100 follows on the blog. That may not sound like much (I will still be a potential nominee for the Liebster Award, which is for blogs with less than 200 followers), but I have always said that I blog on various topics, which makes it difficult – as things go in blogosphere – to rack up the follows. And that being because I use my blog to show(case) my writing rather than to “attract” followers. So, whoever’s a regular here hopefully likes my writing. Anyway, a hundred thanks and more to all (and future ones) for all the love.
This is my entry for the Crossword – The Write Place contest on the topic, ‘If Mahatma Gandhi was alive today’. You can find the details in the pic alongside. The contest ended yesterday. The Write Place is Crossword’s initiative to promote new writing talent.
I find myself raising my voice against a number of oppressions (animal cruelty, environmental destruction, human rights violations), and when sharing thoughts on my approach, find myself saying, “There are two ways of fighting for (or against) anything. There’s the Gandhiji way, and there’s the Netaji way.” By that, I mean that one way of fighting against any wrong is a peaceful, non-violent, dialogue-based way, and the other is an aggressive, militant, arms-based way.
Don’t get me wrong; no way is the only way. Based on the circumstance and the demeanour of the opposition, we may need both. We certainly wouldn’t have attained independence without both leaders’ styles, or their efforts. And I’m not saying this to pacify followers of the two men and their approaches.
In my case, when it comes to campaigning for animal welfare, for instance, I believe more in talking to and influencing people (whether through my actions or communications). At the other pole are those who believe in using force to get the other party to subscribe to their point of view, be they the gau-rakshaks or militant vegans.
Unfortunately, nowadays, the aggressive way of protesting against something seems to be the most chosen way, if not the only way. An actor-turned-politician says that a neighbouring country is not hell? Chuck eggs at her. A scholar organizes the launch of a book by an ex-foreign minister of the same country? Throw ink on him. A writer talks about a long-believed sexual practice? Threaten him till he’s forced to commit “literary suicide”. And on a more frequent basis, the object of your affection rejects your proposal? Hurl acid on her, or even hack her to death.
In the online world too, things are no better. With the internet giving them the cloak of anonymity and social media giving voice to their opinion, everyone is now a social commentator and a virtual vigilante. At the first post that goes against their world view (though neighbourhood view is more like it), or a casual tweet made in humour, or even one to make a point, the various social media gangs (groups of like-minded people; pun intended, as they live mainly for likes) gang up to virtually beat up that person (rather than that person’s opinion) and often force them to retract their statement, or even retreat from the social space.
Why is this happening? As senior journalist, Shekhar Gupta, said when offering his viewpoint on one of those opinion hour shows, “People today don’t have patience.” (And so, he felt the need to articulate his views very, very slowly.) People indeed don’t. Movies today have to be hits within three days, and people want to have made it yesterday. In the mad rush to get “there” (wherever “there” is for you: gizmos, cars, apartments, international holidays, the corner office, your own office), people don’t have the time for others, much less listen to others. So, when they are forced to do so (like when blitzingly scrolling through their social media feed to be “updated”), they scan through a statement, don’t bother about its import, jump to conclusions, and begin firing up a tweet-storm, or in the real world, hurling abuses, chappals or worse at the person. And so statements like “Pakistan is not hell” get termed “pro-Pak” (even by the rules of English, I’m still failing to understand how) and heart-felt shares like wondering if the country is getting unsafe and therefore having you consider leaving make you lose face, not to forget various brand ambassadorships.
The truth is that change – true change – requires time and patience. The person with the other point of view needs time to understand that they are doing wrong, what they are doing wrong, think about what they can do to make it better, and then begin making the change. This may even take years, if at all. (Gandhiji first put forth the philosophy of non-violence in 1922, and we got our freedom a good quarter-century later.) But if you force the other person, they’ll go the opposite way, perhaps not to come back. If they do submit, it may not be from the heart, and may in their hearts continue believing one thing, but outwardly behaving in quite another way. In either case, the aggressor doesn’t win.
To give a self-example again, I urge people to be nice to street dogs, not by shouting at those who pelt them or demand their culling, but by petting and playing with the doggies in front of them. When they see me being loving to those furry four-legged creatures and those furries being equally gregarious in return (tail wags, paw touches, face licks), something begins changing. I see them looking in wonder, then breaking into a smile (from their feeling of fear and disgust of a moment ago), and I’m guessing going in their mind, ‘Hey, these street dogs aren’t so bad after all.’ It’s happened with quite a few friends and neighbours; that’s why I know this works.
However, time and patience are both commodities that seem in short supply these days. People are refusing to take that first amiable step (perhaps for fear of being seen as weak). And if the other does so, then they are seen as wusses and mocked. And so, things remain stuck.
