of my breath,
the halitosis of gender,
my homogenized plosives
about as rustic as a mouth-freshened global village.

Arbiter of identity,
remake me as you will.
Write me a new alphabet of danger
a new patois to match
the Chola bronze of my skin.
Teach me how to come of age
in a literature you've bark-scratched
into scripture.
Smear my consonants
with cow-dung and turmeric and godhuli.
Pity me, sweating, 
rancid, on the other side of the counter.

Stamp my papers,
lease me a new anxiety,
grant me a visa
to the country of my birth.
Teach me how to belong,
the way you do,
on every page of world history.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Movie Review: Uttarayan

There are films that try to tell emotionally complex stories and succeed in making an impact. The 2005 Marathi movie "Uttarayan" does just that. Adapted from the Marathi play "Durgi" by Jaywant Dalvi, the film remains true to the theme and concept for the most part. The film explores the concept of love and companionship in old age. 

The story is told through Raghuvir Rajadhyaksha (Shivaji Satam). He is a widower for the past 14 years and has been staying alone in Nagpur. He visits Mumbai for the wedding of his 30 year old son. He meets his teenage playmate Kusumavati (Neena Kulkarni), who works as a librarian. Kusumavati is now known as Durgi as her husband's family in Pune rechristened her name post marriage. She has been through a traumatic marriage because her husband, despite being a barrister, was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Durgi is back in Mumbai and is taking care of her aging mother (Uttara Baokar) and the film talks about how they rediscover their love in their fifties. 

Both the lead actors Shivaji Satam and Neena Kulkarni have acted well. Shivaji Satam almost identifies himself as a widower thereby bringing out the emotions with utmost ease and perfection. Neena Kulkarni, as always, is restrained and good in her role as a librarian. Uttara Baokar as Durgi's aging mother is competent though it's a fairly tiny role that she has in the movie. 

The music by Amartya Rahut is melodious. The direction by Bipin Nadkarni is engaging despite the slow pace of the movie and there are no dull moments throughout the film. The lyrics and storyline by Kaustubh Savarkar work wonders for this film. It received 12 nominations in various categories at the Alpha Gaurav Awards and bagged 7 of the 12. It also won the National Film Award for the Best Feature Film in Marathi in 2006 and was also in the contention for the Academy Award submission before Paheli was chosen. 

There is this song from the film called "Dhund Hote Shabd Saare" by Ravindra Bijor composed by Amartya Rahut. The other version sung by Bela Shende plays out during the end credits. The male version of the song is so perfectly placed capturing the time when Raghuvir and Durgi were teenagers and it almost tells you the story of the film through the song. The song plays here: 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Movie Review: It's All Gone Pete Tong

The 2005 Canadian film "It's All Gone Pete Tong" is an English film made by filmmaker Michael Dowse. The story of the film follows the life of a DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye). He is a pretty successful DJ playing music at the nightclubs of Ibiza, Spain. The film begins with the fact that he is bearing incompatible noise and one day goes completely berserk one night and is carried out from the club on shoulders. The initial part of the film focusses on his denial in accepting the fact that he is becoming deaf. It is later established that he went deaf due to high volume of music blaring through his headphones. The film follows his downward arc which is harrowing especially the way he loses his hearing ability. The inability to accept his deafness results in a lot of overacting. 

Frankie is a chemically imbalanced wreck and his wife leaves him once the money begins to run out. He then meets Penelope (Beatriz Batarda), a hard-shelled woman who can stand up to the wild side of Frankie. At the same time, also teaching him how to read lips and start life over again. 

The film follows the relentless pursuit of happiness. The story moves forward by exploring themes such as depression, insanity and alcohol or substance abuse. The story, beyond a certain point, starts becoming an effort to recapture the past bliss that he once enjoyed. There are multiple flaws in the storytelling style and yet many of the scenes with its well intentioned ideas. Scenes such as the ringing tinnitus and the conversion of sound into visible waves and the trimming of the treble and bass which produce an underwater effect is amazing and realistic.

This movie has been billed as a "mockumentary" but considering the impact and storyline of the film, it wouldn't be wrong to label this film as drama. There's an unexpected tenderness in the sincerity with which the filmmaker Dowse plunges into the disability mode without really falling into the stereotypes of disabled movies. The film has a false sense of authenticity since it opens with sound bytes received from several DJs. Summing up, this film is bright, noisy and surprisingly fulfilling which keeps the adrenaline rush under deceptively easy control. At the centre of all this is Paul Kaye, whose flat-out brilliant performance wins my vote! 

Monday, 8 October 2012

A Memorable Rush!

I have always been an adrenaline junkie and since I had done anything worthwhile to pump up the adrenaline in me, I read the notification about a blogger meet organized by IndiBlogger in collaboration with Vodafone and the deal was the Vodafone Speed Fest with Lewis Hamilton on 16th September. (Please pardon the delay!). I narrowly missed the Indian Grand Prix in Noida last year and was determined that I would not miss the Vodafone Speed Fest at any cost. I had watched Formula One races on TV and this was my first real chance to witness the event live. The thought of seeing Lewis Hamilton gave me a head rush and I had to get my heart to pump harder. 

Incidentally, it was only after the Vodafone Speed Fest that I actually found my appetite for F1 racing increasing. I had seen F1 races on TV before but I didn't know how fast these cars were meant to be. So, a 500 metre road was cordoned off for the Speed Fest and Lewis Hamilton literally burnt rubber on the roads with his car at 220 kmph. One of my former editors had told me that F1 cars were capable of hitting 370 kmph and I was just awed by the speed. Without wasting much time, here are the self-explanatory pics from the Vodafone Speed Fest:

Lewis Hamilton in conversation

That's me seated on a Vodafone McLaren car :) 

The invite for the Vodafone Speed Fest signed by the CEO of Vodafone India

Ah, empty Bombay roads!
How I wish Bombay roads were like this daily!

Indian performers with the Vodafone Speed Van

Anchors for the evening Mandira Bedi and Manish Paul in the Vodafone Speed Van

Framed Lewis Hamilton though at a distance!

