Monday, January 30, 2006

rang de basanti

Rang de basanti
Saw a wonderful Hindi movie, at imaginasian, after a long time in NY. We tried seeing it on Saturday night, but it was houseful at 7 pm, and people were queuing up to buy tickets for the 9 pm show. We bought tickets in the am for a 7 pm show on Sunday, when we got in at 7 it was houseful and we had to sit on the third row.
A few minutes after we sat down in the center of the third row, we had a nice Indian gentleman ask us if we could move. My friend looked at him straight in the face and said we sat here for a reason, we can’t move!!
I had no idea, what the movie was about so I came in with no expectations. It was a beautifully made film, set in Delhi and Punjab.
It had an interesting, unexpected story line, and a nice juxtaposition of the past and the present. The dialogue was catchy, with a lot of Punjabi slang like chuck de Pathe, thrown in.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra merges two plots in Rang De Basanti. The first is about a group of friends, their bonding, the carefree lifestyle they lead. The second plot deals about the past, when freedom fighters sacrificed their lives during the pre-independence era. The director draws comparisons between British rule and present day India ruled by corrupt politician.
The transition of the five friends from meaningless to meaningful existence is done very well. The director shows sepia images of Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Ashfak, with images of the current day revolutionaries, and then at the end of the movie both those different narratives became interchangeable.
Sue (Alice Patten), a young, London-based film-maker, who comes to India to make a movie on the revolutionaries is very good . Its nice to see a foreigner not portrayed as a stereotypical caricature.
The five friends are all wonderful, they are DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) and Laxman (Atul Kulkarni).
A.R. Rahman’s music is ordinary. Cinematography (Binod Pradhan) is outstanding. The lensman captures the essence of Delhi beautifully.
Amir Khan holds the movie together, by getting into the skin of the character.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

khushwant singh's book re-release

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fare evasion

Fare Evasion

We had a delicious Yemeni meal of humus, fusillia, hobz bread and four cups of sugary strong brown Yemeni tea. Other than the four pebbles, found in the fusillia, the meal was appetizing.
As we tried to get into the subway from Brooklyn, last evening, my friend SZ’s metro card was not working at the turnstile, she kept trying over and over, and it said, too fast or too slow, or some other cryptic command. Their was no assistance near by and considering we had valid metro cards, I ran my card, and we both went through the turnstile.
We both laughed as we squeezed through the turnstile, and she remarked, “I have never done this before”There were other people at the Bergen street station, looking at us..and soon we saw the same mass come towards us. They pulled out their silver medallion ID’s and said,
"we are cops you broke the law and doubled up. Show us your ID’s
Their were six plain clothes policeman waiting for us.
The woman undercover, said she was going to scan our ids to see if we had a record or were using any alias.
The good cop started asking us questions.
You guys don’t look like the type who do such things, where do you live?

I didn’t know whether he was flirting or interrogating us.
Soon our ids were returned. We were asked our telephone numbers and weight, and were handed yellow summons to appear in court or pay a $60 fine.
Were we being profiled, two South Asian woman in the subway?
What if we were not carrying our ID’s ? Would we have gone to jail?
This is the fear that people without papers must face every day? Could we have been deported if they found out that were not in the country legally?
If you are poor and don’t have the $60 to pay what happens then?
Do their need to be six cops enforcing a station that only has two trains running? Seems like over enforcement to me.
Ironically we were close to the Brooklyn Detention Center, where many Muslim South Asians and Arab men have been held, since September 11th, 2001 in inhuman conditions, like not seeing sunlight for days or having light shone in their cells all the time.
As we got to home station, a man with a red eye came running to the ticket booth operator and yelled in fear, “call the cops, there are people trying to kill me”.
We quickly walked away from the station, away from the police and the injured man, the fear and anger.
Welcome to the underclass underbelly of New York City.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I saw Manjula Padmanabhan’s play Harvest at Lamama etc, today.
The play centers around the lives of a family of four in Bombay, Om, Jaya, Jeetu and Ma.
It deals with organ donations, and the relationship between the donors and the receivers. It reflects the relationship between people living in the rich first world, and their interactions with families living in the poor, third world.
Om supports his family of three- his intelligent wife Jaya, his wild brother Jeetu and his sarcastic mother, Ma. With no jobs available, he has volunteered to became an organ donor. This leads to a lot of changes in the household. The multi national company Interplanta will takeover their lives and monitor all aspects of it. They bring in new furniture, a TV, a water fountain, and different colored pills to serve as substitutes for food.
The donor Ginni, soon appears in their household, through a monitor, and attempts to communicate with the receiver family. This section portrays the stark differences between their lives. For instance when Jaya sneezes, Ginni fears that it might contaminate Om. The dialogue is very receiver centered, she is imbued with all the power in the conversation, she starts it, asks the questions and then hangs up. The donor family are recipients of her money through Interplanta, so are afraid to express what they actually feel. The family is slowly being bought out. For instance the grandmothers ordered a contraption, her cinema paradiso, which comes equipped with food, water, and unlimited tv channels. She prefers watching tv, then participating in the disintegration of her family.
The play used visual media by screening adds for the Interplanta company, that has earnest looking Americans discussing depression, getting and discarding foreign penpals and even getting a whole new body with “Interplanta it makes your life worth living”.
By the end of the play, it seemed like every part of the families bodies were up for sale. It was for Jaya to put a stop to it, when Phantom Jeetu in an American accent appears asking for Jaya’s eggs to be harvested for him to have children!
Harvest is an excellent play, reflecting a perspective of a donor and his family. It is a strong, haunting story of exploitation, greed, power and destruction of family, morality and society.