Which is why I think that if Mahatma Gandhi were around today, he may not have been able to make a difference, the way he did back then. Given the current climate of intolerance, people would abuse him, mock him, troll him, call him pro-Pak or anti-national. Some could get real aggressive, tie him up and lash him. And why, just like they did back then, even shoot him dead. Or seeing the way things have turned out, maybe Gandhiji would just shoot himself. Or starve himself to death, given his preference for the non-violent path. Either way, if Mahatma Gandhi was alive today, he… wouldn’t.
Wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. It got published today, the perfect day, Friday, as it’s about movies, and the arts in general. Here’s the link: This Piece on thREAD. And below’s the original piece.
There are about three conversations happening around the super-loved, superhit Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921) right now.
First, it’s a delectable easy-charm, slice-of-life movie that takes the protagonists and the viewers not from A through Z, but to, let’s say, a T. Also, it’s a liner and not a submarine – it cruises along without diving deep. I agree with most of that, but wish it could have gone just a bit deeper; it would have been a “truer” film, like the director, Shakun Batra’s debut Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, which does the opposite of Kapoor and Sons – it goes from A to T and then back to A: the protagonists don’t end up being together at the end, nor seem very likely to.
Next, how insanely good-looking Fawad Khan is, especially shorn of the stubble from his Bollywood debut, Khoobsurat – and people thought that was hot. Fawad has got most girls, and some guys, weak in their knees and other body parts. And there’s talk that just for this delightful import from across the border, we might finally let their cricket team win a World Cup match.
Finally, people are going to town about how sensitively the film-makers have dealt with Fawad’s character, Rahul, being gay. (Did we hear those girls weeping and those guys whooping? Chill, that’s just his character – although he is married in real life.) The LGBT community especially seems ecstatic that the makers have said ‘gay’ without saying ‘gay’ – there’s no mention of the word, not even an indication (even the fuchsia feather boa in the family belongs to his dad) and Rahul isn’t portrayed as disco/Cher-loving or shirt-chasing. I think the makers could have gone better here too – while no one uses the G word, Rahul’s mom treats him, at least as soon as she comes to know of his “truth”, with the same disgust most queer people find themselves at the receiving end of. But portrayals of LGBT characters in our movies rarely go beyond those effete, pink-loving stereotypes, so this is at least two-steps-forward, one-step-back.
But I’d like to bring a fourth, and perhaps more discussion-worthy, conversation to the Burma-teak table. Before that, the context-setting.
Rahul and his younger bro, Arjun, are both writers. However, Rahul is the successful one and Arjun the struggler. Rahul’s second book has been a huge success – although his first tanked – and he’s presently working on the third. In fact, he seems to be doing well enough to come to his home-town, Coonoor, to scout for a bungalow to turn into an artists’ retreat. Arjun, in contrast, is struggling with more than just his writing. He’s recently given up, after a short stint, his gig of blogging about Bollywood and is presently making ends meet as a part-time bartender. In his spare time, he is working on a book, his second one, after having given up the first because it “somehow” proved to be very similar to Rahul’s second/successful book. (Did Rahul sneak a peek and get “inspired”? For that, you’ll have to watch the movie.)
Setting aside their differences for a while, in the second half, the brothers begin talking about Arjun’s manuscript. Arjun shares that the publisher has asked him to change the ending as it’s a not happy one, but he is, um, not happy with doing that. Why? Because he believes “books, or literature, should reflect real life – and real life is never happy.”
However, toward the end, as the movie moves toward its T point, we see Arjun reneging: he makes the book end positively. At the publishers’, when asked how he finally relented, warmly recalling Rahul’s reflections to him (more about this later), he offers, “Based on someone’s suggestion…”
As a writer and creative individual (or so the hope), this seemed a more primal point for discussion than how deep a movie should go, how lovely a lad looks, or how a gay guy can love other colours in the rainbow flag.
The great books, even the good ones – and by this I mean literature and not “racy, pacy reads” – have almost always ended sad. From Homer to Shakespeare to Hardy to living authors, it’s like a defining trait of literature that it shouldn’t end joyous. And I believe this is for the good: people read these books, not so much to escape their pain, but to empathize with others in a parallel universe somewhere dealing with the same kinds of pathos. As we see our troubles equalled, or even surpassed, in literary characters, we are assuaged – kind of like a therapy session right at home, or wherever you choose to read. And while these characters are fictional, lit-lovers know that somewhere these are either alter egos of the writers or amalgamated versions of people the writer has met or observed.
While I haven’t read Iliad and very little of Shakespeare and Hardy, let me talk of the ones I have, right from my favourite authors and books to more recent literature.
Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, while mesmerizing to read right from the first Buendian (the family in the story) to the last, eventually ends up in loss for the family. As the second-last Buendian loses himself more and more in academia, the last Buendian, the baby, loses his little life, Second-Last failing to pay attention to Last’s precarious situation. A century on, the family is back to solitude.