A closer look at Lewis Hamilton driving his McLaren MP27 car.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Movie Review: Pather Panchali

The young Apu in Pather Panchali
The 1955 Bengali film "Pather Panchali" by filmmaker Satyajit Ray is a deeply moving tale about human emotions with a timeless simplicity. It is an authentic portrayal of day to day village life in rural Bengal narrating the tale through the eyes of a boy and his sister. Pather Panchali captures the life of four members of a family with a stunning eye for details. Horihor (Kanu Banerjee) is an intelligent but impractical man who aims to be a writer, his wife Shorbhojaya (Karuna Banerjee) has her hands full trying to make ends meet by keeping the family together with limited needs, the daughter Durga (Uma Dasgupta) and the son Apu (Subir Banerjee).  

The film depicts abject poverty and yet the children derive joy from the simple pleasures that the rustic life offers: trees, fruits, dusty paths, rains, lush green grasses, songs of birds and flowers. The story of the film is narrated through Apu's point-of-view that begins from an infant to a young boy discovering the world around him. The film documents his desire to join the jatra, the time spent in school, the first time he sees a factory and a train with very fine detailing. Hence, the film presents a touching picture of the lives of ordinary people in rural settings.

The film focusses extensively on natural imagery by capturing the raindrops on the pond, the rustling wind, the roads in the jungles filled with leaves, the reflections of the sweetmeat seller falling over the pond. The music by Pandit Ravi Shankar through his sitar is firstly at odds with the film's visuals but later comes across as a logical outcome of the events. 

Pather Panchali is Satyajit Ray's debut film and he establishes the fact that he is a master filmmaker way ahead of his times. The use of black-and-white photography along with his cinematographer Subrata Mitra is effective. The way he captures even the seemingly mundane chores such as grating coconuts confirms that he is a natural filmmaker. Some of the scenes in this deeply poetic work on celluloid are excruciatingly realistic. His camera displays an astute understanding of the world through Apu's eyes, mind and lips. 

The only major complaint I had was with the pacing. At 2 hours 6 minutes, it has an incredibly slow. There are a number of sequences which go on for longer than necessary such as the train scene which itself occupies about four minutes. In the time of Twitter and Android phones, I wonder how many of us would have the patience to sit through such a slow movie.

For a movie that is claimed to be the first part of "The Apu Trilogy", it is surprising to know that Apu's participation in this film is minimal. The film is a textured document and the simplicity in its narrative style gives it a feeling of universality. It has a poetic quality despite narrating the tale of ordinary villagers in very ordinary circumstances yet it provided insights into the tragedies of human existence. This is surely a must watch for those who seek real, expansive yet fine-tuned cinematic experiences. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Vodafone Speed Fest

The Indiblogger team recently asked bloggers whether if they were the fastest bloggers. To begin with, I had my apprehensions but I took up the challenge to ask why not? 

To begin with, this was meant for a few lucky bloggers who could not only meet Vodafone McLaren winner Lewis Hamilton but also go for a drive with him. Since he will be the one doing what he does best, I hope to play along with him. I was always fascinated with the idea of motion (read: speed) since childhood and my earliest association with speed was trains. It was just last year that the first F1 race took place in Delhi at the Buddh International Circuit and could not attend that due to non-availability of tickets. So, when the radio stations in Mumbai announced about Lewis Hamilton making it to India, I just jumped at the opportunity.

A colleague who managed the sports desk in the paper where I worked for a few months told me that the F1 cars are capable of being driven at 370 km per hour and  all I could guess was it was immensely fast. He then explained through an example of being able to reach Mumbai in a whopping 5 hours 40 minutes if one drives down from Delhi. Yes, it was purely because of this that I started watching more of Lewis Hamilton trying to observe the nuances of the driving sessions and hoped to catch the speed in real life too. I would honestly like to see whether if an F1 is indeed as fast as it looks on TV. Hence, I feel I should be one of the lucky bloggers to be allowed on a drive with Mr. Lewis Hamilton just to make me feel good with the assurance that I will be pleading for more. I honestly want to experience whether if it is possible to be driving down Mumbai and India's roads at such high speeds. 

P.S.: This post has been written for "Are you the fastest Indian blogger?"-- "The Vodafone Speed Fest". 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

* Isn't that a sort of utilitarian argument as it relates to our eventual survival? So if there is an inevitable crash, we'll all be turtles wallowing upside down in the mud. But what if there is not a crash? What if these technologies simply open up more time for things like reading to children, or good conversation?

Zerzan: Well, there may not be a crash. I'm not a so-called collapsist where I'm just banking on this all failing. I think there's a good chance that as our systems get more independent and vulnerable that some small thing could unravel, a lot of it, but I'm certainly not counting on that. It's up to us to make choices, not just sit around wait for the whole thing to fall apart. But yeah, there are tradeoffs. That's why people buy these things; they do have use value and you can find the attractive part of the exchange. Like you just said, you can pay attention to your family, you can do something valuable, or maybe you'll just look at another screen. Unfortunately, if you look at what is actually happening, if you look at it empirically, we're spending more and more of our time looking at one tiny screen or another that gets back to mediation, the sense that there are more and more layers between us and the things that matter.

* Getting back to Jobs' legacy, is there an Apple product, or an Apple-enabled product that you regard as particularly corrosive to culture?

Zerzan: I was reading in The New York Times about this Baby Cry app for the iPhone that interprets the cry of a baby when it wakes up, whether it's wet or hungry or whatever. I look at that and I think to myself the human species has been around for two million years and now we have a fucking machine to tell us what our babies' cries mean. If that isn't horrendous, I don't know what is. To me, that is just so telling about our dependence on this stuff and you can say this is a loony example, but is it not indicative of where we're heading? It's everywhere, this dependency. When did you need a life coach? When were there billions and billions of dollars in self-help books? 

As for Jobs himself, I was reading all of these editorials talking about the elegance of Apple and what Jobs did to reintroduce an aesthetic and I thought to myself: you've got millions of these devices which are the exact same thing and which to me are pretty sterile: where is the artistry? Isn't that more of the massification of everything? You've got all of these iPhones that are absolutely identical and yet shouldn't there be something in there that's personally distinct or something with your own stamp on it? It seems to me a spurious claim to say that Jobs gave us all this artistry and aesthetics; that's only true in a completely mass produced sense. Is that how we now define artistry and aesthetics? I would hope not.

* In closing, if we look at five hundred years--crash or no crash--how do you see Jobs being remembered?