blonde on black

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losida urdu grafitti

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

breaking bounds

The school was obsessed with controlling girls, by not allowing them out of bounds, a bit like the purdah, zenana system. Boys on the other hand, could do what they liked and go anywhere, except where the girls were.
The girls dormitory would be locked from outside at night, by the matron. This was a huge fire hazard, all of us could have got singed, unable to escape. The priority was protection of our virginity rather than our safety.
In my 2nd week at school, I was reported by the house prefect for breaking bounds, I had gone to see the school doctor who had invited me for a party. I was a few minutes late, and I was reported by the over enthusiastic prefect to the house mistress, a.k.a. Bucket..who yelled at me for 20 minutes for breaking bounds. I was clueless about what she was talking about.
Another time my friend Titli and I had gone to see if the swimming pool was open. An anorexic teacher Mrs.Wall, reported me to the Bucket again, saying we were secretly meeting boys at the pool!!. I was so upset at the accusation that I cried for half an hour, on how, I could be accused, when I was being truthful.
My house mistress was called Bucket, in reference to her shape. Her favorite word was Rather, “rather it is surprising, that you would not tell me this”. I had a swimming competion at school, and I had my period, I told her the problem. Her advise to me was go swim, and don’t tell them you are down, and don’t say I told you to go ahead and do it. Her husband was called a male bucket a.k.a. Balta.
We were given the MURGA punishment because a girl had shat in the upstairs bathrooms. In this punishment, you sat on your hunches, and then brought your arms through your legs and held your ears, while sitting in this tortuous position. Going to the bathroom was a major problem in school. Their was a continuos water shortage, the flushes never worked. You were only allowed to pee in the bathrooms that were in the dorms. If you needed to go shit, you had to go downstairs, in like an out house with a rusty tin filled with water.
My geography teacher was called pregy, I think she kept trying to get pregnant and couldn’t. She was a meany, and used to pick on certain students whose English abilities were not so good. The poor things used to have nervous breakdowns when she used to call on them. Her most quoted phrase was “open the window and let the climate come in”
My English teacher was called eggy..because he was bald.
Our PT teacher was called oinky..I guess he looked like a pig.
The most handsome teacher, was the tall Bengali with light eyes, who taught physics and photography. Developing prints in the darkroom with him was definitely more interesting than his lectures on pressure, fulcrum and energy.
The cricket coach, who stammered and moonlighted as the history teacher had a wonderful vocabulary when he got excited and started teaching the “vakias”- he used to say Czechoslovakia and then in his excitement he said Yyyogoslavakia..
We were always hungry, even though our parents paid good money to the school, we were not well fed.. We later found out that the food supervisor was corrupt, he bought less food, then he was given money for. So after all our tuck was over, which was in the first month, we found out that the headmaster’s cook, made delicious parathas. We paid the cook Rs. 2 for each aloo parantha, order it during the day, and then secretly just after supper, run to the cook’s house and get the parathas, and eat them by torchlight at midnight.
In our last semester at school, we decided to get wild.. We convinced one of our teachers to take us to a mountain resort called Barog, where one of the girls had a house. The main purpose of this was to have a few drinks and try some cigarettes. We could have got kicked out of school for doing that! She had no idea that every night after she was asleep, we had rum and coke and some smokes.
In the last semester, some of the boys picked up some courage, and came to the girls dormitory at night, and peeped through the windows, and got excited when they saw the girls changing..and talking and cursing..