In Naipaul’s tender, tearful A House for Mr Biswas, there is almost no relief for Mr B through the expansive tome. As he sees his third and final house slowly disintegrating, his life too seeps away, at the ripe old age of… 46.
Even in Marquez’s ultimately-happy Love in the Time of Cholera, the lovers meet only after “51 years, 9 months and 4 days.” Many would say, where’s the joy in that?
Or take the recent DSC winners (an award given for South Asian writing, which seems to be going India’s way over the last few years, just like the Ms Worlds/Ms Universes were once upon a time). Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer deals with the many tragedies in the life of the titular khandhia, from his excommunication from his caste on marrying a woman “below” him to the death of his wife at a very young age. Even the most recent winner that I’m in the middle of now, Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, deals with many dark and heavy themes: the not-so-holy doings of some (all?) godmen, the frustration inherent in most gay romances (the flavour of the season?), and the spirit-leeching deterioration of the faculties in old age. I’m yet to know how it ends, but it surely doesn’t augur well.
So, if literature ends up being tragic yet triumphant, and he isn’t writing a book with a number in its title or a Hindu mythological figure as its hero, why does Arjun end up modifiying its ending?
The answer perhaps lies where it started – in our movies. Many Bollywood directors (no doubt, there are examples in other Indian cinemas too, but I am a Big Bolly Buff) make a great first movie – a movie from their heart and soul – but which doesn’t do ting at the tills as it’s too “real”, and so change tack and make a more “commercially viable” movie henceforth, which not surprisingly works.
Ayan Mukerji made the wondrous Wake Up Sid, which despite all its acclaim at best only woke up, rather than shook up, the box office. So, he moved to more commercial elements, such as a more saleable leading lady and foreign locales, and delivered the blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
Zoya Akhtar first gave us, or me (as it’s my favourite film of all time), the rich, deep, involving Luck By Chance, which had layers upon layers of psychology, nuance, complexity, and then some. But apart from folk like me who watched it 15 times, it had little luck. So, she swerved to the big, vapid Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and then the bigger and only less vacuous Dil Dhadakne Do.
Finally, and ironically, Shakun Batra himself. He debuted with, as I already wrote, the ruminative Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, where the hero-heroine remain ek main aur ekk tu, but never ek hum (one you, one me, but never one us): the heroine, Kareena Kapoor, feels they are nice individuals in their own place but can’t be together, at least she doesn’t see it that way. Not surprisingly, the movie was seen by ek-do (one-two) folk. And so, in Kapoor and Sons, Shakun had Arjun and Tia (Alia Bhatt) hooking up by the end. And perhaps, to be doubly sure, he made Rahul prefer men. (Oh, was that the real reason for the character being gay?)
To be fair, these directors might be attempting a golden middle. In a mini-interview to a different part of The Hindu, about which book he’s reading presently (Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace), Shakun had this to say: “The book talks about finding the balance between telling the stories you have to tell and fighting the battle you have to fight… It gives a lot of perspective and also makes me feel that it is possible to not sell your soul and make a film that connects with people.”
Your first creative endeavour goes under. You don’t want the next to suffer the same fate. Any wonder then that in making its ending a happy one, Arjun makes a practical decision. He wants to be successful – and if this is the only thing stopping him – why not, in a manner of speaking, lower your ideals?
Now, to all the writers/creative souls out there: what would you do? Write (pen/direct) a real but less saleable story? Or a happy and more successful one? That is, write for the self – or to sell? Or is there a golden middle?
As you begin writhing over that, let me finally share the suggestion Rahul gives Arjun, which leads to the modified ending, “Because people find real life tough, they look for happiness in stories…”
Now what would you do?
Agonizing, huh? Well, such is life. And I guess, literature.
A few months back, the city corporation again brought up the suggestion of renaming city roads presently named after Englishmen from the Raj’s time to names celebrating the heritage, culture and past luminaries of the state.Now, I am one to leave alone things that are not deal-breakers. Also, somewhere, I like the charm of the existing names: they ring of the same quaintness as the roads and also take you back to that time. Finally, if you change the name and can’t alter a thing about the structures on these roads (many of these have heritage buildings, which the authorities in fact need to keep the same way as originally), there ends up being a dissonance. (Case in point being Anna Salai, which was Mount Road earlier, but which has the same appearance as from the earlier name’s time, apart from of course the havoc caused by the metro’s work.)
But I started living with the renaming idea, and am beginning to see some merits to it. The first positive is, it will no longer have Messrs Wren and Marten and all those English gentlemen turning in their graves.