Zerzan: If we survive that long, we're not going to have a positive image of Jobs, because at some point we're going to realize where all of this "elegant" technology comes from. It all rests on industrialization, ugly stuff that we don't want to think about right now, stuff that's happening in India and China. You can wax poetically about this clean, gleaming thing that is the Steve Jobs product, but in order to get it you have to have the ugly, systematic assault on the natural world. That's the other obvious thing that hasn't been a part of the conversation either. If we continue at this rate, we'll be lucky to make it fifty years. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

* Taking your premise that technology is a bad thing or at least a bad thing for human communities, do you regard technological innovators like Steve Jobs as especially bad actors relative to the rest of us who merely use technology?

Zerzan: I do. I'll give you an extreme case. During the whole Unabomber ordeal in the late 90s, the media would occasionally interview me and try to get me say that "it was great that somebody would send bombs in the mail to these people" which I never said and which I don't believe. I respond that while I did not believe in sending bombs to people in the mail that did not mean that these people, the targets, were innocent. People like Jobs who devise this "Brave New World" type stuff are choosing and there's a moral dimension to those choices. I remember Steward Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog saying at one time that "in the sixties some of us realized the question was 'technology, yes or no?' and we basically answered yes." That includes people like Leary and Kesey and others who thought there was this great promise to technology, that we could achieve all of these things through the magic of computers. That was a conscious choice by some of these people and it was the wrong choice. So you have to ask, critically, how has it worked out? It's not just a question for theory, it's an empirical question: what does society look like that embraces that goes full tilt for that way of living? 

* Is that fair, though? To push you a little bit on that point, is it fair to regard technology as a whole? Why can't we select among technologies empirically to see which ones are doing the real cultural harm, instead of hanging everything bad that's come of technology on that single choice from the sixties, that 'yes or no'?

Zerzan: That's a fair point and I'll tell you I was very involved in the sixties and I didn't have a clue what was coming, so it is out of line to demonize somebody like Stewart Brand, although he's had a lot of time to reassess that choice and he's only deepened his embrace of the whole techno thing. I guess I'd have to say again, I don't think it is so much of individual devices, but rather a whole orientation to reality and to life and to community that's become mediated. I could mention Martin Heidegger who looked at it as something much more basic, as really how you relate to the world; he felt that when pushed far enough along everything basic becomes fuel for technology.

Everything becomes a technological question and everything else is ruled out. That's why he called technology: the end of philosophy, because these really technical questions come to override everything else. To some extent, you can see that in politics now, where the regime seems to have become much more technically oriented and the real human questions are just subsumed under the weight of technocracy. You can go all the way back to simple stone tools and then follow it all the way out, in terms of the values or the choices that are embedded there. For example, if you look at simple stone tools, before you get to systems and technology, they don't require much specialization or division of labour and accordingly, you can see the potential tool for equality: anyone makes this tool, anyone can use it and you don't depend on an expert for using it. But as we move ahead in technological time, the need for a lot of specialists and experts gives those specialists and experts gives us those specialists and experts total power over us and that's a disabling and de-skilling process. It involves everything you can think of; people used to work on their cars, but now there are hundreds of computer sensors that prevent a normal person from tinkering around under the hood of a car. Kids' way back could make their own radio set. There was a time when you could still have some access or some agency, but now you need an expert. That's not healthy. We have to re-skill ourselves in my view, or else we're just sitting there passively waiting for the next thing to buy. 

* Where would you place a figure like Jobs within the spectrum of technological innovators, with particular attention to what you described earlier as the moral dimension of innovation?

Zerzan: Well, he was obviously very good at figuring out how to make these things, these devices, easier to use. He did it with marketing and with technology that cut across generations so that people like didn't have to figure out programming or anything. Instead, we just sort of crudely move our fingers across a screen and there it all is. But if you follow that long enough, eventually you don't need to know anything, you can just be inert, a blob and lay there and push a button and then what happens to our place in the world? We use to walk around on this planet and have some autonomy and capability of knowing how to do things. If you don't know how to do anything, then ultimately if and when the system crashes, we're screwed, because we don't know the simplest things--and I include myself in that. I don't have many actual skills, in terms of interacting with this we live on. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Ross Anderson
The Atlantic Online

One has had to work hard to find an ill-written word about Steve Jobs, the technologist. While some have attacked Steve as a personality or as a ruthless businessman, even his harshest critics have agreed that his dazzling inventions have been a force for good in the world. 

Hence, you might think of John Zerzan as anti-Steve Jobs. Zerzan is an intellectual leader of the anarcho-primitivist movement, an ideology that regards technology as a destroyer of human communities. His first brush with national prominence came after a 1995 interview with The New York Times in which he expressed some sympathy with the ideas, if not the methods of Ted Kaczynski. Yesterday, I spoke to Zerzan by phone in order to gather his thoughts on what Jobs meant to the world of technology and to our culture at large.

* As someone openly opposed to technological progress, have you been frustrated by all of the public mourning and tributes that has been attended Steve Jobs' passing?

Zerzan: I am, though I'm not surprised at all given the popularity of these devices and the cultural predominance of technology. Steve Jobs has been in the limelight for so many years, you kind of expect that this would happen, that there would be these different ecomiums etc. 

There's an interesting contrast to the reaction to the innovators of the early Industrial Revolution. For example, the inventors of the power loom for the first textile factories in England; I was reading recently these accounts of how they used to have slink around and hide their work and identities. They were spat upon and even chased down in the streets because they were so hated. And now look at Jobs, there's all of these vigils and tributes, even a huge spread in The Wall Street Journal the other day calling him "a secular saint".

One of the things I noticed in the obits and letters to the editor about Jobs was the recurrent notion that he enhanced our connectivity. This is something that strikes me as such an irony. We're all connected now, we're all wired, we have this complete ease of contact with everybody--but it's also obvious that the more society becomes entrenched in these so-called connecting technologies, the more isolated we are as individuals. It's clear the machines are connected, but to what extent are humans connected? Everybody's on their cellphone all the time, to me it's like zombies, you walk along the street and people bump into you because they're so enthralled by these devices. 

* I wonder if that's a criticism best levelled at particular technologies, or even certain features of those technologies. It might be the case that certain gadgets are pushing people apart, while others actually enable the community. For example, Facetime for the iPhone allows families to video conference when they're apart. So even if I grant you that these large technological trends are widening the space between people, can't some individual technologies work to bridge those spaces? 

