Friday, August 15, 2008

60 Years of Indian Independence - A journey of contradictions

As I stood in attention to the anthem today, my mind flashed back to this very day, 22 or 23 years ago. About 10 of us, all college-going then, were on a trek to Raireshwar, a plateau which holds a special place in Shivaji's life. As a teenager, he is said to have taken a pledge in the temple here along with his friends, to dedicate his life to 'Swarajya'. There is no proof that this actually happened, but whether it did or not, it has continued to inspire generations of Marathi people.
So there we were, walking through ankle deep slush, rain pelting down, reaching the temple on the night of 14th August. There is a little village school next to it, typical kind that you see in any small hamlet in Maharashtra (or anywhere in India for that matter.) Just one room with a faded blackboard and few pieces of chalk, that's it. The room would be occupied by 10-15 children of varying ages and thus studying in various grades, while a single teacher would go around teaching 3 or 4 'classes' simultaneously. We camped out in the school for the night and got talking to the teacher. The next morning, as some of us struggled to get breakfast done, the teacher asked us if we could delay our departure by another 45 minutes or so. The flag hoisting ceremony was due in some time, so would we please attend it with the school kids? We of course readily agreed.
And then they came, 10-15 of them, clad in soiled shorts and frocks, trudging barefoot through the fields. As the teacher prepared to get the flag up, Abhijit Kale asked one of the kids, 'so, what happens in school on 15th August?" "We get to eat sweets", pat came the reply. That was it - that's all that the kids knew about 15th August.
All of dutifully saluted the flag and sang Jana Gana Mana. As promised to the children, they got boiled sweets and a piece of bundi laddoo to enjoy. For them, independence day was over. The teacher asked me if I cold speak to the kid for a while and tell them the importance of 15th August. Giving an extempore speech on such an easy topic in front of 15 kids? Simple task - I thought. So there I was. standing right under the tricolour, all ready to talk about the great freedom struggle, the long line of revolutionaries who led several million people against the mighty British empire, the selfless sacrifice, and so on. As I began confidently, I said, "this is the day when the British finally left our country and OUR rule began here."
And then it dawned upon me - 'the British left..... OUR country. ...... OUR rule began. It all made no sense to the kids. They must all be wondering. what's this fellow talking about? WE means who? They means who? Who left? From where? To where?
They had never seen anything beyond their little hamlet, all of about 20 temporary huts on top of this plateau. For them, the world ended at the plateau's edges. So there - I was in a fix. How was I going to explain to them the why and because of 15th August? I was in a place not more than 100 km from Pune (a city well known for its educational facilities, also known as 'Oxford of the East') and here was a school where I was groping for words trying to explain something that I had assumed would be simple for any Indian.
I blabbered for some more time - did try to give them analogy of someone telling their father what to grow, when to grow and how much to grow in HIS field. and that this was exactly what British rule was like. So the British going away was like the farmer having the freedom to decide this for himself, so on. But I don't think they really understood. I was not sure then, I am still not sure today. The day and its memory has continued to haunt me for the last two decades.
Twenty independence days later, India marches on towards prosperity. As the rich become richer and the poor are left wondering why, I am still wondering whether things have changed in Raireshwar.

P.S. - Miraculously, just as I was about to post this, my nephew Viraaj walks in. He went for trek to Raireshwar last year and yes, he has a couple of pics. Yes, not much has changed. Tonight I will try to unearth my own old photo albums and post one of those pics tomorrow. Till then, here's a look at ancient plateau of Raireshwar.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Now, try beating this.....

This amazing road sign exists on one of the busiest bridges in Pune. OK, so we are supposed to understand that the top bolt has come off and that's why the sign has turned upside down. In any case, this bridge has so much traffic that taking a U-turn is next to impossible. But that's besides the point. Surely, everyday morning and evening, there must be several people belonging to the administration who pass by this bridge. Corporators, traffic cops, officers in the municipal corporation, and so on. In all these days, not one of them has taken notice and done anything about it. Mind you, this board exists about 200 mt. away from the building which houses the Pune Municipal Corporation. If that's the state of road signs in the heart of the city, one can only guess how neglected the far-flung areas must be. And there are those in power who want us to believe that this city, with its infrastructure in the most pathetic state in the last several years, is going to host the Commonwealth Youth Games in a few weeks from now. If they really pull it off, it will only prove one thing. God exists.....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's Beyond ?

It's been exactly four weeks since I quit my job and set out to be on my own. I had tried the same gamble 10 years ago too, and miserably failed then. This time around I am more confident to making it.
One of the best things that have happened in this period is having time for myself. I have got back to reading and have devoured 'Train to Pakistan', 'The Google Story', 'We Are Like That Only'; and a marathi/sanskrit book, Leelakamalpatrani. The last one is a collection of writings by Prof. Leela Arjunwadkar. Every time I have needed anything about Sanskrit, I have always run to her. (Like the post on Palas tree earlier in this blog). Her mastery on Sanskrit language and literature is quite astounding. What's more, her writings are lucid. I suppose the touch of humility and sensitivity in her writing comes from her initial moorings in fine arts as a singer and stage actor. This aspect of her writing makes even a layman like me get attracted towards Sanskrit language. I have made a lofty promise to myself that I would now read the Bhagwad Gita and then the works of Kalidas. If I actually fulfill this promise, much of its credit would go to Prof. Arjunwadkar.
And yes, right now I am reading Sunil Khilnani's 'The Idea of India'.
Another benefit (and risk too) of being on one's own that I am enjoying is to avail of that rare commodity - SLEEP !!
When I was clearing up the clutter on my desk before moving out of the office, I bumped into a paper where I had scribbled few lines from a poem by Robert Service. I couldn't remember the context at all, but the poem did make perfect sense for the state of my mind then. One month down the line, it is still very relevant. Born and educated in Scotland, Robert decided at the age of 21 to 'Go West' in search for the elusive golden dream. In 1895, he traveled to Canada with dreams of becoming a cowboy. He instead became a banker and later an author.
So here's a poem by Robert Service that mirrors my own thoughts curently.

The Land of Beyond
Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dream at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye yoke of galls,
And ye of the trails overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,
Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!

Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you the Land of Beyond.

Thank God! there is always the Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A proud in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!
- Robert Service

Monday, August 11, 2008


The DVD for Amu, a movie by Shonali Bose, was released yesterday.

This is great news. I saw the movie on the day of its release four years ago in Mumbai. I had no clue about what the movie was about and I must confess that I bought the ticket ONLY because there was Konkona on the poster. I am glad I made that decision, else I would have missed a great movie.

It was a bitter-sweet experience being inside the hall that night. On one level, there was happiness that the advent of multiplexes was providing a platform for new and lesser known directors. On another, it was sad to see only about 10-15 people in the hall. Shonali Bose was there too and I was trying to imagine her state of mind. After incubating the idea of this film for several years and then taking the trouble to actually make it, she had to see a sparse audience on the day of its release. Imagine, 1st day, last show, 15 people to watch.

The movie itself is a deeply moving experience. In spite of the violent backdrop of the story, Shonali has dealt with the subject with subtlety and sensitivity. Konkona as always is outstanding. The movie is not just about the '84 riots of Delhi. The terrible riot and its aftermath on the common man become a character in the movie (like in Jack London stories, the cold climate becomes a character rather than remaining just the canvas.) And then the story becomes an interplay of a young girl's inquisitive mind and this character, which is her past, and hence a part of herself.

It brings to the surface some existential questions that all of us carry in our souls – Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I now? Where will I go from here?

Don't miss it.