Wren and Martin first. Halls, Peters and Whites, among others, were not like the Joneses – they didn’t have their names ending with ‘s’. There needed to be an apostrophe between their name and the ‘s’, indicating that it was a road built/named in their honour and so their road – not as a possessive pronoun (the road didn’t belong to them; they had passed away by then, after all), but more as a commemorative pronoun, if you will. Now, the authorities at that time either didn’t know about the apostrophe (since it doesn’t exist in any of the Indian languages) or were the forerunners to today’s smartphone-wielding, micro-messaging millennials, who abhor the apostrophe (as well as giving a response longer than 10 characters and looking up from their devices). So, Hall’s became Halls, Peter’s became Peters, and White became red with disdain.
But the Raj gentlemen had it worse twice over. (Guess this was our way of getting back at them for two centuries of rule.) Since it seems only the tight-lipped Englishmen could pronounce their names and not the open-lipped “natives”, Graeme’s Road became Greams Road, Yeldham’s Road became Eldams Road, and I’m praying Cooks Road came from Cook’s Road itself and not some mispronunciation.
Another reason for welcoming the name change is if it could address any possible misogyny of the past and any possible misunderstanding in the future. Misogyny: I can’t think of any places named after women except Besant Nagar (after Annie Besant; but because she was British, will that now change?). There is JJ Nagar, but that’s a recent renaming anyway. I thought the new name for Lloyds Road was a step in this direction, but history is obviously not my strong point, for I confused Avvai TK Shanmugam (the renowned theatre artist) with Madurai Shanmughavadivu Subbulakshmi (the legendary singer). And misunderstanding? Butt Road. Need I say more?
And then, I had a thought. A city’s roads and other infrastructure as well as residential and commercial areas often get their names from the people and their practices therein: Saidapet from Sayyid Shah, the Arcot general who received this land as a gift from the Nawab, Sowcarpet from the sowcars or sahukars (merchants) who came there from other parts of India, and Chromepet from the Chrome Leathers factory there. These names were also representative of their times. So, what if we do the same? Rename these places and structures based on people and their practices at present. If so, things will look something like this…
Since we no longer have potholes amidst roads but roads amidst potholes, and Ridley Scott could have actually filmed The Martian here: Ravaged Road/Ruinous Road
Because we are now so many people who generate so much bio-waste that it doesn’t just flow underground but above ground too: Sewage Street
As Indian men believe that a man’s got to go when a man’s got to go and don’t believe in waiting to cross the street to get home or to work: Chiruneer (Urination) Cross Street
Since Indian men (and ok, some women too, not to be biased) have other liquids they like showering on the roads: Spitting Salai
Continuing the, um, trashing, since garbage now overflows from and into every nook and corner: Kuppai Corner
Because water bodies now have almost every other entity apart from lotuses, fish and ducks: Dumpsters’ Tank/Eri/River
Since we have groups of smokers standing and chatting for hours on the footpath, or loner guys lying dead-drunk there for days, and when neither, then two-wheeler riders ascending to get one second ahead: Anti-Pedestrians’ Pavement
Because this is essentially what parks and beaches become after some time: Kadhalar (Lovers’) Park, Romeo and Juliet’s Beach
As secluded stretches seem to be a hotspot for miscreant activities: Thiruda Theru (Thief’s Street), Aval/Eve-teasing Avenue
Earlier, it was just the festivals and the release of a big star’s movie, but now, thanks to IPL, ISL and any other ’ell I can’t recall right now, there are many reasons to celebrate – read, make noise – throughout the year. So, many of these areas can be called: Sathampet
And just in case you thought this list is benevolent to the rich and classy… For arranging for the home dog’s/dogs’ (note the uses of the apostrophe) walks but not the clean-ups after: Pet-Poop Boulevard
And finally, the people who rule the city and reign over its residents more than any politico or hero – the fleecing, overcharging, harassing, abusing, threatening autokaarans… They should have the entire city renamed after them: Cheatnai
You know, it’s a good thing we’re going with the historical and heritage names, after all.
Find out what ‘Ire’ is here – Ire: Here’s Presenting
Rumble, thunder, lightning
High up in Chennai:
Before the Diwali on the ground,
The Diwali in the sky.
Somewhere, a couple lost their daughter
Somewhere, a woman, her husband
Somehow, a police won its verdict
And somehow, a nation lost its faith.
Inspired by the apparent “miscarriage of justice” in the Noida double murder case 2008, a debate that has reignited with the release of the movie ‘Talvar’ and the book ‘Aarushi’, based on the murders, investigations, trial, and conviction
Meets second time,
Meets third time,
Meets idea of meeting family,
Meets with shock, disgust, anger,
Meets crying pleas of mother,
Meets disowning cries by father,
Meets magical medicines,
Meets forced straight alliance,
Meets forced straight marriage,
Meets frustration, anguish, depression,
Meets frustration, anguish, depression –
By parents, girl, ex.
The second in the ‘X Meets Y’ series, aka ‘Salty Tales’/’Salty Series’. (Here’s the first: Boy Meets Girl.) And yes, I don’t intend them to end well.