Zerzan: Well, there are these band-aids, these substitutes, of course there are. That's the appeal, that's why they're popular, but in the meantime we're more and more dispersed. And don't get me wrong I use them too. I have a close friend in Serbia. How often am I going to see him? Not very often, so I rely on a fixed version of the technology you're describing. But those are consolations and you ultimately have to look at what's being traded away. When you weight the whole ensemble of this, the whole culture of this and you see the direction it's going, and again getting back to the community, which to me is really the key thing, it's evaporating. So I look at the technology not so much in terms of specific devices or even features, but rather than the overall thing. What is modernity now? Where is it going? What is holding it together?

You have these extreme sociological phenomena like mass shootings that seem to occur with some regularity now. It seems to me that when you no longer have community, and you no longer have solidarity, then almost anything can happen. And the technology isn't helping. It's no substitute for real cohesion and connection. Everybody uses that term--every politician, every developer--talks about community, but it's disappeared with the advent of mass society.

* Unpack that for me a little bit. Focussing in particular on Apple and Steve Jobs, and fortunately we don't have to zoom in much because Apple has been such a big player in a lot of technological advances of the past twenty years, at least in the consumer technology space. How do you think that those technologies are really driving people apart, or taking away from community? 

Zerzan: Well, yeah, I threw out a really general kind of thing, but it doesn't seem coincidental that what is really accelerating more than anything is the PACE of technological change, and people in social theory don't pay much attention to that. At the same time, the bond that holds society together seems to be loosening with the advance of mass culture. Again, I'm talking about technology on a more fundamental level, not just Apple devices specifically. On one hand technological change is proceeding apace, and on another people are being driven further apart. Of course, this is an overnight thing, but when you look at this historically, it's not going well.

* It sounds like you're saying that rather than connect the dots from particular technologies or even technological trends to this creeping sense of human isolation, all you have to do is zoom out and notice that the two dominant features of modern life are rapid technological changes and the fraying of human community. But I'm not so sure that people are obviously drifting apart from one another. In fact, there might be some empirical evidence that people are, as you've even said, more connected than ever. You mentioned mass shootings as one signpost, but those are still fairly anomalous, so what are the other symptoms that you associate with that fraying, what makes it especially obvious to you that we're drifting apart as a species? 

Zerzan: One of the things I often point to in lectures is a study I saw in an American sociological journal that looked at how many friends adults have over a twenty year period from 1985 to 2005. In the study, the definition of a friend was someone you'd consider as a confidant. Anyway, after thousands and thousands of interviews these researchers determined that in the mid eighties the average American adult had three friends, but that in 2005 that figure had come down to two. That's fifty percent fewer over twenty years. The study also noted that the number of people with no friends at all had tripled. 

I was talking to Sherry Terkel, from M.I.T. who writes about new technologies from the point of view of a psychologist and she gave a talk here at the University of Oregon a couple of years ago, with a special reference to her daughter who was 13 at the time. She was talking about the toll that total immersion in technology has on the human soul and she was saying that at a certain age, her daughter didn't really grasp the difference between something that's living or animate and something that's a machine. She was really staggered, really appalled by this and as a result, it was a very moving lecture. In the end and this is typical of commentary about the nefarious effects of technology, she just kind of shrugged and smiled as if to say: "Oh well, that's modernity for you" and sat down. I said to her, "wait a second, you can't give us this two hour picture of how desensitized and machine-like we've become and then just shrug and say oh well." That's ethical and intellectual bankruptcy.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Movie Review: Mathulikal

The 1989 Malayalam film "Mathulikal" is based on the 75 page Malayalam novel of the same name by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. Mathulikal is one of the most cherished and well-known love stories in Malayalam. The story of the novel is semi-autobiographical. 

The movie begins with Basheer (Mamootty) being jailed for writing against the British. He is confined to a narrow space of a prison cell. The cells are separated by the presence of tall walls (Mathulikal). To combat his solitary confinement, he tries talking to a fellow inmate present in the other side of the wall which happens to be the women's cell. The lady from the women's cell who responds back to Basheer is Narayani and they start talking to each other. It is interesting to know that this film never reveals who she is or how Narayani looks like. Hence, he is also not aware of her age despite this, they fall in love with each other. Throughout the film, it is just her voice which is heard. It is these little conversations with her which help him sustain the torture and isolation of solitary confinement.

The film by Adoor Gopalakrishnan is carefully crafted with adequate attention on silences. Secondly, the pace of this movie is extremely slow yet it is an engaging viewing. The lilts and the intonations of the dialogues mouthed by Narayani in itself is one reason to follow the story. Secondly, it is one of the few movies where the voice is being used as the main prop without revealing how Narayani looks like. The film is made in Malayalam and yet do not limit yourself ignore this movie. Do watch it for the different style of storytelling and its faceless romance. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Wikileaks and Free Speech

Michael Moore and Oliver Stone
The New York Times

We have spent our careers as filmmakers making the case that the news media in the United States often fail to inform Americans about the uglier actions of our own government. We therefore have been deeply grateful for the accomplishments of WikiLeaks, and applaud Ecuador's decision to grant diplomatic asylum to its founder, Julian Assange, who is now living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. 

Ecuador has acted in accordance with important principles of international human rights. Indeed, nothing could demonstrate the appropriateness of Ecuador's action more than the British government's threat to violate a sacrosanct principle of diplomatic relations and invade the embassy to arrest Assange.

Since WikiLeaks' founding, it has revealed the "Collateral Murder" footage that shows the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a US Apache attack helicopter; further fine-grained detail about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; US collusion with Yemen's dictatorship to conceal our responsibility for bombing strikes there; the Barack Obama administration's pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and much more. 

Predictably, the response from those who would prefer that Americans remain in the dark has been ferocious. Top elected leaders from both parties have called Assange a "high-tech terrorist". Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has demanded that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Most Americans, Britons and Swedes are unaware that Sweden has not formally charged Assange with any crime. Rather, it has issued a warrant for his arrest to question him about allegations of sexual assault in 2010.

All such allegations must be thoroughly investigated before Assange moves to a country that might put him beyond the reach of the Swedish justice system. But it is the British and Swedish governments that stand in the way of an investigation, not Assange. Swedish authorities have travelled to other countries to conduct interrogations when needed, and the WikiLeaks founder has made clear his willingness to be questioned in London. Moreover, the Ecuadorean government made a direct offer to Sweden to allow Assange to be interviewed within Ecuador's embassy. In both instances, Sweden refused.