Friday, January 20, 2006

himalayan boarding school

She was 15, scared and nervous, her whole life was going upside down and topsy turvy. She sat with her favorite t-shirt on and ate scrambled eggs in Kasauli. Her life was going to change and she was terrified. Aditi was starting boarding school this morning after breakfast.
She was with her mother, father and brother today, tomorrow, she was going to be alone around no one she knew. She had cried through the 5 hour car journey, her parents were sad they didn’t know what it was going to be like for their precious child.
She had packed her stuff in a holdall which contained her sleeping bag, her blanket, her sweaters and her coats. She was also allowed 1 metal case with her name painted on Aditi Singh, H.G.D. standing for Himalaya house girls dormitory. It contained some of her home clothes and toiletries.
Her father had been to the same school, many years ago and was also in Himalaya house. She had heard horror stories from him about how if they spoke Hindi they were punished with a edge of the compass poking their fingers. Their was a lot of bullying, where the senior students persecuted the juniors by making them run errands in the middle of the night, or punished them for the fun of it, cursed them and often beat them for no reason. She had also read a Enid Blyton’s “Mallory Towers” and the English girls were having so much fun playing pranks, at boarding school each semester.
She reached around breakfast time and was lead into a huge hall called C.D.H or Central Dinning hall. A bell was rung, leading to a prayer, after the prayer their was another bell and that allowed one to sit down, and the third bell you could start eating. 10 minutes later their was another bell, and that was to stop eating and had to get out and leave in a line, based on your house.
Aditi was in Himalaya. The other houses were Vindhya, Shivalik and Nilgiri, each house was separated in to the boys dormitory and the girl dormitory, each dormitory was further subdivided into each class. So the same class ate, slept and studied together. The classes started from lower four and went up to upper six. The more junior, the worst your living conditions were, you were in the main dorm, with no privacy, the senior students got a cubicle or a bunk bed. The only furniture was a bed, a small closet, and a desk and chair, in a 3'x5'space.
The earlier you got into the dorms, after the holidays, the better your chances of securing a bed were, you could throw your possessions on the bed that you wanted.
Water was always short, the earlier you woke up in the morning, you started bagging at 6am. This was the routine bags 1- which mean that was the first person going to get a shower..bags 2 and so on, by bags 5 you could forget it. By then the water would be icy cold and probably finish in the middle of your head wash.
Rouser was at 6am, by 6:20 you had to be lined up at peacestead, the P.T. grounds (physical training).
Starting around 6:07am we started to change while sitting up, it started first with putting on your bra, under your nightshirt, and then in one movement you could take off the shirt and put the bra straps up at the same time. One then replaced the nightshirt with a sports kit which was a white shirt with blue paneled tennis skirts. While still being covered by the blanket, we put on underwear and the skirt. Socks were slipped on and freshly white polished PT shoes were worn.
A quick trip to the bathroom, before the 2nd bell rung at 6:20, when you had to be on the field lined up according to your house, class and height. The taller girls were at the back, while shorter ones were in front.
The ground had white chalk crosses at equidistant, that was where we would stand, one cross per girl. We had a PT leader, who we had to follow.
Their was a much feared and loved teacher, called mucho (big mustache) who would come everyday to inspect the PT. We had arm exercises, leg exercises, stretches, bending, hunches and the finale was a head stand. We also had to do a dance called the “highland fling”, it consisted of our hands twirling and we had to keep skipping from one cross to another.
Straight after the 45 minute PT, two of the junior students had to go get tea, cups and biscuits, that were either salty or sweetie depending on its taste. The Tea and biscuits was distributed to all the students after P.T.
By 8 we were back at the dormitory changing our clothes, the first few bags 1-5 were taking baths, and then we had to be at prep by 8:30. We had to march in our school kit, which was a blue shirt, gray skirt and black polished brogues, along with our study books to a classroom, where we were to study before breakfast which was at 9:30.
After marching to and from breakfast, we could breakup and go to our classes. Our books were not in bags, but were left, in piles, all over the floor, and found in time to take to classes.
Our only interaction with the boys was during class, but even then we often sat separately. The idea of being friends with the boys was unheard of, you either went out with them or didn’t speak to them.
We had lunch from 1 to 1:30 by 2:20 we had to go back to the dorms, change into our sports kit and go for hobbies, we could chose from batik painting, art, photography, ceramic, wood working or poultry farming.
By 3:30 we were done and could go back to the dorm, to rest or snack. Our favorite snacks were uncooked Maggi noodles, chocolate biscuits and condensed milk. By 5:30 we had to change back into our school kit and go to prep again, before supper. Supper was at 7:30 it was a terrible meal usually, a chapati that was so hard that our teeth couldn’t go through it and some dal and some insipid tasteless vegetable.
By 9:00 we had to study in the dorms until 10 and then by 11:00 it was lights out. Some girls had torches and turned them on to read some more, mills and boons romances.
Aditi soon got used to this regmentalized life, the discipline, time obsession, the bells and the cast of characters that this life created.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Monday, January 16, 2006

farewell by agha shahid ali

Agha Shahid Ali's poem, Farewell:

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me:
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory…

There is nothing to forgive. You won't forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself'; I revealed my pain only to myself.
There is everything to forgive. You can't forgive me.
If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

3 books

Three books, I do not recommend are-

Between Two Worlds Escape from Tyranny: Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund

Two Lives a memoir by Vikram Seth

blink The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Zainab Salbi grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and her family were part of the privileged elite in Baghdad. The book is intent on painting Saddam as a womanizer, murderer and evil. The writing is not very interesting, its more a personal memoir of the writer.

Vikram Seth’s book is about his uncle Shanti Behari Seth and his wife German Helga Gerda Caro. The book also incorporates his own story as a graduate student and world traveler. I personally did not find the two main characters very interesting. I think Vikram Seth has to go beyond his family to look for new, engrossing stories. The over 1000 page The Suitable Boy was more than adequate, to get an idea of his family.

The main premise of Blink, was the idea of thin slicing- filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables. The decisions and choices one makes on an instinctual level are more accurate than those made at an intellectual, well thought out level. He then goes on to show how often this thin slicing leads to rapid decision making leading to fatal consequences, like the shooting of innocent Guinean Immigrant in the Bronx Amadou Diallo by the Police. I am not sure I understand the point of the book.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life