Assange has also committed to travelling to Sweden immediately if the Swedish government pledges that it will not extradite him to the US. Swedish officials have shown no interest in exploring this proposal, and foreign minister Carl Bidt recently told a legal adviser to Assange and WikiLeaks unequivocally that Sweden would not make such a pledge. The British government would also have the right under the relevant treaty to prevent Assange's extradition to the US from Sweden, and has also refused to pledge that it would use this power. Ecuador's attempt to facilitate that arrangement with both governments were rejected.

Taken together, the British and Swedish governments' actions suggest to us that their real agenda is to get Assange to Sweden. Because of treaty and other considerations, he probably could be more easily extradited from there to the US to face charges. Assange has every reason to fear such an outcome. The justice department recently confirmed that it was continuing to investigate WikiLeaks and just disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that "the US investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year."

WikiLeaks itself has published emails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Assange. History indicates Sweden would buckle to any pressure from the US to hand over Assange. In 2001, the Swedish government delivered two Egyptians seeking asylum to the CIA, which rendered them to the Mubarak regime, which tortured them. 

If Assange is extradited to the US, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the US can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia and China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not. 

We urge the people of Britain and Sweden to demand that their governments answer some basic questions: Why do the Swedish authorities refuse to question Assange in London? Why can't neither government promise that Assange will not be extradited to the US? The citizens of Britain and Sweden have a rare opportunity to make a stand for free speech on behalf of the entire globe. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Movie Review: The Artist

The 2012 French romantic drama film "The Artist" is a silent film shot entirely in black-and-white. The events are narrated through occasional lines of dialogues printed on inter title cards. The period and setting makes it obvious that the story is set in the early 1930s at the cusp when talkie films became the norm and silent movies were gradually fading out. 

The Artist begins with a premiere of silent movie superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is screening his latest film to a rapturous audience. He is in every frame like an actual silent movie actor. Following the premiere, he is clicked with Peppy Miller, who wins  a small role in his next film. George is proud of his fame and tries to get the maximum attention when on stage, leaving behind his co-stars. He helps Peppy Miller (Benerice Bejo), a young lady to enter stardom and on the run, scripts his own downfall with her rise. Sound comes to Hollywood and the industry is transformed and Peppy Miller becomes an overnight star as the audiences cannot seem to get enough of her raspy voice (which, unfortunately, is never heard through the film) and star power soars. 

Meanwhile, George continues to write and direct silent films. The film at this stage provide us with two striking metaphors. First, George meets Peppy on a staircase from where the camera frames three floors, capturing her going up as he's going down and second where his jungle adventure tale called "Tears of Love" ends with him sinking into quicksands. 

The lead actors are witty and affecting and are equally good in support. The film is well executed and the filmmaker explores most of the conventions of silent cinema. The film is a perfect blend of comedy, drama and romance. The writing is splendid and the direction is above average. It is a complete silent movie which goes beyond paying homage to the silent era of Hollywood, but is a dazzling tale of love and loss. Summing up, the film has nearly everything that a viewer looks for in a movie: innocence and weightage to acting. The Artist is one of the finest and the most heart-warming love stories of 2012. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A Flawed Freedom

We inch closer to another 15th August and I think this is the right time for us to introspect on the very idea of "freedom". Theoretically, we are taught to believe that we are free but think of it on a deeper level, are we really free? Hence, it becomes important for us to reflect and debate who is technically free a man/woman and who isn't? Freedom holds different meanings for different people. For me personally, real freedom would when we overcome obstacles such as censorship, manual scavenging, repressive laws and moral policing and to live without being mocked at. 

Our Government loves censoring content. In Iran, we have a talented filmmaker like Jafar Panahi who has been banned from making films till 2030. Closer home, the Government here often talks about censoring online content and filtering "obscene" content floating online. A film like "Paanch" is termed being radical in approach and is accused of having a communal colour hence it is not allowed to be released in theatres. The NCERT textbooks are now devoid of political cartoons because it offends the sensibilities of our politicians. 

However modern and civilized we claim to be, we have a cop who goes around with a hockey stick and of course, not to forget the moral police who invoke repressive laws to keep our society in control and to protect the "Indian culture". A mature society should have the ability to decide what kind of laws protect the interests of the society at large. Invoking repressive laws to keep the society at bay is not a solution as it encourages a negative mindset about the type of people in a society such as this where repressive laws are invoked. As citizens of a free country, we must have the right to choose and party the way we want to without the fear of being thrown out due to a few cops.  

We should be able to drive down home even at 3 am without the fear of being shot at similar to what happened to journalist Soumya Viswanathan without being dubbed as being "adventurous". We should have the right to dress the way we want to without being apologetic and answerable to anyone. We should also respect and be free walk down the roads without being stared or being mocked at. 

It is only when we achieve this kind of a society that we can truly claim our freedom. Perhaps, for the time being, we have to agree with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: "Nothing has been purchased more dearly than the little bit of reason and sense of freedom which now constitutes our pride." On that note, wishing you a Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Movie Review: Balgandharva

The 2011 Marathi film "Balgandharva" by filmmaker Ravi Jadhav is a biographical film on Narayan Sripad Rajhans popularly known as Balgandharva. The name was bestowed to Narayan by Lokmanya Tilak after listening to his public performance in Pune while he was very young. The film has been produced and designed effectively by art director Nitin Desai. 

The film is set in a period before the advent of cinema. Hence, the most popular medium for entertainment was sangeet nataks (drama based music). Balgandharva won many hearts in his roles he played as a woman because women did not perform roles on stage then. The film is set in between the real plays performed by the actor-singer. On the opening day of his play "Sangeet Manapmaan", his infant daughter dies. The determination to continue despite his daughter's death is one of the most poignant scenes in cinema I've come across lately. He enthralls the audience with his performance as Bhamini and fully devoting himself towards his passion for drama and singing, he overlooks his family.

As he grows older and cinema is introduced, theatre fails to grab audiences. He acts in the "Dharmatma" with Prabhat Film Company by V. Shantaram as Sant Eknath. Unfortunately, he never likes the methodologies of film production and abandons it after only one film though the deal was signed for six films. When he meets his fan and singer Gohar Jaan Karnataki who acts in his play "Saubhadra", he finds himself at odds playing Krishna instead of Saubhadra. 

The film depicts his obsession with the art form, his lack of commercial sense and fall from grace and his unflinching dignity even as he is on the verge of being declared as an insolvent. The cinematography by Mahesh Limaye is really wonderful. His camera wonderfully captures an era before the arrival of cinema. Subodh Bhave as Balgandharva is wonderful in his role. There are 21 songs in the film of which 17 feature in the film. Many of the songs used in the movie are original compositions used by the Maestro during his plays. The music for the film has been brilliantly recreated by music composer Kaushal S. Inamdar and classical singer Anand Bhate's voice as Balgandharva reintroduces some of the finest songs from natyasangeet to a modern audience. 

Summing up, the film succeeds in opening up the pages of Maharashtra's illustrious folk culture and recreating a period when sangeet nataks were the most popular form of entertainment. On the whole, the film is an engaging chronicle which depicts the golden age of Marathi theatre. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Sion Fort

Sion Fort
History, for some reason, has always been associated with north India. In fact, a constant grouse voiced by those who come to visit Mumbai as tourists from that part of the country is that "there isn't much to see here." True, we are nowhere close to competing with the legends of the North Indian plains and their long list of rulers and heritage sites or with the artistic temples of the South. But spread across the city are lesser known and some completely unheard of forts which are sure to keep the history buff in you satiated. 

The Sion Fort is one such fort which is located within the immediate suburbs of Mumbai. The original name of Sion in Marathi is "Shinva" (शिनवा), which is also known as "Sheev" (शीव ), which means a boundary or an entrance to a city or a village. Sion is one of the seven islands of Bombay and formed the boundary between Bombay and Salsette Islands. Due to its strategic location at the absolute end of the Bombay islands, the area was fortified to act as an outpost and lookout point. 

It is located at the summit of a conical hillock and hence the Sion Fort was provided with a small watchtower and one breastwork with 9 to 10 guns, 60 soldiers and 1 captain. Old Gazette records say at the borders of Sion, there was a large gate with a police station. This gate was closed once the cannon was fired at eight pm in the night and the gate was opened when the cannon was heard in the morning. At the mid level, a large fresh water tank was provided which acted as a catchment area of water from the hill top thereby supplying water to the soldiers stationed at the fort. This tank is now dry and overrun with vegetation and can be accessed by means of a flight of steps. There are several small chambers to provide respite from the harsh climate with pitched roofs with country tiles and barge details, similar to the ones which are often found in the Goan-Portuguese house below the main tower. 

The fort commanded the passage from Bombay to the neighbouring island of Salsette and was of importance while the Marathas possessed the island, but it now only serves to beautify the scene. An alternative panoramic view from the vantage of Sion Fort, the view opens out to the island of Mahim. In this scene, the walls of the fort dominate the foreground, with the curving line of ramparts and imposing cannons mounted in the battlement wall. The rising staircase and buildings behind the gun carriage are surmounted by a flagstaff asserting British sovereignty over the island. Now, you get a good view of the refineries and salt pans on the east and an aerial view of the Eastern Express Highway. 

The rock-like bastion at Rewa Fort
The fort was built by the Portuguese and occupied by the Marathas and then handed over to the British under the Treaty of Salbai in May 1782, who retained it for a century. The fort was subsequently strengthened by Sir George Oxiden, the Governor of Bombay in 1668 and then by Gerald Aungier who supplied the forts of Mazgaon, Mahim and Sion with cannons. Two of these cannons still exist at the base of the hillock. 

The Sion Fort has two ramparts: the Rewa Fort and the Sion Tank. Traditionally, the Rewa Fort has been considered as part of the Salsette islands. Salsette originally consisted of dozens of smaller islands--its local name in Marathi, "Shashti" means "66 villages" which were separated by swampland. The places where the sea entered are between Rewa Fort and Mahim, Worli and Mahim Woods and between Breach Candy and Love Grove. At its Northern Extremity, the Bombay island is joined to that of Salsette by the Sion Causeway and the railway line parallel to it and by Lady Jamshedji's causeway to Bandra. A causeway from Mahim Fort at the Northwest extremity is continued eastwards past Rewa via Sion. The fusion of Salsette into Bombay was brought about through massive land reclamation projects which began in the 18th century and by the early 1900s, they had become one single island, divided from the mainland on the North by the Vasai creek and on the East by the Thane creek. Presently, the Rewa Fort has been ravaged due to the forces of nature leaving behind just a large rock-like bastion. The land that houses the Rewa Fort has been taken over by the Sion Ayurvedic College which now has a garden where medicinal plants and herbs grow as these are prescribed in the syllabus taught by the college. Hence, access to the Rewa Fort has been blocked completely in order to preserve the sanctity of the garden and the plants. 

The Sion Tank is also a partial part of the Sion Fort. The tank is surrounded by a Bhavani Shankar temple and a tiny orange coloured idol of Lord Brahma. Most Shiva temples in India have a water body either in the form of a tank, river, pond or lake. According to mythology, it is believed that having a water body in the premises of the temple helps cool down Lord Shiva who is otherwise known for His destructive anger when in the form of Rudra. Before the Eastern Express Highway cut through this sacred land, this was one continuous spiritual place which had seven ponds around it of which only one survives today. 

The Sion Fort is located at a walking distance from Sion station and you need to walk eastwards towards the Sion Flyover to reach the fort. The way up to the fort is like walking in a park and has an easy level climb up. The fort is in a dilapidated condition with broken steps, scattered walls and ruins, overrun by trees and excessive ground cover and is marked with lots of graffiti. Despite this, it makes for an ideal location especially for photographers looking for a view of the Eastern Express Highway. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Movie Review: Water

The 2005 Canadian film "Water" directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta is set in the temple town of Varanasi known as Benares in 1938. Child marriages were a common occurrence then. The film depicts the hardships faced by Hindu widows of that time. Much of the story is told through the innocent eyes of eight year old Chuyia (Sarala). 

The Indian text "Manusmriti" defines the life of a woman as someone who is perceived as a natural extension of her husband. It says if her husband dies, a woman has three choices: a) she is considered as half dead and therefore has the right to jump into the funeral pyre, b) she can marry his brother or c) live in complete isolation. If she decides to live her life in isolation, the ascetic part, she enters an ashram for the widows, tonsures her head and adopts white clothes as the colour of mourning.

The eight year old Chuyia is recently widowed and her parents bring her to this ashram where widows across all age groups stay together. In this ashram, her head is tonsured and she is made to embrace white and is made to sleep on thin mats on the floors. The widows struggle to even earn their livelihood by begging for alms and by singing religious hymns on the ghats. Chuyia does not understand what has happened to her and often asks the question why she cannot stay with her parents. 

Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) realizes Chuyia's plight and takes her under her wings. The film introduces to a foul-mouthed Patiraji whose fondest memory is eating sweets as a child, we then meet Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a young and attractive widow who is forced into prostitution by the ashram head (Manorama). The eunuch Gulabi (Raghubir Yadav) supports the matron's stand and takes Kalyani to the house of the rich men in lure of money. In a very different way, we are shown how Kalyani befriends Chuyia and invites her to play with her dog Kaalu on the second floor. Next, we meet a good-looking Narayan (John Abraham), a law student and a supporter of the "Civil Disobedience Movement". Narayan yearns for a lover which is met through Kalyani. Their romance plays out on the banks of the Ganges, in the narrow and winding ghats, amid rains etc. 

As a film, Water marks the end of the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta (the previous two being Fire and 1947 Earth). It is a bi-lingual film shot both in English and Hindi with some fine music by AR Rahman though I missed his background score. As a film, it depicts the damage caused to human spirit which happens when texts like Manusmriti are treated as timeless. The film exposes how dignity and basic human rights are concealed and denied under the garb of religion. 

Summing up, the story is deftly woven and the film is a beautiful structured narrative aligned with some stunning cinematography. The way the actors have acted in the film add an extraordinary richness and lend the film a deep complexity. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Movie Review: Do Aankhen Barah Haath

The 1957 Hindi film "Do Aankhen Barah Haath" is constructed on the basis of the saying by Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye will make the world" and is based on Gandhian philosophy. The film is a fine example of middle cinema. It begins with 12 blood-stained hands being pasted on the prison walls. The film follows the tale of 12 prisoners and one jail superintendent Adinath (V. Shantaram). The jail superintendent Adinath is in the process of reforming the 12 criminals. These criminals are charged with brutal crimes and this film focusses on the human aspect of the criminals who feel they are nothing less than born jailors.

The twelve jailors are taken to a dilapidated country farm where they are assigned the task of converting barren land into a piece of cultivable land in order to rehabilitate themselves through hardwork and kindly guidance. He is faced with lot of opposition from senior employees but it is his faith in the human spirit that encourages him to rehabilitate them. A majority of his mission is accomplished when the criminals become successful in converting a barren patch of land into cultivable land by growing fruits and vegetables. 

The movie has a very serious tone to it and hence the only female lead is Champa (Sandhya). Sandhya is a toy-seller and when she appears on the screen, there is music or dance providing some respite from the serious tone prevailing through the film. Considering that the film has 12 male characters, she is often a victim of eve-teasing by the criminals. Despite the general practice of having a love interest, Sandhya is not depicted as having any emotions for Adinath. The film does not have any dull moments due to its intense and deep storytelling structure. 

The film focusses extensively on the two eyes of Adinath which are taken in long shots. The symbolism of the two eyes and twelve hands is brought out wonderfully. It is the superintendent's eyes that the twelve hands fear the most. There is this exceptional scene in the movie when the criminals run away but they return back only because of the fear of the two eyes of Adinath which bring them back. The faith that they place in him is so immense that they would dare not betray him. 

The film is a well-rounded classic despite the film lacking in technology and being in black-and-white. It is a very revolutionary film based on a premise and a message which it conveys through the course of the film which is hailed as modern even today. The message about reform of criminals and addressing the humanitarian side of criminals. "Do Aankhen Barah Haath" is a true epic though it addresses the conflict of good v/s bad. Its storytelling and the moralistic tone makes it pathbreaking. The film was inspired by Italian neo-realistic cinema movement and is a deeply dramatic, sensitive and artistic film. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Farewell, WDS4 locos!

Rest In Peace
The Central Railway recently condemned 20 WDS4 class of locomotives thereby sounding the death knell for them. The Chittaranjan Locomotive Works completed its first diesel shunting engine in December 1967: a WDS4 locomotive with 650 HP with 48% indigenous content and was commissioned into the Indian Railways network by Mr. C.M. Poonacha, the then Railway Minister on 5th January 1968. 

The demand for separate shunting locomotives was felt to improve haulage in longer trains. At present, there are four classes of WDS4 locomotives namely: WDS4, WDS4A, WDS4B and WDS4D. The WDS4C classes of engines are rebuilt from the previous WDS3 locomotives. In Mumbai, they were initially homed by Western Railway at the Bandra Marshalling Yard in 1979 in Bandra. The most common locomotives of this class are WDS4B and WDS4D which are frequently spotted in and around Bandra. 

Despite many employees from Central Railway requesting not to condemn the WDS4 locomotives, the Central Railway condemned them because the production of diesel hydraulic locomotives were discontinued from 1993-94. These engines have a rugged design and have hydraulic transmission. Hence, their initial tractive effort is very high which means that these types of locomotives can easily pull up to 30 coach trains during regular yard shunting. The condemning of the locos came about due to a new set of WDM2 locomotives being downgraded to the mark of WDM2S which replaced the WDS4 locomotives and the previous WCG-2 locomotives which were being used as shunters. 

Presently, there are just two WDS4 locomotives that the Central Railway has. One is being used at its home shed in Kurla and the other one for clearing the muck and silt along the tracks. Due to its sturdy and large wheels, these engines have a higher ground for clearing than normal engines. The Central Railway has traditionally been known for its low-lying areas and during the monsoons, the presence of these locomotives assumes more importance as these engines are fitted with coupling rods.

 In the wake of heavy rains, these types of engines were pressed into service. They were extensively used during the 2005 deluge and the 2006 train blasts to clear out the clogged suburban train system. In times of electric failure and when trains got stuck during the monsoons, these engines were called for and pulled the trains to the nearest carsheds or workshops for their routine maintenance. Indeed it is really unfortunate that we are deleting an integral part of history as these locomotives were the only engines in the Indian Railways today which had hydraulic transmission. 

The human race has been engineered such that our emotions have the power to connect with anything including abstract opinions or non-living things. The puny 600 HP shunters WDS4 locomotives which once gave a feeling of steam engines through their wheels will now fade into oblivion. As we brace ahead for bidding adieu to these puny locomotives as they lose their battle for survival, we can only hope to retain a part of these engines purely for posterity and heritage reasons. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Inflationary Heights

It is summer holidays and kids living in a posh building-- "Inflationary Heights" are having great fun. Their parents have filled their pockets with money and the kids now have buying power. There is an ice cream parlour down the street. The parlour sells ice cream to all the children of the area. The man in charge of the parlour is glad for making all the children happy with his different ice cream flavours. There is a steady balance between the joy of selling and buying ice cream. 

This summer, something happened which disturbed this balance. The kids from Inflationary Heights full of notes in their pockets start consuming double the volume of ice cream that they normally do. The parlour man realizes soon enough that the children from Inflationary Heights have a lot of money with them and even if he were to increase prices, they would continue to buy them. He then increases the prices and the demand continues unabated. While the parlour man gets richer by the day, the other children of the area see their smiles vanish. They no longer are able to afford the ice cream any longer.

They decide to meet the parents of the children from Inflationary Heights. During the meeting with the parents, they explain their problem. They request the parents to reduce the pocket money allowance of their children so that the price of ice cream drops. The parents are in a fix. They know that this will not be accepted by their children. While everyone celebrated when they had increased their allowance, the children may not be willing to accept a reduction. The parents do understand that if they reduce the allowance, their kids would have less money and consequently the demand for ice cream would drop. Thus, the inflation in ice cream at the parlour could be reduced by reducing the availability of money.

Just like the parents of the children of Inflationary Heights have the option to regulate the prices of the ice cream parlour by either increasing or decreasing the allowance money of their children, in the same way, RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has the option to regulate the flow of money into the economy and control prices. This is called demand side inflation that may get controlled by monetary policy measures. 

So, what is supply side inflation? Let us get back to the story. After the meeting, one of the parents, Mr. Idea Shankar, comes up with an idea that may not force them to reduce the allowance and at the same time may provide that prices at the parlour would come down. The next day, Mr. Idea Shankar calls on a few competitors of the ice cream parlour and informs them of the huge business potential in their area. He informs the competitors about how the children of Inflationary Heights have got a lot of cash to spend due to their higher allowance. Idea Shankar's idea works to perfection. Within two days, four new parlours open up in the area. Seeing this and fearing that he would lose business to the competitors, the parlour man immediately brings down prices. Now there are enough parlours and enough customers. In this scenario, the higher allowance does not impact prices in the parlours because there is adequate supply. In fact, some of the parlours who are new start offering discounts. 

All the children in the area are now happy because they can start enjoying their ice cream all over again. In fact, they can now eat more due to the discounts. Now they do not have any grievances against the children from Inflationary Heights. Some of them are even thankful to them because they now have wider variety at lower prices. 

The manner in which prices were regulated was by increasing the supply of ice-cream, in the same manner, the government may control inflation by making the necessary provisions for increasing the supply of products and services in the economy. This is the concept of supply side inflation. While it is easier to set up a few ice cream parlours, it is not as easy to set up many factories and services for the government as it would need land, labour and capital plus time to set up the supply.

However, controlling inflation from a supply perspective is more inclusive and sustainable. On the other hand, using monetary policy to stem inflation is short term in nature and not inclusive. Beyond a point, monetary policy ceases to be an effective tool for control of inflation. 

To some extent, the Indian economy stands at a cross road because of the role of RBI to control inflation is diminishing and the need for creating additional supply is getting imperative. Policies need to be drafted that attract entrepreneurs to invest in the economy so that they can create supply and demand by way of creating jobs. This could try and bring balance back to the economy.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Movie Review: Page 3

The 2005 Hindi movie "Page 3" by realistic filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar refers to the popular "Page 3" culture which is exploited by tabloids and newspapers alike. For the uninitiated, the Page 3 culture is the name given to the tabloid culture where India's partying upper-class from certain specific Indian cities get featured on the third page of a newspaper, even if it means doing nothing more than attending parties and shows. Through the film, Madhur Bhandarkar tracks the rich and glamorous parties and later moving on to the dark recesses of the glitterati.

The story is narrated through entertainment journalist Madhavi (Konkona Sen Sharma), who is a Page 3 correspondent for "The Nation Today", a leading daily. In parallel leads, we meet Pearl (Sandhya Mridul), an airhostess who has a fiery tongue and Gayatri (Tara Sharma), an upcoming actress. Being a journalist in the party beat, Madhavi is a Page 3 regular and most of the socialites know her by name. Hence, on one end, we have a cop (Madan Jain) who is more interested in attending parties and training film actors for police based movies than his job of policing. At the other end of the spectrum, we have industrialist Romesh Thapar (Nasser Abdullah), who is more interested in his business than his wife Anjali (Soni Razdan), we are then introduced to leading film actor Rohit (Bikram Saluja) and a rising model Tarun (Jai Kalra). 

As Madhavi begins to get disillusioned with her job, she works with fellow journalist Vinayak Mane (Atul Kulkarni) in the crime beat. It is here that she meets drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, terrorists, bomb blasts and even comes across child abuse. She realizes that it is in such places where real stories take place. Her disillusionment with Page 3 is brought out well as high society spurns her. As her friends move out of her apartment and when she discovers her boyfriend's activities, her world shatters and falls miserably around her. The cinematography by Madhu Rao captures Konkona's emotions really well in an 'as-it-is' mode without romanticizing the situation further.

The film explores several important issues such as disturbed families, depression leading to suicide, cheating spouses, wife-swapping, drug peddling, child prostitution and casting couches. Each of the issues has been addressed through different protagonists who are regularly featured on page 3. Taboos like homosexuality and bisexuality come out in the open. Backbiting, bitching on the phone, networking at celebrity funerals and the Indian language press against the special treatment meted to out to English speaking journalists are other issues the film reflects on.

Konkona Sen Sharma is a thinking man's dream girl. As the journalist Madhavi, she is first rate as the lone moral voice in the film. She guides the viewers through the farce, disgust, betrayals and the shady deals of the world within and outside of Page 3. Sandhya Mridul as the fiery tongued airhostess is competent. Boman Irani as the editor who must do he must personal feelings and morals notwithstanding reflects the true state of most newspaper editors of today. Tara Sharma as the rising starlet is fit. The music by Shamir Tandon is also deftly woven into the plot of the movie.